The tiniest of creatures are paid homage to in the Quran, where in their hard work, contribution to Earth and mankind, and sometimes even in the plights they bring about, there is a wisdom behind their creation.
In this third part of our Animals in the Quran series, the focus is on insects, from bees and ants to worms, plus spiders, and the often less-welcomed: swarms of locusts, lice, flies and mosquitoes.
“And your Lord inspired to the bee, Take for yourself among the mountains, houses, and among the trees and [in] that which they construct.
"Then eat from all the fruits and follow the ways of your Lord laid down [for you]. There emerges from their bellies a drink, varying in colours, in which there is healing for people. Indeed in that is a sign for a people who give thought." (Quran 16:68-69)
In the surat (chapter) named after the bees, Al Nahl, Allah informs mankind about the healing power found in the different coloured honey made by the hard-working bees. The teamwork and level of organisation that goes into its production – because a single bee can’t make honey on its own – should be an example for mankind on the importance of working together. The bees are venerated for their diligence and sacrifices, and just how respected they are is highlighted in a hadith (narration) by the Prophet Mohammed.
He said: "By the one in whose hand my soul is, the believer is like a bee which eats that is pure and wholesome and lays that which is pure and wholesome. When it lands on something, it doesn't break or ruin it."
Then there’s the spider, nowadays often viewed as a nuisance and killed, which played an important role in protecting Prophet Mohammed.
When the Prophet and his companion Abu Bakr (the first Caliph) sought refuge in the Cave of Jabal Thawr in Mecca, those in pursuit from Quraysh couldn’t find them even though they passed right by their hiding spot. It’s widely told in Islamic narrations that Allah sent a spider and two doves to conceal the Prophet. The spider spun a delicate web across the entrance to make it appear that no one had entered the cave in a long time, while a dove sat at the entrance nesting with her mate. Together, they made it appear that no one had passed through the spot.
At the same time, the fragility of a spider’s web is used as an example to warn disbelievers:
"The example of those who take allies other than Allah is like that of the spider who takes a home. And indeed, the weakest of homes is the home of the spider, if they only knew." (Quran 29:41)
The hard-working ant also gets a chapter named after it and it’s part of the story of Prophet Sulaiman (Solomon), who was gifted with the ability to speak and understand the language of animals, birds and insects. As told in the verses of the Quran, one of Prophet Sulaiman’s stories tells of his encounter with the smallest of creatures, the ant.
“Until, when they came upon the valley of the ants, an ant said, ‘O ants, enter your dwellings that you not be crushed by Solomon and his soldiers while they perceive not.’
"So [Solomon] smiled, amused at her speech, and said, 'My Lord, enable me to be grateful for Your favour which You have bestowed upon me and upon my parents and to do righteousness of which You approve. And admit me by Your mercy into [the ranks of] Your righteous servants.'" (Quran 27:18-19)
Prophet Sulaiman couldn’t hold back a smile as he heard the ant talk, and he thanked the Almighty for the many favours bestowed upon him, including his ability to understand and avoid trampling over the homes of the ants.
Mercy and compassion towards other living beings, no matter their size and shape, is one of the foundations of Islam. In one narration, Prophet Mohammed censured some of his companions for acts of cruelty towards birds’ and ants’ homes.
Abdullah narrated a journey with the Messenger of Allah in which they saw a red sparrow with two chicks, and when they took her chicks, the sparrow started to flap her wings. The Prophet came to them and said: "Who has upset her by taking her children? Give her children back to her." The Prophet also saw an ant colony that they had burned and asked: "Who burned this?" When they admitted they did, the Prophet said: "No one should punish with fire except the Lord of the fire."
The Quran refers to the creature of the Earth, believed to be a worm, that most take for granted, that gave away the fact that Prophet Sulaiman had passed away while sitting holding onto his staff. It was a lesson to the mystical jinn, over whom Prophet Sulaiman had power, who weren’t able to see what was right in front of them.
"And when We decreed for Solomon's death, nothing indicated to the jinn his death except a creature of the Earth eating his staff. But when he fell, it became clear to the jinn that if they had known the unseen, they would not have remained in humiliating punishment." (Quran 34:14)
The Quran also mentions mosquitoes, locusts, lice and flies to highlight how small creatures can be powerful, especially in big numbers, and some have been sent as punishment.
"So We sent upon them the flood and locusts and lice and frogs and blood as distinct signs, but they were arrogant and were a criminal people." (Quran 7:133)
Whether useful or harmful, insects are created by Allah, and even though they may be small and not always liked, there’s a lot to learn from them. As revealed by the following verse, even a fly can be unstoppable.
"O people, an example is presented, so listen to it. Indeed, those you invoke besides Allah will never create [as much as] a fly, even if they gathered together for that purpose. And if the fly should steal away from them a [tiny] thing, they could not recover it from him. Weak are the pursuer and pursued." (Quran 22:73)
All Quranic verses quoted are Sahih International translations.