(dābba, dawābb)

Gibril Fouad Haddad

This article comprises the following sections: i. Definitions and Usage; ii Alphabetical List of Animals and Categories of Animals Named in the Qurʾān; iii. The Ant; iv. The Ass; v. Bees; vi. Birds; vii. The Camel; viii. The Cow; ix. The Dog; x. The Elephant; xi. Fish; xii. The Fly; xiii. Frogs; xiv. Game; xv. The Gnat; xvi. Goats and Sheep; xvii. The Hoopoe; xviii. Horses; xix. Hunting Animals; xx. Land Predators; xxi. Lice; xxii. The Lion; xxiii. Livestock; xxiv. Locusts; xxv. Monkeys; xxvi. Moths; xxvii. Mules; xxviii. The Pig; xxix. Quail; xxx. The Raven; xxxi. The Snake; xxxii. The Spider; xxxiii. Termites; xxxiv. The Wolf; xxxv. Bibliography.

Definitions and Usage

Animals (dawābb, sing. dābba), often used specifically for mounts, from the root d-b-b, contracted verbal form dabba, “to tread the earth,” aortive yadibbu, infinitive noun dabīb (Jawharī, Ṣiḥāḥ), appear in the Qurʾān in the following contexts;

The unfathomable cohesion and richness of the Divine design in Creation, specifically that of animal life through the highlighting of various common denominators such as economy, intelligence, utility, and beauty (see below, section on livestock);

His Lordship over all creation, including animals and sustenance He provides to them: And there is no moving creature on earth but its provision comes from Allah. And He knows its dwelling place and its final abode; all is in a Clear Book (Q 11:6);

Allah’s bounteous blessings on humanity as He made animals subservient, useful, and food for humanity (Q 36:71-73);

Multifarious creatural communities (umam) similar to those of human beings, that recognize Allah as their Creator, submit to Him and worship Him through all of their life cycles, each in its own mode and language: There is not an animal in the earth, nor a flying creature flying on two wings, that are not communities like you (Q 6:38); Have you not seen that unto Allah pays adoration whosoever is in the heavens and whosoever is in the earth, and the sun, and the moon, and the stars, and the hills, and the trees, and the beasts, and many of mankind? (Q 22:18);

His restrictions, to expose who, among His creation, follows His commandments, whether as temporary alimentary prohibitions during pilgrimage (see Ḥajj) (Q 5:1, 5:96-96), or on a permanent basis (see sections on the land predator and the pig), or as the test of belief for an entire people as in the case of the Thamūd with the she-camel of their Prophet Ṣāliḥ(Q 7:73-79) and the Israelites’ circumvention of Sabbath prohibitions (see Children of Isrāʾīl) (Q 7:163);

Moral parables about unbelief and similitudes between human beings and animals, demonstrating Divine Justice, Power, and Will to the recipients of the Message (see below, sections on livestock, monkeys, and pigs). The Ashʿarī al-Rāghib (d. ca.502/1108) expounds a Qurʾānic anthropology with reference to such moral parables:

The human being, since the forces of all existent beings are gathered in him, has become a container for the meanings of the universe, the clay of its forms, the vessel of its impressions, the cluster of its realities. It is as if he were a compound of inanimate forms and plants and cattle and beasts and devils and angels! Hence he may show himself in the guise of any one of them. At times, he may act like inanimate forms in laziness, sluggishness and apathy. This is what Allah Most High warned against when He said, Then your hearts hardened and became as rocks, or harder still (Q 2:74). Or he may show himself in the guise of various plants—good or bad—becoming like the citron that is fragrant, just as its flowers, branches, and leaves are fragrant; or like the date palm and the grapevine with regard to the benefits they yield; or like the [parasitic] dodder plant in worthlessness; or like colocynth in bitterness. Allah Most High warned about all this when He said, A good word is as a good tree—its roots are firm, and its branches are in heaven. It gives its produce every season by the leave of its Lord… And the likeness of a corrupt word is as a corrupt tree—uprooted from the earth, having no stability (Q 14:24-26). At times he shows himself in the guise of good or bad animals. He may be like the bee in its many benefits and few harms, and its excellent administration, as Allah Most High said, Your Lord revealed to the bee: “Build your homes in the mountains, in the trees, and in what they build” (Q 16:68); or like the bird nicknamed Abū al-Wafāʾ in loyalty; or like the pig in gluttony; or like the wolf in mischief; or like the dog in cupidity; or like the ant in hoarding; or like the ass in stupidity; or like the bull in roughness and inexperience. With respect to these similitudes Allah Most High said, There is not an animal in the earth, nor a flying creature flying on two wings, but they are communities like you (Q 6:38). He also shows himself at times in the guise of devils, deceiving, misguiding, passing falsehood for truth, as indicated by the saying of Allah Most High, devils of humankind and jinn who inspire in one another plausible discourse through guile (Q 6:12); and he shows himself at times in the guise of angels, obeying religion, resisting appetites, avoiding misguidance, and pursuing righteousness. He can be a human being only after he places each and every one of those semblances in its place according to the exigencies of the intellect informed by sacred law.

Tafṣīl p. 84-86

Alphabetical List of Animals and Categories of Animals Named in the Qurʾān

The Qurʾān mentions thirty-two animals and categories of animals with the following appellations and frequencies:

  1. ant (namla once, pl. naml twice, dharra six times)
  2. ass (ḥimār twice, pl. ḥamīr twice and ḥumur once)
  3. bee (naḥl once)
  4. birds (ṭayr/ṭāʾir twenty times)
  5. camel (baʿīr twice, bahīmat al-anʿām twice, baḥīra/sābiʾa/waṣīla/ḥām once each, budn once, hīm once, ibil twice, ʿīr thrice, ʿishār once, jamal once, pl. jimāla once, nāqa seven times)
  6. cow (baqara four times, pl. baqar thrice, baqarāt twice, ʿijl ten times)
  7. dog (kalb five times)
  8. elephant (fīl once)
  9. fish (ḥūt four times, pl. ḥītān once, laḥman ṭariyyan twice, nūn once)
  10. fly (dhubāb twice)
  11. frog (ḍafādiʿ once)
  12. game animals, to be hunted or fished (ṣayd four times)
  13. gnat (baʿūḍa once)
  14. goat and sheep (maʿz once, ḍaʾn once, ghanam thrice, naʿja four times)
  15. hoopoe (hudhud once)
  16. horse (ʿādiyāt once, jiyād once, khayl five times, ṣāfināt once)
  17. hunting animals (jawāriḥ once)
  18. land predators (sabuʿ once)
  19. lice (qummal once)
  20. lion (qaswara once)
  21. livestock (anʿām thirty-two times)
  22. locust (jarād twice)
  23. monkey (qirada thrice)
  24. moth (farāsh once)
  25. mule (bighāl once)
  26. pig (khinzīr five times)
  27. quail (salwā thrice)
  28. raven (ghurāb twice)
  29. spider (ʿankabūt twice)
  30. snake (ḥayya once, thuʿbān twice, jānn once)
  31. termite (dābbat al-arḍ once)
  32. wolf (dhiʾb thrice)

Six suras have animal names: Q 2, al-Baqara (The Cow); Q 6, al-Anʿām (Livestock); Q 16, al-Naḥl (The Bee); Q 27, al-Naml (The Ant); Q 29, al-ʿAnkabūt (The Spider); and Q 105, al-Fīl (The Elephant). The most frequently named animals in the Qurʾān provide lawful food: livestock, camels, birds, cows, sheep, and fish.

The two classic animal encyclopedias of Arab culture are al-Jāḥiẓ’s (150-255/767-869) Kitāb al-Ḥayawān and al-Damīrī’s (d. 923/1517) Ḥayāt al-ḥayawān, which include the animals mentioned in this article among others. Among modern works on animals in the Qurʾān, Muḥammad b. Fankhūr al-ʿAbdalī’s Asmāʾ al-ḥayawān fī-l-Qurʾān lists 27 types—overlooking moths, quails, and termites—and gives each type lexical, legal, and zoological treatment with little to no exegesis.

The Ant

Ants are mentioned nine times in the Qurʾān: three under the word naml(a) and six under the word dharra.

Ants are mentioned three times in a single verse of the sura named after them (al-Naml): Until, when they reached the Valley of the Ants, an ant exclaimed: O ants! Enter your dwellings lest Sulaymān and his armies crush you, unaware (Q 27:18). The latter word implies the ant’s exoneration of the armies of the Prophet Sulaymān—upon him peace—and witnesses to its wisdom and sense of justice, whereas, al-Qurṭubī (d. 671/1273) points out, it was Allah Most High Himself Who exonerated the armies of the Prophet Muḥammad—upon him blessings and peace—in the similar verse lest you should tread them underfoot and thus incur guilt for them unknowingly (Q 48:25). Ants are specifically called in the Sunna “a community among the communities that glorify [Allah]” (Bukhārī, Jihād wal-siyar, idha ḥarraq al-mushrik al-Muslim; Muslim, Salām, nahī ʿan qatl al-naml).

The ant is named namla, plural naml or namula, plural namul, because it crawls (namila) or because of its perpetual motion (tanammul), “a perceptive animal (ḥayawān faṭin) which is strong, extremely keen in its sense of smell, parsimonious, hospitable to other ants, and splits grains in two so they will not sprout” (Ibn ʿAṭiyya, Muḥarrar, sub Q 27:18). It is one of four animals (among other narrations mentioning more) that Ibn ʿAbbās (3bh-68/619-688) authentically reported that the Prophet said must not be killed, two of them insects and two of them birds: the hoopoe, shrike (ṣurad), ant, and bee (Aḥmad, Musnad Banī Hāshim, bāqī al-musnad al-sābiq; Abū Dāwūd, Adab, qatl al-dharr; Ibn Mājah, Ṣayd, mā yunhā ʿan qatlih; Dārimī, Sunan, Aḍāḥī, al-nahī ʿan qatl al-ḍifdaʿ wal-naḥl), while Abū Hurayra (d. 58/678) mentions the frog and not the bee (Ibn Mājah, Ṣayd, mā yunhā ʿan qatlih) unless, the Prophet also said, they are deemed pests (al-Ṭaḥāwī, Sharḥ mushkil al-āthār 2:332-333; Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 27:18; Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān, sub n-m-l).

The noun dharra—also read dhura—is mentioned six times in the Qurʾān (Q 4:40; 10:61; 34:3, 22; 99:7-8) and denotes the smallest kind of ant (Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān, sub dh-r-r). Both al-Jāḥiẓ and al-Damīrī included it among the creatures mentioned in the Qurʾān (al-Ḥayawān 4:37; Ḥayāt al-ḥayawān 1:356-358), where it is a recurrent encompassing trope of human accountability, the gravity of even the most insignificant deeds, Divine justice, and Allah’s knowledge of all things even in their minutest form. In modern Arabic, dharra has come to denote the atom.

The Ass

The Qurʾānic words for the ass are ḥimār—plural ḥumur and ḥamīr—which al-Azharī and, in his wake, Ibn Manẓūr’s Lisān and al-Zabīdī’s Tāj define as “the four-legged brayer whether domestic or wild,” a synonym with ʿayr according to al-Farāhīdī (100-175/718-791), none of them referring to any possible connection with aḥmar, red/white (Ibn Sīda, Muḥkam; Lisān; Tāj, sub ḥ-m-r; Farāhīdī, ʿAyn, sub ʿ-y-r).

