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aaiil.org > Articles & Magazines > A Collection of Various Articles > Reference to Birds in the Quran by Dr. Basharat Ahmad

Reference to Birds in the Quran:

by Dr. Basharat Ahmad

English translation of an Urdu article that appeared in Basharat-e-Ahmadiyya, Vol. II, pp. 22–35


Some friends have directed my attention, to the fact that the Quran, on various occasions mentions birds. Sometimes the "Praise of the Birds" is mentioned, at other places, humans are likened to birds. The creation of birds by Jesus Christ (peace be upon him) and the events relating to Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) and four birds are also present in the Quran. Sending birds upon the People of the Elephant is another instance and finally the presence of birds in Solomon's (peace be upon him) company and his knowledge of their language is also mentioned in the Quran.

My friends have asked me to expound on this matter. Though this matter should have rightfully been commented upon by some great scholar of the Quran and not by a layman like me still on the insistence of my friends, and in accordance with the knowledge that I possess, I have written this article.

For ease of understanding, I have categorised the various occasions that the Quran refers to birds under four headings:

1. The Praise of Birds

2. The Invitation to Birds

3. The Dispatching of Birds

4. The Speech of Birds

Part I: The Praise of the Birds:

Everything in the Quran is for the Guidance of Humanity:

The first point to understand, is the claim of the Quran that it is "Ho-dul-lil Mutta-qeen" (a guide to those who keep their duty Quran 2:2). The Quran, in other words, is a reliable guide book for the pious, who wish to act within the limits set by God. So there can be no matter or event described in the Quran, which does not have the objective of some guidance to humanity. It is therefore essential that the references to birds in the Quran should also be for some meaningful purpose.

The Similitude of Man to Birds and Ants:

The Quran, in one of its verses clearly writes of a similitude between humans and birds:

And there is no animal in the earth, nor a bird that flies on its two wings, but (they are) communities like yourselves. — Holy Quran, chapter 6, verse 38.

This verse indicates that there are two types of people. One, which like ants clings to the ground, and whose sight never rises above the world. Their purpose in life is no more than the satisfaction of their low desires and they spend their entire lives engrossed in their love of the world. These people have been likened to creatures like ants that crawl on the ground and cannot fly to any heights. The other type of people are those whose purpose in life is not this world, but the attainment to God. They fly to the heights, and as their wings gain strength and power, they rise higher and higher.

Strangely, the theory of evolution also posits that the birds evolved from creatures crawling upon the ground. As long as they were in this worldly state, then like other such creatures their features were quite repulsive, but as soon as they acquired wings and they flew to the skies, a beauty produced in them, so today man marvels at their elegance. Also, in their voices, a musical timbre was created, so that the heart of man finds joy and pleasure in the melodious sounds of birds' twittering. Take the example of the butterfly. As long as it is an insect crawling upon the ground, it looks quite repulsive and ugly. But when it acquires wings and soars to the skies, then it is transformed into a creature of great beauty.

To summarise, in this verse being discussed, the purpose of likening the creatures in the earth and birds with humans is to impart a choice to be made. One may, like the creature of the earth, follow worldly desires and the lower desires of the soul. The result will be that one's life, like that of these creatures, will be repulsive, ugly and frightening this will be evident in the next world, where the truth of the appearances of this world will be unfolded. On the other hand, one can choose to progress, and set ones sight above the lower desires and, like birds, fly with both wings and soar to the skies. The result will be that your life will become better and a beauty will be produced within you, so that in this world as well as the next, you will become a beloved of God and the people of wisdom.

Two Wings:

Now we need to explore, what does Allah, Most High, mean in this verse when he states "Bird flies on its two wings". What are these two wings, through which it is possible for man to soar to the skies. Now it is evident that the superiority that man possesses over all creation is due to knowledge. For when Adam was created, the excellence he possessed over the angels was through knowledge. The Quran states:

And he taught Adam all the names — The Holy Quran, chapter 2, verse 31.

This means that Adam was given so much knowledge of the matters of this world and those of spiritual affairs, that even the angels found him superior to themselves. The expansiveness of knowledge, of both this world and that relating to God, granted to humankind, is not present in the angels. The angels have only knowledge of their particular functions and the matters pertaining therein. Similarly, in the world of spiritual matters, an angel will only have knowledge of that attribute of God under which it performs its function. Mankind, on the other hand, in accordance with each individual's capabilities, may master both matters pertaining to this universe as well as knowledge of the attributes of God. To Summarise: The progress of man is based upon knowledge.

God has granted us two ways of attaining knowledge. Firstly, he has granted us intelligence. Our intelligence utilises the information we receive through our senses. Secondly, he has placed in us spiritual powers. In the terminology of the Quran, these are known as Qulb (Heart). God sends revelation upon 'Hearts' and thus imparts a part of his perfect knowledge to them.

In short, the elevation (flying) of man depends upon knowledge; to attain this knowledge man has been given two means (wings) namely, intelligence and the revelation from God. Unless these two wings beat in unison, man will not be able to soar spiritually, and would be unable to rise completely above low desires and love of the world, to the attainment of spiritual perfection. The Quran speaks of this matter in another verse:

Do they not see the birds above them spreading and contracting (their wings)? Naught upholds them save the Beneficent. Surely He is Seer of all things. Holy Quran, chapter 67, verse 19.

