"If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun." - Katharine Hepburn
Question #79795 posted on 11/18/2014 11:20 p.m.

Dear Our Hero Ardilla Feroz,

Thanks for exposing the Evil Pigeon Overlord. As for Inquisitive Immam(II), there is no, and never has been, any affiliation or connection between us and II. We applaud II’s curiosity that is, of course, completely unrelated to any class research paper.

What are the connections between pigeons and women in Islam (totally not for any research paper)? Could this be a topic for a paper after all?

Embittered? Really?

-International Pigeon Banishment Society (who doesn’t play with pigeons)


Dear Apparent Allies,

You're welcome, though as I'm sure your organization understands there is much more work to be accomplished before pigeons can be successfully banished from all nations and returned to their ancestral home, Antarctica. Regarding your proposed topic of research, I have two words:


My first step was to follow my own advice and contact Ryan Combs. While he was... puzzled by my interest in this subject, he kindly pointed me in the direction of a few resources that might be useful. 

The Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Women sounded promising but was inaccessible behind a paywall (even with Library resources). I could only get a frustrating glimpse of the following reference to women, Islam and pigeons:

...pigeons that could be sold or hired out. Some elite and middle-class women were known to...

Known to... what? Barter pigeons for sale? For hire? As food? Slaves? Messengers? Assassins? Having too much time on my hands, I knew I had to dig deeper. To examine pigeons, women and Islam properly, we've got to go back to 1598, when the capital of the Persian empire was moved to the city of Isfahan in modern-day Iran. The Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art and Architecture suggests a possible correlation of pigeon-keeping at this time as an indicator of this Muslim society's economic health:

The most ambitious patron of the period was Shah ῾Abbas I, who earned the regal, though somewhat rhetorical, epithet “Constructor of the World.” He transferred the capital further south to Isfahan, and, under the watchful eyes of merchants, jewelers, adventurers, ambassadors, missionaries and technicians, the city was transformed into a large metropolis and international entrepôt that for many outshone all other contemporary cities in the world, including those of Europe... Pigeon towers (Pers. burj-i kabūtar) were another architectural genre that ῾Abbas I encouraged for economic and agricultural reasons. Thousands were built on the fertile plain of Isfahan from monies provided by the shah, who then heavily taxed the guano harvest. The first simple circular types (perhaps based on designs provided directly by government technicians) soon evolved into more complicated forms designed to increase the number of holes for nesting. 

Three hundred years later, domestically-kept pigeons were at the heart of a dispute that inflamed already strained relations between Egyptian Muslims and the occupying British Empire. According to the Oxford Dictionary of Islam

In June 1906 an incident between villagers and British soldiers hunting pigeons [near the Egyptian village of Dinshaway] led to the death of a British soldier. A special tribunal imposed harsh sentences on the villagers, and the incident became a major symbol for emerging Egyptian nationalism."

Wikipedia discusses this incident in further detail.

On 13 June 1906 five officers of the occupying British Army, with their interpreter and a police official, visited Denshawai (AR: دنشواي) to go pigeon shooting. They accidentally shot pigeons belonging to villagers who kept them as domestic animals, angering the owners. The pigeons were also a source of food for the poor villagers which further enraged the villagers because the British officers were shooting them for fun. However, the major catalyst was the accidental shooting of the wife of the prayer leader at the local mosque. 

To understate things, the villagers were very upset. They became even more upset when they were blamed for inciting rebellion, rather than merely defending themselves against careless hunters in sore need of hunting zoning rules. This would not be the only time, however, when pigeons would be mired in a dispute of civil, political and human rights. In 1994, the Taliban invaded Kabul, Afghanistan. When they arrived, they put in place their radical version of Islamic sharia law. Of this time, the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World states:

Shortly after taking Kabul, the Taliban enforced the most drastic interpretation of sharīʿah law ever seen. Among the more controversial acts of the Taliban were bans on all music, movies, television, women's magazines, pigeon keeping, and kite flying. Women were not to wash clothes in streams. Tailors were not to take measurements of females. Men were to grow beards, and Western-style haircuts were forbidden. Dancing and singing, common at Afghan wedding celebrations, were proscribed. Television sets, radios, cassettes, and photographs were destroyed.