The ass is mentioned five times in the Qurʾān:

As a miraculous sign of the power of Allah for the man who was resuscitated after being dead for a hundred years, and whose ass was also brought back to life from its decomposed skeletal form: Look at your donkey! And, that We may make you a token unto mankind, look at the bones, how We adjust them and then cover them with flesh! (Q 2:259);

In a verse mentioning the three most frequent mounts used by mankind, alongside horses and mules (see the sections on both below). Al-Damīrī observes that the ass “is the least demanding of animals for provision, the most abundant in its helpfulness, the least demanding in shelter, and the easiest to mount” and he narrates lore related to it (Ḥayāt al-ḥayawān 1:238ff.);

As the animal that possesses the most unpleasant voice of all, within a didactic injunction to be soft-spoken (Q 31:19);

As a carrier of books that ignores their contents, a similitude for the Jews who received the Torah but then failed to follow it: The likeness of those who were entrusted with the Torah, then applied it not, is as the likeness of an ass carrying books (Q 62:5). The deniers of the Sunna are said to hold an identical position, as the various wordings of the following hadith imply:

Lo! Truly I was given the Qurʾān and something [else that is] like it [in respect of being a basis of Sacred Law]. Soon a man may say, leaning on his couch with his stomach full: “Follow this Qurʾān; whatever you find in it to be [declared] permissible, declare it permissible; and whatever you find in it to be [declared] prohibited, declare it prohibited.” Truly, whatever the Messenger of Allah has declared prohibited is just like what Allah has declared prohibited! The meat of the domestic ass is prohibited to you, as is the meat of fanged beasts of prey.

Abū Dāwūd, Sunna, luzūm al-Sunna; Aḥmad, Musnad al-Shāmiyyīn, ḥadīth al-Miqdām b. Maʿdīkarb

Does any of you perhaps think, leaning back on his couch, that Allah has prohibited nothing except what is in this Qurʾān? Truly, truly, I swear it by Allah! I have exhorted and commanded and forbidden you certain things forbidden in the Qurʾān and more! And I have said that fanged beasts of prey are not permissible for you to eat, nor are domestic asses.

Abū Dāwūd, Kharāj wal-imāra wal-fayā, fī taʿshīr ahl al-dhimma; Aḥmad, Musnad al-Shāmiyyīn, ḥadīth al-Miqdām b. Maʿdīkarb

It is significant that al-Dārimī (181-255/797-869) also narrated the above hadith in the introduction to his Sunan and placed it in a chapter entitled “The Sunna adjudicates over the Book of Allah” (al-Sunna qāḍiya ʿalā Kitāb Allāh). Another import of the above narrations is the prohibition of the meat of domestic asses (and their milk), as distinct from zebras and wild asses (all by consensus) which, like horses (according to the majority), are permissible to eat (Ibn Qudāma, Mughnī, al-Ṣayd wal-dhabāʾiḥ, masʾalat qāla: wa-bi-Sunnat Rasūl Allāh al-ḥumur al-ahliyya; masʾalat qāla: wa-kullu dhī mikhlab min al-ṭayr).

As a similitude for the unbelievers who, admonished with the Message of the Qurʾān, turn away like startled asses fleeing from a lion (Q 74:49-51). The hadith about Heraclius proposing Islam to the Byzantines uses a similar image:

Heraclius summoned the Byzantine pontiffs to his villa in Ḥims, ordered the gates locked, then looked at them and said: “Byzantines, do you want to reap success, do what is right, and ensure that your empire will endure? Then follow this Prophet!” At this, they fled like wild asses (ḥumur al-waḥsh) and made for the gates, but they found them locked. When Heraclius saw their loathing of what he had proposed to them, he despaired of their belief.

Bukhārī, Badā al-waḥī, badā al-waḥī


The Qurʾānic collective noun for bees, al-naḥl—mentioned once in the sura of the same name, singular naḥla—is identical with the infinitive noun derived from the verb naḥala, to bestow, a reference to the twin Divine bestowal of honor and goodness on bees and human beings, in the explicit mention that bees are Divinely inspired—the only insect mentioned in the Qurʾān to receive such inspiration—and the fact that the honey that issues from their bellies has curative properties: Your Lord revealed to the bee: “Build your homes in the mountains, in the trees, and in that which they (humans) construct. Then eat of all manner of fruit and follow the easy ways of your Lord.” Then comes there forth from their bellies a drink of diverse hues wherein there is healing for people. Surely in that is a sign for a people who reflect (Q 16:68-69 and Qurṭubī, Tafsīr; Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān, sub n-ḥ-l).

Other references to bees and revelation are the hadiths relating “something like the sound of bees” that was heard when revelation descended on the Prophet (Tirmidhī, Tafsīr, Sūrat al-Muʾminīn; Aḥmad, Musnad al-ʿAsharat al-mubashsharīn bil-Janna); Kaʿb al-Aḥbār’s report of the Muslims’ night prayers being described in the Torah as producing the same sound (Dārimī, Sunan, Muqaddima, ṣifat al-Nabī fī-l-kutub qabl mabʿathih); and the hadith of the Believers’ dhikr entwining around the Throne with the same sound (Ibn Mājah, Adab, faḍl al-tasbīḥ; Aḥmad, Awwal musnad al-Kūfiyyīn, ḥadīth al-Nuʿmān b. Bashīr).

Named by the Arabs “honey flies” (dhubāb al-ʿasal), bees are described as “intelligent, sagacious, courageous, appreciative of consequences, aware of seasons, the times of rain and the best pastures, and of wondrous constitution.” The foregoing verses’ emphasis on apian home-building alludes to its hexagonal cell structure and other wonders of bee architecture (al-Ghazālī, Jawāhir, Faṣl 12; al-Damīrī, Ḥayāt al-ḥayawān 2:340-342). The queen bee, for example, knows in advance the gender of the embryos within the two thousand eggs it lays daily. Bees also know in advance the times of day when certain flower species open their blossoms, so that they can be sure of utilizing them; and their vital pollinating role in global agriculture is widely known (Ṭayyāra, Mawsūʿa 2:260ff.). Al-Ghazālī writes:

One of the worlds He created is the world of dumb beasts, the smallest of which are the gnat (cf. section below), the fly (cf. section below), the spider (cf. section below), and the bee. (...) And look at the bee and its countless wonders in gathering pollen and wax, with especial emphasis on its hexagonal domestic architecture lest it take up space that could be used by its comrades, because they crowd together in narrow locations despite their great numbers; thus, if they built round cells there would remain lost gaps, for circles do not level evenly with each other, nor does any other shape except squares, but the shape of bees is closer to roundness, so the lost gaps would then be inside the cells just as they would be outside them for circles; and no geometrical shape closer to roundness remains except the hexagon. This is known by geometrical demonstration. See how Allah showed it the specific property of that shape. This is but one example of the wonders of the creation of Allah and His Kindness and Mercy with His creatures.

Jawāhir, Faṣl 12

Honey is recommended in the Qurʾān and the Sunna, evidence of its foremost rank among Divine bestowals, aliments, and medications.


The Qurʾānic collective noun for birds, al-ṭayr, is mentioned twenty times (singular ṭāʾir, plural ṭayr, ṭuyūr, and aṭyār). Lexically, al-ṭayr refers to “two-winged animals that fly,” though the category includes flightless birds (Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān, sub ṭ-y-r). In the wider sense, ṭayr is anything that flies, as opposed to crawls, as implied in the contrastive pair in the verse There is not an animal on the earth, nor a creature flying on two wings, but they are communities like you (Q 6:38). This lends credence to Ibn ʿAbbās’ reported inclusion, within that definition, of every winged creature, even the mosquito: “In the Qurʾān there are ten aṭyār that Allah has specifically named: the gnat in al-Baqara, the raven in al-Māʾida, the locust in al-Aʿrāf, the bee in al-Naḥl, the quail in al-Baqara and Ṭā Hā (also al-Aʿrāf), the ant in al-Naml as well as the hoopoe, the fly in al-Ḥajj, the moth in al-Qāriʿa, and the abābīl swarms in al-Fīl” (in al-Damīrī, Ḥayāt al-ḥayawān 2:100, citing Ibn al-Jawzī’s Uns al-farīd wa-bughyat al-murīd). The participial noun ṭāʾir and reflexive intensive verb taṭayyara are also used to denote bird auguries and ill omen (Q 7:131, 27:47, 36:19) and, in the verse Every man’s ṭāʾir have We fastened to his own neck, and We shall bring forth for him on the Day of Resurrection a book which he will find wide open (Q 17:13), “his deeds with which he shall be garlanded” (al-Fārābī, Dīwān al-adab 3:362; cf. al-Khafājī, Shifāʾ, sub ṭ-y-r).

Birds in the Qurʾān are exemplars of:

Divine creation, support, and knowledge of the minutest details: Have they not seen the birds above them spreading out their wings and closing them? Nothing upholds them save the Beneficent. Lo! He sees all things (Q 67:19); Have they not seen the birds held in mid-air? None holds them save Allah. Lo! herein, verily, are portents for a people who believe (Q 16:79); and the birds in their flight? Of each He knows the worship and the praise (Q 24:41);

Do they not see the birds above them with wings outspread and folded in? None holds them [aloft] except the Most Merciful. Indeed He is, of all things, Seeing (Q 67:19);

Divine power and munificence, as illustrated in the accounts of the miracles of their arousal to life at the hands of Ibrāhīm(Q 2:260) and ʿĪsā (Q 3:49, 5:110), Sulaymān’s knowledge of the speech of birds and their servile submission to him (Q 27:16-17, 20), and Dāwūd’s miracles, as in And We subdued the hills and the birds to hymn [His] praise along with Dāwūd (Q 21:79, 34:10, 38:19);

universal submission to Allah: Have you not seen that Allah, He it is Whom all who are in the heavens and the earth praise, and the birds in their flight? Of each He knows the worship and the praise (Q 24:41);

the delightful food of Paradise: And the flesh of fowl, any that they may desire (Q 56:21);

the destruction of the human body in death (Q 12:36, 41), as in Prophet Yūsuf’s interpretation of the condemned man’s dream: The other said, “Indeed, I have seen myself carrying upon my head [some] bread, from which the birds were eating. Inform us of its interpretation; indeed, we see you to be of those who do good” (Q 12:36) (see Dreams and their Interpretation; Food and Drink); or in the destruction of polytheists and unbelievers: And he who associates with Allah—it is as though he had fallen from the sky and was snatched by the birds or the wind carried him down into a remote place (Q 22:31). The birds that destroyed Abraha’s army And He sent against them birds in flocks (Q 105:3) were martins (khaṭāṭīf) that originated from the sea and held three pea-like stones each, one in their beaks and one in each claw, which they hurled down, killing whomever they hit (cf. Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 105:1) (see People of the Elephant). The commentaries explain the term abābīl in Sūrat al-Fīl as a singularless plural (or the plural of ibāla in Bayḍāwī, Tafsīr, sub Q 105:3) that means “successive droves from every side” (jamāʿāt shayʾan baʿda shayʾ, min hāhunā wa-min hāhunā), a term that can also be used for horses (cf. Rāzī, Tafsīr, sub Q 3:93 and 105:3).

Similarly, birds symbolize the minuteness of detail and the vast extent of the Prophetic knowledge in the hadith of Abū Dharr (d. 32/652)—Allah be well-pleased with him: “When the Messenger of Allah left us there was not a ṭāʾir that moves about in the sky that he had not informed us about it” (Aḥmad, Musnad al-Anṣār, ḥadīth Abī Dharr al-Ghifārī). The latter is elucidated by the report from Ḥudhayfa, ʿAmr b. Akhṭab, ʿUmar, and Abū Saʿīd al-Khudrī, “He informed us of all that was to happen, down to the Day of Resurrection” (Bukhārī, Qadar, wa-kāna amru-l-Lāhi qadaran maqdūrā; Muslim, Fitan, ikhbār al-Nabī fī-mā yakūn ilā qiyām al-Sāʿa).

The Camel

Camels are the most frequently mentioned single animal in the Qurʾān, with twenty-five references under fourteen different names, in addition to the three occurrences of the expression bahīmat al-anʿām—large livestock—which, like the generic anʿām (see the section on livestock below), principally refers to camels (e.g., the Prophet’s extollment of ḥumr al-naʿam to mean red camels, cf. Bukhārī, Faḍāʾil aṣḥāb al-Nabī, manāqib ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib), and secondarily to cattle, sheep, and goats (cf. Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 5:1).

