Home / Islam / Parables in the Quran: The Spider’s Web

As I recently observed a spider slowly but surely descend downwards, I marveled at its dexterity of producing a silken thread from within its own body, which enables it to build a home for itself.

Parables in the Quran: The Spider’s Web

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

I live in a hot, humid city where creepy crawlies of all sorts elude insecticides and abound. Routinely, I need to have discreet cobwebs removed from the corners of ceilings and from behind cupboards. The dextrous creators of these webs can rarely be seen prominently, but sometimes perchance they are spotted descending from their lofty abodes onto lower surfaces. To the naked eye, a spider appears to dangle in mid-air on its own, its thread almost invisible.

As I recently observed a spider slowly but surely descend downwards, I marveled at its dexterity of producing a silken thread from within its own body, which enables it to build a home for itself.

That was when the verse about the spider's web in Surah Al-Ankaboot came to my mind:

مَثَلُ الَّذِينَ اتَّخَذُوا مِن دُونِ اللَّهِ أَوْلِيَاء كَمَثَلِ الْعَنكَبُوتِ اتَّخَذَتْ بَيْتًا وَإِنَّ أَوْهَنَ الْبُيُوتِ لَبَيْتُ الْعَنكَبُوتِ لَوْ كَانُوا يَعْلَمُونَ

The parable of those who take protectors other than Allāh is that of the spider, who builds (to itself) a house; but truly the flimsiest of houses is the spider's house;- if they but knew. ” [29:41]

The singular form of the Arabic word اَولِيآء (“auliyaa”) that is mentioned in this verse, is ولى (“wali”), which means “protector, helper, governor, king, ruler, or judge”.

Tafsir Ibn Kathir says about this verse: “This is how Allāh described the idolators in their reverence of gods besides Him, hoping that they would help them and provide for them, and turning to them in times of difficulties. In this regard, they were like the house of a spider, which is so weak and frail, because by clinging to these gods they were like a person who holds on to a spider's web, who does not gain any benefit from that. If they knew this, they would not take any protectors besides Allāh.”

Tafsir Al Jalalayn: “The likeness of those who choose besides God [other] patrons, namely idols from whom they hope to profit, is as the likeness of the spider that makes a home for itself in which to shelter. And truly the frailest, the weakest, of homes is the home of the spider – for it neither protects it from heat nor cold – likewise, idols cannot benefit those who worship them – if they only knew this, they would not worship them.”

According to this verse, the action of taking any other besides Allāh as a judge or helper is like a spider spinning a web for itself. How does a spider spin its web?

It starts by shooting forth a single thread with a sticky end that attaches itself to a sturdy support nearby, which it might happen to fall on. Notice the uncertain nature of the start of the process? The spider has no idea what the thread will attach itself to, or if it will at all. Ironically, it makes an abode for itself by starting with a single thread in this uncertain manner!

Once attached to a sturdy support, the spider goes along that fixed thread, dropping another thread downwards, which dangles in the air. It moves back along the dangling, second thread and from its middle, lowers itself downwards on to another support. When it lands on the latter, it uses it as the third point of support for its web. It continues thus to weave more threads fixed on other nearby supports until it establishes a web of non-sticky threads. It further moves radially around these base threads to form another network of threads within them.

Finally, when the web is ready, the spider leaves a sticky fluid over it to snag prey, leaving room for itself to move around (avoid) that fluid as it maneuvers its way around its new “home”, then proceeds to sit in its center.

For a very simple video describing the process of how a spider spins its web, along with a more detailed written description, please click here.

Here are a few thoughts that come to mind about this spider's web:

  1. It has a very flimsy, weak foundation. Though it hangs off sturdy supports such as walls, tree branches, or pillars, it is not strong in and of itself.
  2. It is not clearly visible – a trait that increases the chances of snagging prey. Hence, it can get trampled upon, or rubbed against, by passing objects.
  3. It is made of extremely fine, weak, interwoven threads; not strong, solid raw material.
  4. It is two-dimensional in structure i.e. it is flat. It does not stand upon firm, hard ground. There are no roofs or walls offering security and cover from destructive climatic elements. Wind or rain can wash it away.
  5. The spider spins its own web (i.e. it doesn't use any other materials) e.g. birds use sprigs or grass to build nests; ants use earth to construct anthills. The spider's web, however, is a product of materials/secretions from within its own body.
  6. The spider sits in the middle of its web, somewhat in isolation. It waits for its prey to get stuck in it.

