The Ever-Glorious Qur'an presents to us the stories of the Prophets and the friends of Allah. Within these stories we find a group of animals that have played a great and significant role in history.
- The crow that Allah sent to Adam's son in order to show him how to hide the dead body of his brother.
- The birds that Ibrahim (Abraham) had killed and divided upon the mountaintops and then Allah gave them life again.
- The cow of Banu Israel that Musa (Moses) ordered to be slaughtered in order to disclose the identity of a mysterious murderer.
- The wolf that was falsely accused of eating Yusuf (Joseph).
- The hoopoe of Sulayman (Solomon) that informed him about the Queen of Sheba.
- The termite that ate the staff of Sulayman on which he was leaning while he was sitting dead on his chair. After the termite had eaten through the wood, the Prophet fell down and his death became known.
- `Uzayr's donkey whom Allah put to death for a hundred years and then gave it life once again, right in front of his owner's eyes.
- The whale that swallowed Yunus (Jonah) for a while and then threw him out to the land because he was among those who praise Allah.
- The dog of the people of the cave that slept with them for three hundred and nine years.
- Sulayman's ant that had called the ants to escape to their dwellings, lest Sulayman and his hosts crush them, while they perceive not.
- Abrahah's elephant that was ordered to destroy the Ka'bah but was frozen in its place because of his fear of Allah and so he could not proceed.
This group of animals was mentioned in the Ever-Glorious Qur'an along with another group that included a bird, animal or plant but was actually a miracle of Allah. For example, Musa's staff that was turned into a snake. 'Isa's clay that he had formed and breathed onto it, and it became a real bird by Allah's Permission. The flocks of birds that Allah (Exalted and Glorified be He) sent to the companions of the elephant to strike them with stones of baked clay.
The spider of the cave is also another creature that was not mentioned in the Ever-Glorious Qur'an but was mentioned in the purified Sunnah. It wove its web over the door of the cave in which Allah's Prophet (peace be upon him) and his Companion Abu Bakr were hiding.
In these stories we come to know a group of beings from the animal kingdom that played their roles in life and appeared on the platform of events for a while before the curtain was finally let down. The Ever-Glorious Qur'an has only mentioned them or flashed a certain instance of their life before us, while the details of their lives remain vague.
During my childhood, I loved this group of animals. I would read or listen to the stories of the Prophets but I was not able to absorb their deep meanings because of my young age. So, it was enough for me to think only about the animal that enjoyed the Prophet's company or served him.
Later on, as I got a little older, my love for animals took on a whole new horizon. Every stray dog on the road was a dog I wanted to feed, and pat its head. It may be a distant grandson of the dog of the people of the cave. Every skinny donkey in the rural areas was for me a beloved creature and friend. It may have been a distant relative of Uzayr's donkey that had experienced death and resurrection.
Moreover, throughout my teens I was looking for a hoopoe. Then, a friend of mine was able to catch one and he gave it to me as a present. I took the hoopoe home, set it loose in my room and looked at it. It was a desperate looking hoopoe and its loss of freedom put it to death on the second day after it refused to eat or drink. I remember the deep sense of sadness I felt when it died. I did not know what to do with him. So I brought out the Ever-Glorious Qur'an and started reading the story of Sulayman and the hoopoe to it. I remember that the hoopoe had lifted up its beautiful head once or twice while it was listening to the Qur'anic verses then it rested his head and surrendered its soul.
At that time, I imagined that it had died content while listening to the glories of its distant grandfathers.
My love for animals caused me a lot of problems. Countless times I returned home carrying a small puppy or a stray cat to my family. Then, a conflict would begin between them and I... My family would usually refuse this new and strange guest. I tried uselessly to convince them that I would die if I gave it up.
I was a frequent visitor to the zoo. I would stand in front of the animals' cages, trying to break the barrier of silence that encompasses these creatures and try to understand what they wanted to say and what we fail to comprehend.
