Friday 1 March 2019

Surah Al Ankabut "The Spider": Overview of 29th Chapter of the Holy Quran

Surah Al-‘Ankabūt is the twenty ninth surah with 69 ayahs with seven rukus, part of the 20th Juzʼ  of the Holy Qur'an, revealed in Makkah.

The Surah takes its name from verse 41 in which the word Ankabut (Spider) has occurred:
 مَثَلُ ٱلَّذِينَ ٱتَّخَذُوا۟ مِن دُونِ ٱللَّهِ أَوْلِيَآءَ كَمَثَلِ ٱلْعَنكَبُوتِ ٱتَّخَذَتْ بَيْتًا ۖ وَإِنَّ أَوْهَنَ ٱلْبُيُوتِ لَبَيْتُ ٱلْعَنكَبُوتِ ۖ لَوْ كَانُوا۟ يَعْلَمُونَ
The example of those who have made guardians other than Allah is like the spider. She has made a house of cobweb. And undoubtedly, the frailest of all houses is the house of the spider. What a good thing it would have been if they knew.

Parables (comparison) are told in the Qur'an to illustrate a lesson from a religions point of view and to convey a moral wisdom. It is a teaching method that makes it easier to understand and to remember deep truths in an effective way. This kind of profound meaning can only be understood by those who seek true knowledge and attain it by the Grace of Allah. And one great comparison is mentioned in Surah 29, Al Ankabut - The Spider.

Why the mention of spider has been made, please wait for our next post on the exegesis of this surah when the detailed answer will be given.  

Surah Al-‘Ankabūt was revealed in the later time frame since the open proclamation of Islam in Makkah when the persecution of Muslims at the hands of pagans of Makkah had reached at its peak. The disbelievers were opposing and fighting Islam tooth and nail and the new converts were being subjected to the severest oppression. And some of the tortured Muslims had started to complain to the the Prophet of Allah as to why they had been so badly treated when they were following the path of truth. Specifically, one of the companions, Khabbab ibn Al-Arat, was subject to severe torture ad was made to lie on burning sad that his entire skin was burnt. Thus he came to the Prophet, peace be upon him, asking him why was this happening to them? In answer to these painful questions, the first two verses from the Qur’an were revealed:
{Alif, Lam, Meem. Do the people think that they will be left to say, “We believe” and they will not be tried?} 
Such were the conditions when Allah sent down this Surah to strengthen and encourage the sincere Muslims as well as to put to shame those who were showing weakness of the faith. Besides, the disbelievers of Makkah have been threatened and warned not to invite for themselves the fate that the antagonists of the Truth have been experiencing in every age.

Verses 56 to 60 clearly show that this Surah was sent down a little before the migration to Habash. Some commentators have opined that since it mentions the hypocrites, and hypocrisy appeared in Madinah, the first ten verses of this Surah were revealed at Madinah and the rest of it at Makkah; whereas the people whose hypocrisy has been mentioned here are those who had adopted a hypocritical way of life because they were afraid of the oppression and extreme physical torture to which the Muslims were being subjected by the disbelievers. Evidently, this kind of hypocrisy could be there only at Makkah and not at Madinah. Similarly, some other commentators, seeing that in this Surah the Muslims have been exhorted to migrate, have regarded it as the last Surah to be revealed at Makkah, whereas the Muslims had migrated to Habash even before their migration to Madinah. These opinions are not based on any tradition but on the internal evidence of the subject matter, and this internal evidence, when considered against the subject matter of the Surah as a whole, points to the conditions prevailing in the time of the migration to Habash and not to the last stage at Makkah.

This surah also answers some of the questions of the young men, whose parents were urging them to abandon Muhammad (may Allah's peace be upon him), and return to their ancestral religion, for they argued: "The Qur'an in which you have put your faith, regards the rights of the parents as the uppermost; therefore, listen to what we say; otherwise you will be working against the dictates of your own Faith." This has been answered in verse 8.

Similarly, the people of some clans said to the new converts to Islam, "Leave the question of punishments, etc., to us. Listen to us and abandon this man. If God seizes you in the Hereafter, we will come forward and say, 'Lord, these people are innocent: we had forced them to give up the Faith; therefore, seize us'." This has been dealt with, in verses 12-13.

The stories mentioned in this Surah also impress the same point mostly, as if to say, "Look at the Prophets of the past (specifically mentioning prophets Nuh (Noah), Ibrahim (Abraham), Lut (lot), Shuaib, Hud, Saleh, Musa (Moses), peace be upon them all): they were made to suffer great hardships and were treated cruelly for long periods. Then, at last they were helped by Allah. And those who made them suffer were destroyed and made to suffer for their sins as mentioned 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.
Therefore, the Muslims are advised to take heart: Allah's succor will certainly come. But a period of trial and tribulation has to be undergone." Besides teaching this lesson to the Muslims, the disbelievers also have been warned, as if to say, "If you are not being immediately seized by Allah, you should not form the wrong impression that you will never be seized. The signs of the doomed nations of the past are before you. Just see how they met their doom and how Allah succored the Prophets."

Then the Muslims have been instructed to the effect: "If you feel that the persecution has become unbearable for you, you should give up your homes, instead of giving up your Faith: Allah's earth is vast: seek a new place where you can worship Allah with the full peace of mind." Besides all this, the disbelievers also have been urged to understand Islam. The realities of Tawhid and the Hereafter have been impressed with rational arguments, shirk have been refuted, and drawing their attention towards the signs in the universe, they have been told that all these Signs confirm the teachings that the Prophet is presenting before them.

While we would present the detailed translation / exegesis of the surah subsequently, we herein under give a gist of Surah Al-‘Ankabūt by the renowned scholar Nouman Ali Khan in a very enlightening manner that would make you understand the entire surah and its purpose of revelation:

You may refer to our post "114 Chapters (Sūrahs) of the Holy Qur'an" for translation, meaning and summary and exegesis of other chapters (Though not complete but building up from 30th Part backwards for chapters in 30th Part are shorter and easier to understand). 

Photo | References: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 |
An effort has been made to gather explanation / exegesis of the surahs of the Holy Qur'an from authentic souses and then present a least possible condensed explanation of the surah. However, those wanting detailed explanations and tafsir (exegesis), may refer to sites the references of which are given above.

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