The camel’s physical strength and great endurance coupled with its tractability, its medicinal benefits, and its noble traits have long elicited the wonder of the Arabs, who celebrated it in their poetry (al-Aṣmaʿī, Kitāb al-ibil; al-Damīrī, Ḥayāt al-ḥayawān 1:197-202). In penal law, camels may be used to remit the blood money paid by a murderer or his family or clan to the family or clan of the victim (e.g., to the amount of a hundred camels, one thousand gold dinars, or twelve thousand dirhams). The general principle is mentioned in the Qurʾān (Q 2:178, 4:92), and further detailed in the Sunna and books of jurisprudence (cf. ʿAbd al-Munʿim, Muʿjam al-muṣṭalaḥāt, sub diya).

The Qurʾānic nouns and usages of the words for “camel” are:

the collective singularless generic noun ibil (Q 6:144) of which the plurals are ābāl, awābil, and abābīl, in which sense the latter means dispersed (Jawḥarī, Ṣiḥāḥ, sub ā-b-l). The Qurʾān mentions it within an exhortative question meant to rouse wonderment at the creation of such an animal: Do they not look at the camels (ibil) [and consider] how they were created? (Q 88:17);

the noun jamal (Q 7:40) which refers to adult male camels, plural jimāl(a) (Q 77:33) (Ṣiḥāḥ, sub j-m-l). In the former verse, the Qurʾān uses the verbal structure of ghuluww, “rhetorical impossibility” or “adynaton,” to express the absolute prohibition of Paradise for unbelievers. Ghuluww is defined in al-Nābulusī’s manual of rhetoric (badīʿ) Nafaḥāt al-azhār as “an overstatement, attributing to an object what is both unrealized in experience and rationally perceived to be impossible.” Verily, they who deny Our revelations and scorn them, for them the gates of Heaven will not be opened; nor will they enter Paradise until the camel passes through the eye of the needle (Q 7:40), that is, never (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr). In the latter verse, hellfire is described as it throws sparks [as huge] as a fortress, as if they were yellow-black camels (Q 77:32-33);

the noun nāqa (Q 7:73, 77, 11:64) which denotes the proven female of the jamal which has birthed young, plurals ayāniq, anūq, aynuq, niyāq, and nūq (Jawḥarī, Ṣiḥāḥ; Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān; Ibn Sīda, Muḥkam; and Fayyūmī, Miṣbāḥ, sub n-w-q). “Originally nāqa comes from subduing and taming. A munawwaq camel is one that is completely tamed and docile, and tanawwaq bil-ʿamal means to do one’s job well” (Ṭabarsī, Majmaʿ 4:290). The Qurʾān mentions it as the glaring sign (tabṣira, Q 17:59) brought to the Thamūd by their Prophet, Ṣāliḥ—upon him peace (Q 26:155, 54:27, 91:13), glossed as a red ten-month pregnant she-camel that came out from the rock and gave birth before the disbelievers who had challenged Ṣāliḥ to produce just such a miracle (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 26:155);

the noun baʿīr (Q 12:72) designates a camel of either gender that is over four years old and fit to mount and load with carriages, plural abāʿir, abāʿīr, and buʿrān (al-Wasīṭ, sub b-ʿ-r);

the noun budn (Q 22:36) is the plural of budna and designates the large adult livestock that can be sacrificed at the Kaʿba in pilgrimage. It is thus named because of its size since the root b-d-n is used for large bodies (Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub b-d-n); otherwise, sacrificial animals great and small are generically called hadī (Q 5:2, 5:97);

the nouns baḥīra, sāʾiba, waṣīla and ḥām (Q 5:103) are pre-Islamic names for camels consecrated to pagan deities. They were left unmilked and unmounted and their ears were slit as a sign of consecration, a practice initiated in part by ʿAmr b. ʿĀmir b. Luḥayy al-Khuzāʿī (Bukhārī, Manāqib, qiṣṣat Khuzāʿa; Qurṭubī, Tafsīr);

the noun ʿishār is the plural of ʿusharāʾ, the ten-month pregnant camel about to birth in the verse And when the pregnant she-camels are abandoned (Q 81:4). Such abandonment by their owners is mentioned as a sign of the terror of the Day of Judgment, an image (mathal) of the greatest import to any camel-raising society since no one would normally leave their most valuable property untended (cf. Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 81:4);

the noun ʿīr refers to a supply-carrying caravan of both human beings and camels, hence their being addressed in the verse and then a crier cried: O ʿīr! You are surely thieves! (Q 12:70), where the word has been variously translated as camel-riders, cameleers, caravan, caravaners, people of the caravan, and travelers;

the noun hīm (Q 56:55) is the plural of the self-descriptives ahyam, haymān, and hāʾim, feminine haymāʾ—from the root h-y-m, infinitive noun hiyām—and denotes camels with a disease of unquenchable thirst which can also afflict human beings (al-Wasīṭ);

the nouns ḥamūla and farsh stem from the roots for carrying (ḥ-m-l) and spreading over the earth (f-r-sh) and are used in the verse And of the grazing livestock are carriers of burdens (ḥamūla) and the smaller kind (farsh) (Q 6:142), thus named because they respectively refer to the tall animals that are able to carry heavy loads and to those that are smaller and closer to the ground (Ṭabarī and Qurṭubī, Tafsīrs);

the noun ḍāmir (pl. ḍawāmir) refers to “the emaciated camel” (al-baʿīr al-mahzūl) after a long journey undertaken to reach the place of pilgrimage (Samarqandī, Baḥr; Māwardī, Nukat; Ibn ʿAjība, Baḥr, and others, sub Q 22:27).

The classic reference manual of camelid science and lexicology remains al-Aṣmaʿī’s (d. 216/831) Kitāb al-ibil; among modern studies on the Arabian camel, a thorough text is al-Ibil: asrār wa-iʿjāz by Ḍarmān b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz Ḍarmān and Sand b. Muṭliq al-Subayʿī.

The Cow

The word baqara is mentioned nine times in the Qurʾān, as well as being the name of the longest sura, Sūrat al-Baqara (Q 2). It is commonly translated as “cow,” primarily denoting domesticated cattle valued for their milk (al-alīfat al-labūna), but including large bovine animals, whether domesticated or wild, male or female, thus called because they cleave (baqara) the earth (Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān, sub b-q-r; al-Damīrī, Ḥayāt al-ḥayawān p. 143; Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 2:67). The Qurʾān uses the term baqara:

five times in the sura of the same name (Q 2:67-71), with reference to the command to the Israelites to slaughter a baqara: And [recall] when Mūsā said to his people, “Indeed, Allah commands you to slaughter a cow” (Q 2:67); the specific color of which was “yellow/black”—ṣafrāʾ can mean either color as in the jimāla ṣufr of Q 77:33 (see above, section on camels)—and “brightly-hued” (ṣafrāʾ fāqiʿun lawnuhā, Q 2:96) and “without trace of whiteness in it” (lā shiyata fīhā, Q 2:71) (cf. Bukhārī, Ahādīth al-anbiyāʾ, wa-idh qāla Mūsā li-qawmih);

once in reference to the pagan practice of consecrating lawful animals: And of the camels, two, and of the cattle, two. Say, “Is it the two males He has forbidden or the two females or that which the wombs of the two females contain? Or were you witnesses when Allah charged you with this? Then who is more unjust than one who invents a lie about Allah to mislead the people by [something] other than knowledge? (Q 6:144);

once with reference to Mosaic alimentary laws: Unto those who are Jews We prohibited every animal of uncloven hoof; and of the cattle and the sheep We prohibited to them their fat, except what adheres to their backs or the entrails or what is joined with bone... (Q 6:146); and

twice in the plural form baqarāt in the account of the Prophet Yūsuf’s interpretation of the king of Egypt’s dream: And the king said, “Indeed, I have seen in a dream seven fat cows being eaten by seven lean ones... (...) Yūsuf! O thou truthful one! Expound for us the seven fat cows which the seven lean were eating...” (Q 12:43, 46).

The Qurʾān also uses the word ʿijl (“calf”) ten times: eight in reference to the account of the Israelites’ worship of the Golden Calf (Q 2:51, 54, 92-93; 4:153; 7:148, 152; 20:88), which al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī (d. 110/728) said was named Bahamūt, that is, “Behemoth” (in Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr, sub Q 18:18 and 20:88), and two in reference to Prophet Ibrāhīm’s intended hospitality to his angelic guests (Q 11:69; 51:26).

The Dog

      The dog is mentioned in three verses. The Qurʾānic singular noun kalb, plural kilāb, is a term denoting a land predator (sabuʿ), and came to be used predominantly for the baying domesticated animal known as the dog, and accordingly is commonly translated thus (Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān, sub k-l-b). The proper noun Kilāb is the name of one of the greatest ancestral lines of the Quraysh. Abū al-Duqays al-Kilābī was asked, “Why do you give your sons the worst names, such as ‘dog’ and ‘wolf’ (dhiʾb), and give your slaves the best, such as ‘gifted’ (marzūq) and ‘gainful’ (rabāḥ)?” He replied, “We name our sons only for our enemies and our slaves for ourselves” (al-Ālūsī, Bulūgh al-arab p. 190).

once in the parable of the one who disregarded the Signs of Allah: He clung to the earth and followed his own lust. His likeness is as that of a dog; if you attack it, it pants with its tongue out, and if you leave it alone, it pants with its tongue out. Such is the likeness of the people who deny Our revelations (Q 7:176) (see Parables of the Qurʾān). This dog represents negative qualities of recklessness, coarseness, and poor judgment (al-Jāhiz, al-Ḥayawān 4:38);

the other two references mention the canine companion of the Sleepers of the Cave (see People of the Cave): And you would think them awake, while they were asleep. And We turned them to the right and to the left, while their dog stretched its forelegs at the entrance... (Q 18:18). Speculation arose about how many were present in the cave, including their dog: They will say there were three, the fourth of them being their dog; and they will say there were five, the sixth of them being their dog—guessing at the unseen; and they will say there were seven, and the eighth of them was their dog. Say, [O Muḥammad], “My Lord is most knowing of their number. None knows them except a few. So do not argue about them except with an obvious argument and do not inquire about them among [the speculators] from anyone” (Q 18:22).This dog demonstrated loyalty and positive qualities. Ibn Kathīr, identifying the dog with the name Qiṭmīr, writes that

their (the Sleepers’) blessing encompassed him (the dog), so, like them, he slept in that state [of miraculous preservation]. Such is the benefit of keeping company with the best people. Behold, that dog is now celebrated, famed, and held in high esteem.

Tafsīr, sub Q 18:18

Ibn al-Marzubān (d. 310) described these positive qualities in his misanthropically-titled Faḍl al-kilāb ʿalā kathīr mimman labis al-thiyāb (“The Superiority of Dogs to Many of Those That Wear Garments”). Dogs were called by the Prophet—upon him blessings and peace—“a community among communities” (Nasāʾī, Ṣayd wal-dhabāʾiḥ, ṣifat al-kalb; Tirmidhī, Aḥkām, mā jāʾ fī qatl al-kalb, hadith classed ḥasan ṣaḥīḥ; Ibn Mājah, Ṣayd, al-nahī ʿan iqtināʾ al-kalb; Dārimī, Sunan, Ṣayd, qatl al-kilāb) and he mentioned that a man, or in another version, an Israelite prostitute, gave water to a thirsty dog and for this action earned Divine forgiveness (Bukhārī, Musāqāt, faḍl saqy al-māʾ and Aḥādīth al-anbiyāʾ, ḥadīth al-ghār; Muslim, Salām, faḍl saqy al-bahāʾim; Mālik,  Jāmiʿ, jāmiʿ mā jāʾ fī-l-ṭaʿām wal-sharāb).