In this verse man's attention is drawn to the Birds for as long as the birds spread out (i.e., make use of) their wings they continue to soar, but as soon as they contract (stop using) their wings they fall downwards. In the same way, as long as one makes use of his intelligence and the divine revelation, then both material and spiritual growth is assured. But the day, use of these wings is discarded, one would fall. It may be noted that as long as the Muslims used both these wings, they not only succeeded wonderfully in this world, but also spiritually, and attained positions of closeness to God. However, when they stopped making use of their intelligence and the Divine Revelation, their decline began.

Naught upholds them save the Beneficent: Attention is drawn to God's attribute of beneficence that is his granting, unconditionally, to both men and birds, wings according to their needs so that they can save themselves from falling down.

Surely He is Seer of all things: At the same time, it must be noted that God sees, that is, His Law with its essential consequences is ever-present. If one takes full use of these two wings then one would progressively rise upwards, otherwise one would decline and fall into darkness: The consequences are inevitable.

Glorification and Prayer:

In another verse the Holy Quran has stated a matter of great subtlety:

Seest thou not that Allah is He, Whom do glorify all those who are in the heavens and the earth, and the birds with wings outspread? Each one knows its prayer and its glorification. And Allah is Knower of what they do. Holy Quran, chapter 24, verse 41.

Glorification by the Tongue, in the Form of Worshipping:

First of all, we need to understand, what is meant by the glorification of God by creatures. Glorification is to consider the attributes of God to be free from any fault or imperfection and to express this understanding, whether by the speech of one's tongue or by manifesting it through a practical affirmation.

One form of Glorification by the tongue, is the expression of the words we say in our daily prayers, i.e., 'Glory to my Lord, the Great (Sub-haa-naa Rub-bee ul Azeem)' and 'Glory to my Lord, the Most High (Sub-haa-na Rub-bee ul Aa-laa)'. The Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in addition, to these daily required prayers, frequently used to recite "Glory (Subhan) to Allah, and may he be praised (Humd)" and "Glory to Allah, the Great". Praise (Humd) is to consider and to express that Allah, Most High, possesses every excellence. So "Glory (Subhan) to Allah, and may he be praised (Hamd)" means to consider Allah, Most High to be free of any imperfection and to possess every virtue. In "Glory to Allah, the Great", the words "the Great" as applied to God, mean perfect greatness beyond the comprehension of man. His Creation, His Power, His Will, His Attributes and His Works contain within themselves such greatness and splendour, that they are beyond the ability of man's limited intelligence and cannot be fully grasped. So, if any person cannot understand a particular act of God, it is due to his own lack of knowledge and the weakness of his intellect, for Allah's attributes are free from any fault or imperfection. Glory to Allah, the Great.

The purpose of repeating these words, consciously and actively, in worship, is so that the glorification and praise of God be so impressed on one's heart and mind, that no thought or prompting of the devil against the concept of God's perfection and praiseworthiness, ever enters into one's heart. If one is unable to comprehend any particular Act of God, then one would acknowledge one's lack of one's knowledge and a failing of one's understanding, but would always consider the acts of God to be free from any faults or imperfections. Man's knowledge as compared to God's Knowledge is less then a drop of water as compared to an ocean. The Quran states:

Say: If the sea were ink for the words of my Lord, the sea would surely be exhausted before the words of my Lord were exhausted, though We brought the like of it to add (thereto). The Holy Quran, chapter 18, verse 109.

In comparison to the Knowledge of God, the knowledge of man is not even that of a single sentence. However, whenever the rebellious and proud Man, finds any matter in the universe not totally in agreement with his desires, or an act of God that differs somewhat from his opinion, he raises a host of objections against his Lord. At this juncture he forgets, in this world, that when a Surgeon with his superior medical knowledge, in the course of an operation, cuts open a patient, the relatives of the patient do not try to stop him or object to his wounding their loved one. Why is this so? Only because they know that the Doctor's knowledge in this matter is superior to theirs so they are not annoyed at the Doctor, but instead are thankful towards him and in fact pay him the fees for the operation. On the other hand, in matters pertaining to God, foolish and ignorant man forgets that his knowledge is nothing in comparison to the knowledge of God. This is why the faithful are encouraged to repeatedly recite words of glorification in order to impress upon their hearts and mind, that no act of God is without wisdom and that God's essence is free of any weakness or fault, and possesses perfectly all the excellent attributes. Furthermore, this thought should be so strengthened in one's heart, that if there is any act of God which one cannot understand, then realising our lack of knowledge we would not entertain any negative thoughts about our Lord, but would instead consider the act as one of wisdom and for our betterment.

Glorification by the Spoken or Written Word in the Form of Jihad:

There is another type of glorification by words: When a person continuously recites words of glorification and praise of Allah, Most High, then not only does no doubt about the perfection of God's actions and attributes ever cross his mind, but upon hearing any criticism of this nature (Examples: God requires pre-existing spirits and matter to create the universe; or that he cannot forgive and act mercifully; or belief in any form of polytheism and idolatry; or an outright denial of the existence of God.) would become strongly agitated and would find peace only after refuting these arguments and clearing the person of his Lord of all these matters which detract from His Glory. In other words, the glorification and love of God becomes a part of his being, so he can brook no criticism of God. This is a great glorification indeed, for not only is the tongue or pen used for the glorification of God, but arguments are adduced in favour of the perfection of God and a deep truth is brought forward to the world. In short, glorification of God is a Jihad (holy effort), which contains in it the dual blessings, associated with glorifying and of striving in God's path.