We can now analyze how taking protectors or helpers (اَولِيآء) besides Allāh is akin to a spider spinning a home for itself. When I thought about this verse, I pondered on what the word ولى means. Does it mean that if I follow the verdicts or laws of those who do not rule according to the laws of Allāh, or if I believe others besides Allāh to be my helpers or protectors in difficulties and hopeless situations, I am like the web-weaving spider in my adherence to beliefs that are false?

Like the spider that attaches its threads to sturdy supports and spins a web for itself, I too, would be taking support from apparently stronger objects/things/deities to form a web of delusion inside my head, which would not harm anyone but me if and when it got destroyed because of its inherent weakness. Just as a spider-web's gluey attachment to the objects to which its silk threads cling is frail and weak, the hopes I would have on any other people, gods, deities or objects for solving my problems or providing laws for me to live successfully by, would be extremely feeble, even though these deities, like a spider web, might give the impression of being secure, safe “abodes” to the “spiders” sitting in their midst.

Here I would like to point out that seeking the help or support of others to achieve an end is not at all blameworthy or wrong in itself, as long as a believer has the staunch aqeedah in his heart that the source of all benefit and loss is solely Allāh. Allāh helps, protects and provides for His slaves on earth by different means. There is nothing wrong with seeking those means, as long as one believes, beyond any doubt in their heart, that the source of both – the means and the end – is Allāh – our only ولى.

The parable of the spider weaving a weak home for itself is like that of a sick person who believes that a certain doctor they went to, or a medical procedure they underwent, was the source of their cure from an illness, instead of believing staunchly in Allāh being the sole source of that cure, with all else being just the means. Or, like the simile of a woman who believes that the source of her provision is her or her spouse's business or job, which, if it were to be lost, or if her husband were to die, would curtail her provision or her life itself. Or like the justice-seeking, wronged person who believes that the verdicts and laws of any thinker, organization, or man-made socioeconomic and legal system is more suitable than that revealed in the Qurʾān by Allāh, or that which was ordained by His Messenger [صلى الله عليه وسلم].

Such fallacious delusions are analogous to a spider's web-weaving, because such concocted beliefs and false ideas are “spun” by innate human desires, or by erroneous thoughts whispered into the hearts by Shaitan, making their bearers disastrously secure in the delusion that what they believe is actually reality, just like the spider believes that its frail, thread-based abode is sturdy and safe from danger, right up to the point when it is washed or swept away.

Just as the spider's web is the weakest of abodes, so are all the idols that are worshipped, or considered sources of support, help, provision or justice by people, utterly weak and fallible.

اللهُ اعْلَمُ

Now please ponder on this verse in light of the scientific facts about the process of a spider's web-weaving/abode-building, and share your thoughts with us.

allah quran

About Sadaf Farooqi

Sadaf Farooqi is a postgraduate in Computer Science who has done the Taleem Al-Quran Course from Al-Huda International, Institute of Islamic Education for Women, in Karachi, Pakistan. 11 years on, she is now a homeschooling parent of three children, a blogger, published author and freelance writer. She has written articles regularly for Hiba Magazine, SISTERS Magazine and Saudi Gazette. Sadaf shares her life experiences and insights on her award-winning blog, Sadaf's Space, and intermittently teaches subjects such as Fiqh of Zakah, Aqeedah, Arabic Grammar, and Science of Hadith part-time at a local branch of Al-Huda. She has recently become a published author of a book titled 'Traversing the Highs and Lows of Muslim Marriage'. For most part, her Jihad bil Qalam involves juggling work around persistent power breakdowns and preventing six chubby little hands from her computer! Even though it may not seem so, most of her time is spent not in doing all this, but in what she loves most - reading.

22 comments

  1. Jazakallah khair for your insight :)
    The spider’s web actually looks like a snare or a net that is used to catch animals. Before anyone else is caught in it the spider is the first one who falls prey to the delusion that it is a safe home and moves in voluntarily. Any ideology or cultural practice that we cling to that goes against the Quran and Sunnah is like the spider’s web. Frail and deceptive. Many times we try to leave those practices behind but they continue to stick to us just like the threads of the spider’s web stick to you if you come in contact with them.

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  2. The modern day spider’s web is the fascist American empire.

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  3. Jazaks for a good article.

    I have one question – in South Asian cultures often spiders are not harmed (because of the web they spun on the cave when Muhammad (s) and Abu Bakr (r) were hiding during the Hijra). Is there any Islamic basis (some actions of the Prophet) for this – that ordinary house spiders are not to be harmed?

    Also, I think in this case Allah is talking about protectors in the sense of worshiping someone besides Him or taking someone else as source of power etc. IMHO.

