Friday, February 3, 2012

UNIT 1: A unique gift.

Modules in the secondary level curriculum:

Muslim civilisations can be explored from many different angles. Here are some of the subjects about Muslim societies in the past and in the modern world that we will be studying at the secondary level
  • Civilisation and society
  • Language and literature
  • Faith and practice
  • Facets of development
  • Cultural encounters
  • Approaches to the Quran
  • Intellectual traditions
Exploring language and literature in Muslim societies

An important aspect of all human civilisarions is the role played by language. People in every age and culture have used their languages for a wide range of purposes, from engaging in ordinary conversation to expressing new ideas and meanings. In various periods and places, poets, writers and thinkers have used language in creative ways to produce great works of literature. In this book, we will examine selected topics on the role of language in Muslim societies, in the past and present. We will explore examples of works that give us insight into the creative ways in which language has been used to express a wide range of ideas and meanings in Muslim history. 

Voices in Muslim history

In Muslim history, we find many voices saying things which are of interest to us. These are voices which have arisen over fourteen hundred years, in different centuries and periods. They are also voices from many different places, from the shores of North America to China. In this book, the voices we have selected to study are like a tiny drop in a river. They give us a taste of the large treasure of fascinating works that lie waiting to be explored.

The literature we explore will include examples that reflect both the written and oral forms. We will study poetry as well as prose, and our texts will reflect a variety of themes, such as myth, tragedy, romance and satire. We will try to examine literature from a wide range of subjects, including history. philosophy and religion.

The approach in the book

The contents of this book are divided into six units. In the first unit, we begin with an exploration of the special importance that language has for human beings, and how it has been a subject of interest for writers and thinkers. The remaining units cover four broad historical periods in Muslim history. In the second unit, we start with the period of Prophet Muhammad, and study the language used in the Quran by focusing on the story of Adam and Iblis. The third unit deals with the early history of Islam. Here, we examine historical accounts and poetry based on the life of Prophet Muhammad. We also examine the texts that make a reference to the tragedy of Karbala. In the fourth and fifth units, we discuss examples of different types of works that were produced during the 'age of empires', when Muslim rule expanded to parts of Asia, Africa and Europe. The sixth unit brings us to the modern period in which Muslim writers and poets have added new writings to those produced in the past. As we study the examples of literature in this book, we will try to understand how language has been used in Muslim societies in different periods to express a wide range of ideas, concerns and meanings.

Using this book

There are various ways of using this book. You may read it with your teachers as part of your religious education classes. You may also want to read it on your own, or together with your family. In each section, you will find selected texts and passages from Muslim literature, followed by a discussion of these texts. In addition, the following items have been included to help you gain a better understanding of the contents of each section:
  • Key question: A leading question to help you focus on the main area or issue that the text explores
  • Words to look up: Terms whose meanings you will find in the glossary at the end of the book.
  • Timeline: Important dates in history that will guide you to locate events mentioned in the text.
  • Activity: A task or exercise that will deepen or extend your understanding of a topic.
  • Review point: A summary to help you recall and review the contents.

An important part of the secondary education programme is to encourage students to reflect on issues that affect Muslims and human beings generally in the modern age. The questions included in the following items will lead you to think further about these topics and issues as related to language and literature in Muslin; societies:
  • Making connections: References to topics in other subjects and areas that will widen your knowledge
  • Discussing issues: Important issues raised by the text to discuss in groups with your fellow students.
  • Thinking further: Questions that will help you think more deeply about the topic you have studied.
As you read each section, make a note of points that you do not understand. In your religious education classes, you will have an opportunity to discuss these points with your teachers. We hope you find this book informative and enjoy reading it.

UNIT 1: A unique gift.

Overview of the Unit

1. The secret of the unseen

In every culture, writers and poets have used language in creative ways to express their thoughts and feelings. Some of them have also written about language itself by exploring important questions. What is language? What role does it have in human life? Are there limits to what we can say or know through the use of words? In this section, we begin with a Fable that sets us thinking about some of these questions. This tale is about a man who is keen to learn the language of animals.

2. To be human

Human beings are not unique in having the ability to communicate with one another. Insects, birds and mammals also have these skills. Is human language different from that used by animals? If so, how does our use of language make us human? We reflect on these questions by discussing another story about humans and animals. In this fable, the animals question the claim that humans are superior to them.

3. Between Silence and speech

If you grew up on an island where there were no other human beings, what kind of language would you use to help make sense of things around you? If, after many years, another human being came to live on the island, how would you communicate with him or her? We consider these questions through a story about a boy who grows up all alone on a remote island. This story leads us to think further about the role that language plays in our lives.

4. The language of the imagination

We end this unit by reading about the childhood of a writer who grew up in Egypt towards the end of the nineteenth century. The text helps us to appreciate the rich ways in which language is used in every culture and community. We also become aware of the uses, wealth of literature in Muslim societies that awaits our with exploration, and which forms an important part of the heritage of all human beings.

The secret of the unseen

  Books can begin in many different ways, depending on what the authors wish to say to their readers. The opening part of a book serves an important purpose: it gives the readers a sense of what is to follow. Since we will explore the literature of Muslim societies in this particular book, it is appropriate to begin with a short fable. The story below is about a man who wanted to learn something unusual .....

The language of the beasts and birds

A young man said to Prophet Moses, 'Teach me the language of the animals, that perhaps I may learn more about my religion from the speech of wild beasts. Since the languages of the sons of Adam are used only for the sake of obtaining water and bread and fame, it may be that animals have a different care. They may be thinking more about the hour of passing away from this world.'

'Go away!' said Prophet Moses. 'Leave this foolish desire, for it holds much danger for you. Seek what you want to learn from God, not from books and speech and words and lips.'

