Hoopoe (Arabic, Hudhud) bird, in United Arab Emirates

I encountered an extraordinary bird on the way to work this morning which brought me a great deal of joy as well as new, unexpected layers of knowledge.

As May turns the page to welcome June, Dubai’s scorching heat is becoming more and more intolerable. With each passing day I try to dash a bit more quickly from the large gravel parking lot where I park my car to the office tower across the street where I work.

But today, as I was hurrying into the small grass field in between the parking lot and the road, I was stopped in my tracks abruptly by a pretty bird strutting in front of me on the ground. It was busying itself looking for worms and insects and I was taken aback by its beauty, especially the prominent crest of orange and black feathers on its head. I had not come across this graceful, majestic bird before.
It was all alone, as was I, so I pulled out my phone and started photographing the bird as it pranced through the grass and around the date palms, from which are starting to fall dates that have not yet ripened. The bird had beautiful black-and-white striped wings and a peachy coloured breast. She did not seem bothered at all by my presence and carried on with her business for about a minute. She was very beautiful.
The Hoopoe bird is a central character in one Quranic chapter
I decided to share a photo of this exotic bird on Twitter later that morning, and very shortly afterward a friend of mine told me it was called the Hoopoe (or Hudhud in Arabic). She said seeing the photo evoked memories of her childhood in Egypt. Then, a couple of people I hadn’t met or spoken to before (which something I love about Twitter) began sharing details about the Hoopoe’s history and legacy with me that I had not been aware of.

The Hoopoe is mentioned in the Holy Quran in reference to how it brought an important message to Prophet Suleiman in the Chapter (Surah) known as Al Naml (The Ants). I had read that surah and was aware of Prophet Suleiman’s ability to communicate with animals and insects, but I had not paid particular attention before to the type of bird. King Suleiman’s army consisted of men birds and jinn (spirits).

In this Surah, the Hoopoe has a central role in the story of King Suleiman and the Queen of Sheba, an area believed to be in modern-day Yemen. Noticing the absence of the Hoopoe in his army one day, Prophet Suleiman inquired where the bird was.

The Hoopoe returned shortly after and, upon being instructed to give a clear reason for its absence, the bird relays important news from Sheba.  “Indeed, I found [there] a woman ruling them, and she has been given of all things, and she has a great throne,” reads the Quran (27:23). “I found her and her people prostrating to the sun instead of Allah (God), and Satan has made their deeds pleasing to them and averted them from [His] way, so they are not guided,” the bird continues in the pages of the Holy Book. (27:24)


Prophet Suleiman asks the Hoopoe to deliver a letter to the Queen, enjoining her and her followers to submit to God in Islam. Later, the Queen visits Jerusalem to see Prophet Suleiman. She arrives at the palace and mistakes the luminous glass flooring for a body of water. Lifting her dress to cross, she discovers it is glass, not water. Taken aback, the Queen repents to God shortly after, declaring herself a Muslim (i.e. one who has submitted herself to God).

In light of this event, the Hoopoe is known for its powers of observation and intelligence; it was able to decipher the lack of faith among the people of Sheba and relay this message to a prophet. In an epic poem known as “The Conference of the Birds” written by a Persian Sufi mystic in the 12th century, meanwhile, the Hoopoe guides a group of 30 birds on a journey much as would a Sufi master lead disciples to enlightenment.

Learning these rich facts from peers on Twitter reminded me about the importance of pausing at times to observe the beauty and miracles of nature; you never know what you may miss if you rush past too quickly. I certainly was not expecting to cross paths with such a splendid bird. Sharing these moments with others, meanwhile, adds to their beauty and etches them more meticulously in our memories.
“Do they not look at the birds, held poised in the midst of the sky? Nothing holds them up but the power of God. Verily in this are signs for those who believe.”  (Quran, 16:79)
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