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The Spider's Web

"… but verily, the frailest (weakest) of houses is the spider’s house - if they knew."

 (Surat Al-'Ankabūt (The Spider): 41)

By: Dr. / Zaghloul El-Naggar

This Qura'nic verse appears at the beginning of the second part of Surat al-'Ankabūt (The Spider).  It is a Makkan surah and has a total number of 69 ayahs following the Basmalah.  This surah was named as such because it compares disbelievers and polytheists, who seek protection and support in things or people rather than in Allah (SWT), to the spider that seeks refuge in its house, the flimsiest of houses.  This is the only verse in which the spider is mentioned in the whole of the noble Qur'an.

The main theme of this surah is believing in Allah (SWT).  It tackles the ordeals inflicted upon believers because of their faith and what they might go through as a result of holding on to Allah's religion and calling others to embrace it.  This is all due to the inevitable conflict between right and wrong, and between the followers of both paths.

To emphasize this worldly custom, the surah describes what happened to some of Allah’s Prophets and Messengers who were hindered on their paths of calling to Allah (SWT).  It also presents examples of tyrannical characters and nations, severely punished for their sins.  It demeans those disbelievers and polytheists and sets them as an example before everyone.  Moreover, Surat Al-'Ankabūt links the righteousness in Allah's religion to that in the heavens and on earth.  It asserts the Oneness of Allah (SWT) and unifies the divine messages.  The surah also calls upon believers to hold on to their religion, or to emigrate at times of affliction, while still holding on to their faith.  Surat Al-'Ankabūt glorifies jihad (the struggle for the sake of religion) and the mujahidin (strugglers) striving to serve Allah (SWT).  The surah confirms that ordeals are essential in life and lays stress on the responsibility of individuals, and the individuality of consequences.  It clarifies the destinies of the believers, hypocrites, and disbelievers.  Finally, the surah concludes with how Allah (SWT) brings forth to the mujahidin good tidings and instills firmness in their faith.

  Signs of Creation in Surat Al-Ankabūt:

 1.     It asserts that only Allah (SWT) can easily create and recreate.  This can be seen at a smaller scale in the endless cycle of life and death that takes place through the constant process of reproduction, for as long as Allah (SWT) wills.  Moreover, there is the cycle of creation of celestial bodies, their destruction, disappearance into the cosmic cloud of dust, and recreation from this same dust.  The water cycle around the earth is a case in point, and so are the cycles of rocks and the cycles of the earth’s surface formulation.  Furthermore, there is the creation of matter and energy, their interchange, their extermination and recreation, in addition to other cycles as well.

 2.     It indicates that wandering around in the land, meditating on rocks and studying the evidences of life on such rocks, are the means by which man can get to know the history of the earth and the truth about the origins of life.  Such facts were verified by studies conducted in the field of Geology.

 3.     It confirms that recreation in the hereafter, following the destruction of the universe, shall follow the same path by which creation originated.

 4.     It asserts that the spider's web is the flimsiest of all houses, on both the physical and spiritual levels.  This was ascertained by recent studies in the field of Zoology.

 5.     There are also several historical and psychological signs directly related to scientific research.  However, they are not of relevance to the topic we are currently looking; the signs of creation in the noble Qur'an.

 Since each of the above statements requires a separate explanation on its own, I shall focus here on the issue of the weak nature of the spider's web, which Allah (SWT) used as an example in the 41st ayah of Surat Al-‘Ankabūt.  Accordingly, it is important to quickly review the interpretations made by a number of scholars in this context.

  The Scholars’ Interpretations:

 "The likeness of those who take (false deities as) Auliyā’ (protectors, helpers) other than Allāh is the likeness of a spider who builds (for itself) a house; but verily, the frailest (weakest) of houses is the spider’s house - if they but knew."  (Surat Al-'Ankabūt (The Spider): 41)

 What Ibn-Kathir (RA), a renowned Islamic scholar, has reported in this context, in a nutshell, is that Allah (SWT) has set this as a parable for the disbelievers who seek gods other than Allah (SWT) for support, food and assistance in hardships.  The spider's web here, with its fragility and frailty, shows that holding on to such gods who possess no kind of power whatsoever is just like holding on to a spider's web that is of no use.  Had they known this, they would not have taken protectors other than Allah (SWT).  On the other hand, Muslims, who strongly believe in Allah (SWT), and abide by his rules, have succeeded in grasping the most trustworthy handhold that shall never break due to its strength and firmness.

 In Safwat Al-Bayan Lema'ani Al-Qur'an (Selected Explanations for the Meanings of the Qur'an), the author (RA) likened disbelievers who worship and rely on false deities, seeking their help and forgiveness, to a spider that weaves a shelter that does not provide protection from heat or cold, rain or harm.  The spider was defined as a well-known creature that weaves loose thin threads in the air.  Al-'Ankabūt can be used to refer to the singular, plural, male and female forms of the word.  However, it is more commonly used as the feminine form.  The last two letters of the word Al-'Ankabūt, waw and taa’, are additional, just like in the word taghūt (tyrant).  The plural forms of Al-'Ankabūt are anakeb and anakeeb.

 The Spider from the Scientific Perspective:

 

The spider is of kingdom Animalia.  It belongs to class Arachnida, and phylum Arthoropoda.  Arachnida comprises order Araneae along with other orders that include scorpions, ticks, and mites.

 

The spider's body is divided into two segments.  The head and thorax are combined into one body segment, and the abdomen constitutes the second body segment.  The front segment holds four pairs of legs, one pair of short, leg-like appendages called pedipalps, and one pair of pliers-shaped fangs called chelicerae (biting mouthparts), where the glands are.  A slim waist separates the front segment of the body from its rear part.

 The spider has as many as eight simple eyes, and sometimes less.  It is a predator that feeds on insects and other arthropods.  It has a thick cuticle or hard shell, covered with hair.  The spider grows by shedding its cuticle from seven to eight times before its full maturation.  Nowadays, zoologists can identify up to forty thousand species of spiders varying in length (going from less than one mm to 10 cms), shape, and color.  Most of them can be classified as terrestrial animals, and they are usually alone except during mating and egg hatching.  Spiders are widespread in habitats that range from those at sea level to those 5000 m above sea level. 

 Normally a spider has three pairs of spinnerets (may range from 1-4 pairs), which are outgrowing mobile appendages below the abdomen.  They have minute spigots through which the spider secretes the fluid that is used in producing the threads that make up the web.  This fluid substance, secreted by a number of special glands through ducts opening to the outside through the spigots at the back of the abdomen, becomes solid when drawn out of the spider and subjected to the air.  This drying process results in forming threads of different kinds, lengths, and strengths, each according to the type of gland that secreted it.

 The spider might stay in its home, doing all its mundane activities, or seek a nest or burrow other than its home and link it to its web by a thread known as the catching or signal thread.  The spider takes refuge in this hiding place when in danger.

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