The writer of these lines has grown older. He has come to believe that truth is the greatest value in existence; and he has found it as a raw material in animals just like you find unpolished diamonds in the ground. When an animal looks at you, it looks at you with a frank, straight and steady look. A look void of illusion, lies and obscurity. Even if this animal that looks at you is a beast in the jungle, you will find that its eyes reveal a clear desire to devour you. It does not lie or deceive you. It is that pure truth, which is aligned to nature that we find in beasts, that has no place among human beings.
If an animal's savageness is sincere, then its pain is even more sincere and its tears are the most sincere. Sometimes a human cries as a part of a pre-conceived plan. However, when an animal cries, it is from true pain.
The writer of these lines grew older and older. My love for the animals that enjoyed the company of the Prophets became greater and greater. My body does not feel the essence of this love, as I cannot touch any of them. However, I managed to replace the body with the soul and I have read a lot about the behavior and habits of animals.
I stood in a state of consternation in front of the Glorious Qur'an that was revealed fourteen
centuries ago, concealing within its lines hints to these tales about animals that kept the company of Prophets and the friends of Allah. My amazement stemmed from the fact that no book has been written about this group of animals. "Why? What secret lies behind that indifference?" I asked myself. Such a question troubled me greatly, then I was guided to the secret. Is it because this group of animals was at the service of Allah's Prophets and friends?
In fact, I have written many books about the tales of the Prophets and the friends of Allah. However, it was not possible to pay attention to such weak creatures in the serious stories that discuss the salvation of man and the Hereafter.
Animals were considered too trivial to deserve any attention concerning their thinking, if they originally had any kind of thought or the ability to express their astonishment while they were living with Prophets, witnessing marvelous miracles or constituting an integral part of these miracles. In such away, this group of animals was subject to the oppression of being ignored throughout fourteen centuries. We know that when the sun rises, the light of the stars sets. This is exactly what happened with this group of animals. They remain in their place, but their star like light melted in the brilliant light of the Prophets (peace be upon them). For example, in the story of `Uzayr, who died by the Permission of Allah for one hundred years along with his donkey, and then Allah resurrected him and then his donkey before his eyes, we care for nothing but the Prophet `Uzayr. Who pays attention to1he donkey except one of his own species?
Moreover, in the story of Yusuf (Joseph) (peace be upon him) whose brothers accused the wolf of devouring him, we are moved by Ya'qub's sadness over his son. At the same time, who cares about the wolfs innocence or sadness except a wolf like him? This is also what we can find concerning the dog, the whale and the other animals that were in the company of the Prophets.
The experience of this group of animals has remained a silent secret looking for a tongue to express its stories, especially after the death of Sulayman and Dawud, who were able to talk to them and understand the language of birds and animals.
I think that I envy Sulayman and Dawud a great deal. I do not envy Sulayman for the gold that covered the walls of his castles, for I know that when Sulayman died, he did not take anything with him. For sure, like any human being, Sulayman was born naked, with nothing in his hands and died barehanded.
Sulayman realized before anyone else that gold is nothing but a servant for human beings and so he made use of it. Sulayman gave more attention to the lilies of the fields that rose from the dust, than gold. I do not envy Sulayman for the subjugation of Jinn for him for I do not like to have all the Jinn of the earth under my command. I do not envy Sulayman for having Islam, for I have received Islam at the hands of the sun of the Prophets and the first and most perfect Muslim.
I envy Sulayman for one thing; his ability to understand birds and animals and to talk with them.
How amazing it is to sit and talk with a hoopoe, and to command it and witness its obedience; to have a discussion with a hoopoe; to smile at an ant warning the rest of its fellow creatures about man. This kind of ability makes one's mind and heart dizzy with wonder.
Anyway, although Sulayman and Dawud are dead, art will last until the end of time. Art can be the tongue by which we can describe the life of those animals that were in the company and service of the Prophets. There is no harm in obtaining help from science concerning the nature, habits and behavior of an animal. There is no objection to using one's imagination in regard to the animal's way of life, emotions and way of thinking, but in regard to the stories of the Prophets, art accepts them as they are and receives honor in being a servant calling for Allah.
We are told that the animal has certain instincts that lead it and it does not have a mind. We are told that the animal is a deaf creature that has no language.