An erstwhile command to kill dogs due to their proliferation and harmfulness was later abrogated (see Abrogation), as is made explicit by the chapter in the book of sharecropping (musāqāt) in Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim entitled “The command to kill dogs and the exposition of its abrogation, and the exposition of the prohibition of keeping them except for hunting and the protection of farms, cattle, and the like”; hence, the exceptive in the hadith, “Whoever acquires a dog, with the exception of a dog for hunting, or guarding sheep, or protecting the harvest, then a large portion of his reward will be diminished every day” (Bukhārī, Muzāraʿa, iqtināʾ al-kalb lil-ḥarth; Muslim, Musāqāt, al-amr bi-qatl al-kilāb wa-bayān naskhih). See the section on “Hunting Animals” below; Hunting and Game.

A thorough monograph on the subject of dogs in the law was written by the Ḥanbalī Syrian jurist Ibn al-Mubarrid (840-909/ca.1436-1503) entitled al-Ightirāb fī aḥkām al-kilāb.

The Elephant

Elephants are mentioned once as the collective al-fīl, in the sura of that name: Have you not considered how your Lord dealt with the people of the elephant? (Q 105:1). This verse is in reference to Christian invaders of Makka from Ṣanʿāʾ, Yemen, in the year of the Prophet Muḥammad’s birth, which came to be known as the Year of the Elephant (see People of the Elephant). The 60,000-strong army of cavalry, infantry, and elephants was led by their king Abraha who had built a church in Yemen, but, having been told that the Kaʿba was more beautiful and more famous, intended to destroy it. The army was destroyed instead, although his chief elephant Maḥmūd refused to continue marching when it came within sight of the Kaʿba (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 105:1).

Since its tusks are considered the largest fangs of all, the Law ranks the elephant among the land predators (see below) and for that reason, its meat is considered unlawful for consumption according to the majority (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 105:1; Ibn Qudāma, Mughnī, Āniya, masʾalat qāla: kadhālik āniyat ʿiẓām al-mayta).


The Qurʾān uses three terms for fish, in eight occurrences:

The collective noun ḥūt (Q 18:61, 63, 37:142, 68:48), plural ḥītān (Q 7:163). The word ḥūt is synonymous with the collective samak, plural simāk, sumūk, and asmāk (Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān and al-Wasīṭ, sub ḥ-w-t and s-m-k; al-Damīrī, Ḥayāt al-ḥayawān 1:267)—which is used in modern Arabic—although it has been said that ḥūt is specific to large fish (Ibn Sīda, Muḥkam, sub ḥ-w-t). The fish that the servant of Mūsā had been carrying for a meal for them both came to life miraculously at the junction of the two seas and jumped into the water, according to the glosses on And when they reached the point where the two [waters] met, they forgot their fish, and it took its way into the waters, being free. So when they had passed beyond it, [Mūsā] said to his young companion, “Bring us our morning meal. We have certainly suffered in this, our journey, [much] fatigue.” [His companion] said, “Do you remember the rock on which we took rest? I did indeed forget [about] the fish—none but Satan made me forget to mention it—it took its way into the waters in a marvellous way!” (Q 18:61-63).

Fish are mentioned in the context of the Israelites’ violation of the Sabbath prohibition of work. And ask them about the town that was by the sea—when they transgressed in [the matter of] the Sabbath—when their fish came to them openly on their Sabbath day, and the day they had no Sabbath they did not come to them. Thus did We give them trial because they were defiantly disobedient (Q 7:163).

The sea-creature mentioned in reference to the Prophet Yūnus, is understood to have been subservient to God, and provides the occasion for prophetic repentance: Then the fish swallowed him, while he was blameworthy (Q 37:142). The Prophet Muḥammad is addressed and advised, using the example of Prophet Yūnus, upon him peace. Then be patient for the decision of your Lord, [O Muḥammad], and be not like the companion of the fish when he called out while he was distressed (Q 68:48).

The Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, said the first meal of the dwellers of Paradise will be the lobe of the liver of the ḥūt (Bukhārī, Aḥādīth al-anbiyāʾ, qawl Allāh taʿālā wa-idh qāla Rabbuka lil-malāʾikati innī jāʿilun fī-l-arḍi khalīfa).

The collective noun nūn in possessive construct (Dhūl-Nūn) is a name for the Prophet Yūnus—upon him peace—in the verse And the Man of the Fish, when he went off in anger and deemed that We had no power over him, but [later] he cried out in the darkness, saying: There is no God save You (Q 21:87), the unitary singular being nūna, plural anwān and nīnān (Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān, sub n-w-n).

The collective noun and adjective laḥman ṭariyyan or “fresh meat” in the verses It is He who has subjected to you the sea, that you may eat of it fresh meat (Q 16:14) and The two seas are not alike: this one fresh, sweet, fit to drink, this [other] one bitter, salt. And from them both you eat fresh meat and derive ornament that you wear (Q 35:12).

There is consensus that purely aquatic fish are lawful for consumption without need for ritual slaughter (bi-ghayr dhakāt) (Ibn Qudāma, Mughnī, al-Ṣayd wal-dhabāʾiḥ, masʾalat qāl: wa-mā kān māʾuh al-baḥr), and divergence concerning the rest. The Shāfiʿīs are the most permissive in this respect, as they consider all aquatic life lawful for consumption without exception (al-ʿUthmānī, Raḥmat al-Umma, Aṭʿima, faṣl: ḥayawān al-baḥr) (see Food and Drink; Lawful and Unlawful; Oceans; Water).

The Fly

Flies are mentioned once in the Qurʾān with the collective noun dhubāb (Q 22:73), unitary singular dhubāba, plural adhibba and dhibbān, which refers to the common housefly, thus named because of its dhabdhaba or trepidant motion (Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān; Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs; and al-Wasīṭ, sub dh-b-b). Al-Ghazālī writes:

Look at the fly, how He created its limbs and made its two optic lenses bare, without lids, since its small head does not have room for them. Yet lids are needed for the cleansing of the lens from impurities and dust, but see how He created for it, instead of eyelids, two extra hands in addition to its four legs with which, even when it falls to the ground, it continues to cleanse its eyes from dust.

Jawāhir, Faṣl 12

The Qurʾān uses the fly as a trope of an insignificant thing that exposes the impotence of idols and their inability to create anything: Verily those on whom you call beside Allah will never create a fly even if they were to 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! (Q 22:73; cf. al-Jāhiz, al-Ḥayawān 4:37-38). Ibn al-Qayyim (691-751/1292-1350) said:

This parable cuts off polytheism at the roots in the heart of every worshipper because the least that any [fitting] object of worship could do would be to create things that benefit the worshipper and annihilate things that harm him; but the entire host of the gods which the pagans worshipped besides Allah could not create even a fly, far less anything greater.

al-Amthāl p. 247-248

Arab culture considered the fly a reckless and unintelligent creature with a penchant for fetid objects and places, while at the same time it can “reach where the lion cannot reach” (al-Damīrī, Ḥayāt al-ḥayawān 1:351-353).


Frogs are mentioned once in the Qurʾān as the plural noun ḍafādiʿ—singular ḍifdaʿ(a)—within the list of the plagues sent to Egypt: So We visited on them the flood, locusts, vermin, frogs, and blood, a succession of clear signs (Q 7:133). The commentaries state that the frogs were the last of the signs in sequence, and were sent in such huge numbers that people “sat neck-deep in frogs, and if one spoke a frog would jump into his mouth.” (cf. Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī and Rāzī; and Ibn ʿAṭiyya, Muḥarrar)

“It is said that it is the animal that lauds Allah the most” (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 7:133). The frog was also related to have thrown water on the fire Nimrūd lit against Ibrāhīm. It is established that the Prophet—upon him blessings and peace—specifically prohibited the killing of frogs (Dārimī, Sunan, Aḍāḥī, al-nahī ʿan qatl al-ḍifdaʿ wal-naḥla), even for medicinal or pharmaceutical purposes (Nasāʾī, Ṣayd wal-dhabāʾiḥ, al-ḍifdaʿ; Abū Dāwūd, Ṭibb, fī-l-adwiyat al-makrūha, and Adab, fī qatl al-ḍifdaʿ; Aḥmad, Musnad al-Makkiyyīn, ḥadīth ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. ʿUthmān). It is one of the three aquatic creatures that are unlawful to eat—together with the crocodile (timsāḥ) and the shark (kawsaj)—according to the vast majority, although some influential Madinans, including Ibn Abī Laylā and Mālik, and Kufans, such as al-Thawrī, reportedly deemed them lawful (al-Jaṣṣāṣ, Mukhtaṣar 3:214; Ibn Qudāma, Mughnī, al-Ṣayd wal-dhabāʾiḥ, masʾalat qāla: wa-mā kān maʾwāh al-baḥr).


The original meaning of the infinitive noun (maṣdar) al-ṣayd is “to gain control over a thing and catch it, but as a legal term, it denotes hunting or catching those animals that take care of their own safety and protection, provided they are lawful and belong to no one; sometimes the hunted animal, al-maṣīd, itself is called ṣayd.” As an example, al-Rāghib cites Q 5:95 and 96, where the word denotes game (Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub ṣ-y-d). Thus ṣayd denotes both the act of hunting and the quarry, whether land game (ṣayd al-barr) or sea catches (ṣayd al-baḥr). It occurs five times in Sūrat al-Māʾida (Q 5:1, 94-96), in all five cases in the context of its legal status while during pilgrimage (see Arbitration; Expiation; Hajj; Hunting and Game; Sacred Months; Sacred Precincts; ʿUmra):

O ye who believe! fulfil [all] obligations. Lawful unto you [for food] are all four-footed animals, with the exceptions named: But game animals are forbidden while you are in the sacred precincts or in the state of iḥrām: for Allah doth command according to His will and plan (Q 5:1);

O you who believe! Allah will certainly make a trial of you with something in [the matter of] the game that is well within reach of your hands and your lances, that Allah may test who fears Him unseen. Then whoever transgresses thereafter, for him there is a painful torment. O you who have believed, do not kill game while you are in the state of iḥrām. And whoever of you kills it intentionally—the penalty is an equivalent from sacrificial animals to what he killed, as judged by two just men among you as an offering [to Allah] delivered to the Kaʿba, or an expiation... Lawful to you is game from the sea and its food as provision for you and the travelers, but forbidden to you is game from the land as long as you are in the state of iḥrām. And fear Allah to Whom you will be gathered (Q 5:94-96).

The Gnat

The noun baʿūḍa, gnat, is mentioned once in the Qurʾān, in the same rhetorical sense as the verse of the fly already cited: Verily Allah disdains not to coin the similitude even of a gnat (Q 2:26), in response to the unbelievers’ scoffing at the Revelation’s mention of allegedly undignified tropes such as a campfire, lightning, and rain (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, and al-Suyūṭī, Lubāb, sub Q 2:26), or the fly and the spider (al-Wāḥidī, Asbāb and Bayḍāwī, Tafsīr sub Q 2:26). Similiar to nāmūs or mosquito, baʿūḍa designates the gnat, which is defined as a type of fly (dhubāba), thus named because of its smallness, as baʿḍ denotes “portion” (Ibn Sīda, Muḥkam; al-Wasīṭ; Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub b-ʿ-ḍ).

The Prophet further emphasized the trope of insignificance combined with impotence in the following hadiths: “There will be huge, strong men that shall come on the Day of Resurrection weighing less than the wing of a gnat in the Sight of Allah” (Bukhārī, Tafsīr, ulāʾik al-ladhīn kafarū bi-āyāt Rabbihim; Muslim, Ṣifat al-qiyāma wal-janna wal-nār, bāb); “If the world weighed as much as a gnat’s wing in the sight of Allah, He would not have allowed a disbeliever as much as a sip of water from it” (Tirmidhī, Zuhd, mā jāʾa fī hawān al-dunyā ʿalā Allāh, hadith classed ṣaḥīḥ gharīb).

Al-Ghazālī writes:

Consider the gnat and how He created its limbs, each of which He created also in the elephant, including a long proboscis with a sharp extremity; then He guided it to suck human blood for food with it; and He created for it two wings as a means of escape when its host tries to repel it.