The Glorification of the Heart:

Glorification, whether in prayer or in the form of effort in God's path, is meaningless unless one's heart is involved. For, simple words of the mouth are lost in the wind and do not have any consequences or value. So, it is necessary that the heart, along with the tongue, be involved in the act of glorification. With a true heart one must consider God free of every fault and imperfection. Furthermore, when words of glorification are recited by the tongue, there should be a corresponding effect on the heart.

When one's heart is truly involved in the glorification of God, then one finds that one is always ready to accept any of God's commands whether in matters prescribed or in what He decrees. But, even more than this, such a person finds contentment in whatever is God's desire.

In the matters of what is prescribed (by God), glorification is that whenever there is a conflict between the sacred law and the norms of one's people, or one's own desires, then one should give preference to the commands of God, Most High, and leave aside the customs of one's people and one's own desires. This is because the believer's heart attains to a faith, that his Lord would not prescribe anything wrong or harmful. For example, take the case of division of inheritance: The custom in our country [pre-partition India] is that no share is given to daughters which is in opposition to the law given in the Quran which prescribes a fixed share for daughters. Now a person who is hesitant about dividing his property according to the Shariah (Islamic Law), as he fears that his property or land will not remain intact, but be divided into small pieces, then such a person's words of glorification, numerous thought they may have been, would be wasted. For this person does not truly consider God is free from error. In the same way God has forbidden riba (usury). Man's lower soul on the other hand, proclaims riba necessary. So glorification of God by a person engaging in usurious practices is totally meaningless. In short, a person who glorifies God, never allows his lower soul, or the customs of his people to take precedence over a command of God.

In matters pertaining to the decree of God, glorification is that if any grief or damage is caused by an act of God, the believer should not feel the slightest annoyance with this decree of God. Instead, he would be content with whatever God had ordained to take place. A loss of wealth, or even the death of a beloved relative may occur, however the true believer would bow down humbly in front of God's decree and rest content before the Will and Desire of His Lord. In the same way, if the purpose behind some event occurring in this world earthquakes, wars, other disasters or acts of nature, is beyond his understanding, still he would never entertain any doubts or think that some injustice or evil has taken place. This is because his heart with complete certainty believes that God with all his attributes is free from any fault or imperfection. Our senses and intelligence cannot fully grasp the purpose of his actions and therefore if we do not understand any of his acts, it is due to our lack of knowledge and our weakness of understanding. In no way does any blame attach to God's Attributes and actions. In short, this is the mentality which is characteristic of a believer whose heart truly glorifies God. Indeed, this is the purpose of the recitation of the words of glorification of God by one's tongue: In order to affect the heart and mind of the believer, so that no annoyance or disquiet arises in him, pertaining to any act of God. This would be regardless of whether this act is in the nature of a commandment of the sacred law or a decree of God and irrespective of whether this act of God pertains to the believer himself or to other creatures of God. He would instead, with a sincere and complete faith, be content with, and cheerfully accept the will of God. This is because he knows that his Lord is free of any fault or imperfection.

Glorification by the Condition/State of Creation:

I have discussed glorification by the tongue and by the heart. Now let us discuss glorification by the condition/state of creation. The Quran refers to this in the following verse:

... And there is not a single thing but glorifies him with his praise, but you do not understand their glorification ... — Holy Quran, chapter 17, verse 44.

Everything has been created for a purpose and created so perfectly and fashioned so correctly, that it is not possible to improve it. This is an argument to show the perfection of its Creator's attributes and action. If man sees a fault in anything, it is due to a lack of understanding. He has neither thought enough nor reached the truth of the matter. As man continues his investigations and broadens his knowledge, he observes that everything in the universe praises and glorifies its Creator. That is, anything he observes is so perfect in its fashioning, and its existence is necessary for a particular purpose, and the manner in which it so properly and correctly fulfils its purpose of creation that man involuntarily from his heart and tongue glorifies and praises his God. He feels that its Creator is really free of any imperfection and fault. This form of glorification is mentioned elsewhere in the Quran as follows:

Glorify the name of thy Lord, the Most High! Who creates (everything), then makes (it) complete, And who measures, then guides (everything in its purpose of is creation). (Holy Quran, chapter 87, verse 1-3)

That is God first created everything, then gave it the correct and exact powers to the extent that there was no space for further improvement. Furthermore, to accomplish the purpose for which it was created, in addition to the powers that were therefore granted, God also planted an inborn knowledge of the path to be followed, which would lead to the fulfilment of its goal of life. So, O man, as every created being's condition glorifies its creator, you should also strive to make your condition such that it glorifies your Creator. This can only be achieved by accomplishing the purpose of your creation and for this purpose you have been granted the most excellent of powers. These have been measured out, and you have been granted guidance, so that you can walk in the paths of your Lord and thus fulfil the purpose of your creation.

In this way, by looking at your progress and perfection, people would automatically acknowledge the glory of your Creator. So like other creatures of God, follow the guidance granted to you by God and accomplish the purpose for which you were created. As you are allowed a degree of freedom in your actions and granted the ability to distinguish between good and evil so the guidance that has been granted to you is knowledge, which has been provided in the form of the Book of God. It is therefore essential, that under your own initiative and desire, you walk upon the paths pointed out by God, and thus attain all the improvements and perfections for which you were created. Every improvement and perfection attained would indicate the perfection of your Creator, and, so like other creatures of God, but above all, your condition/state would be a glorification of God.