The man became even more eager to learn the language of the animals when Prophet Moses refused him his wish. The Prophet sought God's guidance: 'O Lord,' said Moses, 'surely the devil has deceived this simple man. If I teach him the speech of animals, it will be harmful to him. And if I do not teach him, he will become weak in his faith.'
'Teach him. O Moses,' answered God, 'for We in our loving kindness have never rejected anyone's prayer. Grant him his wish: Let him be free to choose between good and evil.'
The man approached Prophet Moses again and said, 'At least teach me the language of the dog who sits by the door and the rooster that perches in the yard.'
'You know best,' replied Moses. 'Go, your wish has been granted. The language of both these animals will be made known to you.'
At dawn, in order to see if his wish had come true, the man went eagerly to his doorstep. When the maid shook out tire tablecloth, a piece of bread fell from it. A rooster snatched it up as though it were a prize in a race. 'You're unfair, go away!' the dog snapped in anger at the rooster. 'You can eat grains of wheat, but I am not able to peck on wheat, barley and other seeds. This scrap of bread is my only meal, and you have snatched it away from me!'
'Be patient,' replied the rooster, 'for God will give you something better than this piece of bread. This man's horse is about to die, and tomorrow you'll have plenty of meat to eat.'
0n hearing this, the man immediately sold his horse. The next morning the yellow faced rooster came near the dog and snatched away the bread again.
Smooth-speaking rooster!' said the dog angrily, 'You rob, you lie; and you have no spark of light. Where is the horse you said was going to die? You are a blind astrologer, empty of truth.'
The rooster answered. him, 'The man's horse did die, but in another place. He sold the horse to escape the loss. But tomorrow his mule is sure to die, and you will profit from that gift.'
The mean man heard what the rooster said and sold his mule without delay.
Next day the dog said to the rooster; 'Prince of liers, with your drum and tom-tom!'
The rooster replied, 'He sold his mule, but tomorrow his slave boy will fall ill. When that slave dies, his relatives will give out every kind of food to dogs and beggars.'
The man heard this, and sold his slave. So relieved was he to escape from all the loss that his face glowed with joy. 'Three times have I escaped from damage in a short time' he said. 'Since I acquired the speech of birds and dogs, I've escaped from the eyes of evil fortune.'

Next day the starving dog called out ' You deceiving rooster, where arc the meals you promised? How many more tricks do you have? Nothing but lies fly out from your nest.'
'God forbid that I should ever be accused of deceit,' replied the bird. 'We roosters, like muezzins, speak the truth: we watch the sun and tell the time. Tomorrow, the man himself is sure to die, and his son will sacrifice an ox in grief.' 'Tomorrow, much food will come your way,' promised the rooster. 'Pieces of bread, meat, and delicacies will be given out to all dogs and beggars.'

When the man heard the rooster, he ran in panic to Prophet Moses. 'Save me from this doom, O Prophet!' he cried.

'Go sell yourself and escape!' replied Prophet Moses. 'Since you have become clever at avoiding loss, try jumping out of the pit of death! Learning the secret of the unseen is only for one who can seal his lips.'


  • accused –     blamed
  • acquired -    gained
  • astrologer -     a person who claims to see into doe future.
  • barley -     a kind of grain or cereal
  • deceived -    cheated
  • delicacies -     fine or expensive food
  • doom -     death, danger
  • eagerly -     with great desire
  • grief-        sadness, sorrow
  • muezins -     people who call believers - to prayers
  • panic -     fear, terror, alarm
  • oercbes -     rests, sits
  • Rejected -     refused, turned down
  • Relieved    happy to be freed of worry
  • Sacrifice    kill as an offering,
  • Seal -        close, shut
  • sons of Adam - human beings
  • Tom-tom -    a kind of drum.
KEY QUESTION::    What is the main subject of this book?

  • 13th century: Mawlana Jalal al-Din Rumi
ACTIVITY:    Draw a comic strip that shows the dialogue between the rooster and the dog. Use speech bubbles to indicate the words they are using.

  • The man thought that he would earn something about the next world from the language of the animals were the words exchanged by the rooster and the dog about the next world?
  • How was the language used by the two animals different from that of humans?
  • Did the man manage to learn anything new from the language of the animals?
About the author

The fable about the language of the animals is one of the many interesting tales to be found in an epic poem called the Methnawi. The author of this work was Mawlana Jalal al-Din Rumi, a famous Sufi poet who lived over seven hundred years ago in the land we now call Turkey. 

Rumi's life

Mawlana Rumi was born in Balkh, in Central Asia, in 1207. When he was five, his father settled in Konya, a town in Anatolia (Turkey). Later in his life, Rumi became the pupil of a Sufi teacher by the name of Shams-i-Tabrizi. Rumi was greatly inspired by his teacher and became very attached to him. Rumi devoted the rest of his life explaining the Sufi way of Islam to his followers through his poems and stories. (Reader can watch a YOUTUBE video on this link: RUMI )

A creative mind at work

It is said that Mawlana Rumi composed the verses of the Mathnawi whenever they occurred to him, whether he was sitting, walking, bathing or dancing. We can imagine Rumi relating the story about the language of the animals one fine night in Konya, with one of his helpers hurriedly writing it down so that no verses would be missed out.

Let's study the fable to find out more about it.

All kinds of voices
Rutmi presents the fable to us through dialogues that take place three different levels - human, divine and animal.

At the human level ...

We listen to an argument between Prophet Moses and the man who wants to learn the language of the animals. We find caution and warning in the voice of the Prophet but the man's words reveal someone who is foolish and stubborn.

At the divine level ...
We hear the conversation between God and Prophet Moses. The Prophet's voice changes to that of complaint, and becomes a plea for guidance. God's answer, in contrast, shows generosity and understanding.

At the level of the animals....

We hear strange voices. The rooster uses words that speak of the future, while the dog's questions are filled with doubt and blame. The man understands this language, but he cannot speak it. He is a silent listener, like us, to the conversation of the animals. The fable is filled with colorful voices that give us a glimpse of how Rumi uses language in highly imaginative ways in the Mathnaw.. Rumi's fable also teaches us important lessons about language itself.
A Fable about Language
The main character in the story, the young man is unhappy about one kind of language and wishes to learn another type. He feels that language he speaks is only concerned about the present world. He desires to know another language that may teach him about worlds hidden to him.

New language, old ways of thinking

when the gift of understanding the language is given to the man, He begins to use it in the same way as the old one. Without thinking the new world that has opened up for him, he uses the new language for his own profit and gain.

The young man is trapped in his ways of thinking. He fails to see the power of the new language, and dangers it holds. When he continues to misuse this language, it soon leads to his own doom from which there is no escape.
The subject of Language
Mawlana Rumi's fable teaches us many useful lessons, such as not to be greedy and to listen to wise advice. It also leads us to think about the purpose of language in human life. Should language be used for narrow ends, or to seek for higher truths in our lives? Language has always been an important subject to human beings. Thinkers and writers in different civilisations have thought about many aspects to do with language. They have discussed, for instance, what language is, what role it plays in human life, and how best it can be used for different purposes.