It seemed odd to me that pigeon keeping is singled out by the Taliban. I mean, I don't really like them—but pigeons? Really? This action by the Taliban makes more sense in the context of pigeons' association with ostentatiousness in Arab culture. In this Islam Question and answer site, someone asks whether or not the testimony of someone who raises pigeons is acceptable. Here is one response:

The one who plays with pigeons and flies them cannot give testimony. This is the view of ashaab al-ra’y (the Hanafis). Shurayh did not regard the testimony of one who keeps pigeons as acceptable, because it is foolishness and baseness and lack of chivalry; it involves annoying one’s neighbours when he releases them and sees into their houses and throws stones at them. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) saw a man who was chasing a pigeon and said: “A devil chasing a she-devil.” Narrated by Abu Dawood (4940); see also Saheeh al-Jaami’ (3724). If he keeps pigeons in order to raise their chicks, send messages, or to enjoy them without that causing annoyance to others, then his testimony is not to be rejected. 

Intriguing. I'd strongly recommend going and reading the other answers, because there's a lot of cultural information in there (if you wanted me to explain that you'll have to ask me another question because this answer is already too long.) Further associations between pigeons and wealth can be observed in this article about pigeon banishment in Dubai (You have contacts in the United Arab Emirates, apparently). Here, a falconer notes:

The keeping of pigeons in traditional Arab culture has been considered a sign of affluence, so a lot of Emiratis are quite enthusiastic about having pigeons on their buildings.

While it's not directly related to our topic, the article makes a comment about falcons and crows that is too darn good to pass up.

If a flight [of pigeons] is left until late in the morning, large crows often arrive on the scene and gather together to try to see off the falcon. "We call them the crow mafia," Mr Stead said. "They can be very aggressive. Falcons don't just stand up all brave and say, 'Hey, I'm Batman'. They bail out."

Well said, Sir Falconer. Well said. Where were we? Pigeons, towers, falcons, Batman, prosperity... Ah, yes. (adjusts tweed jacket and resumes stuffy monotone droll). Pigeons are present symbolically in Islamic dance outside of the Arabian peninsula. In the performance of the Pigeon Dance of Sudan, The International Encyclopedia of Dance states:

The Pigeon Dance is performed for guests at celebrations in northern Sudan by veiled young girls. The dancers, shoulders held back, thrust their breasts forward, bob their heads slowly up and down, and move forward with mincing steps, in imitation of courting pigeons (Cloudsley, 1983). 

This is not the only pigeon-related dance nearby. The Encyclopedia also mentions a sort of dance called the kaf/kaffafa with a Southern Egyptian variation associated with you-know-which animal.

Movements include stamping, sequences of jumps (sometimes combined with nodding), leaps, skips, hops, swaying, swinging, inclination of the torso, lunging, and short steps forward and backward. A southern form of this dance is known as al-hamamah (“the pigeon”), perhaps because the motion of the womens' veils resembles the flapping of birds' wings. This social dance is performed for weddings and circumcisions, to welcome returning pilgrims, and on other festive occasions. 

To conclude, pigeons could be hypothesized to be indicators of economic prosperity, human rights, and harshness of sharia interpretations in a society; they can also be hypothesized to be minor characters in civil and nationalist movements of which women were an integral part. There is additional evidence to suggest their symbolic role in Islamic dances performed by women and even (I feel inconsistent/ambiguous) interpretations of dreams.

TL, DR? Yes, there actually are connections between women, pigeons and Islam. There are enough write an academic paper, 'cause I think I basically just did. Also, if you skipped that whole blatherfest then I gleefully inform you that you missed the part about Batman. Ha ha!

Stay strong in the cause,

 --Ardilla Feroz 

P.S. It seems obvious now that I've had time to think about it, but was your organization responsible for this stunt back in '88?