To conclude, if there is any advantage of glorifying God, it is to man. God, Most High, is self-sufficient and does not depend or is effected by this glorification the benefit of glorifying is only to the creature glorifying. For in this way it attains its perfection and accomplishes the purpose for which it was created. Consider, what is the result of man's glorification of God? Just, that he believes that his Creator is free from any imperfection or harm, and considering his purpose of life, cheerfully and obediently accepts all the commandments, prescriptive or decreed, of God, and thus attains the excellences and perfection, for which he was created. Thus, glorifying God is for the betterment of man, and by this glorification man accomplishes the purpose for which he was created.

Description of Prayer:

Seest thou not that Allah is He, Whom do glorify all those who are in the heavens and the earth, and the birds with wings outspread? Each one knows its prayer and its glorification. And Allah is Knower of what they do. Holy Quran, chapter 24, verse 41.

The verse under discussion states that "Each one knows its prayer and its glorification". Therefore, after concluding the discussion on "glorification", it is necessary to comment on "prayer". Specifically, what is the prayer that is known to "Each one"? Now, as everything glorifies God by virtue of its condition/state, similarly its prayer is also expressed through its condition/state. Note clearly, that while the purpose of every creation of God, including intelligent human beings, is the glorification of God the means of attaining this purpose is prayer. In other words, as the following of the guidance given by God is the glorification by creations of God, in the same way the constant seeking of God's help in following the guidance are their prayers. In the nature of all creation glorification has been placed in that they follow the guidance given by God. Similarly, in the nature of all creation, prayer has been established by their condition they are constantly seeking the assistance of God to follow that guidance.

This assistance they receive from God in two ways internally and externally. Internally, by virtue of their instincts and the law of nature. Externally, by the provision of everything required for their development & growth and for their functioning. God has distinguished man from the rest of creation by virtue of his being granted consciousness and free will. Therefore, the prayer of man differs in that he voluntarily stands in presence of his God to pray, and recite therein the Quranic prayer:

Thee do we Worship and Thee do we beseech for Help Guide us upon the straight Path The Holy Quran, chapter 1 (Al-Fatiha), verses 4 & 5.

This is the essence of prayer seeking God's help for achieving one's purpose of existence. That is why in the Hadith (Tradition of the Holy Prophet) it is stated "There can be no prayer without the Fatiha". The reality of prayer is contained in these two verses. The bowing (ruku) and prostration (sujud) in the prescribed prayer is a practical demonstration of "Thee do we Worship" and pertain to the lofty purpose of glorification. The purpose of prayer is the attainment of glorification and its reality has been described in these two verses seeking the help and requesting the guidance of God. Every particle of this universe, in a practical form, is constantly seeking from Allah, Most High, this help and guidance. Elsewhere, it is thus stated:

All those in the heavens and the earth ask of Him. Every moment He is in a state (of glory) Holy Quran, Chapter 55, Verse 29.

This verse reflects the innumerable beauties and beneficences of Allah, the Most High. To recap, by prayer is meant the seeking of the guidance and help from God, whether it is by the tongue or through one's condition. So as glorification is the purpose of man's existence thus prayer is the means to attain this purpose. In other words, it is the means by which the correct path is followed in order that the purpose of existence is achieved.

Commentary on the Quranic Verse 24.41:

As we have discussed in detail, the prayer and glorification of creation, now I would like to move on to a general commentary on this verse being discussed.

Seest thou not that Allah is He, Whom do glorify all those who are in the heavens and the earth, and the birds with wings outspread? Each one knows its prayer and its glorification. And Allah is Knower of what they do. Holy Quran, chapter 24, verse 41.

This verse describes the glorification of creation by virtue of its condition and O man do you not see that all creation, whether it belongs to the skies or the earth is acting under the guidance of Allah, Most High. Thus it is beautifully fulfilling the purpose of its existence and pointing to the perfection of its Creator. In particular, observe the birds and how they utilise their wings to fly in the skies. So O man You must, in this way, also glorify your Creator. Not only with the tongue, but let your condition be as such. Use the wings of revelation and intelligence, and by exercising the resulting knowledge and guidance you will be able to fly progressively higher. So that you will be able to attain that perfection, which was the purpose of your creation. In other words, you will inherit the trusteeship (Khilafat) of God. Prayer, is the one method, by which you can attain to this glorification. Prayer is found in all creation in the form of asking for help or needing guidance. You must also use this method, and establish prayer and ask your Lord for help and seek his guidance and bow down before him and prostrate yourself and utter words of glorification, which would express the following: O my Lord, as I am glorifying you by the words of my tongue, in the same way help me and give me guidance so that I can practically, i.e., through my actions, also glorify you. Such a prayer will result in God's help in walking on the correct paths the paths found through the use of your intelligence, under the broad guidance of the revelation of God. By His Grace, you will also be given the power to act for in God's Sight, deeds are what really count and mere words are meaningless. So, O Man, prayer is essential for the perfection of the praise of God to which you are bound as much as the rest of creation. Like the birds, then you will rise away from the earth and soar to the skies resulting in your transformation from a worldly to a heavenly creature.

By "And Allah is Knower of what they do" is meant that God Knows the glorification carried out by all creation. He is aware of the glorification rendered by every person. Therefore, it is not possible that this glorification be unaccompanied by spiritual progress. The result of glorification of God is spiritual development and progress in the path to stations of closeness to God.

