In the Cosmic Court,
The Animals’ Depositions against Humans –
written down for the first time in Arabic in the tenth century C.E. by a Sufi sage and scholar, the history of this book is miraculous, being ancient Indian in origin, and surviving to the present day.
The story is that there once an island called Tsagone, where the animals lived happily and free from persecution by human beings, ruled over by Bersaf, King of the Spirits (Djinni). But a ship carrying human passengers was wrecked near its shores and (unlikeProspero’s Isle in Shakespeare’s play) a large number of them made it to the island. Quite soon and inevitably the humans began to use the animals and birds for food and labour, and utterly enslaved them: so for the animals, “eyes that were once filled with trust began to be drowned in stormy oceans of fear.” Eventually the animals, in desperation, met secretly and agreed to ask the Lord of Spirits for help.
This ineffable Being decided to summon the humans to court to answer the charges brought by the animals. The humans were strongly divided. Hochmah (Wisdom), a female sage, was in favour of the animals’ case. Zadone (Malice) however was the spokesperson for the humans and pled their case to the Judge. He argued, in relation to species other than human: “We say they are our slaves and we shall seize those whom we wish and treat them just as we would treat any other possession. Those who submit to us accept the notion that the Creator set us to rule over them — but those who break our yoke and flee — they are rebelling against Divine Ordinance … and so they shall suffer.”
The humans also maintained that they were the only creatures who had souls, consciences and understanding, and that they had the most perfect bodies in all Creation. The Lord of Spirits, after brief contemplation, ordered a full enquiry based on evidence, and asked both humans and animals to bring their submissions to the Court. The animals sent six emissaries to the different groups of animals to ask them to send a representative. The Horse went to the Lions, the predatory animals: the Ox went to the Phoenix, ruler of the non-predatory birds: the Sheep went to the Osprey, ruler of birds of prey: the Ass went to the Bee, ruler of the winged and swarming things: the Pig went to the Sea-Dragon, ruler of water creatures: and the Mule went to the Snake, ruler of the creeping things.
Emerging as representatives of all animals judged best able to present their case to the King were the Dragon, the Nightingale, Parrot, Queen Bee, Frog, and Cricket. The Court was convened. The arguments are timeless. The Nightingale argued that, “…even the swarming and creeping creatures have knowledge and understanding and unique skills. We all do. Therefore, since we all have a portion of the Creator’s gifts, how can humans glorify themselves over us and claim they are our lords and masters?”She argued that all animals share one soul and are unified, that humans, on the other hand have little, unformed, individual souls and are in constant dispute between themselves and the rest of the world.
Humans and animals both gave their evidence at length and with eloquence. At the end, the Judge gave his verdict. “By the grace of God, I find myself in favour of the animals, for they have been sorely tested and abused.” He declared that humans must begin to treat all creatures with respect. “Should you not, the animals will begin to disappear, one by one, forever, from the face of the earth; and the air in your settlements and citadels will become dangerous to breathe…the seasons will be reversed and your climates turned upside down…and the animals you devour but don’t need to eat will bring sickness and death upon you…and you will no longer rule the earth.”