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The Symbolism of Animals in Quran

In the previous article titled “The Symbolism of Trees in Quran”, I had described the trees as symbolic representatives of human languages or modes of communications due to their nature as stationary living beings; their emblem could only be used to indicate the forms or empirical values of an intellectual kind particular to the variety of the trees. Contrary to the trees, animals are mobile and exhibit a far greater range of physical and emotional functions, thus they may carry a gamut of implications relative to their shape, size, habits, and activities. As trees symbolize ‘words’, the animals symbolize ‘actions’; and just as words express qualitative or archetypal phenomena inhabiting in the realm of mind, the actions are more complex since they relate the mind to the physical world by qualifying them according to their worth. Words create the ‘Will’, and actions execute it. Therefore, when animals eat plants they are actually feeding themselves of the divine ‘Will’ or ‘Commandment’ so as to execute those commandments by utilizing their physical capacities. Failure in the fulfilment of this role should prove their inadequacy in the divine plan, because the creatures that do not resonate with the divine plan suffer the consequences through the divine law. The divine law is always directed by the divine plan to uphold the divine characteristics or values totally and unconditionally in the relative universe.

The Path of Power

The Quran states,

Whoso desireth power (should know that) all power belongeth to Allah. Unto Him good words ascend, and the pious deed doth He exalt; but those who plot iniquities, theirs will be an awful doom; and the plotting of such (folk) will come to naught. (35, 10)

The verse (35, 10) is significant as it suggests the concept of power associated with good words (plants) and pious deeds (animals) that find favour in the divine presence. The point here is that neither of plants or animals possess any powers at all because their actions are motivated totally by the pleasure derive of instincts that are pre-conditioned into every bit of their existence. Once left in nature, both plants and animals cannot exercise choices for making changes with respect to their conducts since the judgment factor remains totally absent in them. They cannot act relative to the circumstances by challenging them, rather tend to adapt to the flow of the occasion. For instance, a polar bear may survive the harsh winters of Arctic but would not be capable of withstanding the mildest tropical summers. Though animals do have considerable intelligence to govern their own mode of life in a particular set of conditions but they cannot rebel against those circumstances, and consequently their roles on earth is totally definite and defined. The notion of power negates such a role. One may ask here that whatever could be wrong with the plants/animals existence if they prefer to live in a specific habitat within nature. For is it not the nature that has devised the formula in the first place? Yes… Such an existence may be good enough for plants/animals kind but not for humans because it would make them stuck to the elements of nature. Humans shall neither find ascension nor exaltation as mentioned in the verse (35, 10) and thereby, no power. But then, how to get power? The Quran states,

And for every nation have We appointed a ritual, that they may mention the name of Allah over the beast of cattle that He hath given them for food; and your god is One God, therefore surrender unto Him. And give good tidings (O Muhammad) to the humble. (22, 34)

The verse (22, 34) suggests that by mentioning the name of one God over the food or in other words by recognizing the universe as a whole that human beings receive true power. For instance, viewed from a human perspective the earth can be divided into various political boundaries based on the whims of socio-economic and environmental conditions. But if possible to see it though a divine or heavenly vision from the outer space etc. the earth could only be considered as one entity. Just like a complex machine that may carry various cogs, gears, wheels, etc. but always acts as a single unit to fulfill its objective; the humans have a responsibility to integrate the diverse erratic forces of nature in an ordered condition for a mutually compatible existence. Humans shall have to challenge their own resources and environments in order to tread the path of power.