Concerning the animal's language and its ability to understand, scientists are divided into two groups. The first group thinks that the animal is devoid of consciousness or a mind of any kind. This view is not new as it descended from Descartes who considered animals as no more than self-acting machines. However, the other group considers animals as being equipped with the same mental capacities as humans. This view is known as "Anthropomorphism." It is an old opinion that is older than Darwin's theory of evolution.
Many famous scientists were influenced by this school of Anthropomorphism. The famous German scientist Brehm, the author of the huge encyclopedia concerning the life of animals, said, "Mammals have a memory, intelligence and moods. Moreover, they have definite independent characters and can differentiate between different things and realize the differences in time, space, color and melody. They are able to recognize things and identify where danger lurks and they think about the different ways to avoid it. They show love and hatred, anger and tenderness, cunning and skill, and faithfulness and treachery. They love those who are amicable and their children. They are able to express their thanks and their loyalty as well as their respect and their contempt. The skillful animal is able to prepare for every thing before doing it and the sensitive and chivalrous animal can risk its life and freedom voluntarily for the sake of the whole group." These were the words of a famous scientist, who dedicated his whole life to the study of animals.
It has been proven scientifically that animals have a language in spite of being different in their significance from that of humans. For example, it has been proven that each group of animals has its own way of communication. Sometimes they communicate by voice, touch, dancing, smell or by signs. What is important is that they have a way of communication. For sure, science has failed to decode this way but it has been proven that there is a language for animals that does not resemble ours. This is the conclusion of several studies that occupied the efforts of scientists and researchers. But the Glorious Qur'an has proven this fact fourteen centuries ago, at a time when animals were thought to be nothing but dirty, mindless, devoid of any logic or language and without any value except what could be obtained by man. In plain language, the Ever-Glorious Qur'an proves that animals have a language of their own and certain way of thinking. They contemplate one ant addressing other ants and warning them against Sulayman and his soldiers.
The ant did not know that Sulayman could understand its language or even hear it. The ant was able to suppose that Sulayman's army could destroy the ants without feeling that.
The ant used the word "feeling" which means that the ants know feelings.
Then consider the words of the hoopoe addressing Sulayman. The hoopoe said words to Sulayman that could not be uttered by the greatest philosophers on the earth. The hoopoe did not accept the prostration of the people of Sheba in worship of the sun. He mocked them in front of Sulayman and asked surprisingly, "How could they refuse to prostrate themselves in worship to Allah Who brings to light what is hidden in the heavens and the earth!"
What was proven by the Ever-Glorious Qur'an fourteen centuries ago while modern science is still trying to uncover some of it, is undoubtedly a miracle that bears witness to the fact that the Ever-Glorious Qur'an is a Divine Revelation.
It also proves the greatness of the first Muslims, as in their time people believed that animals could not speak, feel, understand or realize. In spite of the fact that the Ever-Glorious
Qur'an came with the opposite of their beliefs, they' believed' without any reluctance. They believed without asking or looking for any proof.
I found myself inclined to write about the animals that kept the company of the Prophets. I decided to give this group of animals the chance to express their viewpoints in the form of a biography. I decided to borrow their minds, instincts, sorrows and dreams and to write their biography being guided by the light of the following words by Van Gogh who said, "When I draw a flower ...I become that flower."
It was a short time before Ramadan and I was asked to write something religious for Al-Ahram newspaper. Therefore, I decided to introduce this group of animals on the religious page. The task was not easy but it was interesting.
Maybe it was easy to play the role of a dog or a wolf but how I could be a hoopoe and how could I imagine myself as a huge whale like that white whale that swallowed Yunus.
In the beginning, I was bewildered, then Allah's Mercy inspired me so the most difficult task turned to be quite easy. Thus, I felt that the stones of the mountaintops were addressing me and telling me about the hoopoe that flew over them one day. Moreover, the echoes of the voice of the Dog of the cave came back taking the form of deep night thoughts and retold its story. A seashell thrown by the water of the sea told me that it had witnessed the glorious festival held by Yunus inside the dark belly of the whale.
