The Island of Animals

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Authors
Johnson-Davies, Denys
Issue Date
1994
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Book, Whole
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This book was first published by Quartet Books Limited in the same year. It is a landscape-format elaborate book with a dynamic black-and-white cover illustration of a ship in a storm at sea, replete with squidlike swirls. The book, formerly the possession of the Islamic Center of Alameda, is based on "The Epistles of the Brethren of Purity," compiled in Basra in the tenth century CE. What was compiled then is looked upon, so the preface says, as among the masterpieces of classical Arabic literature. The book centers on "The Dispute between Animals and Man." Are humans the masters of animals, and are animals the slaves of humans? I myself found the book's center -- the choosing of representatives -- tedious. A fable book with a thirteen-page introduction may be in trouble! In the story itself, ship travelers land on an animals-only island and soon enslave the animals. The latter take their case to the king of the Djinn for a judgment. The animals divide themselves into seven groups. Each group is to choose a spokesman. The groups are farm animals, beasts of prey, birds of prey, ordinary birds, insects, crawling animals, and water animals. Chapters 4 through 9 are given to the process which each group uses to choose its spokesman. The mule, who went secretly to the king of the Djinn to ask for judgment, is apparently already presumed to be the spokesman for the farm animals. The two sides present their arguments well. Theirs is indeed a central theological question. The king of the Djinn listens patiently. For him, the deciding factor is that humans have an afterlife, but if they are superior, the animals are not their slaves. All are slaves of Allah, and humans must treat animals well. This is a pious and thoughtful book of Islam.
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University of Texas Press
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