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    •  the sources of this narrative that a web was weaved on the cave are not authentic. and as a matter of fact Islam abides its followers not to harm any species unless its harmful or attacking……. and respect every specie as a creation of ALLAH

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  4. MashAllah! Very interesting article!!
    Check this picture out also about a spider web in Pakistan, very cool.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/01/spiderwebs-in-trees-pakistan-floods_n_843521.html

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  5. YouHaveToWatchThis

    Short and Amazing clip from BBC

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  6. Asa,

    Informative article and good video!
    Related to the spider, I recently found out that the story of Rasulullah (SAW) and Abu Bakr Siddique (RA) being saved by a spider in the cave they took refuge in after leaving Makkah is not confirmed by tafasir. This is a story that we have been taught and have passed on to our children. Can you kindly reconfirm of its authenticity or otherwise?

    JKK

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  7. Jazak Allahu khair for sharing such an insightful and relevant to my life information!
    May Allah help me to apply from what i learned here.

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  8. Jazakumallahu khairaan for a good article.

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  9. Jazakillah khair for the insightful post. Its amazing how each time you reflect on something in the Quran it is as though you have understood it the first time.
    The word ‘awliyaa’ really struck me as well after the way you explained it. Throughout life we depend on so many things / people – and think that if we have them, all the problems in our lives will be solved. But every now and then Allah shows us the weakness of all these ‘awliyaa’ and makes us realize that the only being worthy of being relied on, prayed to, sought help from is Allah – no one else, not your money, your husband, your resume, your gold card – nothing at all!

    Everything of this world can disappoint you, but your Lord will never disappoint you.
    وَلَمْ أَكُن بِدُعَائِكَ رَبِّ شَقِيًّا

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    • Yes, true.
      Hardships in life definitely reveal to the person (who believes and can therefore “see” Allah’s signs) going through them, that it is only Allah who is truly yours. Each and every other living being or tangible thing/asset is temporary and unreliable.
      Jazakillahu khair for sharing your thoughts.

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  10. salamu ‘alaikum,

    can the ayah you are reflecting upon also be used in reference to those who are not idol worshippers but (in present times) taking bayah to imams’/shuyookh as part of a tariqa or mystical order? there’s a lot of weight given to such practices in many circles today

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  11. Jzk for writing this!! When I came across the aya a month or so ago, I was really confused and didn’t understand how a spider’s web was weak. In grade school/as a kid, I was always taught that spider webs are incredibly strong, so there was a disconnect for me when I what I had believed in as a solid scientific fact since childhood was being directly opposed in the Qur’an. This tafseer/reflection on the aya has truly helped me understand and come to terms with what I learned in school and the example being used in the Qur’an. You explained it in the most perfect and clear way. It totally makes sense and now I realize that the “strength” of a spider’s web that we talked about in our science lessons is what adds to its weakness as discussed in this aya.

    Jzk!!! :)

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  12. MashaAllah, so deep. Lovely article sister Sadaf!

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  13. Great article with useful sharing video….thanks for sharing such a insightful information.