I escaped from the atmosphere of Cairo to the house of my friend Mahmud Lotfy 'Abd al-Wahhab in az-Zaqaziq where I spent my time reading and writing. For sure, it was necessary to relieve myself from my daily life in Cairo and to completely dedicate myself to writing.
I completely depended on the tales from the Ever-Glorious Qur'an as a reference in relation to the part concerned with the Prophets in these tales. I derived my information about the nature and habits of the animals from the Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdom written by eight scientists from the Biology Museum of Washington University. After these two sources, I have given license to my imagination to dig deep and wide.
In spite of having a very long and difficult period of study and reading, the process of writing was very easy as ideas flooded my mind like a tremendous river. Moreover, it became apparent to me during the process of writing, that most of the animals that were in the company of the Prophets were symbols of Allah's Might and Mercy. The animal's body was a body and a symbol of something greater than itself.
Then, the month of Ramadan came while I was still writing. 1 started publishing in AI-Ahram newspaper, beginning with the tale of Yusuf’s wolf. The tales were not completely published because of limited space.
So, I chose certain tales and published them after a daily process of summarizing that proved to be a cause of great frustration in the printing office. For example, I remember that they asked me to summarize the story about the dog of the people of the cave. So, at the end of the story I wrote, "I imagined that we were entering the door of the cave again... to sleep really at this time. I imagined that Nahish was there in this dark corner. I am not going to talk about what hit us after that. Maybe I will be able to talk about this one day in another book. They said to me, 'Summarize!' I barked in anger. I want to relate ...but I must summarize."
Months passed, then Al-Mukhtar Al-Islamy magazine asked me to publish this collection of tales in a book, so I went back to my solitude to complete my tales.
The book was published twice and its tales were translated into French. Moreover, Mrs. Nafisa Al-Baqly prepared it for the European program in the Egyptian Broadcasting. These parts were part of exchanged production with the French Broadcasting. These stories were broadcasted on French Radio.
All the time, I was thinking about the work that had not yet been finished, as at that time, I had not finished writing all the stories. I dreamed of completing and publishing them in a book with colored pictures. To my surprise, Mickey magazine found the book suitable for children so it decided to publish it with the colored drawings of the artist, Ihab Shakir.
Then the month of Ramadan came and I finished the book. Thus, the book was published in Ramadan throughout three years. I preferred to publish the last edition in Dar Ash-Shoruq after being convinced about this by my friend Ibrahim Al-Mu'allim.
I have a little confession for the reader ...My pleasure while writing this book was greater than my pleasure while reading it. And for your information, I have never read it after writing it but I have felt the noblest feeling that could be felt by a writer, during the time I was working on this book. Throughout the whole time, I felt that the pages of this group of animals were turned over a long time ago. However, I was quite sure that nothing could be lost; not a word, a feeling, a scene nor a situation. Everything keeps itself hidden in the heart and memory of this universe. All of this turned to be secrets and it is known that looking for secrets is so difficult, but I confess that my journey in searching for secrets was amusing, because I was writing easily as if there was somebody whispering to me all the secrets that he exerted great efforts in collecting them.
The reader may ask whether this is a book about religion, art or science. I think it is a work of art as it is imaginary, creative and innovative. However, it also contains both religious and scientific elements.
The religious element is evident in the story of the Prophet whom the animal served. This part has been taken, as it was mentioned before, from the Ever-Glorious Qur'an. I made use of several interpretations of the Ever-Glorious Qur'an such as Ibn-Kathir, Al-Qurtubi and Al-Manar for the Glorious Qur'an as well as the stories of the Prophets. I was keen to stick to the original incidents of the story as mentioned in the most correct interpretations without any changes.
I made use of the scientific element that was derived from a scientific encyclopedia in regard to the nature and habits of the animals. Except for these two elements, I gave rein to my imagination without boundaries.
In a word, I mocked at man's oppression against the animal. I have invented names for this group of animals and imagined previous situations in this life before keeping the company and service of the Prophets. In this way, I was acting under the influence of art alone.