The Law of Power

The Quran states,

Of the cattle are some for burden and some for meat: eat what Allah hath provided for you, and follow not the footsteps of Satan: for he is to you and avowed enemy. (Take) eight (head of cattle) in (four) pairs: of sheep a pair, and of goats a pair; say, hath He forbidden the two males, or the two females, or (the young) which the wombs of the two females enclose? Tell me with knowledge if ye are truthful: Of camels a pair, and oxen a pair; say, hath He forbidden the two males, or the two females, or (the young) which the wombs of the two females enclose? — Were ye present when Allah ordered you such a thing? But who doth more wrong than one who invents a lie against Allah, to lead astray men without knowledge? For Allah guideth not people who do wrong. (06, 142–144)

The difference between cattle of burden and meat (food) denotes the distinction evident in the actions of production and consumption. To misrepresent the two kinds of actions can be very damaging to the health of any system since they respectively require entirely different conditions. The animals that are permissible here for meat (consumption) have been universally adapted to all kinds of challenges by surviving on meagre resources under the extreme seasonal conditions, and therefore feeding on them would likely promote the resistance factor in human actions. The four pairs of animals that are mentioned in verses (06, 142–144) are very symbolic because they allegorically counter the challenges offered by the four seasons of summer, spring, autumn, and winter. Among the four types of cattle, the pairs of sheep and goats are grouped together in the text because they respectively represent the signs of winter and autumn, thus the presence of Sun on the southern portion of the equator. The camels and oxen represent summer and spring respectively, and thus are grouped accordingly in the text together in order to occupy the northern portion of the equator for the seasonal transit of the Sun. Another very significant esoteric factor about this verse is that it demonstrates the great triad of father, mother, and child into its equation depicting the cardinal, fixed, and mutable astrological signs; the father being the cardinal signs, the mother being the fixed signs, and the young child being the mutable signs of the four seasons. The strong connections of these cattle to the conditions of seasons also become strikingly obvious when considering the physiological features and psychological traits of the associated types of animals to workout the challenges of seasonal adaptations. The following story in the Quran metaphorically refers to the possibility of this seasonal adaptation.

And when Abraham said (unto his Lord): My Lord! Show me how Thou givest life to the dead, He said: Dost thou not believe? Abraham said: Yea, but (I ask) in order that my heart may be at ease. (His Lord) said: Take four of the birds and cause them to incline unto thee, then place a part of them on each hill, then call them, they will come to thee in haste, and know that Allah is Mighty, Wise. (2, 260)

The four birds in the above passage metaphorically represent the four seasons. Once Abraham had mixed up the dead parts of the four birds and placed them separately at different corners of the land, the birds still responded to his call solely because they were already inclined towards him. The message of this metaphor is that as animal bodies may serve to evoke and bring forth certain actions owing to the powerful purposes or intentions; likewise the purpose may cause the bodies to be resurrected also, and that is the law of power. In the esoteric arts, the birds are frequently used to symbolize the powers of regeneration and resurrection.

The Act of Power

The Quran states,

O mankind! A similitude is coined, so pay ye heed to it: Lo! those on whom ye call beside Allah will never create a fly though they combine together for the purpose. And if the fly took something from them, they could not rescue it from it. So weak are (both) the seeker and the sought! (22, 73)

The violent history of mankind bears witness to the fact that his ambitions for power have caused more trouble on earth than anything else. But the power does not really last for long if it is utilized for some selfish or mean objectives. In the verse (22, 73), the fly represents the archetypal power because though being small, its relative proportions of the physical organs makes it a very formidable creature. A healthy creature of proper proportions, talent, and intelligence should be considered a powerful creature, rather than some mighty king who would only cause trouble and destruction in the land on account of his ambitions. The verse (22, 73) also indicates that the divine power acts in unexpected or unusual ways because just like flies that cannot be easily controlled on account of its proportions, we can surmise from the extrapolation of this analogy about even smaller organisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, etc. that not only feed on large animals in parasitic relationships, but also may easily bring them down.

Lo! Allah disdaineth not to coin the similitude even of a gnat or anything above that. Those who believe know that it is the truth from their Lord; but those who disbelieve say: What doth Allah wish (to teach) by such a similitude? He misleadeth many thereby, and He guideth many thereby; and He misleadeth thereby only miscreants. (2, 26)

On the other hand, some small creatures do also perform extraordinarily fantastic labours in order to bless the humankind with the best gifts of nature.

