THE ANIMAL KINGDOM: Statements Concerning Birds

When specialists on the nervous system wish to provide striking examples of the prodigious organization directing animal behaviour, possibly the animals referred to most frequently are bees, spiders and birds (especially migratory birds). Whatever the case, there is no doubt that these three groups constitute a model of highly evolved organization.

The fact that the text of the Qur’an refers to this exemplary trio in the animal kingdom is in absolute keeping with the exceptionally interesting character that each of these animals has from a scientific point of view.

Birds are frequently mentioned in the Qur’an. They appear in episodes in the life of Abraham, Joseph, David, Solomon and Jesus. These references do not however have any bearing on the subject in hand.

The verse concerning the existence of animal communities on the ground and bird communities in the sky has been noted above:
–sura 6 verse 38:
“There is no animal on the earth, no bird which flies on wings, that (does not belong to) communities like you. We have not neglected anything in the Book (of Decrees) . Then to their Lord they will be gathered.”

Two other verses highlight the birds’ strict submission to God’s Power.
–sura 16, verse 79:
“Do they not look at the birds subjected in the atmosphere of the sky? None can hold them up (in His Power) except God.”
–sura 67, verse 19:
“Have they not looked at the birds above them spreading their wings out and folding them? None can hold them up (in his Power) except the Beneficent.” The translation of one single word in each of these verses is a very delicate matter. The translation given here expresses the idea that God holds the birds up in His Power. The Arabic verb in question is amsaka, whose original meaning is ‘to put one’s hand on, seize, hold, hold someone back’.

An illuminating comparison can be made between these verses, which stress the extremely close dependence of the birds’ behavior on divine order, to modern data showing the degree of perfection attained by certain species of bird with regard to the programming of their movements. It is only the existence of a migratory programme in the genetic code of birds that can account for the extremely long and complicated journeys which very young birds, without any prior experience and without any guide, are able to accomplish. This is in addition to their ability to return to their departure point on a prescribed date. Professor Hamburger in his book, Power and Fragility, gives as an example the well-known case of the ‘mutton-bird’ that lives in the Pacific, with its journey of over 16,500 miles in the shape of the figure 8. It must be acknowledged that the highly complicated instructions for a journey of this kind simply have to be contained in the bird’s nervous cells. They are most definitely programmed, but who is the programmer?

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