THE ANIMAL KINGDOM

There are several questions in the Qur’an concerning the animal kingdom which are the subject of comments that call for a confrontation with modern scientific knowledge. Here again, however, one would gain an incomplete view of all that the Qur’an contains on this subject if one were to leave out a passage such as the extract which follows. In this passage, the creation of certain elements in the animal kingdom is described with the purpose of making man reflect upon the divine Beneficence extended to him. It is quoted basically to provide an example of the way in which the Qur’an describes the harmonious adaptation of Creation to man’s needs; it relates in particular the case of those people who live in a rural setting, since there is nothing that could be examined from a different point of view.

-sura 16, verses 5 to 8:
“(God) created cattle for you and (you find) in them warmth, useful services and food, sense of beauty when you bring them home and when you take them to pasture. They bear your heavy loads to lands you could not reach except with great personal effort. Verily, your Lord is Compassionate and Merciful; (He created) horses, mules and donkeys for you to ride and for ornament. And He created what you do not know.”

Alongside these general remarks, the Qur’an sets out certain data on highly diversified subjects:

–reproduction in the animal kingdom.
–references to the existence of animal communities.

–statements concerning bees, spiders and birds.
–remarks on the source of constituents of animal milk.
(Will be described in the next note)

1. Reproduction in the Animal Kingdom.
This is very summarily dealt with in verses 45 and 46, sura 53:
“(God) fashioned the two of a pair, the male and the female, from a small quantity of liquid when it is poured out.”

The ‘pair’ is the same expression that we have already encountered in the verses which deal with reproduction in the vegetable kingdom. Here, the sexes are given. The detail which is absolutely remarkable is the precision with which it is stated that a small quantity of liquid is required for reproduction. The word itself signifying ‘sperm’ is used. The relevance of this remark will be commented upon in the next chapter.

2. References to the Existence of Animal Communities.
–sura 6, Verse 38:
“There is no animal on 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.”

There are several points in this verse which require comment. Firstly, it would seem that there is a description of what happens to animals after their death: Islam does not apparently, have any doctrine on this point. Then there is predestination in general which would seem to be mentioned here. It could be conceived as absolute predestination or relative, i.e. limited to structures and a functional organization that condition modes of behaviour: the animal acts upon various exterior impulses in terms of a particular conditioning.

Blachère states that an older commentator, such as Razi, thought that this verse only referred to instinctive actions whereby animals worship God. Sheik Si Boubakeur Hamza, in the commentary to

his translation of the Koran, speaks of “the instinct which, according to Divine Wisdom, pushes all beings to group together, so that they demand that the work of each member serve the whole group.”

Animal behaviour has been closely investigated in recent decades, with the result that genuine animal communities have been shown to exist. Of course, for a long time now the results of a group or community’s work have been examined and this has led to the acceptance of a community organization. It has only been recently however, that the mechanisms which preside over this kind of organization have been discovered for certain species. The most studied and best known case is undoubtedly that of bees, to whose behaviour the name von Frisch is linked. Von Frisch, Lorenz and Tinbergen received the 1973 Nobel Prize for their work in this field.

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