"… but verily, the frailest (weakest) of houses is the spider’s house - if they knew." (Quran 29: 41)
The Scholars’ Interpretations:
"The likeness of those who take (false deities as) Auliyâ’ (protectors, helpers) other than Allâh 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-'Ankabût (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.
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.
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.
Scientific Implications of the Qura'nic Ayah
First: Using the singular form of the word “Spider”:
In Lisan El-Arab lexicon (The Arab’s Tongue), and under the entry of 'ankab (the root form of the Arabic word for spider), the derivative form 'ankabût (spider) refers to a small living creature that weaves delicate loose threads in the air and on top of wells. It mentions as well that 'ankabût has probably been mentioned in poetry. The spider's house is referred to as al-'akdaba.
Al-Feraa said that al-'ankabût is feminine, whereas some Arabs use the word to denote the masculine form as well. The plural forms of the word are: al-'ankabûtat, al-'anakeb, and al-‘anakeeb. The diminutive form of the word is 'onaykeb. In the Yemeni dialect, the spider is referred to as 'ankabah. It can also be referred to as 'ankaba'a and 'ankabûh. Moreover, Sibaway has referred to the spider as 'ankaba'a, thus implying that the last letter ta'a in the Arabic word 'ankabût is additional. Therefore, it cannot be determined whether the word is used as singular or plural.
Ibn-al-I'rabi says that al-'ankab is used for the male spider and al-'ankaba for the female spider. It is also said that al-'ankab is the genus of al-'ankabût, and that al-'ankabût could be used as either masculine or feminine. Al-Mabrad says that al-'ankabût is a feminine term that could be used as a masculine one. Accordingly, it is predominant that the word al-'ankabût refers to the singular feminine form of the word spider, and the plural is 'anakeb.
According to the above, naming the surah by the singular form of the word, al-'Ankabût, highlights the individualistic life the spider leads, except during mating and the hatching of eggs. This stands in contrast with each of Surat Al-Nahl (The Bees) and Surat Al-Naml (The Ants), where both refer to the plural form of the name of the creature; highlighting the communal life such insects lead.
Spiders are usually alone except during mating and egg hatching.
Second: Implications of the Qura'nic Ayah"… that takes to itself a home":
This Qura'nic ayah clearly shows that the female spider is primarily the one that weaves the web. Accordingly, weaving the web is a mission undertaken by female spiders. Although the male spider might occasionally take part in the construction, the restoration or expansion of the web, the mission itself is carried out mainly by the female spider. This uncovers the scientific miracle in the words of Allah (SWT), "…takes a house", where the word “takes” that is used in the Arabic text refers mainly to the female and not the male.
Third: Implications of the Qura'nic Ayah "… and surely the feeblest of homes is indeed the spider's house ":
This miraculous verse points out several important facts including the following:
1. From the physical point of view, a spider's web is the weakest of all houses. It is composed of a group of intricate fine silk threads, mostly with large gaps in-between. Therefore, the threads cannot protect spiders from heat or extreme cold, nor can they provide a reliable shelter, or offer protection from heavy rain, strong winds or even the perils of attackers. In spite of all this, the way in which the spider web is built is miraculous. The web’s silk threads are very minute, with an average thickness of about one millionth of an inch, or one over 4000 of the thickness of a normal human hair. Despite their extreme delicacy, the silk threads are five times stronger than their steel equivalent, and are characterized by stronger tension resistance, whether such resistance is attributed to the unit of size or to the weight of the examined silks. Moreover, recent studies proved that the silk woven by the Nephila spider, of the Orb weaver group, is three times stronger than its equivalent produced from the substance known as Kevlar, a petroleum-based substance used in making bullet-proof vests. Therefore, the spider's silk is one of the strongest substances available on earth, as it can withstand a tension force up to 42000 kg/cm2 which gives it strong stretching abilities. Spider silk has a tensile strength of roughly 1.3 GPA. This feature enables it to trap prey insects without being ruptured, especially that spiders construct their webs of braids, and each of those is itself composed of a number of strongly braided threads. Hence, this explains why Allah (SWT) said in his noble book "… the frailest (weakest) of houses" instead of "the flimsiest threads". The spider's home remains to be the weakest and frailest of all homes despite its strong threads.
Despite their extreme delicacy, the silk threads are five times stronger than their steel equivalent
2. From the spiritual point of view, a spider's house is the most fragile of all houses. It is deprived of notions of love and mercy; the basis for any happy family. In some species, the female spider kills the male immediately after the fertilization process. The female devours the male’s body, since the former is larger and fiercer than the latter. In some cases, the female mercilessly eats its offspring. In other cases, the female dies after the complete fertilization of the eggs that it usually carries in a silk sac. When the eggs hatch, the spiderlings come out to find themselves in an extremely crowded place. The siblings then start fighting over food and/or space, until the battle ends with the survival of only a few spiderlings. Those then shed their skin, break the wall of the egg sac and leave one after another, carrying along unpleasant memories. When the mother dies, the spiderlings feed on her body. Afterwards, the spiderlings spread out in the surrounding environment. Every surviving female starts building its web. Those who survive go through the same tragic experience all over again, which makes the spider's house the most brutal. Allah (SWT) has set the spider’s house as an example of fragility and frailty because of the lack of strong family ties and lack of notions of mercy among members of the family.
Fourth: Implications of the Qura'nic Ayah "…if they knew":
Such facts were unknown to any human being during the time of the revelation, nor were they known for long centuries to follow. They were discovered after intensive studies in the field of spider behavior had been carried out by hundreds of scientists over many decades. The whole thing crystallized only in the last few decades of the twentieth century. Therefore, Allah (SWT) has concluded the subject ayah by, "…if they knew".
"… but verily, the frailest (weakest) of houses is the spider’s house - if they knew."
Hence, the ayah revealed to Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) over 1400 years ago, describing the spider's house as the flimsiest of houses, at a time when the majority were illiterate, is regarded as an unprecedented scientific exploration. No one but Allah (SWT) can provide such information. Allah (SWT) safeguarded the Qur'an in the language in which it was revealed, i.e. the Arabic language, for over 14 centuries. He will continue to do so until he re-inherits the earth and all those on it, so that Qur’an would remain as proof to all people until the Day of Judgment. Hence, all that is entailed in Qur’an proves that it is but Allah’s words (SWT), and remains as testimony of Muhammad’s prophethood (SAWS). Muhammad (SAWS), the seal of all prophets, received Qur’an, delivered the message, fulfilled the task he was entrusted with, guided the nation and struggled in the cause of Allah (SWT) until his final days.
Let us ask Allah (SWT) to reward Muhammad (SAWS) the best of what he rewarded His Prophets and Messengers for fulfilling their messages. O Allah! Grant Muhammad (SAWS) excellence and raise him to the lauded status You promised him. All praise be to Allah Alone, and may His Peace and Blessings be upon His Messenger and slave, our Prophet Muhammad (SAWS), his family and his companions.
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