The aim of this book

In this book, we will be exploring selected topics on language and literature in Muslim societies. We will do so by studying a variety of texts from Muslim literature, such as Rumi's fable.
Explore other fables by Mawlana Rumi and examine the language used by the characters. Extend your reading by exploring the fables of other great story tellers.


Make a list of concerns that people express today on the use of language. For example, which languages should be taught in schools? Based on your list, discuss whether language is an important area of concern in today s world.
What are some of the reasons why language matters to people? How does the wav people use language affect your own life?


  In this book we will be exploring selected topics on language and literature in Muslim societies.

In Rumi's fable, the language of human beings is seen as different to that of animals. The fable leads us to think more deeply about human language. In what ways is our use of language different from the way in which animals communicate? Are human beings superior to animals in how they use language?
To explore these questions, let us read selected passages from another fable, again about humans and animals, that was written in the tenth century.
The case of the animals versus humans before the king of the jinn

Once upon a time, storm winds cast up. a sea-going ship on the shore of a remote island near the equator. Aboard were people of commerce. industry and learning, as well as others of the human kind. They saw all sorts of animals - beasts, cattle and birds - all living in peace and harmony with one another on the island.
The travelers liked the island and decided to settle there. Soon they began to interfere with the beasts and cattle, forcing them into service, riding them, and loading them with burdens as in their former lands. But these beasts and cattle resisted and fled. The men pursued and hunted them, using all manner of traps to capture them, firmly convinced that the animals were their disobedient slaves.
When the animals learned that this was what the humans believed, their leaders gathered before the king of the jinn. The king sent a messenger to summon the human settlers and animals to his court.
That evening, the beasts held a secret meeting. One said, 'We must realise that humans are far better speakers than we. I am afraid the judgment might go against us and in their favour when the arguments have been heard. What course do you think is best?'
Another said, 'I think we should send messengers to all the other animal kinds asking them to send their best speakers to help us in the case.' The assembly agreed that the idea was sound. Accordingly, they sent messengers to each of the groups of animals.
Reaching the lion, the king of the beasts of prey, the messenger explained what had happened and asked the king to select a good speaker to represent the beasts of prey.
'Do humans boast themselves superior that they deserve to: rule us?' roared the lion. Are they better than us in strength or courage, or in bold hunting? Do they have the power to spring and hold their prey with an iron grip'? Can they remain unshaken in battle, whether in attacking or defending themselves?'
'The case before the king of jinn does not require any of these skills, but only proofs and arguments put forward clearly,' the messenger replied. 'It needs someone who can express himself fluently, has a sharp mind, and can judge between what is true and false.'
The beasts of prey chose Kalila the jackal to represent them, while the birds of prey chose parrot.
'I think a parrot would be best suited to the task,' said the falcon, 'because all humans love him, kings, nobles and common people, men, women and children, wise and foolish alike. He chatters with them and they chatter back. They hear from him what they have said as he mocks their every word.'
The next day the king held court once again, and all the parties attended in due rank and order. The king looked towards the group of humans and said, Have you anything to say?'

At that point a Persian rose and said, 'Yes, most just Majesty. We are better than animals in many ways which show the truth of what we claim.'
' O king,' said the Persian, 'that among us there are kings, princes, caliphs, sultans, chiefs, ministers and nobles. We also have persons of culture, of science, of piety, and of virtue. We have orators, poets, eloquent persons, theologians, grammarians, tellers of tales, narrators of the past, readers, scholars, lawyers, judges and mystics.
Among us too, there are philosophers, mathematicians, astronomers, doctors, fortune- tellers, casters of spells, and many other sorts, too many to mention.
All these groups make us superior to the animals who do not have even a single of these. 'said the Persian. 'This shows that we are the masters of animals and they are our slaves.
When the speakers for the humans had finished his speech, the parrot spoke up. 'You must know,' it said, 'that this human has done no more than mention the many types of humans. Had he thought more deeply, wise majesty, and considered the numerous kinds of birds and all their species, he would have realised that by comparison the kinds of men are few.
'But just taking the types you mention in your boast, O human - against every praiseworthy sort you name, there is an opposite kind of human being, mean and disgusting, none of whom are found among us.
'You have your Pharaohs, Nimrods, tyrants, and unbelievers, your scoundrels, rogues, hypocrites and traitors, your thieves, robbers and swindlers. Among you there are cheats, fools, numbskulls, halfwits, and other similar types. We are far removed from all this, yet we share with you most of your good points.'
You claimed that among you are poets and orators, theologians, and the like,' the parrot continued with his argument. 'But if you understood the speech of the birds, the murmur of the cricket, the prayers of the frog, the sermons of the larks, the sandgrouse's song and the cranes' cries of joy, the rooster's call to worship, and what poetry the doves utter in their cooing and the ravens in their croaking, what the swallows describe and what the hoopoe reports, what the ant tells and what the bee relates, what the flies foretell and what the owl cautions, and all the other animals with voice or buzz or roar – then you would know, O humans, and realise that among these great numbers there are orators and fluent speakers, theologians, warners, and meditators on the divine name, just as there are among the sons of Adam., and you would not boast against us of your orators and poets and 'the like.
'So for what reasons, then, do you boast yourselves superior to us, O humans?' concluded the parrot.
  • assembly – gathering
  • burdens – heavy loads
  • cast up - force a ship to the shore
  • commerce - trade, business
  • eloquent - excellent at speaking
  • fluently - able to speak quickly and easily
  • grammarians - people who study tine grammar of a language
  • hypocrites – liars, deceivers
  • industry – involved in manufacturing things
  • ]inn - a being made of fire
  • mocks - makes fun of
  • Nirnrods - cruel rulers
  • numbskulls - stupid or foolish people
  • orators - great speakers
  • Pharaohs - ancient Egyptian kings
  • pursued - followed, chased
  • remote - far-away
  • represent - stand for
  • resisted - refused, opposed
  • sandgrcuse - a seed-eating bird
  • sermons - speeches or teachings on religion
  • scoundrels . people who cannot be trusted
  • sermon - call
  • Superior – greater than
How is human language different from that of animals?

