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Animals in the Qur’an (Sarra TLILI)

Animals in the Qur'an (Sarra TLILI)

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Sarra Tlili is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures at the University of Florida.

Presentation (Book)

DescriptionContentsResourcesCoursesAbout the Authors
The Islamic tradition has always held animals in high esteem, deserving the same level of consideration as humans. The Qur’an opines that ’there is not an animal in the earth nor a flying creature flying on two wings, but they are people like you’. This fascinating and highly original book examines the status and nature of animals as they are portrayed in the Qur’an and in adjacent exegetical works, in which animals are viewed as spiritual, moral, intelligent and accountable beings. In this way, the study presents a challenge to the prevalent view of man’s superiority over animals and suggests new ways of interpreting the Qur’an. By placing the discussion within the context of other religions and their treatment of animals, the book also makes a persuasive case for animal rights from an Islamic perspective.

Offers an original, non-anthropocentric reading of the Qur’an
Challenges the prevalent opinion about humans’ superiority over animals
Compares the treatment of animals in Islam to that of other religions


1. Animals outside Islamic tradition
2. Exegesis, exegetes and relevant notions
3. Are they inferior?
4. Depiction of nonhuman animals in the Qur’an
5. The status of humans in the Qur’an.

Presentation (PhD Dissertation)

The Qur’an has been regarded as an anthropocentric text, in which humans occupy a privileged status in the hierarchy of beings. The idea that from a Qur’anic perspective humans are superior to other species is also reflected in various Islamic literatures. This perception is not, however, supported by a close reading of the Qur’an, which not only presents nonhuman animals as complex beings, but also considers them superior to most humans. In this dissertation, I undertake a contextual reading of the Qur’an, whereby the study of its animal themes is performed in conjunction with the study of their interpretations offered in selected works from the Islamic exegetical tradition (tafsir ). After surveying views about the status and perceived nature of nonhuman animals in a number of world religions, philosophical schools, and Islamic intellectual disciplines and introducing the tafsir genre, I move to the discussion of Qur’anic animal themes traditionally thought to convey nonhuman animals’ inferiority to humans. Among such themes there are, for example, the concepts of taskhir (usually interpreted as the subjugation of all creatures to humans) and istikhlaf (sometimes understood as humans’ representation of God on earth). For these and similar concepts, I propose alternative interpretations grounded mostly in lexical analyses and contextual usages. I also discuss the portrayal of nonhuman animals in the Qur’an, whereby I deal with themes such as nonhuman animals’ spirituality, rationality, language, morality, perspective, resurrection, and accountability. Finally, I discuss the portrayal of humans in the Qur’an and the Qur’anic criteria for assigning status. Analysis of the concept of tafd[dotbelow]il (usually understood as preferment), regarded as one of the clearest indications that God in the Qur’an prefers humans to other animals, indicates that the idea of preferment is not intended in it, and that the status emanating from tafd[dotbelow]il , if any, is of a transient nature. From a Qur’anic perspective, meaningful status, which ultimately translates into God’s pleasure or displeasure and reward or punishment in the hereafter, needs to be earned, and is not contingent on species membership.

(Source Sarra Tlili, "From an ant’s perspective: The status and nature of animals in the Qur’an" (January 1, 2009). Dissertations available from ProQuest. Paper AAI3363677.

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