Human Nature has the Inherent Capability for Spiritual Growth:

The purpose of mentioning the glorification by birds was to communicate that humans should also utilise the wings of intelligence and divine guidance, that they have been provided with for spiritual growth. Man has been provided with the capacity to attain to spiritual heights, but he does not utilise the wings he has been provided and therefore does not progress spiritually. Were he to use his wings, then like the birds, his state would be one of glorification of God and would thus progress spiritually and attain all the heavenly stations. The Holy Prophet Muhammad's experience of Ascending to the Heavens (Meraj) is one great display of this spiritual soaring. The saying (Hadith) of the Holy Prophet that "Prayer is the Ascension (Meraj) of the believer" indicates that prayer is the means of this spiritual progress/glorification of God.

The Fashioning of Birds by Jesus (peace be upon him):

The Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him) indicated the purpose of his appointment to his nation in the following words:

"I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, that I determine for you out of dust the form of a bird, then I breathe into it and it becomes a bird with Allah's permission, and I heal the blind and leprous, and bring the dead to life with Allah's permission; and I inform you of what you should eat and what you should store in your house. Surely there is a sign in this for you, if you are believers. (Holy Quran , chapter 3, verse 48 [End Part])

In reality, the same subject (glorification of God), is being referred to in the fashioning of birds by Jesus. Unfortunately, many classical commentators of the Quran have interpreted: "I determine for you out of dust the form of a bird" to mean the creating of a bird out of clay. This is beyond my understanding as God has most forcefully stated:

Is there any Creator besides Allah (From verse 3, chapter 35 of the Holy Quran)

Furthermore, there are clear authoritative verses in the Quran such as:

Have they set up with Allah associates who have created creation like His, so that what is created became confused to them (From verse 16, chapter 13 of the Holy Quran)

and,

Those whom they call on besides Allah created naught, while they are themselves created. Dead (are they), not living. (From verses 20, 21, chapter 16 of the Holy Quran)

Authoritative verses, to this purport, are abundantly present, in the Quran. This clearly shows that there is no creator besides God, and to accept another creator is a form of polytheism. It is therefore completely wrong to take the word Khalq, in the verse 3:48 (being discussed above), to mean "I will create". Instead, it would be correct to interpret the word khalq in its other meaning, i.e., of determining. So the meaning of verse (3:48) is as follows: O man, you have been created from clay, i.e., though you have been created of dust, which is a most humble thing yet clay has the property of being able to be moulded into any shape. So, I will determine those out of you, who have the power to fly spiritually, and will so breathe into them that with the Grace of God, they will soar upwards. Therefore, here too, a spiritual soaring has been indicated which is the ultimate desire and complete glorification of God by man.

In the word lakum (for you), the particle la (for) indicates the benefit or purpose. In other words, the presence of spiritually-advanced people is advantageous for a nation. It is extremely degrading, to take Lakum (for you), to mean that Jesus would enact a kind of magical show. Prophets of God do not come to perform feats of magic their purpose is to bring a spiritual revolution. They come to guide the spiritual wayfarers to their desired destination, and not to show birds of clay in flight which would further fall and break. This would be a kind of mesmerism or magical illusion not prophethood. Nor do the prophets share in the attributes of God for they come to teach the lessons of God's Oneness and not polytheism.

Khalq — Determining:

Now what is the purpose of determining/selecting people from a nation. It is apparent, that to some extent every human being has some inherent capacity for spiritual progress. Nevertheless, the level of spiritual capacity required to be of benefit to the religion and nation is not present in everybody. Those special people who have this capacity, can be recognised by the spiritual insight of a Prophet or Appointee of God. The prophet gives special attention and care to them, so that their spiritual training and development is completed. Only then, does your existence prove beneficial to the world at large, and they truly become successors of the prophet.

One can clearly see the special pains and care which the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) took in the spiritual training of his Companions Abu Bakr and Umar. The Holy Prophet's spiritual insight gave him understanding of the spiritual capacity of these esteemed Companions, so he breathed a spirit in them that their spiritual station become akin to a star in the firmament. Umar (may God be pleased with him) many times asked for permission to leave to give religious education to newly converted tribes in various parts of the Arabian Peninsula. The Holy Prophet, however, did not give his permission, and instead urged Hazrat Umar to remain in his company. This was because the Holy Prophet saw the spiritual potential of Umar and therefore felt that by remaining in his (the Holy Prophet's) company, he (i.e, Umar) would be able to complete his spiritual journey, and thus would become an extremely beneficial presence for his nation and religion. So he always asked Hazrat Umar to remain in his company so that a spirit could be breathed into him.

Another lesson we can observe from this verse is that at the time of a Prophet or an appointee of God, the entire nation has not become corrupted and spiritually dead, but there exists among them some people who have goodness and the capability to progress to spiritual heights. The nature of their era is such, that they are unable to complete their spiritual progress, and despite having the capacity to fly spiritually, they are unable to make any real progress. They, therefore are in need of a person with an overpowering spirituality who by his spiritual blessings would spiritually breathe into those having latent spiritual potential, in order for them to be able to complete all the stages of spiritual progress. Thus they would be converted from creatures of the earth to those of the sky.