TIME LINE:    10th century Ikhwan-al-safa


Find out how the following animals communicate in nature: ants bees whales arid chimpanzees
About the authors
The fable of the case between the humans and animals was written about a thousand years ago by a group of authors known as the Ikhwan al-Safa. These authors are thought to have been Ismaili philosophers who produced a work consisting of over fifty epistles or lengthy essays. This massive work was like an encyclopedia. It included knowledge on numerous subjects, such as geometry, astronomy, medicine, physics, law and religion.

A story in an encyclopedia

The story about the animals and human's is included in one of the epistles of the lkhwan al-Safa. In the fable, both the animal and human speakers put forward many arguments to support thpir views or attack opposing points. In the passages selected for this section. we focus only on those arguments which refer to the use of language.
Studying the fable
The story takes place on an island in a remote time in the past. The main characters in the fable are the human and animal speakers, and the king of the jinri who acts as a judge between the two parties.
The whole fable is based on one major question: 'Are humans the masters of animals?' The humans are convinced that God has made them superior to animals, but the animals disagree.
A battle of words

To settle this dispute, the king of the jinn asks both the human and animal speakers to present their best arguments. The dispute in the story is to be solved, not through physical battle, but through the use of words. We notice that the animals are worried about the powerful speaking abilities of humans; it is for this reason that they select their best speakers to go before the king of the jinn. One of these speakers is the parrot, who is chosen because it can 'chatter' in human language.

A special style of language

Since the story is about a dispute, it uses a style of language based on speech-making and debate rather than conversation. Also, the voices we hear are not speaking for themselves, but for their communities.

  • Do you think that the human speaker made a good case? How would you have presented the case for the humans?
  • How do you assess the parrots reply? Why do you think it used phrases such as 'the prayers of the frog', instead of 'the croaking of the frog'?
  • In whose language is the parrot describing animal language? Why? What does this tell you about the views of the storywriters?
  • Character
  • Epistle
  • Encyclopedia
Humans speaking for animals

As we read the fable, we begin to sympathize with the parrot, the animal speaker who is questioning the superiority of human beings aima1s. Some of the arguments it makes against the humans are very convincing. We also admire the speech of the parrot when it describes the ability of animals to use language in a wide variety of ways.

An imaginary character

The parrot, however, is an imaginary character that has been invented by the Ikhwan al-Safa. It is not the animal speaker but the human authors who are making points on behalf of the animals

A fable exploring important questions

The arguments in the fable show that the Ikhwan al-Safa were interested in exploring difficult questions. For example, they wanted to know what makes human different from the animal kingdom. Another topic they debated in their fable was the way in which human beings used language as compared to animals.

What makes us human?

In the debate, one ot the points made by the humans is that they are superior to animals because they have gifted speakers and poets. The parrot does not agree and gives examples of how animals too have the ability to use language in many ways.

The dance of a bees

The way in which humans use language, however, is quite different from animals. Bees, for example, can inform one another where they can find nectar by performing complex dances. But as far as we know, bees cannot create new messages or meanings through their dances. They cannot ask questions, carry out a conversation, or compose a poem.

Language without limits

Humans, in contrast, use language in highly creative ways. They are not forced to using it in any one form or for any one purpose. Human beings can create new messages and meanings without the limits that animals seem to have.

The fable of the Ikhwan al-Safa leads us to think more deeply about the role that language plays in making us human.


Try to read other stories in which humans and animals are two sets of characters opposed to one another. What kinds of differences between humans and animas are being explored in these stores?


lf we did not use language, we would still be very different from animals. To what extent do you agree with this view?


How did human beings come to acquire the use of language?


Human beings use language in highly creative ways. They can create new messages and meanings without the limits that animals seem to have.

Between Silence and Speech

If language is one of the aspects that makes us human, what role does it play in our lives? If we did not have the use of language, how would we experience the world? Would we be able to communicate with one another?
To help us explore these questions, let us read selected episodes from a story entitled Hayy ibn Yaqzan. In this story a boy named Hayy grows up all alone on an uninhabited island, raised by a wild doe. As he becomes older, Hayy begins to learn about the natural world around him. Gradually through the use of his mind, he discovers higher truths about himself and the created universe.

Many years pass, and Hayy turns into a young man. Then, one day, another man by the name of Asal, comes to live on the island. In the passages of the story given here, we find out what happens when Hayy meets another human being for the first time since he was a baby.

Hayy ibn Yaqzan

Our virtuous ancestors - may Allah be pleased with them - have described a certain island of India which lies below the equator. Near this island; there was another island, very large, fruitful and well populated. This island was owned and ruled by an extremely proud and jealous king.
This king had a sister of exquisite charms and beauty whom he forbade to marry because he had still to find someone he considered worthy and equal. The king had a relative called Yaqzan who married the king's sister in secret
Later, the king's sister bore Yaqzan a son, but fearing that, her secret could no longer be kept, she suckled the child for the last time and placed him in a lirtle coffin which she sealed a11 round.
Then, her heart burning with love and fear for the-child, she took him to the seashore, accompanied by a group of servants and people close to her whom she trusted. There she bade him farewell, saying: 'O God who has created this child from nothing, sustained him in the darkness of the womb and looked after him till he was completely formed, to you I surrender him now. Be with him and abandon him not, O most Merciful.'
She then cast him into the sea. The tide was high and the strong current carried the child to the coast of the nearby island. The tide receded, leaving the coffin wedged in the trees.
The nails holding the planks of the coffin together had been loosened when the waves threw it into the wood and the child inside, being now hungry, began to move and cry. His cries were heard by a doe who had lost her fawn, and the doe thought the child's cries were the cries of her lost fawn.
The doe traced the sound, bent over the child and comforted him, then succeeded in feeding him with her delicious milk. From then on, she took charge of the child, caring for him and protecting him. The child became accustomed to her and fond of her, and if he were a little late in attending him, he would cry out and she would at once run to him.
Hayy imitated the sounds the deer made till it was hardly possible to distinguish their voices. He imitated very accurately all the bird calls and animal cries he heard. Most of his imitations, however, were of deer sounds: crying, befriending, calling to others, defending. Animals have their different sounds for different situations. So the animals got used to him and he to them. They accepted him and he accepted them.
Hayy observed the animals' capacity for running and fighting and the natural weapons had for their protection like horns, tusks, antlers and claws. He had no natural weapon and some animals fought with him over some bit of fruit, he had to let them win, as he could neither defend himself nor run away.
Hayy noticed that fawns of his own age grew horns and developed great speed in running. He could detect none of these things in himself, and although he often reflected on this, he could find no explanation.
By the time Hayy was seven, he had given up hoping that the things he lacked would grow, so selecting some wide leaves, he arranged them in front and behind, holding them in place with a makeshift belt which he fashioned from grass and palm fibres.
Hayy made sticks from tree branches after breaking off the ends to straighten them and get a balance. These he used against the animals and was now able to attack the weaker ones and defend himself against the stronger. He realised his superiority in having hands, since, through them, he had been able to make sticks to defend his possessions.
From then on, none of the animals came near him, with the exception of the doe that had reared him. The two remained inseparable till-the doe began to weaken and grow old. When this happened, he took on the task of caring for her, leading her to lush pastures and picking sweet fruit for her. With time, however, her frailty increased and finally death caught up with her.
Many years passed and Hayy spent his life on the island frying to find out more about the mystery of life.
As he contemplated the wonders of creation, from the smallest to the greatest, he realised that all this could derive only from a Creator of complete perfection - 'From whom is not hidden the least little atom in the Heavens or on earth.'

