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|Meaning of the name||The Spider|
|Number of verses||69|
|Hizb number||40, 41|
|Number of Rukus||7|
Surat al-‘Ankabūt (Arabic: سورة العنكبوت ) (The Spider) is the 29th sura of the Qur'an with 69 verses. It is a meccan surah due to the introduction concerning the persecution of the Muslims. The early Muslims were persecuted in Mecca, where the Prophet Muhammed was not a head of state and not persecuted in Medina, where he was a head of state and had some protection. The surah states that Nuh, Ibrahim, Lut, Shuaib, Hud, Saleh, Musa and Muhammad all were prophets of God. All of them endured hardships. For example, Noah was ridiculed often and Abraham was thrown into the fire. But God destroyed their people who transgressed. As it says in verse 40,
So each We punished for his sin; of them was he on whom We sent down a violent storm, and of them was he whom the rumbling overtook, and of them was he whom We made to be swallowed up by the earth, and of them was he whom We drowned; and it did not beseem Allah that He should be unjust to them, but they were unjust to their own souls.
First 13 verses
The first 13 verses, according to Allama Tabatabai, are concerned with the early Muslims and their persecutors, the Makkan pagans. One interpretation is that an early companion of the Prophet Muhammed, Ammar bin Yasir, had believed in him and was consequently tortured along with his parents. According to the ahadith, he came to the Prophet and told him that his parents were killed right in front of him and he was forced to commit polytheism (shirk) under torture of the pagans. The prophet told him that as long as he did not mean it and believe it in his heart, then God would not hold him responsible." This fitna that Ammar was going through, even though it was difficult torture, was his test. Ammar stayed devoted to the Prophet throughout his whole life and was martyred in the Battle of Siffin.
The first 7 verses after Alif Lam Mim loop neatly with the last 7 verses of the surah showing a high degree of concentric symmetry in an A B C D E F G/ G' F' E' D' C' B' A' structure. Where A' completes verse A. This pattern is maintained thematically until the mention of Nuh in the 14th verse. Some may think this is unique to the Spider Surah in its appearing similar to a spider's web, however this cyclical looping is found in several other Surah's including Surah 2, 5 and 60 as well as in the Ayat al-Kursi. It is interesting that at the centre of the surah we find 8 prophets mentioned.
In these first 13 verses, the main principle of God testing (fitna) the faith and patience of mankind is established. The first verses are addressed to all of mankind. God says, "Do men think that they will be left alone on saying, We believe, and not be tried?" According to Tabatabai, fitna (trying or testing ones faith) is a practice of God. It is how God separates the truly sincere ones from the hypocrites whose faith is superficial. In order to succeed in the test, patience and reliance on God is necessary.
Verses 14 to 40
The prophets mentioned in these verses are Noah, Abraham, Lot, Shu'ayb, and Moses. The ancient civilisations who did not believe their prophets and continued to transgress or reject the call are mentioned in relation to seven prophets and Muhammad. In addition to seven prophets there are seven civilisations mentioned making the prophet Muhammad and his civilisation the eighth, calling to mind the spider's eight legs. The detail given to the interplay between Muhammad and his diverse audience of polytheists and People of the Book dynamises the central discourse of this surah. This sets a backdrop of imminent disaster as the audience find themselves starkly reflected in the ancient scriptures.
Verses 41 to 55
مَثَلُ الَّذِينَ اتَّخَذُوا مِن دُونِ اللَّهِ أَوْلِيَاءَ كَمَثَلِ الْعَنكَبُوتِ اتَّخَذَتْ بَيْتًا وَإِنَّ أَوْهَنَ الْبُيُوتِ لَبَيْتُ الْعَنكَبُوتِ لَوْ كَانُوا يَعْلَمُونَ
The example of those people, who have consciously and deliberately adopted/perceived for themselves as protectors/benefactors/god fathers other than Allah, is like the peculiar state of a specific she-spider who deliberately adopted a house [for protection of her off springs]. And it is a fact that the flimsiest of the houses is certainly that adopted house of the female spider; had they but known/have the information. [29:41]
After translating the words كَمَثَلِ الْعَنكَبُوتِ اتَّخَذَتْ بَيْتًا to mean that the Spider builds/makes a house it is explained in the exegeses in Urdu and English that the spider's web is the weakest of the houses. But the fact of the matter is that there is not a single word which could make us infer that Qur'an has referred to "Spider's web". Qur'an has not even said that spider makes or builds a house. It has said that اتَّخَذَتْ بَيْتًا "she acquired/seized/took/adopted as house". اتَّخَذَتْ Verb: Perfect; third person; singular; feminine; [Form-VIII] Subject pronoun hidden, and -اِتِّخَاذٌ verbal noun. It signifies to take, receive, get, seize, capture, acquire, and adopt. This has been used in relation to اتَّخَذُوا Verb: Perfect; third person; plural; masculine; [Form-VIII]; و Subject pronoun, in nominative state; مصدر-اِتِّخَاذٌ verbal noun, from the same Root. which has correctly been translated in the above quoted translations as "take, choose, accept".
