Flying creatures in early Islam - Sorbonne Université Access content directly
Conference Papers Year : 2022

Flying creatures in early Islam

Les créatures volantes aux débuts de l'Islam


In 1988, Herbert Eisenstein noticed that flying creatures (ṭayr) alone are uniformly treated as a separated group in medieval Arabic systems of animal classification. I will show that this results from their strong differentiation from other nonhuman animals in the 7th- and 8th-century Arabian Peninsula. I will adduce both literary and archaeological evidence in support of this claim. In the Qur’an, the hadith ascribed to the Prophet, and pre- and early Islamic poetry, including those cited in his biographies, no general classificatory term is used to include both the creatures that walk on the earth (dawābb) and those that fly in the sky (ṭayr). This terminological observation reflects the way that these animals were seen. Flying creatures played an all-important role in the early Islamic faith. A central question was how the souls of the deceased would reach the heavens. In this regard, birds turned out to be practical vehicles. Therefore, the Prophet reportedly stated that God put the martyrs’ spirits in birds that would ascend to paradise. Only true intercessors (Abraham and Jesus, but not the impostor Musaylima) were able to make birds fly without artifice. Muḥammad evoked that promise by calling his banner “the Eagle” (al-ʿuqāb). Finally, alongside this literary evidence, I will interpret the presence of eagle capitals in the Dome of the Rock as ʿAbd al-Malik’s attempt to renew Muḥammad’s promise by displaying the vehicles through which the believers will attain salvation.


No file

Dates and versions

hal-03960374 , version 1 (27-01-2023)


  • HAL Id : hal-03960374 , version 1


Nicolas Payen. Flying creatures in early Islam. 34. Deutscher Orientalistentag, Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft (DMG), Sep 2022, Berlin, Germany. ⟨hal-03960374⟩
25 View
0 Download


Gmail Mastodon Facebook X LinkedIn More