Jawāhir, Faṣl 12

Goats and Sheep

Goats and sheep are mentioned together once in the Qurʾān. They are identified in a verse denouncing pre-Islamic pagan practices of animal consecration: Eight pairs: Of the sheep (ḍaʾn) two, and of the goats (maʿz) two. Say: Has He forbidden the two males or the two females, or that which the wombs of the two females contain? (Q 6:143) (see “The Cow” above). The Arabic masculine singular noun for goat is māʿiz, feminine māʿiza and miʿzāt, plurals maʿz, maʿaz, mawāʿiz, maʿīz, miʿāz, amʿūz, maʿzā, miʿzā, and amʿuz, the buck being called tays, plural tuyūs and atyās and the male kid jady, plural ajd and jidāʾ (Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān and Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs, sub m-ʿ-z, t-y-s, and j-d-y). The Arabic singular noun for sheep is ḍāʾin, feminine ḍāʾina, plural ḍaʾn, ḍān, ḍaʾan, ḍaʾīn, ḍinīn, ḍayn, ḍīn, aḍʾun, and ḍawāʾin, the ram being called kabsh—plural akbush and kibāsh—which is not mentioned in the Qurʾān but is the unanimous gloss for the great sacrifice (dhibḥ ʿaẓīm) that Allah accepted from Ibrāhīm in lieu of his son Ismāʿīl—upon them peace—in the verse Then We ransomed him with a great sacrifice (Tafsīrs of Ibn Abī Ḥātim, Ṭabarī, Baghawī, Ibn ʿAṭiyya, Qurṭubī, Ibn Kathīr, and others, sub Q 37:107; al-Damīrī, Ḥayāt al-ḥayawān, sub kabsh).

The males and females of both sheep and goats are meant by the collective singularless generic noun ghanam which is mentioned in three verses (Q 6:146, 20:18, 21:78), the dual form being ghanamān and the plural aghnām or ghunūm. The singular feminine noun for the ewe is naʿja—plural niʿāj and naʿjāt—and is mentioned four times in two successive verses of Sūrat Ṣād within the parable coined by the angels before Dāwūd—upon him peace—about the wealthy man who coveted his neighbor’s lone animal: Lo! this my brother has ninety-nine ewes while I had one ewe; and he said: Entrust it to me, and he conquered me in speech. He (Dāwūd) said: He has wronged you in demanding your ewe in addition to his ewes (Q 38:23-24). The ewe’s nickname in Arab culture is “Mother of vast properties” (umm al-amwāl) and the word is also an allusory term for a beautiful woman (al-Damīrī, Ḥayāt al-ḥayawān 2:360).

The Prophet—upon him blessings and peace—both physically used and granted verbal permission for the pasture area of sheep and goats (marābiḍ/d, marāḥ) to be used as prayer grounds (Bukhāri, Ṣalāt, al-ṣalāt fī marābiḍ al-ghanam) but not those of camels (mabārik, aʿṭān) (Muslim, Ḥayḍ, al-wuḍūʾ min luḥūm al-ibil; Tirmidhī, Ṣalāt, mā jāʾ fī-l-ṣalāt fī marābiḍ al-ghanam wa-aʿtān al-ibil; Ibn Mājah, Masājid wal-jamāʿāt, al-ṣalāt fī aʿṭān al-ibil; Dārimī, Sunan, Ṣalāt, al-ṣalāt fī marābiḍ al-ghanam wa-aʿṭān al-ibil), as the latter “have devilish characters” (innahā min al-shayāṭīn) while the former are a blessing (Abū Dāwūd, Ṭahāra, al-wuḍūʾ min luḥūm al-ibil and Ṣalāt, al-nahī ʿan al-ṣalāt fī mabārik al-ibil)—a reference to the sheep’s tranquility as opposed to the camel’s ornery nature, which causes distraction. Other reports attribute pride and arrogance to camel and horse owners, and calmness to sheep owners: “The head of unbelief is toward the East; pride and conceit are among the owners of horses and camels, the coarse-voiced desert-dwellers; and tranquility is among the owners of sheep” (Bukhārī, Badā al-khalq, khayr māl al-Muslim; Muslim, Īmān, tafāḍul ahl al-īmān fīh; cf. al-Jāhiz, al-Ḥayawān 5:507-508). See below the section, “Animals of the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace”.

The Hoopoe

The hoopoe is mentioned once in the Qurʾān using the noun hudhud, plural hadāhid: And he (Sulaymān) sought among the birds and said: How is it that I see not the hoopoe, or is he among the absent? (Q 27:20). Prophet Sulaymān—upon him peace—relied on the hoopoe because it could sense places of subterranean water, especially for ablution during travel; and it is nicknamed “the engineer” (al-muhandis) for that reason (Tafsīrs of Qurṭubī, Ibn Kathīr, and Jalālayn, sub Q 27:20). It is also reputed for its extreme conjugal loyalty (al-Damīrī, Ḥayāt al-ḥayawān 2:379). It is the hoopoe that informs Sulaymān of the Queen of Sabaʾ (Sheba) and describes her kingdom: But he (the hoopoe) was not long in coming, and he said: I have found out [a thing] that you do not apprehend, and I come unto you from Sabaʾ with true tidings (Q 27:22-26). Hudhud denotes the crested hoopoe to which lexicons refer as “the well-known bird,” thus named because it cooes (hadhada, qarqara, hadala, hadara)—although had-hada also denotes the sound of thunder—and is therefore a name shared with pigeons and all birds that coo (Azharī, Tahdhīb; Fayrūzābādī, Qāmūs; Ibn ʿAbbād, al-Muḥīṭ; and Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub h-d-d).

Al-Ṭaḥāwī (229-321/ca.843-933) attributed the prohibition of eating the hoopoe (see hadith in the section on ants) as motivated by the obligation to avoid waste, since “we have noticed that its meat is useless, as people consider it unfit to eat although harmless” although Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal reportedly deemed it and the shrike licit to eat since they are not predatory birds (Sharḥ mushkil al-āthār 2:328-329; Ibn Qudāma, Mughnī, al-Ṣayd wal-dhabāʾiḥ, masʾalat qāla: wa-kullu dhī mikhlab min al-ṭayr).


Horses are mentioned eight times using three terms.

The singularless collective noun for the horse, khayl, plural akhyāl and khuyūl—thus named because it prances in its gait (yakhtāl fī mashyatih) and suggests self-conceit (ikhtiyāl, khuyalāʾ) in its movement and stillness—is mentioned five times in the Qurʾān (Q 3:14; 8:60; 16:8; 17:64; 59:6). It is synonymous with faras, plural fursān and afrās, thus named because it devours (yaftaris) distance with its speed (Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān; Jawharī, Ṣiḥāḥ; and al-Wasīṭ, sub kh-y-l and f-r-s; Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 3:14; al-Damīrī, Ḥayāt al-ḥayawān 1:309ff.). Qurʾānic usage for khayl occurs with the following themes:

wealth, within the list of Qurʾānic warnings against the lusts (shahawāt) for sex, empire, and capital: Beautified in mankind’s sight is the love of lusts—women, sons, arching heaps of gold and silver, gilded steeds, cattle, and tillage (Q 3:14);

the apex of military preparedness toward deterrence or action, and the necessary expense or efforts incurred therefrom: Make ready for them all you can of armed force and horses tethered, that thereby you may dismay the enemy of Allah and your enemy, and others beside them whom you know not. Allah knows them. Whatsoever you spend in the way of Allah it will be repaid to you in full, and you will not be wronged (Q 8:60, cf. 59:6);

subservience to mankind as a bounty from Allah and as part of the munificent signs of His creation, power, and knowledge: And the cattle has He created, whence you have warm clothing and uses, and whereof you eat, and wherein is beauty for you, when you bring them home, and when you take them out to pasture; and they bear your loads for you unto a land you could not reach save with great trouble to yourselves. Truly your Lord is Kindly and Merciful; and horses and mules and asses that you may ride them, and for ornament. And He creates that which you know not (Q 16:5-8). Three specifically named animals serve to be ridden and carry loads, and this is further reinforced by their being described as mounts (rikāb). Horses are also mentioned alongside riding camels (Q 59:6);

the devil’s cavalry alongside his footsoldiers, in the sense of his utmost efforts to lure mankind away from the path of truth as expressed in the Divine scoffing challenge to the shayṭān (see Satan): And excite any of them whom you can with your voice, and urge your horse and foot against them, and be a partner in their wealth and children, and promise them. Satan promises them only to deceive (Q 17:64).

al-ṣāfināt al-jiyād, or racehorses standing on three legs and letting the fourth rest on the edge of the hoof. Jiyād is one of the plurals of the noun jawād, meaning fast colt or filly, while ṣāfināt is the feminine plural of the participial noun ṣāfin, plurals ṣawāfin and ṣufūn, that describes a horse’s tripedal standing posture (Azharī, Tahdhīb; Fayrūzābādī, Qāmūs, sub ṣ-f-n). The Arabs may also call a horse jawād generically, as they call it ʿatīq and karīm which both mean noble (Ibn Qutayba, Adab p. 130). These fine horses are mentioned as distracting Sulaymān—upon him peace—from prayer in the verses When in the evening the standing steeds were presented to him he said, “Lo, I have loved the love of good things better than the remembrance of my Lord,” until it (the sun) hid behind the veil (Q 38:31-32) although he was inspecting them with a view to using them in His service (Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī, Rāzī, and Ibn Kathīr, sub Q 38:32). Sulaymān’s acts in the verse that follows show his direct interest in horse care—“Return them to me!” And he began to stroke their shanks and necks (Q 38:33). Not only did the Prophet instruct us to do the same, but he also gave precise technical recommendations as to the best colors of horse one should strive to purchase:

Keep horses, stroke their forelocks and extremities, and equip them without hanging talismans on them. Do not pass up any dark red, forehead and leg-spotted horse (kumayt agharr muḥajjal), or yellow-red, forehead and leg-spotted horse (ashqar agharr muḥajjal), or black, forehead and leg-spotted horse (adham agharr muḥajjal)!

Nasāʾī, Khayl, mā yustaḥabb min shiyat al-khayl; Abū Dāwūd, Jihād, ikrām al-khayl; fī-mā yustaḥabb min alwān al-khayl

The above terms are defined as follows by al-Aṣmaʿī: “Ghurra is whiteness on the horse’s forehead;” “if whiteness is found where bracelets and anklets are placed, that is taḥjīl;” “kumta is dark redness and is the most beloved of colors [in a horse] to the Arabs;” “shuqra is redness mixed with yellow;” and “duhma is blackness, whether intense or light” (al-Khayl p. 72-76).

It is noteworthy that the term khayr, commonly translated as “good things” in verse Q 38:32, is actually a euphonic synonym of khayl, as “the Arabs call al-khayl al-khayr interchangeably” (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 38:31). The Prophet—upon him blessings and peace—alluded to this fact in his hadith, “Khayr is fastened to the forelocks of khayl until the Day of Resurrection” (Bukhārī, Jihād, al-khayl maʿqūd fī nawāṣīhā al-khayr; Muslim, Imāra, al-khayl fī nawāṣīhā al-khayr; Mālik, Jihād, mā jāʾ fī-l-khayl; and the Sunans)—their forelocks being a synecdoche of their entire bodies (al-Damīrī, Ḥayāt al-ḥayawān 1:309). This is one of many authentic hadiths in praise of horses, horsemen, horse care, and even horseracing as blessed emblems of jihad (cf. Bukhārī, Jihād, al-ḥirāsa fī sabīl Allāh; Ibn Abī ʿĀṣim, Jihād 1:432-437 §153-155; Ibn al-Naḥḥās, Mashāriʿ p. 102-106; al-Ṭabarī, Fawāʾid p. 33-52). According to another hadith, “even when the horse of the mujāhid frolics in his halter, good deeds are being recorded for him” and “its fodder, water, dung, and urine all weigh into his record on the Day of Resurrection” (Bukhārī, Jihād wal-siyar, faḍl al-jihād; man iḥtabasa farasan fī sabīl Allāh; Muslim, Zakāt, ithm māniʿ al-zakāt; Mālik, Jihād, al-targhīb fī-l-jihād; and the Sunans). Although the Prophet disparaged horse owners in the previously cited hadith about sheep (see “Goats and Sheep” above), he praised them in his exegesis of Those who spend their wealth by night and day, secretly and openly, verily their reward is with their Lord, and no fear shall come upon them neither shall they grieve (Q 2:274): “They are the owners of horses” (Tafsīrs of Ibn Abī Ḥātim, Baghawī, Qurṭubī, Ibn Kathīr; Ibn Ḥajar, al-ʿUjāb 1:635-636, sub Q 2:274).