  • accustomed to - used to
  • boregave birth
  • contemplated - wondered, thought about
  • detect – find
  • doe - a female deer
  • exquisite - very beautiful
  • fashioned - made, shaped
  • fawn - the young of a deer
  • forbade - ordered rot to do something
  • frailty - weakness
  • imitated- copied, mimicked
  • lush pastures - rich, green fieds of grass
  • makeshift - temporary, for the time being
  • possessions - belongings
  • receded - dropped, fell back
  • suckled – fed with milk from the breast
  • Sustained – fed, supported
  • Virtuous – noble, respected.
Close to the island on which Hayy lived, there was another island. Now two fine and good natured youths. who were dedicated to good works, grew up on tins island. One was called Asal and the other Salaman.
Both of them from time to time studied their scripture. Asal thought more about the deeper meanings of the scripture. Salaman, on the other hand clung to the literal meaning.
Asal's nature inclined to the way of solitude and thought, this being in line with his natural inclination to delve for deeper meaning by reflection and thinking. Salanian, by contrast, favoured the way of the community and decided that this way was right for him.
Asal had heard of an island with a mild climate and ample food. Here, he thought, it would be possible for a person to be alone. He decided he would go there and leave human company for the rest of his life.
With some of the money he had left, Asal hired a boat to take him to the island. The rest of the money he gave away to the poor and the needy. He then said goodbye to his friend Salaman and was taken on his hired boat to the other island where the sailors left him on the shore and then sailed for home.
On the island, Asal worshipped God, glorifying and sanctifying Him, meditating on His most beautiful names. Nothing distracted him from his worship. He ate of what the island offered in fruit and game, and took only enough to still his hunger.
He remained like this for some time in joy and with a feeling of nearness to his Lord. Daily, he saw signs of Allah's kindness and bounty in providing for his needs and this convinced him that he had been right in putting his trust in God.
In another part of the island was Hayy, who left his cave only once a week or so to get whatever food he could find. For this reason Asal did not come across him at all during his early days on the island. Asal had roamed the length am breadth of the island and found no trace of another human being. He was glad of this because he wanted to be alone.
One day, however, Hayy came out to look for food and Asal happened to be in that area. The two inhabitants of the island saw each other. Asal at once thought that Hayy was another hermit who had come to the island like himself to be alone. Asal was afraid that if he took steps to meet Hayy and introduce himself he would lose his desire to be alone.
As for Hayy, he could not understand what Asal was, for he had never once encountered on the island anything similar to himself
Asal thought only of moving away quickly in case he disturbed the other hermit. Hayy, always wanting to get to the bottom of things, at once gave chase. But when he saw that Asal was keen to get away, he slowed down and took cover.
Asal, now well beyond the area in which they had met, thought he had lost his pursuer and sat down to pray and perform his other devotions. Soon, he was fully absorbed and unmindful of anything else.
Slowly Hayy drew near to Asal until he was close enough to hear Asal's prayers and pleading, and to see his tears. What Hayy heard was a pleasant voice and an ordered sound, the like of which he had never heard from any animal. He looked at Asal's form and features and saw a great familiarity to his own. He understood the other's humbleness and worship, and recognised the sincerity of his tears.
Hayy felt drawn to Asal and had a desire to know more about him and the cause of his tears and pleading. But as he moved closer, Asal sensed his presence and at once took off. He ran as fast as he could with Hayy close behind him, but was no match and was soon overtaken and pinned down.
Asal: looked at Hayy. He saw a creature covered with hairy animal skins, whose body was largely covered in long flowing hair which had never been cut. Having experienced the speed and strength of this creature, he was extremely frightened and began to plead with him in words which Hayy could in no way understand.
Hayy, however, sensed Asal's fear and tried to reassure him with sounds he had learned from the animals and by gently stroking his hair, automating this with smiles and gestures of friendliness. When he realised that Hayy meant him no harm, Asal calmed down.
Now Asal had been interested in the study of languages and had mastered a number of them. He now tried to converse with Hayy, using every language he knew, without success. He also tried to understand the sounds Hayy was making to him and was equally unsuccessful.
Hayy, meanwhile, was both astonished and delighted at all the words he was hearing. Though he was unable to understand any of them, he kept showing how pleased and happy he was. Thus, each one was both surprised and puzzled by the other.
When Asal realised that Hayy could not talk, he was in a sense relieved. This meant that Hayy would not distract him from praying to God. Also, he might be able to teach Hayy to speak, perhaps even to teach him sciences and religion and so earn the favour of Allah.
So Asal started to reach Hayy. First, he would point to an object and say its name, then repeat it and persuade Hayy to pronounce the sound. Hayy would then point to the object and make an attempt at the word. Little by little, he encouraged Hayy to speak. In a surprisingly short time, Hayy knew the names of many objects.
When they had enough language in common, Asal began to question Hayy about his origins. Hayy explained that he did not know how his life began and did not remember a mother or a father, only the doe which had reared him. Gradually, he was able to explain his life in more detail and went on to describe his quest for knowledge.

