Q / A
30. Qur'anic Reflections on the Spider's Web
First of all I would
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We should first differentiate between the mechanical properties of individual fibers and the structural strength and stability of the spider’s house (web). The tensile strength, defined as the maximum load per unit area of cross-section in Kg/cm2, of spider fibers is higher (4 – 5 times) that of most steel fibers.
Yet the individual web fibers, each composed of bundles of a number of 2-3 μm diameter filaments, are of such fine cross-section (diameter 1/4000 that of human hair) that they are – per se – rather weak. This individual fiber weakness is functionally useful, as it helps the spider to trap its victims (e.g. insects) by pulling threads or twisting them around. Similarly, the spider web structures, such as: funnel webs, Orb (radial) webs, sheet (canopy) webs or messy irregular webs; are all so carefully designed and constructed as to be readily collapsed to trap insects and other victims, spiders feed upon (let us ponder at Who guided the spiders to such complex ‘technology’, other than God!).
It is thus obvious that, in spite of the excellent intrinsic mechanical properties of the spider threads, the spider web - in terms of components and design - is intentionally weak; and indeed is the flimsiest of all biological lodgings.
The All-Wise Creator has not created anything but for a purpose. Every creature of the amazingly diverse biota has its important role, complementary to those of other species. Spiders are vital to control the numbers of other harmful insects such as flies, mosquitoes and others. Similar to that of bats, frogs, lizards and white egrets, spiders’ environmental role is vital in preserving the ecological balance.
Beside mechanical weakness – for which the wisdom of creation is manifest – the spider’s web lacks many other qualities of a ‘lodging.’ Being such an open structure, it does not keep away heat, cold, wind nor rain. Nor does it withstand any external mechanical attack or abuse.
Note also that the Qur’an, rather than using the Arabic “Ad`af” = Weakest to describe the spider’s house, appropriately uses the Arabic word “Awhan”, that is equivalent to either: “Flimsiest”, i.e. most easily destroyed (A. Yusuf Ali’s and Zidan’s translations); or “frailest”, i.e. not strongly made or built, fragile, delicate (Pickthall’s and Arberry’s translations); or “feeblest”, i.e physically weak, infirm (Ghali’s translation). This conforms, as explained above, with the fact that the flimsiness or weakness is not intrinsic in the fiber material but in the easily collapsible structure.
Also the verb “takes to itself” (ittakhathat) in the Arabic text aptly refers to female spiders. It is known from old that it is the female spider that assumes the major role in spinning and building the web. Male spiders participate only before puberty.
To conclude, the expression: “The likeness of the ones who have taken to themselves patrons apart from Allah is as the likeness of the spider that takes to itself a home; and surely the flimsiest (frailest, feeblest) of homes is indeed the spider’s house, if they knew (the Truth)” (English meaning of Qur’an 29: 41) is in perfect agreement, not contradiction, with modern science. Rather, it is a manifestation of the perfectly precise scientific language of the Qur’an. It is also one of the wealth of signs in this Book (Qur’an), revealed long centuries before the evolution of modern microscopy and biological sciences, could not possibly be the words of Prophet Muhammad nor any other human being of his time. It could only be the message of the All-Knowing God.