The Blind, Leprous and the Dead:

The work of the Prophets and Appointees of God is not limited to completing the spiritual perfection of those with these capabilities. For the nations, to which they are raised up for, have in their fold many spiritually-ill and spiritually-dead people. To restore to health those spiritually-ill, and to revive those spiritually-dead is one of the great works performed by the prophets.

Two types of illnesses are mentioned blindness and leprosy. That is one is the illness of not being able to see properly in the darkness and the other is one in which white spots of leprosy appear on the body. It may be noted that these people are alive in a religious sense but ill. The first are ill in the sense that they cannot see well in the darkness. That is as long as there is daylight they can see fine, but in the darkness of the night they become blind. These are the people who follow with others the religious path as long as they face no problems or difficulties. However, when they face some difficulty whether intellectually or with regard to deeds for instance, some matter of religion does not accord with their understanding or they find difficulty in acting in accordance with it, then despite possessing the faculty of sight they become blind, and follow the wrong path.

By those suffering from leprosy are meant people whose actions outwardly appear good but which in reality are evil. In short, their intentions are not good and their actions are a deceptive show motivated for attaining of a good name and desire for fame. Just as the leprosy spots are outwardly white but the person with the illness is not white but suffering from an illness. The person is not attractive but suffering from an illness.

The blind and the leprous still have some religious consciousness. There is, however, one segment of people who have totally died in a religious sense. They are not concerned with religion and have nothing to do with spiritual matters. The work of a Prophet or one appointed by God is to make well those spiritually-ill and to revive those spiritually-dead. This is by the command of God, for he is appointed by God. The Prophet/Appointee's spiritual power is highly effective for he is appointed in accordance to the will of God. Such a spiritual blessing cannot therefore be exhibited by every saint, for they are not appointed by God for any particular work.

The Metaphorical Language of Jesus Christ (peace be upon him):

In the Holy Quran, there are many such references to spiritual illnesses and the dead. For instance:

"And whoever is blind in this (world) he will be blind in the Hereafter"Holy Quran, chapter 17, verse 72.

In this passage, the word "blind" can only connote spiritual blindness.

Similarly:

"Is he who was dead, then We raised him to life...." Holy Quran, chapter 6, verse 122.

In this verse the word "dead" connotes a spiritual death.

The speech of the Holy Prophet Jesus consisted mainly of metaphors and similes. For instance in the Bible the following words of Jesus Christ are present:

"Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. (The New International Version of the Bible, Luke, 7.21)

Now in this passage, the blind, lepers, deaf and dead are clearly meant in the spiritual sense. The poor also connote the spiritually impoverished.

What a Believer should Eat and Store:

"...and I inform you of what you should eat and what you should store in your house. Surely there is a sign in this for you, if you are believers." (Holy Quran , chapter 3, verse 48 (End Part))

The prophets and those appointed by God additionally have a tremendous reform to carry out. In their time, their nations have become totally materialistic. The ultimate aim of their people is only the goods of this world. These they seek to acquire, utilise and store by any means, legitimate or illegitimate. Engrossed in this materialistic way of life they pass on from this world empty handed. In this world they do collect and leave a lot behind, but in the hereafter they are poor and bankrupt. For this reason the Quran states:

I inform you of what you should eat and what you should store in your house (Holy Quran, chapter 3, verse 48)

That is the prophet firstly explains the difference between legitimate and illegitimate income and permissible and prohibited foods. Secondly, the Prophet explains what one should store in one's house and these are good deeds. This point was especially stressed by the Holy Prophet Jesus Christ. As can be seen in the following passage of the bible:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is there your hear will be also. (The New International Version of the Bible, Matthew, 6.19)

In short, if anything is worth storing in your houses, it is spiritual wealth that is good deeds which is also a source of reform for the family. Ill-gotten gains destroy the character of one's family. The wealth of the world is not what one should store, but store instead the wealth of good deeds, which will also be a source of blessings and reform for your family. In the hereafter too, these good deeds will be useful to you. These are the good things that abide which the believer should store and leave behind in this world.

Surely there is a sign in this for you, if you are believers. (Holy Quran, chapter 3, verse 48 (End Part))

The above verse means that for a believer, the greatest sign of the truth of a messenger or one appointed by God, is the spiritual revolution brought about. Indeed what greater sign of being from God can be shown?

Part 2: The Invitation to Birds:

At one instance in the Holy Quran, an invitation given to some birds is referred to:

And when Abraham said, My Lord, show me how Thou givest life to the dead, He said: Dost thou not believe? He said: Yes, but that my heart may be at ease. He said: Then take four birds, then tame them to incline to thee, then place on every mountain a part of them, then (invite them that is) call them, they will come to thee flying; and know that Allah is Mighty, Wise. (Holy Quran, Chapter 2, Verse 260)

A Wrong Interpretation of this Verse:

Unfortunately, many classical commentators of the Quran, have interpreted Abraham’s question to God regarding the resurrection of those actually dead. They interpret this verse to mean that God answered Abraham to take four birds and cut them into small pieces. Then Abraham called the birds, and they came flying to him.

This interpretation is however quite objectionable. First of all, there are clear authoritative verses of the Quran which are against this interpretation. These verses state that once somebody dies they do not return to this world. This has been described as Sunnat Allah (the way of Allah).