ʿĀdiyāt is the Qurʾānic feminine plural for raiding horses (Q 100:1), singular ʿādiya, from the verb ʿadā, aortive yaʿdū, infinitive nouns ʿadw and ʿuduww, which denote hostility and agression. ʿĀdiya also refers to a grave event of life that drives one to distraction (Farāhīdī, ʿAyn and Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs, sub ʿ-d-w).

It is honor enough for horses that, as related from Anas b. Mālik (d. 91/709)—Allah be well-pleased with him—no other animal was more beloved to the Prophet (Nasāʾī, Khayl, ḥubb al-khayl); and he compared latter-day Muslims—whom he called “his beloved”—to fine horses with shiny foreheads and limbs due to the effect of ablution, using the equine descriptives of al-ghurr al-muḥajjalīn already cited (cf. Muslim, Wuḍūʾ, al-ghurr al-muḥajjalīn). He kept several horses during his lifetime and their names were faithfully recorded, as were those of his mules, asses, camels, sheep, and goats (see Bukhārī, Jihād, ism al-faras wal-ḥimār; Ibn al-Naḥḥās, Masḥāriʿ p. 106-107; al-Ṭabarī, Fawāʾid p. 58-66; Mughulṭāy, Ishāra p. 383-389).

In addition to the above verses and hadiths, a specialized literature of equine science and related topics treated them at length, including al-Khayl by al-Aṣmaʿī, al-Khayl by his student Abū ʿUbayd al-Qāsim b. Sallām al-Harawī (d. 224/839), al-Khayl by Ibn Juzayy (d. 741/ca.1340), Ḥilyat al-fursān by Ibn Hudhayl al-Andalusī (8th/14th c.), Jarr al-dhayl fī ʿilm al-khayl by al-Suyūṭī (849-911/1445-ca.1505), Fawāʾid al-nayl bi-faḍāʾil al-khayl by al-Sayyid ʿAlī b. ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Ṭabarī al-Makkī (d. 1070/ca.1660), the books of Asmāʾ al-khayl by Ibn al-Aʿrābī (d. 340/ca.951), al-Ghundajānī (d. 542/ca.1147) and al-Ṣāḥibī al-Tājī (d. after 677/1278), ʿIqd al-ajyād fī-l-ṣāfināt al-jiyād by the Emir ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Jazāʾirī (1222-1300/1807-1883), and al-Furūsiyya by Ibn al-Qayyim. All the above texts highlight the status of horses as emblems of nobility, high character, martial valor, and the values that formed what the Arabs called furūsiyya (virtues of the fāris or horseman) and futuwwa (noble character).

Horses are licit to eat according to most of the Imams of ḥadith and the schools of al-Shāfiʿī and Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal, but not according to the positions related from Abū Ḥanīfa, al-Awzāʿī, and Mālik. Those who hold the first view adduce the fact that the Companions ate horses in the time of the Prophet; the latter adduce the hadith concerning domestic asses already mentioned, with additional wording including horses in the prohibition, which those who hold the first view consider abrogated as far as horses are concerned (Ibn al-Qaṭṭān, Iqnāʿ 2:964-983 and notes; Ibn Qudāma, Mughnī, al-Ṣayd wal-dhabāʾiḥ, masʾalat qāla: wa-kullu dhī mikhlab).

Hunting Animals

The plural feminine noun for hunting animal, jawāriḥ (singular jāriḥa), occurs once within the discussion of food laws in Sūrat al-Māʾida (Q 5:4: Lawful for you are all pure foods and [game caught by] those hunting animals you train by imparting to them something of what Allah has taught you), where jawāriḥ denotes “such of the dog-like trained beasts of chase” which is applied to any animal used for hunting—such as a hound, a falcon, or a cheetah (cf. Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 5:4) (see Hunting and Game).

Land Predators

Sab(u)ʿ is a generic singular noun for all fanged or taloned predators of animals (and human beings), feminine sabuʿa, plural sibāʿ, asbuʿ and subūʿ, from the same s-b-ʿ root as the verb sabaʿa, to bite, and also the number seven (sabʿ), because it is said that some of those animals spend seven months in fetal gestation, are born in litters of no more than seven, and/or reach adulthood at seven years of age (Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs and Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān, sub s-b-ʿ; al-Damīrī, Ḥayāt al-ḥayawān 2:12; Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 5:3). Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal defined the sabuʿ as “everything that gnaws with its canine teeth,” which includes dogs and monkeys (Ibn Qudāma, Mughnī, al-Ṣayd wal-dhabāʾiḥ, masʾalat qāla: wa-kullu dhī nāb min al-sibāʿ). The Qurʾān mentions land predators or sabuʿ—also read sabʿ—once, in the context of certain meat prohibitions: Forbidden unto you [for food] are carrion and blood and swine flesh, and that which has been dedicated unto any other than Allah, and the strangled, and the dead through beating, and the dead through falling from a height, and that which has been killed by [the goring of] horns, and the devoured of wild beasts, saving that which you make lawful [by the death stroke], and that which has been immolated unto idols (Q 5:3), all of the above becoming permitted in case of dire necessity and only to the extent of their preserving life (Q 2:173; 6:119; 16:115). As for eating the flesh of predatory animals themselves, that of land predators is prohibited by consensus and that of birds (including bats) by the majority, while Mālik, al-Layth, and al-Awzāʿī have invoked original permissibility concerning the latter (Ibn al-Qaṭṭān, Iqnāʿ 2:964; Ibn Qudāma, Mughnī, al-Ṣayd wal-dhabāʾiḥ, masʾalat qāla: wa-kullu dhī mikhlab).



The Qurʾānic plural noun for parasitic insects, qummal—in nearly all the canonical readings—singular qummala, is mentioned twice. It is translated as lice or vermin but is glossed in the commentaries as mites (sūs), ticks (qurdān, ḥumnān), beetles (juʿlān), fleas (barāghīth), or a type of smaller, wingless locust (dabā) among others. It is mentioned among the succession of the plagues Allah sent to Egypt (Q 7:133) and so afflicted Firʿawn’s people that they could not turn over in their own beds because of their profusion (Tafsīrs of Ibn Abī Ḥātim, Ṭabarī, Qurṭubī, and others, sub Q 7:133; Bukhārī, Aḥādīth al-anbiyāʾ, ṭūfān: min al-sayl).

The louse is implied in the verse that mentions the infestation of pilgrims’ hair (cf. Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī and Ibn Abī Ḥātim, sub Q 2:196: And whoever among you is sick or has an ailment of the head (adhā min raʾsih)) and found in rare canonical readings for Q 7:133, as established by the hadith narrated by ʿAbd Allāh b. Mughaffal regarding its occasion of revelation, “This verse was revealed concerning me: I had an ailment of the head [during pilgrimage], so I was carried to the Prophet—upon him blessings and peace—with qaml swarming down my face” (Bukhārī, Tafsīr, qawluhu: fa-man kāna minkum marīḍan aw bihi adhan min raʾsih; Muslim, Ḥajj, jawāz ḥalq al-raʾs lil-muḥrim; and the Sunans).

The Lion

The lion is mentioned once in the Qurʾān as qaswara—plural qasāwir and qasāwira, the faʿwala form of the infinitive noun qasr, dominance (qahr). This is one of its five hundred names in the Arabic lexicon, the basic name being asad. The verses Like frightened donkeys fleeing from a lion (Q 74:50-51) signify unbelievers running away from truth like frightened donkeys from a lion (Bukhārī, Tafsīr, Sūrat al-Muddaththir; Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān; Ibn Sīda, Muḥkam; Jawharī, Ṣiḥāḥ; Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs; Abū ʿUbayd, Gharībayn; and Abū Ḥayyān, Tuḥfa, all sub q-s-r; Ibn Qutayba, Gharīb, and Tafsīrs of Ibn Abī Ḥātim, Ṭabarī, Ibn Kathīr, Jalālayn, all sub Q 74:51; al-Damīrī, Ḥayāt al-ḥayawān 2:250-251). Qaswara is also glossed as “a group of archers” or the noise made by people (Bukhārī, Tafsīr, Sūrat al-Muddaththir; Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān, sub q-s-r; Tafsīrs of Ibn Abī Ḥātim, Ṭabarī, and Qurṭubī; Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf, all sub Q 74:51). Ibn Abī Ḥātim and al-Ṭabarī further narrated under Q 74:51—the latter also in the introduction to his Tafsīr—from Ibn ʿAbbās the statement that the word qaswara meant lion in Ethiopic (bil-ḥabashiyya) rather than Arabic, on the basis of which al-Suyūṭī included it in his Mutawakkilī, a list of the Arabicized words in the Qurʾān (see Arabic). However, Ibn Ḥajar mentions that this report came through a weak chain (Taghlīq 4:352), and dedicated linguists both before and after al-Suyūṭī did not include it in their larger manuals.


Anʿām is mentioned thirty-two times in the Qurʾān, as well as being the name of the sixth sura, Sūrat al-Anʿām (Q 6). Anʿām, plural of multitude anāʿīm, may or may not be the plural of the dual-gendered noun naʿam, “grazing property”—diminutive nuʿaym—which originally denoted the camel specifically but has since come to include cows, sheep, and goats generally (Ibn Durayd, Jamhara; al-Fārābī, Dīwān; Fayyūmī, Miṣbāḥ, all sub n-ʿ-m; Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 5:1). Similarly, the expression bahīmat al-anʿām refers to “livestock without distinction,” bahīm originally meaning plain and uniform in color while bahīma denotes all four-legged animals (as well as sea creatures) other than predators and, with mubham, is something mute or obscure (Farāhīdī, ʿAyn; Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs; Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub b-h-m).

Bahīmat al-anʿām is used three times (Q 5:1; 22:28, 34) while naʿam is used once (Q 5:95). Anʿām has the highest frequency of all animal names and classes in the Qurʾān, with thirty-two mentions categorized into seven themes.

Divine generosity and power in creation (Q 6:142; 16:5, 80; 22:28; 23:21; 43:12). These verses teach the creed of the One munificent Creator who reveals His unlimited power, wisdom, and mercy in the multifariousness, beauty, and utility of creation to humankind who are commanded to remember Him and thank Him: And verily in the cattle there is a lesson for you. We give you to drink of that which is in their bellies, from between filth and blood, pure milk palatable to the drinkers (Q 16:66); And for every nation have We appointed a ritual, that they may mention the name of Allah over the beast of cattle that He has given them for food; and your God is One God, so surrender unto Him. And give good tidings [O Muḥammad] to the humble (Q 22:34).