  • ample – plentiful
  • bounty - generosity
  • converse - speak with
  • delve - search with great energy
  • distracted - drew the attention away from
  • game - wild birds or animals eaten as food
  • hermit - a person who lives alone.
  • inclined - leaned towards
  • literal - word by word meaning
  • quest- search
  • reassure - put at ease
  • sanctifying- praying to God as the Holy
  • scripture - sacred book or writing
  • sincerity – honesty, genuineness

About the author

Hayy Ibn Yaqzan was written by a philosopher called Ibn Tufayl who lived in al-Andalus in the twelfth century. One of the questions that interested thinkers of this time was the relation between revelation and reason. lbn Tufayl, like other thinkers, wanted to know whether a person could reach the same truths by using his mind as a prophet did through revelation.

Asal and Hayy

The episode about Asal and Hayy takes place towards the end of the main story. Hayy has grown into an adult and has arrived at an understanding of the world by using his mind. Asal, on the other hand, has grown up among a community of believers and studied the scripture.

Two strangers meeting on an island

The episode is therefore about these two strangers meeting in an isolated place. One of them has neer met another human being since he was a baby. As we read the story, we become curious about how Hayy will behave towards Asal. We also wonder how Asal will communicate with Hayy who does not know any human language.
Let us examine the episode more closely to find out how Ibn Tufayl portrays the encounter of Ha-y and Asal.

The need to communicate

When Asal decides to go arid live himself, he wishes to be alone. He has lived all his life with people, enjoyed their company, and used language every day of his life. Now he wishes to use another form of language. He feels the need for inner conversation in a silent place.

When Asal meets Hayy, he is disappointed because he thinks he will no longer be able to find the silence he wanted. When he thinks he will no longer be able to find the silence he wanted. When he discovers that Hayy cannot speak, he is happy at first. But soon he is busy teaching Hayy how to communicate with words.

Asal's decision to help Hayy learn how to speak shows the deep need that human beings have of communicating with one another even when they desire silence.

Forms of Language

When Asal and Hayy meet, how do they communicate with one another? lbn Tufayl reveals to us forms of language that his characters use.

Inner conversation

The first form is the inner conversation that we find Asal practicing. He prays and pleads to God, with his eyes filled with tears. This is a language that Hayy seems to understand because he too appears to have used it.

The language of feelings

Then there is the language of feelings that is shared by both men. When Hayy and Asal meet, they experience surprise, fear and curiosity.

Wordless signs

At another level, Asal and Hayy start communicating through wordless signs. Hayy uses 'smiles and gestures of friendliness' to tell Asal not to be afraid of him.

A Language of words

Finally, there is the language of words that Asal teaches Hayy. By pointing at things and naming them, Asal is able to teach Hayy how to speak. In due time, Hayy is to explain to Asal how he came to be on the island.

Language and Thought

When Hayy meets Asal, he learns for the first time how to communicate by using words. We wonder what Hayv's life was like before he started using words. Was it possible for him to think at all without using words? What kind of language did he use to reason with himself about questions that puzzled him? Would an isolated human being like Hayy use language in the way we normally use it?

Growing up with a language

The vast majority of us learn how to communicate from a very young age. We use language without thinking too much about its importance. It seems to be just there like the air we breathe. Our lungs work without us being conscious of it most of the time. Our minds too seem to 'breathe' words all day long. Language is a vital part of our life. From the very first babbling sounds we make to our last thoughts as we die, words form the story of our lives.

Life without language

Imagine if human beings lost their ability to use language. Suppose we could not speak or write, or communicate with one another in any way. Would our life as we know it be the same? What would it be like to live in a world of silence? What would it be like to be Hayy?


What role does language play in our lives?

  • Sign

TIME LINE:   12th Century: Ibn Tufyl.


People with hearing and speech disabilities use special sign languages to communicate. Find out more about sign systems.

  • Initially, Asal and Hayy used gestures, feelings and wordless signs to communicate with each  other. How far do you think they understood each other's meanings?
  • Asal was happy at first when he realised that Hayy could not speak, but then he started teaching Hayy how to use words. Why did Asal change his mind?
  • In your view, do you think Asal gained more by teaching Hayy how to speak instead of choosing a life of silence?

Compare the story of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe with that of Hayy ibn Yaqzan by Ibn Tufayl. What are some of the similarities and differences between the two stories?


We need language when we are with other people. When we are alone, we can do without It. How fardo you agree with this view?

The language of imagination

Asal and Hayy's story led us to ask what role language played in an individual's life, and between two human beings. Asal and Hayy met on an island where there were no other human beings. Nearly all of us, however, grow up amid families and communities from whom we acquire our languages.
In the next story, we read about a boy who grew up on the outskirts of a small town in Egypt towards the end of the nineteenth century. He became blind in his childhood, but grew up to become a great thinker and writer. In the first few pages of his autobiography, he shares with us his memories of his childhood.

An Egyptian childhood

He cannot remember the name of the day nor is he able to place it in the month and year. He cannot remember what time of the day it was exactly .. he just remembers on leaving the house, meeting with soft, gentle, delicate light as though darkness covered some of it's edges..
..he remembers how he used to like to go out of the house at sunset when people were having their evening meal, and used to lean against the maize fence pondering deep in thought, until he was recalled to his surroundings by the voice of a poet who was sitting at some distance to his left, with his audience round him.
Then the poet would begin to recite in a wonderfully sweet tone the doings-of Abu Zaid, Khalifa and Diab, and his hearers would remain silent except when ecstasy enlivened them or desire startled them. Then they would demand a repetition and argue and dispute.
And so the poet would be silent until they ceased their clamour after a period which might be short or long. Then he would continue his sweet recitation in a monotone.
He remembers too that whenever he went out at night to his place by the fence ...his entertainme4nt would be curtailed as soon as his sister called him to come indoors. He would refuse, and then she would come out and seiz him by his clothes while he resisred with all his might.
Then she would carry him in her arms as though he were a play thing and run with him to the place where she put him down to sleep on the ground, placing his head on the thigh of his mother, who turned her attention to his poor weak eyes, opening them one by one and pouring into them a liquid which hurt him but did no good at all. But although he felt the pain he did not complain or cry because he did not want to be a whimperer and a whiner..
Then he was carried to a corner of a small room and .., laid down to sleep on a mat.. He began to strain his hearing to its utmost, hoping that he might catch through the wall the sound of thc sweet songs which the poet was reciting in the open air under the sky.
Eventually sleep overcame him and he knew no more until he woke up when everybody was sleeping ... Often he would awake and listen to the answering crows of the cocks and the cackling of the hens and would try hard to distinguish between these various sounds, because sometimes it was really the cocks crowing, but at others it was the voices of the evil sprites assuming their shapes in order to deceive people and tease them
What really did make him afraid were other sounds which he could only distinguish with the greatest effort, sounds which proceeded softly from the corners of the room. Some of them were like the hissing of a kettle boiling on the fire, others resembled the movement of light articles being moved from place to place, and again others sounded like the breaking of wood or the cracking of stems
He used to wake up very early in the morning, or at any rate as soon as dawn broke ... he heard the voices of women as they returned to their houses after filling their water jars at the canal, singing as the went, 'Allah ya lail Allah' (My God! What a night! My God!). By this he knew dawn had begun to peep and that the evil sprites had descended to their subterranean abodes.
Then he himself was transformed into a sprite and began to talk to himself in a loud tone and to sing as much of the song of the poet (as he could remember) and to nudge his brothers and sisters who were lying around him until he had woken them up one by one, and when he had accomplished that, there was such a shouting and singing and hustle and bustle, a veritable babel, that was only restrained when the sheikh, their father, got up from his bed
Then only were voices hushed and the movement quietened down until the sheikh had completed his religious ablutions, said his prayers, read a portion of the Quran, drunk his coffee and gone to his work. But as soon as ever the door closed behind him the whole family rose from their beds and ran through the house shouting and flaying, scarcely distinguishable from the feathered and four-legged inhabitants of the house.