Secondly, if Abraham, despite being a prophet who used to speak to and was spoken to by God, was not at peace until he actually saw the dead being given life, then what would be the condition of the ordinary people? They are not prophets, nor have they had the honour of direct converse with God. When a great Prophet’s heart was not at peace until he saw with his own eyes a practical demonstration of God giving life to the dead, then the state of ordinary people’s hearts can be imagined. Furthermore, how can they be asked to have faith in life after death? God himself in the Quran states:

Allah imposes not on any soul a duty beyond its scope (Holy Quran, Chapter 2, Verse 286).

The Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is also reported to have said:

"We have a greater right to doubt then Abraham when he said: My Lord, show me how Thou givest life to the dead" — Bukhari 6.61

In other words, the Holy Prophet Muhammad should have greater doubts then any entertained by the Prophet Abraham. Is it possible that despite the Great Prophet having attained closeness and knowledge of God, his heart was not at peace, that the God whose Messenger he was, would be able to raise the dead to life? In other words, these prophets were not certain of the hereafter, even though such certainty is expected of every believer, as the Quran states "of the Hereafter, they are sure" (Holy Quran, Chapter 2, End of Verse 4). This interpretation therefore greatly detracts from the honour and stature of the Holy Prophet Abraham.

A cleric once asserted to me that the resurrection of birds to life was a miracle of the Prophet Abraham. I replied that a miracle is shown to one’s people, in order that they may believe that the Prophet has truly been sent by God. In this instance it is however the Prophet who is being reassured. There are no witnesses present — there is only the Prophet and his God. So how does this serve the purpose of a miracle?

A third objection to this interpretation of the commentators, is the word sur that has been used here (2.260). It is the imperative form of sara, which in the lexicons is given the meaning ‘he made it to incline’. According to the lexicologists sur-hunna means ‘make them incline and gather them to one self ’.

Those, who take the meaning of sur to mean to cut refer to the following verse from Arabic poetry.

Sur nabh ul hukm (We cut off the command).

However, by "to cut off the command" is meant only to make a decision and not to cut into pieces. In particular when sur is followed by the word ila, as in this verse of the Quran, the lexicons all agree that the only possible meaning is ‘make them incline’. The commentators, because of their preconceived notion that the word sur here means to cut into small pieces, postulate that after fa sur hunna (then make them to incline to thee) the words fa qatti hunna (then cut them) are implicit in this verse. That is, first make the birds incline to thee then cut them into small pieces. It is however illogical that when the birds are going to be cut into small pieces what was the purpose of taming them before that. This manner of justifying a preconceived notion by asserting some implicit omitted words is taking a serious liberty with the Quran, and opens the door to changing the meaning of the Quran.

In short, the commentators interpretation is not acceptable at all counts, and detracts from the honour and dignity of the great Prophet Abraham.

The final matter to discuss is the word juz (place a part). This also does not lend support to the commentator’s interpretation, for when there is more than one in number, juz would mean a portion of that group. For instance, about the entrants of hell it is stated:

La kulli babim minhum juz-um maqsum (For each gate is an appointed portion of them) The Holy Quran, Chapter 15, Verse 44.

Clearly, here the cutting up into small pieces of the entrants of hell is not meant. In the same way, by a portion of four birds is meant one bird.

The Correct Explanation of this Verse:

And when Abraham said, My Lord, show me how Thou givest life to the dead, He said: Dost thou not believe? He said: Yes, but that my heart may be at ease. He said: Then take four birds, then tame them to incline to thee, then place on every mountain a part of them, then (invite them that is) call them, they will come to thee flying; and know that Allah is Mighty, Wise. (Holy Quran, Chapter 2, Verse 260)

When the Prophet Abraham was appointed by God as his messenger, he was assigned for the reformation of his people — His people were completely spiritually dead; idol and star worshippers; in all ways spiritually barren — who did not listen to reason but were always in perpetual opposition. They were not even ready to listen to Abraham and avoided him.

A prophet turns to God at each time of difficulty. When Abraham was given the duty of reforming his people, worried and bewildered he turned in prayer to his God. The verse under discussion refers to his prayer, which may have been roughly as follows:

Abraham: My nation is totally dead — how will these spiritually dead people be brought to life? — What am I to do?

God: Do you not believe that these dead people can be brought to spiritual life.

Abraham: Yes, of course — but there appears to be no indication of any success — grant me a sign, which would encourage me and set my heart at ease.

It may be noted that such worrying is not particular to the Holy Prophet Abraham, but whenever a messenger is appointed by God, then due to their human frailty and their meagre resources, they are daunted by the enormity of their mission.

Take the example of when the burden of messengership was entrusted to the Holy Prophet Moses, who was extremely nervous and hesitant about this task. In God’s presence he expressed his inability — sometimes by stating that I am not eloquent of speech — my brother Aaron possesses this eloquence. Again he said that a Copt was killed at my hands — the Egyptians will therefore kill me. In short, he was extremely hesitant about accepting this task but to no avail. His Lord responded to all his doubts and thus strengthened him and gave peace to his heart.

In the same way our Holy Prophet Muhammad felt greatly burdened and overwhelmed with his task. God, however, by his repeated revelations soothed the Holy Prophet’s heart and strengthened him as the following verses of the Quran attest:

Have we not expanded for thee thy breast, And removed from thee thy burden, Which weighed down thy back. Holy Quran, Chapter 94, Verses 1-3

It is this "expansion of the breast" that the Prophet Abraham was seeking, and which he found through this example of the birds — For when the revelation of God grants some knowledge, it carries along with it an effect which soothes the heart and expands the breast. This fortifies the recipient and strengthens his heart.