Moreover, livestock is such a tremendous gift that its creation is emphasized as being the direct handiwork of Allah Most High (Q 36:71; 40:79). Several verses closely relate man and beast to emphasize the intimate connection of livestock with both the creation of humankind (Q 35:28; 39:6; 42:11), their livelihood (Q 20:54; 32:27; 79:33; 80:32), and even the Divine power to resurrect both groups (Q 42:29), all things being created as pairs(Q 43:12; 51:49). Furthermore, not only are livestock a mercy, but Divine Mercy encompasses them and all other animals. The Prophet—upon him blessings and peace—mentioned this in several hadiths, such as the following: “Truly Allah possesses one hundred mercies, of which He has sent down a single one among jinn, humankind, four-legged animals, and vermin (hawāmm). Thanks to that one mercy they empathize with each other and show each other mercy, and even a feral beast curls around its cub. Allah has kept back ninety-nine mercies with which He shall grant mercy to His slaves on the Day of Resurrection” (Muslim, Tawba, fī siʿat raḥmat Allāh);

Wealth (Q 26:133) (see Wealth and Prosperity), and as in the verse of Āl ʿImrān already mentioned (Q 3:14, see section on horses). An Arab maxim states, “Whoever is given one hundred goats has been given property (qinā); whoever is given one hundred sheep has been given sufficiency (ghinā); and whoever is given one hundred camels has been given bounty (munā)” (Jawharī, Ṣiḥāḥ, sub q-n-w); ownership and breeding of these species is considered the measure of wealth and the mark of Divine bounty;

Alimentary laws: these are verses establishing the licitness of the meat of livestock, described as eight, in four pairs of male and female (cf. Q 39:6): And of the cattle some for burdens, some for food. Eat of that which Allah has bestowed upon you. (...) Eight paired: Of the sheep two, and of the goats two. (...) And of the camels two and of the ox two (Q 6:142-144, cf. Q 5:1; 22:30) (see Food and Drink);

Expiation laws for hunting while in the state of iḥrām: Whoever of you kills it (i.e., game) willfully shall pay its expiation in the equivalent of that which he has killed, of domestic animals (Q 5:95, see section on game above);

Pre-Islamic pagan practices: They assign unto Allah, of the crops and cattle which He created, a portion, and they say: “This is Allah’s,” according to their fancies, “and this is for [His] partners in regard to us” (Q 6:136, cf. Q 4:119; 6:138);

Disparagement of the unbelievers, who are likened to dumb beasts and worse: Already have We urged unto hell many of the jinn and humankind, having hearts wherewith they understand not, and having eyes wherewith they see not, and having ears wherewith they hear not. These are as the cattle—nay, but they are worse! These are the neglectful (Q 7:179); Be not as those who say, We hear, and they hear not: Truly the worst of beasts in Allah’s sight are the deaf, the dumb, who have no sense (Q 8:21-22, cf. 8:55; 25:44; 47:12). These verses elucidate the degradation meant in the verses Surely We created man of the best stature, then We reduced him to the lowest of the low, save those who believe and do good works, and theirs is a reward unfailing (Q 95:4-6);

The command to feed the poor: That they may witness things that are of benefit to them, and mention the name of Allah on appointed days over the beast of cattle that He has bestowed upon them. Then eat thereof and feed therewith the poor unfortunate (Q 22:28). The Sunna gives precise instructions on the modalities and qualities of zakāt due on livestock and they have been codified in the books of fiqh.


Locusts are mentioned twice in the Qurʾān. The collective noun for locusts, jarād, derives from jarada, to strip in the transitive sense, because locusts strip off the earth (Ibn Durayd, Jamhara; Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs; Fayyūmī, Miṣbāḥ, sub j-r-d). It is mentioned as one of the plagues of Egypt (Q 7:133, see above, “Frogs”) and a second time as a comparison of mankind’s state upon Resurrection: With downcast eyes, they come forth from the graves as if they were scattering locusts (Q 54:7). This is an image of speed as elucidated by several other verses (Q 36:51; 31:28; 70:43; 101:4, cf. Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 36:51), panicked fear (Jalālayn, Tafsīr, sub Q 54:7), and multitude, as illustrated both by the comparison of the rain of arrows during the battle of Ḥunayn to a cloud of locusts (Muslim, Jihād wal-siyar, fī ghazwat Ḥunayn) and by the hadith of the “greatest mass” (al-sawād al-aʿẓam):

Then he saw a huge dark mass (sawād ʿaẓīm) that was covering the firmament. He said: “What is this throng?” He was told: “These are Mūsā and his people. Now raise your head and look.” He raised his head and saw another huge dark mass that was covering the firmament from every direction he looked. He was told: “These are your Community, and besides these there are seventy thousand of them that will enter Paradise without giving account.”

Bukhārī, Ṭibb, man iktawā aw kawā; Muslim, Īmān, al-dalīl ʿalā dukhūl ṭawāʾif min al-muslimīn al-janna bi-ghayr ḥisāb

Locusts are licit food by consensus and as explicitly established by certain hadiths, among them the report that the Companions ate them in the course of seven military campaigns in the company of the Messenger of Allah (Bukhārī, Dhabāʾiḥ wal-ṣayd, akl al-jarād; Muslim, Ṣayd wal-dhabāʾiḥ, ibāḥat al-jarād; and the Sunans) and his statement—upon him blessings and peace: “Two types of carcass and two types of blood are licit for you; the former are fish and locusts, and the latter are the liver and the spleen” (Ibn Mājah, Aṭʿima, al-kabid wal-ṭiḥāl; Aḥmad, Musnad al-mukthirīn min al-ṣaḥāba, bāqī al-musnad al-sābiq; see Ibn al-Jawzī, al-Taḥqīq 10:260-267 §761 (locusts) and §762 (fish)) (see Ayyūb, upon him peace, regarding the rain of golden locusts in the section “Trials and Patience”).


The Qurʾān mentions the plural noun for monkeys or apes, qirada—singular qird—three times in the disparaging context of the punishment of a group of unbelievers by metamorphosis (maskh): And you know of those of you who broke the Sabbath, but We said unto them: Be you apes, despised and hated! (Q 2:65, cf. 5:60; 7:166, see section on fish above). Described as “quick-witted and able to learn,” the monkey is nevertheless considered “a malevolent (khabīth) animal” because of this connection (al-Damīrī, Ḥayāt al-ḥayawān 2:243; Fayyūmī, Miṣbāḥ, sub q-r-d). As one of the sibāʿ (see section on “Land Predators” above) it is illicit for human consumption by consensus (Ibn Qudāma, Mughnī, al-Ṣayd wal-dhabāʾiḥ, masʾalat qāla: wa-kullu dhī nāb min al-sibāʿ).


Moths—collective noun farāsh, from farasha, to spread—are mentioned in the Qurʾān as a simile for the panic of people on the Day of Resurrection: A day wherein mankind will be as thickly scattered moths (Q 101:4)—an image of multitude, as already mentioned in the section on locusts (cf. Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 36:51). Moths are known for two characteristics: “looking for light” (Farāhīdī, ʿAyn, sub f-r-sh) and “hurtling into flames” as mentioned in the famous hadith comparing mankind to self-destructive moths and comparing Prophets to their protectors (Bukhārī, Riqāq, al-intihāʾ ʿan al-maʿāṣī; Muslim, Faḍāʾil, shafaqatuhu ʿalā ummatih).


Mules, bighāl, singular baghl(a), are mentioned once in the Qurʾān, as animals created to be mounts and ornaments: And [He created] the horses, mules, and donkeys for you to ride and [as] adornment. And He creates that which you do not know (Q 16:8). A mule is the infertile hybrid offspring of a male donkey and a female horse; whereas the offspring of a female donkey and a male horse is known as a hinny. Although mules are considered stronger, faster, and more intelligent than donkeys, they are also unwieldy and rebarbative. Hence it is a mark of the Prophet’s courage that he rode his mule named al-Bayḍāʾ into battle at Ḥunayn (Bukhārī, Jihād, baghlat al-Nabī al-Bayḍāʾ; Muslim, Jihād, ghazwat Ḥunayn), instead of one of the traditional battle animals such as the horse and the camel, as implied in the verse You (Muslims) spurred neither horse nor camel (Q 59:6).

There is a divergence of views on the licitness of consuming mules because of their parentage (see “The Ass” and “Horses” above) (Ibn Qudāma, Mughnī, al-Ṣayd wal-dhabāʾiḥ, masʾalat qāla: wa-bi-Sunnat Rasūl Allāh al-ḥumur al-ahliyya; Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 16:8).

The Pig

The pig is mentioned five times in the Qurʾān. The lexicographers concur that khinzīr is a yāʾ-augmented fiʿlīl (or possibly, but less likely, finʿīl) form of the quadriliteral root kh-n-z-r—the infinitive noun khanzara denoting thickness (ghilaẓ)—while a secondary view holds that it derives from the triliteral kh-z-r, which denotes the slanting of the eye (Ibn Durayd, Jamhara; al-Fārābī, Dīwān; Fayrūzābādī, Qāmūs; Zabīdī, Tāj, sub kh-n-z-r; Jawharī, Ṣiḥāḥ, sub kh-z-r). The pig occurs in two contexts:

as a categorically prohibited food alongside carrion, blood, and sacrifices to idols: He has only forbidden to you dead animals, blood, the flesh of swine, and that which has been dedicated to other than Allah... (Q 2:173, cf. 5:3, 6:45; 16:115), in the singular noun form khinzīr;

as the punishment of a group of unbelievers by metamorphosis (maskh), alongside the apes (see “Monkeys” above): Shall I tell you of a worse (case) than theirs for retribution with Allah? [Worse is the case of him] whom Allah has cursed, him on whom His wrath has fallen and of whose sort Allah has turned some to apes and swine, and who serve idols. Such are in worse plight and further astray from the straight path (Q 5:60), in the plural noun form khanāzīr.

Al-Damīrī mentioned that the pig was “the most prolific of all animals, its male is the strongest stud, its tusks the strongest of their kind. He is unteachable, more furtive than the fox, and its skin cannot be stripped off” (Ḥayāt al-ḥayawān 1:303, cf. al-Jāhiz, al-Ḥayawān 3:400; 4:93; 5:357, 456). An Israelite tale of the Diluvian creation of the pig out of the elephant’s posterior (or feces) was recirculated in certain commentaries (e.g., Ibn Abī Ḥātim, Ibn al-Mundhir, Qurṭubī, Samʿānī, and Ṭabarī, Tafsīrs; Samarqandī, Baḥr; and Ālūsī, Rūh, all sub Q 11:38-41), which led al-Jāḥiẓ to blame

the exegetes (aṣḥāb al-tafsīr) who claim that when the animals in the Ark complained to Nūḥ—upon him peace—about the overabundance of mice he was told to order the lion to sneeze, and out of its snout came two cats that devoured the mice; then the animals complained again about the stench of the two cats’ waste, whereupon he was told to order the elephant to defecate, out of which came a pair of pigs that removed the predicament of the stench.

al-Ḥayawān 5:347-348

The above account comes exclusively through the transmission of two weak narrators—ʿAlī b. Zayd b. Judʿān, from Yūsuf b. Mihrān—and it suffices that Ibn ʿAṭiyya (d. ca.542/ca.1147) commented after mentioning it: “These are tales that are untrue except for what is properly attributed, and Allah knows best how it came to be” (Muḥarrar, sub Q 11:40; cf. Naʿnāʿa, al-Isrāʾīliyyāt p. 284-285; Abū Shahba, al-Isrāʾīliyyāt p. 217).


Quail are mentioned three times in the Qurʾān. The collective noun salwā is considered singularless by most lexicographers, while Ibn Sīda avers that its singular is salwa. The word occurs alongside manna (mann) as the food Allah Most High sent to the Israelites during their wanderings in the wilderness (see Food and Drink): And We shaded you with clouds and sent down to you manna and quails, [saying], “Eat from the good things with which We have provided you as sustenance.” And they wronged Us not—but they were [only] wronging themselves (Q 2:57, cf. 7:160, 20:80). It is usually translated as “quail,” although this bird is known in Arabic as sumānī. Lexicons often gloss salwā as “a sumānī-like bird.”