  • ablution - act of washing before prayer
  • abodes – homes
  • Abu Zaid, Khalifa and Diab – Characters from Ararbic legends and tales
  • Bable – confused noise
  • clamour - loud showing or noise
  • curtailed - shortened, ended
  • doings - actions, deeds
  • acstasy enlivened them – they became overcome by great joy
  • maize – corn
  • monotone - a sound repeated in he same voice or pitch
  • resembled – looked kike
  • restrained – controlled
  • sprites – elf like creatures, spirits
  • subterranean – underground
  • veritable - real
  • whimperer – someone who cries softly
  • whiner – someone who complains

He was convinced that the world ended to the right of him with the canal ... and why not? For he could not appreciate the width of this canal ... nor could he imagine that there was human, animal and vegetable life on the other side 
None of these things did he ponder, and he was absolutely certain in his mind that this canal was another world quite independent of that in which he lived. A world that was inhabited by various strange beings without number, among which were crocodiles which swallowed people in one mouthful, and also enchanted folk who lived under the water all the bright day and during the dark night
And among these strange creatures also were the long and broad fish which would no sooner get hold of a child than they would swallow him up; and in the stomachs of which some children might be fortunate enough to get hold of the signet- ring that would bring them to kingship.
Now hardly had a man twisted this ring round his finger before two servants of the genie appeared in the twinkling of an eye to carry out his every wish. This was the very ring which Solomon wore and so subjected to his will genies, winds and every natural force he wished.
Now he liked nothing better than to go down to the edge of this canal in the hope that one of these fish would swallow him and so enable him to get possession of this ring in its stomach, for he had great need of it
He was the seventh of the thirteenth children of his father, and the fifth out of the eleven of his father's second wife. He used to feel that among this enormous number of youths and infants he had a special place distinct from his brothers and sisters. Did this position please him or did it annoy him? The truth is that he cannot definitely say ....
However, it was not long before he ... ... pcrceived that other people had an advantage over him and that his brothers and sisters were able to do things that he could not do ... He felt that his mother permitted his brothers and sisters to do things that were forbidden to him. This aroused, at first, a feeling of resentment turned to a silent, but heartfelt grief - when he heard his brothers and sisters describing things about which he had no knowledge at all.
Thus he knew that they saw what he did not see.
He abstained from all kinds of sports and games except those which did not give him much trouble ...His great delight was to listen to the songs of the bard or conversation of his father with other men or of his mother with other women, and so he acquired art of listening.
His father and some of his friends were very fond of storytelling. As soon as ever they had finished their afternoon prayers that all collected round one of them, who would recite to them tales of raid and conquests, and of the adventures of Antarah and Zahir Baibars, and narratives about prophets, ascetics and pious folks; and he would read them books of sermons and religious law.
Our friend would sit at a respectful distance from them, and although they were oblivious of his presence, he was in way unmindful of what he beard or even of the impression these stories made upon the audience.
So it was that when the sun set, people went to their food, but as soon as they had said their evening prayers they assembled again and conversed for a great part of the night. Then came the bard and began to recite the deeds of the Hilalies and Zanaties to him, and our friend would sit listening during the early part of the night just as he did toward the close of the day
Our friend was the happiest of mortals when he was listening to his sisters singing or his mother lamenting. However, the song of his sisters used to annoy him and left no impression on him because he found it inane and pointless, without rhyme or reason, whereas the lamentations of his mother used to move him very much and often reduced him to tears.
Somewhat after this fashion our friend learnt by heart many songs, many lamentations and many tales both serious and amusing. He learned something else which had no connection to all this, to wit passages of the Quran which his old blind grandfather used to recite morning and evening
Now our friend slept in a room adjoining that of the old man and thus could hear him intoning and learn by heart what he intoned, so he memorised a great number of these ... prayers.
Moreover, the people of the village were very fond of Sufism and used to perform the zikr. Our friend liked the propensity of theirs because he enjoyed the zikr and the incantations of the chanters during it.
So it was that before he was nine years old he had accumulated a very fair collection of songs, lamentations, stories, poems about the 1-lilalies and Zanaties, ..prayers and dervish incantations, and learned them by heart, and in addition to all that he had learned the Quran.

  • abstained - did not take part in
  • Antarah - a pre-Islamic Arab poet and hero
  • ascetics - people who give up worldly life for religious reasons
  • bard - poet
  • dervish - mystic, ascetic
  • enchanted folk - magical beings
  • Hilalies and Zanaties - two nomadic tribes in Egypt and North Africa that fought battles in the 11th century
  • inane - silly, senseless
  • incantations - - spells or chants
  • Intoning - recite prayers in a particular tone
  • lamentations - songs or poems of sorrow
  • Propensity - - habit
  • Resentment - - anger
  • signet-ring - a ring with a seal
  • Subjected to his will - brought under his command
  • Zahir Baibars - - a one-eyed slave who was a ruler in Egypt in the 'Mamluk times
  • zikr - repeat God's names in a rhythmic manner.