God informed the Holy Prophet Abraham, through this example of the birds, that do not be despondent that people do not listen to you and even shy away from you. No creature shies away from human beings more than the bird, in so far that before a person comes near a bird it flies away — but is it not true that even birds can be tamed to incline towards man. For instance, if you take four birds, and tame them, then place them in mountains (the rationale for mountains is that it is very difficult to travel though a mountainous country), one in the north, another in the south, the third in the west and the fourth in the east — then call out to them, they will come flying to you.

In other words, God has placed in man a force and attraction, that even the bird which shies away from man, if tamed by a person, on calling comes flying, no matter how far or how difficult the flight. Then surely the call of a spiritual man, who speaks gently so that people would not shy away, is sure to elicit a response from the people. So, whenever a nation turns towards an "inviter to God" they are revived from a spiritual death to a spiritual life. The life of a nation is indeed dependent on accepting the call of an inviter towards God. The Quran states:

O you who believe, respond to Allah and His Messenger, when he calls you to that which gives you life. Holy Quran, Chapter 8, verse 24.

In other words a nation’s spiritual station is equivalent to its response to the call of an inviter to God. The spiritual life of a tribe or nation is indeed dependent on its acceptance of this call. A true response is essentially "We hear and Obey" — Holy Quran 2.285. Prayer and worship bring man closer to God and are thus essential for the development of spirituality which attracts people. The Quran states in this regard:

The rising by night is surely the most effective way to tread and the most effective of speech. — The Holy Quran, Chapter 73, Verse 6.

This verse explains that the soul is greatly developed by rising up at night. Prayer at this time has a strong effect on the heart: The worshipper’s speech and call towards God becomes highly effective and penetrates into the hearts of the audience.

In dealing with people it is also important to be patient and soft spoken. Principles should be communicated with love and rational demonstration. The Quran states in this connection:

Call to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and argue with them in the best manner — Holy Quran, Chapter 16, Verse 125.

The Quran therefore instructs the believer to argue rationally and exhort to goodness. Such a call is one made affectionately with no rancour or hurtful speech. Gentleness has been strongly emphasised in the Quran. It is stated:

Thus it is by Allah’s mercy that thou art gentle to them. And hadst thou been rough, hard hearted, they would certainly have dispersed from around thee. — Holy Quran, Chapter 3, Verse 158.

To summarise: A man appointed by God, due to his connection and closeness to God, develops a spiritual power and attractiveness. By his kindness and affection to all around him, people lose their wariness and become inclined to him. A transformation is achieved — those who were dead are given spiritual life; they answer his call and become those who hear and obey.

The Era of the Holy Prophet Muhammad:

We observe this transformation in the Holy Prophet’s time. Initially, the Arabs were a dead nation who like a suspicious bird actively avoided the Prophet’s call. Then a time came, that like a tame bird, the entire Arab nation responded ‘we hear and obey to any call of the Prophet. This is giving life to the dead (ihya mauta). It was indeed about this revivification that the Holy Prophet Abraham sought his Lord’s reassurance, for such a transformation appeared impossible.

The Time of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Sahib:

Hazrat Mirza Sahib also received a revelation from God to reassure him: "ya nonaka min kulli fajji amiq" which meant that if today people do not listen to your words or dislike your reforms, a time will come that people will be attracted to you from far and wide. This was also the meaning of a kashf (vision) of Hazrat Mirza Sahib in which he saw that he was given a sermon in London, and catching white birds from some bushes. Who were these white birds? They were these Europeans who like unfamiliar birds shied away from the very name of Islam. Hazrat Mirza Sahib himself also interpreted the white birds he saw in his vision to mean Europeans. The vision signified that Hazrat Mirza Sahib’s spiritual power (a grace for true followers of Prophet Muhammad) and his deep knowledge of religion would one day attract these very Europeans to Islam. This vision was fulfilled when the late Khwaja Kamaluddin, a disciple of Hazrat Mirza Sahib, went to England and propagated Islam - then ‘white birds’ began to be caught.

Wisdom is Truly Power:

And know that Allah is Mighty, Wise

This is the last part of the verse under discussion (2.260). This implies that if any dead nation is to be revived then conquering it by arms would not revive it. A conquered nation may be forced to act according to the desires of its conqueror, but as a nation it would not be revived. It would be like a dead person whose movements are only due to it being moved by another person. Life is granted by wisdom, i.e., when principles of spirituality and rationality penetrate into the heart of a nation. This conquest is one which creates a new life in a nation. In other words, when God desires to bring a nation to life, he seeks to dominate it by a wisdom, in order that the nation would accept the life-giving principles therein, and with love and sincerity act thereupon. This would result in the revival of the nation.

From the beginning, Islam’s conquest has been in this nature. Wherever Islam spread by its rationality and spirituality (i.e., its wisdom) it penetrated and effected the heart of nations. That is why the culture of all nations that accepted Islam changed. Islam did not only change the religion of a people, but the society, civilisation, politics, language, literature all became dyed in the colour of Islam. For a conquest by wisdom is a mighty conquest indeed. It affects a society’s mentality and culture.

Today also Islam, God Willing, will conquer with wisdom the Lands of Europe & America and hopefully a new system will arise: From the world wars, bloodshed, hunger and wastefulness will be replaced an era of peace, blessings and God consciousness. May it be so O Lord of the Worlds!

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