Web of the Spider is not a house but it is a trap. A trap is built, constructed, structured, and made. One could infer "Spider's web" if the words used were "بيَّت البيت""constructed a house". Male and female spider do not live together as a family therefore there can't be a question of family mansion. Male and female construct/build traps individually and separately. Male and female belonging to even the same specie do not come closer when overpowered by the desire of mating. They first introduce and recognize each other before coming closer for love and sex.
It could be misleading for many to read in the exegeses ascribing it to the Grand Qur'an that "Spider's Web is the weakest of the houses" while the Qur'an has not said this. It is now known to the majority of the people that Spider's Web is not weak and its thread is one of the finest things.
Whichever encyclopedia we may open we will find that Spider's web is a strong and fine thing with top of the line thread. Spider's thread is five times stronger than the steel of same thickness, and can stretch to four times its own length. In the presence of this information/data if we accept what was stated by earlier/modern writers we will attribute to Grand Qur'an something which is contrary to the fact.
However, the Qur'an was revealed at a time when meticulous scientific testing was not rife on the Arabian Peninsula; while today's science can verify the strength of an individual thread in a spider's web, the latter remains frail and weak if stroke by hand or when it is exposed to strong winds and rain. The mere poking of it using a stick destroys it, rendering its 'harder-than-steel' attribute irrelevant. The Qur'an was not investing on today's scientific discoveries: while a single spider web thread might be 5 times stronger than a similarly thick thread of steel, a web can easily collapse by the action of men, animals, or the weather. The Qur'an is simply telling people how beseeching man-made deities and mortals for protection is as weak as a spider living comfortably in its web when it can easily be destroyed by earthly elements. Thus, Allah's protection is the most everlasting and the strongest. The Qur'an was addressing people in a logic that was simple for them to understand, a people who did not know the strengths of a single thread in a spider's web, but who knew for a fact that striking a spider's web or seeing it being subjected to fierce manifestations of the elements would certainly cause its destruction. As explained in Islamic oral tradition, the Quraysh who were in pursuit of Muhammad did not enter the Cave of Thawr due to the presence of a spider web covering its entrance, the logic withdrawn that such a web would have been destroyed or undone had Muhammad entered the cave. This attests to the frailty of the spider's web. Therefore, accepting or refusing what was stated by earlier/modern writers is irrelevant.
But this is certainly not the statement of Qur'an. Qur'an's statement is that which its own words describe and not that what some people perceived on the basis of their own understanding formed on incomplete or poor information.
اتَّخَذَتْ بَيْتًا is the verbal sentence, in accusative state, as circumstantial clause describing the state of the Peculiar Female Spider. Allah has given the example of those people who have adopted/considered/perceived as أَوْلِيَآءَ protectors, benefactors/god fathers other than Allah with the habit/act of a peculiar female spider who has adopted a house, and then informed about that house being the weakest one; and exclaimed that had they some information/knowledge about it.
“The females of many species place the egg sac on a stalk, wraps leaves about it, attach it to a stone, or cover it with smooth silk before abandoning it. Other females guard the egg sac or carry it either in their jaws or attached to the spinnerets. If a female loses an egg sac, she makes searching movements and may pick up a pebble or a piece of paper and attach it to the spinnerets. (With thanks from Encyclopædia Britannica-Spider)”
A man who acquires, adopts and considers other deities and people as أَوْلِيَآءَ is actually in pursuit of finding some support with the intention of getting some strength/position and protection of interests. He escapes the reality to find refuge in conjecture, fascination, and imagination and adopts them who soothe him with idea of their being a visible protector. It is but self psychological deception.
