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Call for Papers: Animals as Worshipers of God First of All: On Animal Piety in Islam

This International Symposium aims to consider the religious figure of the animal in Islam, neither as an object of worship (an idol) nor a means of worship (sacrificial offering), but rather as a fully-fledged subject, a worshiper of God and a model for all worshipers.

What are the origin and theological posterity of verses like, “Do you not see that God is glorified by all those in the heavens and the earth, even birds in rows?” (24:41) What does believing in animal worship of God imply for the definition of religion itself?

Important Data

Date: November 16-17, 2022

Venue: Paris, France

Proposal Deadline: June 30, 2022

Contact: Animauxadorateurs@gmail.com

Organization: Guillaume DE VAULX D’ARCY Islam médiéval (Paris), Nicolas PAYEN Ludwig Maximilians Universität (Munchen)

Following the path of animal studies, research on animals in Islam has expanded outside of its traditional areas, i.e. history of zoology and fables literature,4 which has resulted in works falling under the jurisdiction of philosophy, Qur’anic studies, law (fiqh), and mysticism.

Therefore, it is time to open up these different disciplines to study animals in all their aspects and historical specificity, in order to answer the question of what an animal in classical Islam is. In comparison, disciplinary studies are at the risk of losing this historical specificity by analysing it in the frame of anachronistic methodology. For instance, zoology may project its own interest in taxonomy on an Islamic bestiary that is more a list of nations of creatures than a list of species of living beings. In the same way, animal ethics may substitute their own concern for animal pain and hedonistic background to elements that fall under the domain of soteriology and theodicy. Indeed, did not theologians approach animal pain only to find out whether animals will be rewarded in the hereafter and whether they are entitled to compensation for unjustified sufferings? Thus, it is needful to grasp the animal in classical Islam in its historical specificity. Some monographs dealing with certain specific animals already syncretise these manifold approaches.

Classical Islamic texts, including zoological ones, testify to the importance of the religious nature of animality. Hence, we may rightly claim that a key part of what the inquiry on animals is about is the religious nature of animality. To make this general statement clearer, we may say that, by religious nature, we do not mean the theoretical and practical needs for locating the animal in the legal framework of the pure and the impure, i.e. as an object of ritualised administration of Muslim environments. Rather, we are identifying the religiousness that the animal develops, in the sense that the animal is endowed with some form of religiousness The most prominent and distinctive phenomenon is what we may term “animal piety.” Such piety is anchored in many Qur’anic verses and takes two fundamental forms:

– On the one hand, it consists in a description of how animals worship God, which implies a detailed hermeneutic of animal behaviour and sounds in terms of prayers and praises to God. This worship is attested by Qur’anic verses celebrating creatures’ praises to God (17:44, 21:79, 24:41).

– On the other hand, it consists in animal submission to the human being (16:5–7, 45:13). Thus, animal religiousness may be situated at the intersection of tasbīḥ and tasḫīr, and animals may be first characterized as worshippers of God. Their religiousness is not a primitive form of worship but a fully-fledged one, such that pious animals become models of piety. On an academic level, while scholars have already flagged tasḫīr as an important theological concept, specifically animal tasbīḥ still does not constitute an object of study, even though a significant amount of written work was dedicated to this phenomenon in classical Islam, the reference book on the topic being perhaps Al-nuṭq al-mafhūm min ahl al-ṣamt al-maʿlūm, which contains edifying stories about a multitude of animals (nātiq) and mute creatures (ġayr nāṭiq).

This sort of religious animal figure must be distinguished from other figures of animality also explored in classical Islam:

– The political animal figure, mainly developed in animal fables from the perspective of mirrors for princes and people. In such a view, human-nonhuman relations project political relations between social classes.

– The animal as a creature of God and an inhabitant of His creation, as described in books on wonders (‘ajā’ib), which aim at describing the Creator’s work.

The religious figure is not alien to any of these two cases, as their comparison may reveal. On the one side, political obedience depends on religious submission and gets its justification from it. Indeed, the concepts of tasḫīr and taḏlīl both suggest such a religious inscription of the political bound. The books of wonders flush out traces of the Creator’s skills in His creation: the creatures therein inspire a sense of wonder in whoever contemplates them until the latter grows to admire their Creator. Contemplation of the world and its wonders associated with piety leads to the revival of human piety.

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