Salwā also denotes honey—erroneously, al-Damīrī says—while al-Rāghib assimilates it to the nominal infinitive salwa: “it originally means what diverts (yusallī) a human being, whence sulwān and tasallī, diversion,” because it distracts one from desiring any other nourishment and, in that sense, means meat generically (Ibn Sīda, Muḥkam; Fayyūmī, Miṣbāḥ; Jawharī, Ṣiḥāḥ; Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān; Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub s-l-w; al-Damīrī, Ḥayāt al-ḥayawān 2:26). The latter gloss is strengthened by the hadith of the Prophet—upon him blessings and peace: “Were it not for the Israelites, meat would never rot, and were it not for Ḥawwāʾ, no woman would ever betray her husband” (Bukhārī, Aḥādīth al-anbiyāʾ, qawl Allāh taʿālā wa-wāʿadnā Mūsā thalāthīna layla; Muslim, Raḍāʿ, lawlā Ḥawwāʾ lam takhun unthā zawjahā al-dahr).

The Raven

The raven (ghurāb, plural ghirbān and aghriba) is mentioned twice in a single verse of the Qurʾān, in the context of Qābīl’s lament while facing the corpse of his murdered brother: Then Allah sent a raven scratching up the ground, to show him how to hide his brother’s naked corpse. He said: Woe unto me! Am I not able to be as this raven and so hide my brother’s naked corpse? And he became repentant (Q 5:31) (see Two Sons of Ādam). Al-Jāḥiẓ notes that Qābīl’s self-comparison to the raven is a mark of his own disparagement and goes on to present the Arab view of the raven, which he describes as

one of the most evil birds, charred-black, with ugly traits, poor gait, neither one of the prized game birds, nor one of the noble birds of prey, on top of which it is a focus of ill omen, a scavenger, and a bad hunter.

al-Ḥayawān 3:411-412

Al-Aṣmaʿī said the singular noun ghurāb originally means the occiput, whence “his ghurāb became hoary” when one’s hair turns white. The word is, according to Ibn Manẓūr, an intensifier of the active participial ghārib, from gharaba, “to go far”—thus named, al-Damīrī says, in reference to its black color, although al-Jāḥiẓ considers that it was because of their view of the raven as an ill omen that the Arabs derived the word ghurba, estrangement, from its name. Thus the word ghurāb is originally either a metonymy of pitch-dark night or one of utter difference (Azharī, Tahdhīb and Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān, sub gh-r-b; al-Jāhiz, al-Ḥayawān 2:316; al-Damīrī, Ḥayāt al-ḥayawān 2:172). The Qurʾān also mentions the adjective gharābīb (singular ghirbīb, cf. Bukhārī, Tafsīr, Sūrat Fāṭir) to denote jet-black or raven-black in the verse Have you not seen that Allah causes water to fall from the sky, and We produce therewith fruit of diverse hues; and among the hills are streaks white and red, of diverse hues, and [others] raven-black? (Q 35:27).

The raven is among the harmful animals the Prophet named fawāsiq as well as fuwaysiqa, the diminutive of the feminine active participial fāsiqa, “depraved,” in reference to the fact that they cause worry that diverts the mind away from everything else. Hence he stipulated that they may be killed even by a pilgrim within the sacrosanct precincts of Makka and Madina: a snake, mouse, raven, rabid dog, kite (ḥa/idaʾa), or scorpion (Bukhārī, Jazāʾ al-ṣayd, mā yaqtul al-muḥrim min al-dawābb; Muslim, Ḥajj, mā yundab lil-muḥrim wa-ghayrih qatluh min al-dawābb fī-l-ḥill wal-ḥaram).

The Snake

The snake is mentioned four times by three words, all in reference to a miracle of Prophet Mūsā, upon him peace . In Q 7:107 and Q 26:32, the snake is called thuʿbān: So (Mūsā)  threw his staff, and suddenly it was a serpent manifest; in Q 20:20, it is mentioned as ḥayya: So he (Mūsā) threw it down, and thereupon it was a snake, moving swiftly; and in Q 27:10, Mūsā, upon him peace, is commanded: “Throw down your staff.” But when he saw it writhing as if it were a snake (jānn), he turned in flight and did not return. [Allah said], “O Mūsā, fear not. Indeed, in My presence the Messengers do not fear.” The first term is a fuʿlān form of the verb thaʿaba (“to ooze”), and denotes the large male or female snake, the male in particular, plural thaʿābīn, while the thuʿba is a type of gecko (wazagh). The second term denotes all snakes, plural ḥayyāt, and is either derived from ḥayāt (“life”), or taḥawwā (“to coil and writhe”), also sharing its root with ḥayāʾ (“shame, modesty”), ḥayawān (“animal”), taḥiyya (“greeting”), ḥayy (“sub-tribe”), and the name Ḥawwāʾ (Eve). The third word denotes a white snake as per al-Farāhīdī, and a big snake as per al-Ṭabarī (Farāhīdī, ʿAyn; Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān; Fayyūmī, Miṣbāḥ, sub th-ʿ-b, ḥ-y-ā, and j-n-n; Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 27:10).

Al-Zajjāj (d. 311/923) elucidated the usage through a hypothetical question: “If someone asks, why is [the snake] said to be a manifest snake (thuʿbān mubīn) (Q 7:107, 26:32) when elsewhere it is described as writhing as if it were a jānn (Q 27:10)—the jānn being a small[er] snake [relative to thuʿbān]? The reply is that such usage further highlights the greatness of the miracle (ʿiẓm al-āya), for it indicates that the snake was created the [size of the larger] thuʿbān yet in its writhing and nimbleness it was like the jānn” (Maʿānī, sub Q 26:32). 

The Spider

The spider and its web are mentioned once in the Qurʾān, in the sura that bears its name, al-ʿAnkabūt, as an allegory of mortal weakness in reference to the polytheists who rely on other than Allah: The likeness of those who choose other patrons than Allah is as the likeness of the spider when it takes unto itself a house, and verily the frailest of all houses is the spider’s house, if they but knew (Q 29:41). The dual-gendered noun ʿankabūt—which can also be denoted as the masculine ʿankab and the feminine ʿankaba, plurals ʿanākib and ʿankabūtāt among many others—is the faʿlalūl, fanʿalūl, or faʿlalūt form of the quadriliteral ʿankaba and is sometimes defined as al-nāsij, the weaver (Jawharī, Ṣiḥāḥ; al-Fārābī, Dīwān; Fayrūzābdī, Qāmūs, sub ʿ-n-k-b; Ṭabarsī, Majmaʿ, sub Q 29:41).

Al-Ghazālī writes:

Look at the spider, how He created its extremities and taught it the stratagem of weaving its web and hunting without wings but through its viscous saliva by which it hangs in a corner and catches flying insects near it… and look at the spider’s weaving of its house, how Allah showed it its weaving in a proportionate design.

Jawāhir, Faṣl 12         

In relation to the latter attribute Ibn Kathīr declared fair the chain of transmission of the famous Sīra incident of the Makkans searching in vain for the Prophet and Abū Bakr as they lay hiding in the cave during their emigration, and the searchers’ refraining from entering the cave because they saw a cobweb at its opening (Bidāya 4:451, Hijrat Rasūl Allāh bi-nafsih al-karīma min Makka ilā al-Madīna). The proverbial Arab hyperbole for the consummate leader of people, “he can lead a rebarbative camel by a spider’s thread” (al-Rāghib, Muḥāḍarāt al-udabāʾ, al-Ḥadd 16, al-ḥādhiq fī-l-qiyāda) aptly applies to the Prophet—upon him blessings and peace.


The construct dābbat al-arḍ, literally the earth crawler(s), occurs once in the Qurʾān, denoting termites per the commentaries (araḍa, cf. Bukhārī, Aḥādīth al-anbiyāʾ, qawl Allāh taʿālā wa-wahabnā li-Dāwūda Sulaymān; al-Khafājī, Shifāʾ, sub a-r-ḍ). They are mentioned in the Qurʾān when they consume the wooden staff of the Prophet Sulaymān—upon him peace—after he had died, causing his body to fall, which informed the jinn of his death; they had continued working for a length of time, unaware that their master had already passed away, although they had claimed to be cognizant of the unseen: And when We decreed death for him, nothing showed his death to them save a creeping creature of the earth which gnawed away his staff. And when he fell the jinn saw clearly how, if they had known the unseen, they would not have continued in despised toil (Q 34:14). The commentaries relate that the body of Sulaymān had been leaning on his staff in his prayer-niche for a full year before the jinn took notice of his demise (Ṭabarī, Qurṭubī, and Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīrs, sub Q 34:14; al-Damīrī, Ḥayāt al-ḥayawān 1:321).

The Qurʾān refers to another, different, dābba min al-arḍ in the verse And when the word is fulfilled concerning them, We shall bring forth a beast of the earth to speak unto them, because mankind had not faith in Our revelations (Q 27:82). This is explained as “a strange beast that emerges specifically at the end of time (see ʿĪsā, upon him peace; Last Day), and it has also been stated that what is meant is the evildoers who are tantamount to beasts in their ignorance, in which case dābba is a collective term for all that crawl” (Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub d-b-b).

The Wolf

One of the land predators, the wolf (dhiʾb, also read dhīb, plurals dhiʾba, adhʾub, dhiʾāb, dhuʾbān) is mentioned three times in Sūrat Yūsuf in the context of the fatherly fears and brotherly excuses that lead up to and follow the disappearance of the Prophet Yūsuf—upon him peace:

He said: Lo! in truth it saddens me that you should take him with you, and I fear lest the wolf devour him while you are heedless of him (Q 12:13);

They said: If the wolf were to devour him while we are so many, then we have perished ourselves! (Q 12:14);

They said: O father! we went racing with one another and left Yūsuf by our things, and the wolf devoured him—but you will not believe us even if we tell the truth (Q 12:17).

The root dh-ʾ-b denotes restlessness (qillat istiqrār) and complex movement, the verb dhaʾaba—aorist yadhʾab, infinitive noun dhaʾb—referring to the action of someone who is able to pounce (tadhaʾʾab) from a side different from the one being defended, hence the wolf’s nickname of al-khāṭif, the raptor, that is, of both domestic animals and game. Al-Jāḥiẓ said: “The wolf is nothing but harmful” (Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs; al-Wasīṭ, sub dh-ʾ-b; al-Jāḥiz, al-Ḥayawān 1:298; al-Damīrī, Ḥayāt al-ḥayawān 1:359).

The following hadiths represent the wolf as a teacher and shepherd respectively, using the already-mentioned verbal figure of ghuluww or rhetorical impossibility (see above, section on camels), to which the Prophet adds a testimony of ṣiddīqiyya or intense trust for Abū Bakr and ʿUmar, Allah be well-pleased with them:

A wolf carried away one of the sheep of a certain man. The man went after him and got it back, whereupon the wolf sat up and said: “Fear Allah! You are depriving me of sustenance which Allah brought me.” The shepherd said: “Wonder of wonders! A wolf sitting up and talking to me in the language of humans!” The wolf said: “I shall tell you of a stranger thing: Muḥammad is in Yathrib telling people the news of what has passed afore.” When the shepherd returned, he halted his sheep, came to the Prophet, and told him what he had seen. After the prayer, the Prophet sent for him again and told him to recount the story to the people.

Aḥmad, Bāqī musnad al-mukthirīn, musnad Abī Saʿīd al-Khudrī

A wolf preyed on a sheep while the shepherd was close by, so the latter pursued the wolf, intending to get the sheep back. The wolf turned around and said: “Who will protect it on the day when I shall be its only shepherd?” Another time a man was riding a cow and urging it onward. It turned towards him and said: “I was not created for this; I was created for tilling the field.” The people [present] exclaimed: “Subḥān Allāh!” The Prophet said: “In truth, I believe this, and Abū Bakr believes, and ʿUmar believes”—they were absent at the time [the animals spoke].

         Bukhārī, Aḥādīth al-anbiyāʾ, ḥadīth
         al-ghār; Muslim, Faḍāʾil al-Ṣaḥāba,
min faḍāʾil Abī Bakr

Ibn Ḥajar said of the latter report: “The hadith shows the permissibility of exclaiming amazement at what goes against the norm and confutes people’s idea of their own knowledge” (Fatḥ al-bārī, Aḥādīth al-anbiyāʾ, ḥadīth al-ghār).


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Zamakhsharī. Kashshāf.

See also

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