The female spider despite knowing that the piece of paper does not contain her eggs, she takes it to her "chest". And there has never been dearth of people who keep such papers/traditions/sayings void of any substance/knowledge and proof closely to their chests and are seldom prepared to have a look on that "paper" to evaluate/weigh it if there existed anything of substance wrapped in it.
“And when it was/is said for [to] them, "You people consciously and heartily follow practically that which Allah has sent [in the Book]", they replied/say; "No, instead We will keep following that upon which we found our fathers had been". [how irrational/illogical is the response, without having refuted the proposed fact] Would they keep following their forefather despite the fact if they were not reflecting/recognizing/differentiating something and nor were they consciously attempting to get guided/arrive at rational conclusion?" [2:170]
We have seen that certain people were asked to listen to the words of the Book and conduct accordingly but their immediate and plain response is that they were comfortable with what they had found their earlier generations/fathers saying/believing and doing. They don't seem interested in the words of book what to say of rebutting it with some argument. There attention is drawn towards two things without condemning their forefathers that would they keep following them with regard to something upon which their forefathers had not لاَ يَعْقِلُونَ شَيْئاً reflected/pondered and/or they did not have لاَ يَعْلَمُونَ شَيْئاً information/knowledge about something.
Knowledge is only of ءَايَةً , corporeal, real thing having dimensions; and the words of Allah sent in Qur'aan are also called ءَايَةً since it is said by Him Who knows visible and invisible of everything. A statement about a thing made by the All Knower is as visible as anything else to the perception of human beings. Anything beyond ءَايَةً is nothing but conjecture, تخيل, imagination, and false. Compressing/preserving/captivating data/information about things is called "عقل" and the process by which we keep comparing/sorting things and finding the difference and relationships is called "تعقل, يعقل" i.e. to reflect/ponder/process the acquired data/information/knowledge to arrive at conclusions/guidance. After giving the example of habit of female spider it has been told:
"And these are the examples which we give/quote for benefit of people. But no one can reflect/ponder/analyze except those who have the information/data/knowledge" [29:43]
It is a matter of common sense that men can reflect/ponder/process/analyze only after he has acquired data/information about something. Allah has quite unambiguously informed that knowledge about the universe and human body will progressively reveal to humanity since acquiring of knowledge needs constant and persistent pursuit of things to find mutual relationships. Therefore to keep stuck and following the traditions/saying of the past generations is a behavior/attitude of the sheep and cattle. About the attitude of aforesaid people it is categorically announced: And the comparable similarity example of those people who have deliberately refused to accept is like the one who shepherds a herd with that sound in which he listens nothing meaningful except calls and whoops. They are deaf, dumb, and blind; resultantly they do not reflect/recognize/differentiate. [2:171]
The shackles coming from our earlier generations in the shape of traditions and sayings can be removed, to revive ourselves to true wisdom and knowledge, if we decide to keep ourselves bound with the words of the Qur'an since it is the statement of proven facts, and other things are not void of doubt, conjecture, hearsay and speculative thinking of many of our earlier forefathers.
[For detailed study please see the link on 01-Surat Fateh "Word by Word Analysis"]
Verses 56 to 60
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Verses 61 to End
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- [Quran 29:17] You only worship idols besides God and you create a lie surely they whom you serve besides God do not control for you any sustenance, therefore seek the sustenance from God and serve Him and be grateful to Him; to Him you shall be brought back.
- [Quran 29:46] And do not dispute with the followers of the Book except by what is best, except those of them who act unjustly, and say: We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you, and our God and your God is One, and to Him do we submit.
- The parable of those who take guardians besides Allah is as the parable of the spider that makes for itself a house; and most surely the frailest of the houses is the spider's house did they but know. Quran 29:41
1. Al-mizan fi tafsir al-koran. al-allama as-saiid Mohammad hosain al-tabatabai. al-alami library. Beirut-Lebanon po box: 7120
- Surah Al-Ankabut (Complete text in Arabic with English and French translations)
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