Make a list of the stones poems songs prayers and other items that you remember learning in your childhood. How important were these things to yon as you grew up?
About the author
An Egyptian Childhood forms part of the life stony of an Egyptian writer called Taha Hussein. He was born in 1889 and grew up near the town of Maghagha in Upper Egypt. He belonged to a large family that was not very wealthy. Sadly, Taha Hussein became blind as a young boy.
As Taha Hussein grew up, he began to seek for a broader education. He studied at the al-Azhar University in Cairo, and then in France. H eventually became a great writer, publishing over sixty books on many subjects.
The writing of a life story Taha Hussein wrote the first part of his autobiography when he was on holiday in France. He is said to have completed it in nine days. It was first published in 1926 and was met with great success, both in Egypt and abroad.
Examining the story When we read Taha Hussein's story as a child, we enter a world which appeals very familiar at first. It could be the story of any child growing up in a family, discovering the surroundings around his or her home.
A shadowy' world
However, we soon realise that Tah Hussein's world is not quite the same as that of most children. It is a world of 'soft, gentle, delicate lights as though darkness covered some of its edges'. It is a world of shadowy images, dim figures and missing backgrounds. This is because Taha Hussein could not see very well – he was becoming blind.

A world of a thousand sounds

We discover in the story another world through the ears of Taha Hussein. It is a world filled with sweet recitation of the poet, the cackling of the hens, the hissing the kettle, and the shouting and singing around him. He is surrounded by tales, songs, praye and incantations. It is a world of thousand sounds!

A world of tales

There is another world that Taha Hussein also encounters. It is a world of tales with strange characters, such as Antarah, Zahir Baibars, the Hilalies and Zanaties. These tales are about raids and conquests and adventures, about people of bygone ages and their heroic deeds.

A world of the imagination

Finally, there is the world of Taha Hussein's own imagination. It is made up of evil sprites with changing shapes that deceive people, strange river creatures swallow up children, and genies that grant your every wish.


How does literature help us to get a better understanding of our world?

TIMELINE:   l9th-2Oth century: Taha Hussein

  • Autobiography
  • Folklore

  • What passages in Taha Hussain's life story help us to think more deeply about the real and the imaginary?
  • Identify examples in the life story that describes what Taha Hussain felt when he heard poems, stories and recitations.
  • Compare Taha Hussain's childhood with that of Hayy's. What difference did living in a community make for Taha Hussain?
Communities and stories

In some ways, Taha Hussain's childhood is like that of Hayy. Taha Hussain lives in his own island' because of his poor sight that isolates him from other people. In other ways, his story is unlike Hayy's. This is because Taha Hussain grows up amid a community with all its rich folklore, tales, songs and recitations. Hayy never had the benefit of hearing these marvelous sounds on his island.
Taha Hussain's story of childhood makes us aware of how important language is to the worlds we create – both real and imaginary. And a language gets its richness from the life and memory of a community of a people living together and sharing their stories.

The Literature of all human beings

In every culture, we find stories, poems or plays, like sparkling pearls and gems that tell us something about ourselves as human beings. This literature may exist in an oral form, in the memories of people. Or it may be written, in books and other recordings. It nay have been produced thousands of years ago, or very recently. It may arise from stories of China or the mountains of South America. Whatever its origins, the literature of a comunity, a culture or a civilisation belongs to all human beings.

Literature and civilisation

Literature provides us with an important means to understand our world. It opens our minds so that we can view the world in new ways. It also takes us deep inside ourselves so that we get a better understanding of who we are as human beings. By inviting us into the world of the imagination, literature helps us to see things about the real world which we would not otherwise discover.

Language and literature in Muslim societies

As in other civilisations, the subject of language has raised great interest in Muslim societies. From the time of Prophet Muhammad to the modern age, language has been put to creative uses in Muslim civilisations to express a wide range of ideas.

Works of many cultures

Muslim poets and writers have arisen in all kinds of cultures, including Arabian, Persian, Central Asian, Indian, African and European. They have written their works in a wide range of languages, such as Arabic. Persian, Turkish. Urdu, Malay, Swahili, English and French.
The literature of Muslim societies has been enriched by ideas from diverse civilisations, such as Greek, Hindu, Buddhist, Persian and Chinese. In turn, Muslim literature has influenced many cultures.

'Part of a great treasure-house

The literature of the Muslim people forms an important part of that great treasure-house of the literature of all human beings. In this hook, we will try to sample some of this writing to get an insight into the variety of its themes and styles.


Read about the childhood of other great Writers and poets, as described in their life stories, To what extent was their writing influenced by what they experienced in their childhood?


Everything we know, we have learned from other people. To what extent do you agree with this claim?


How does the society in which we live affect the way we use our language?
What other factors influence the use of language.


Literature provides us with an important means to understand our world. It can give us deeper insight into our lives as human beings?

Review of Unit I
Review questions
1.   The secret of the unseen
  • Why did the man want to learn the language of the beasts and birds?
  • Why was he unhappy with human language?
  • Why was Prophet Moses reluctant to grant him his wish?
  • What did the man find out from the rooster about the horse, the mule and the slave?
  • How did the man use the new language he acquired?
  • What happened to the man in the end?
2.   To be human
  • What did the animals realise they needed to win their case against the humans?
  • Who did they select for their speakers? Why?
  • What arguments did the human speaker present to the king of the jinns?
  • How did the animal speaker respond to these arguments?
  • In your opinion, who made a better case of their claim - the humans or animals?
3.   Between silence and speech
  • How did Hayy come to live on the island?
  • What did he gradually come to realise through his use of reason?
  • What were the different ways in which Hayy and Asal tried to communicate with each other?
  • Why was Asal reluctant at first for Hayy to speak?
  • How did Asal teach Hayy the use of human speech?
  • What are some questions that the story of Hayy raises about the value of language in human life?
4.   The language of the imagination
  • What were some of the earliest memories and experiences of Taha Hussein?
  • How did he describe the poet who recited poet in the evenings near the maize fence?
  • What kinds of things did the child imagine at night, and about the creatures who lived in the canal?
  • What did the child like doing best?
  • What were some of the different things that he heard around him?

  To continue reading this book please click ON:UNIT- 2

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