And thy Lord inspired the bee, saying: Choose thou habitations in the hills and in the trees and in that which they thatch; Then eat of all fruits, and follow the ways of thy Lord, made smooth (for thee). There cometh forth from their bellies a drink divers of hues, wherein is healing for mankind. Lo! herein is indeed a portent for people who reflect. (16, 68–69)

The exercise of divine power is also strongly accentuated in the stories of Moses in the Quran.

And what is that in thy right hand, O Moses? He said: This is my staff whereon I lean, and wherewith I beat down branches for my sheep, and wherein I find other uses. He said: Cast it down, O Moses! So he cast it down, and lo! it was a serpent, gliding. He said: Grasp it and fear not. We shall return it to its former state. (20, 17–21)

The serpent in the verse (20, 17–24) is the symbol of royal power. Moses had inherently possessed this extraordinary latent power in the form of his staff which he only used for the very ordinary purposes, but the divine guidance supported him to manifest the true potential of it. A human being may be holding a low status in life, nevertheless this anecdote suggests that through right guidance and positive intentions one can acquire extensive powers to surpass all possibilities.

By the snorting coursers. Striking sparks of fire. And scouring to the raid at dawn. Then, therewith, with their trail of dust. Cleaving, as one, the centre (of the foe). Lo! man is an ingrate unto his Lord. And lo! he is a witness unto that. (100, 1–7)

The verses (100, 1–7) provide an excellent description of the use of power for nobler purposes. The imagery used here is symbolic of the transformative aspect of power since at dawn the darkness departs due to the light of Sun, similarly the right applications of power always result in happiness and freedom. The Quran offers the character of Solomon as the prime example to illustrate the righteous conduct of a powerful human being.

And there were gathered together unto Solomon his armies of the jinn and humankind, and of the birds, and they were set in battle order. Till, when they reached the Valley of the Ants, an ant exclaimed: O ants! Enter your dwellings lest Solomon and his armies crush you, unperceiving. And (Solomon) smiled, laughing at her speech, and said: My Lord, arouse me to be thankful for Thy favour wherewith Thou hast favoured me and my parents, and to do good that shall be pleasing unto Thee, and include me in (the number of) Thy righteous slaves. (27, 17–19)

But power can also either be directed towards wrong objectives or it may not be used at all due to laziness and stupidity, such as the following depictions of cases in the Quran.

The likeness of those who are entrusted with the Law of Moses, yet apply it not, is as the likeness of the ass carrying books. Wretched is the likeness of folk who deny the revelations of Allah. And Allah guideth not wrongdoing folk. (62, 05)

Recite unto them the tale of him to whom We gave Our revelations, but he sloughed them off, so Satan overtook him and he became of those who lead astray. And had We willed We could have raised him by their means, but he clung to the earth and followed his own lust. Therefore his likeness is as the likeness of a dog: if thou attackest him he panteth with his tongue out, and if thou leavest him he panteth with his tongue out. Such is the likeness of the people who deny Our revelations. Narrate unto them the history (of the men of old), that haply they may take thought. (7, 175–176)

And ye know of those of you who broke the Sabbath, how We said unto them: Be ye apes, despised and hated! And We made it an example to their own and to succeeding generations, and an admonition to the God-fearing. (2, 65–66)

Why now turn they away from the Admonishment. As they were frightened asses. Fleeing from a lion! (74, 49–51)

Be modest in thy bearing and subdue thy voice. Lo! the harshest of all voices is the voice of the ass. (31, 19)

Shall I tell thee of a worse (case) than theirs for retribution with Allah? (Worse is the case of him) whom Allah hath cursed, him on whom His wrath hath fallen and of whose sort Allah hath turned some to apes and swine, and who serveth idols. Such are in worse plight and further astray from the plain road. (5, 60)

The End Note

The providence has bestowed humans with remarkable talents to overcome the greatest dilemmas of existence. It is up to human beings now to improvise and utilize their faculties by acknowledging the consequences and values of their actions as manifestations of the divine power. Finally, I should conclude this article by stating a verse from the Quran.

Lo! Allah wrongeth not even of the weight of an ant; and if there is a good deed, He will double it and will give (the doer) from His presence an immense reward. (4, 40)