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  14. Have you ever felt that you are living in a matrix? Have you felt that you woke to a dark truth of what the reality really is? How things really are? And people around you sometime they seem like they are ostriches with their heads buried in the sand. Well, with the complete annotations of government lies and corporate media propaganda, it is easy to understand why most people live in blissful ignorance. This whole reminds me of the favourite story in philosophy that completely brings a parallel to today’s world. Plato’s fictional dialogue, the allegory of the cave and it goes like this.
    Imagine a dark cave where prisoners have lived their entire existence facing nothing but a blank wall; the prisoners are chained to be completely un mobile behind the prisoners is a walkway that separates them from a giant burning fire. The fire cast shadows on the wall and objects and people that pass in the walkway. The prisoners cannot see the walkway that the people carrying these objects. All they can see are the shadows, these shadows that they see are all that make up a prisoners reality. All their culture and knowledge is entirely based on what the shadows do.
    In the same way as we preoccupy our lives with mindless entertainment waiting for hours in traffic, sitting in cubicle staring at a computer screen doing something we lowed and stuffing our face with garbage and we do all this believing that there is no alternative. Life is nothing more than that. One day someone from the real world, the one who normally cast these shadows under the wall decides to enter the cave and free a prisoner. He unshackles him and tells him to come outside the cave. When the prisoner complies, he is first blinded by the sun and then horrified by the realisation that his entire reality was nothing more than an illusion. So Plato then poses a question? a question that is a personal challenge and innate within us all. After getting a glimpse of an ugly truth and scaring reality, would you choose to go back to the blissful ignorance? Would you be scared of the personal responsibility that will inevitably come with the truth? Or would you pursue it no matter how horrifying it may be?
    Reality is such that accepting the fact that this government kills its own people, it sacrifices us to advance the agenda of global control, military dominance, corporate profit, those are the realities that so many people choose to be blinded from, dark truth like operation North woods, government plan drafting and stage an attack to kill Americans to pre-empt a Cuban invasion in 60’s , JFK assassination, 911, or the fact that what the government tells us the safety isn’t really is. How about the fact that the corporatism rapes the earth, simply for profit without care for the sake of humanity or precious environment. And the establishment pushes the religious and political dogma onto us to stifle the collective conscientiousness from growing, one that may phase them out. But ultimately, finding the truth is up to you. The decision you have to make and nothing else will ever be more important than the decision, so do you shackle down the mind and subscribe the old school paradigms or you liberate yourself by acknowledging the reality. Sure, the world will lose its innocence but would you rather know the truth. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PLCwOeBQvK4)
    SPIDER WEB = WE ARE CONSTRUCTING OUR PRISON EVERY DAY- ONE EYED DAJJAL MATRIX= INFO BLUEPRINT= HACK= ENSLAVEMENT OF HUMANITY
    Excerpts from widely famous Movie ‘Matrix’
    BLUE PILL OR RED PILL? CHOICE IS YOURS? THIS IS YOUR LAST CHANCE..!
    You have a look of a Man who accepts what he sees, because he is expecting to wake up.. You are here into this world because you know something. What you know, you cannot explain but you feel it. You felt it in your entire life that there is something wrong in this world, you don’t know what it is but it is there; you can feel it like a splinter in your mind driving you mad.
    Matrix is all around us. It is here now, it is everywhere. It is the world that has been pulled over from your eyes to blind you from the truth. What truth?
    THAT YOU ARE A SLAVE NEO; LIKE EVERYONE ELSE YOU WERE BORN INTO A BONDAGE; BORN INTO A PRISON THAT YOU CANNOT SMELL OR TASTE OR TOUCH. A PRISON FOR YOUR MIND. UNFORTUNATELY NO ONE CAN BE TOLD WHAT THE MATRIX IS; YOU HAVE TO SEE IT FOR YOURSELF.
    Unfortunately, in today’s world, you cannot advance yourself within the career of Money and Power unless you
    1. are ruthless in your pursuit of Money and Power.
    2. do, what those who have the Power and Money do.
    Banks want me to wear my seat belt. Banks don’t see me as human life. They see me a unit of energy translated into Fractional Reserve lending. I am not a person any more. I am a credit rating. I found that I am living in an underground economy. I discovered that I am on no rent-list. I am not on any food list. I am not on this list and that list. Banks want to figure out what I am worth in Human. In order to establish a world system of slave labour, they have monopolised the energy in world that is produced through movement of goods, services, raw materials and human activity. They have measured me, what I do in life and will do in life in dollars. Through dollars they decide my fate. I have to draw a line here mate and have to say. Enough…!
    We the scientists are the cookies of data, we can cook the information in any way you want, we than provide you with unique recipes of knowledge. Whether that knowledge food is junk or real is not our problem but we certainly can guaranty that it would be a food of one sort or the other that will keep you going for some time until you start getting digestions problems or you belly starts coming out, then you will turn back to us bringing more data, which we then cook again using new tools and techniques. By the time you discover problems that we invented for you, we had already invented the next set of problematic solutions for you. We live on your problems and you live on our solutions. Long live science.

    If all modern development, education, healthcare, etc. is conspiracy, a spider’s web or matrix, an optical illusion designed to establish demographic dictatorship globally through piecewise means. Divide and rule had always been a tried and tested methodology in tiered societies. Therefore, they structured the world globally in countries and continents. While constantly centralising power they invented discrete laws in an attempt to hold loosely connected pieces together. They found the environment profoundly conducive as people were already dispersed in their religions, cultures, races and breeds and above all thinking. Thus, pea size intellect of the tiny few found opportunity in cultural, racial and religious diversity. Increasingly however, they hard wired themselves to imagine patterns across those differences which gave them an illusion of control. Through suppressing knowledge of ‘self’ and reinforcing the divides in a human intellect, they were able to control human masses to some extent. Interestingly enough, they couldn’t get their heads around to divide human consciousness which operates via hearts. What we have to do is that expose to people that there is a possibility of changing it. And showing people where their power actually is. This existing systems, structures and hierarchies are all satanic, there are based on a trusting everything except Allah. The knowledge of time is telling us that the tide is turning now. Rapid mass awakening is happening all around the world as we speak. Regardless of being dispersed or integrated, we don’t even need to think anything since our hearts will rebel automatically against existing systems, structures and hierarchies. Not quite surprisingly, emotions (such as love, honesty, justice, empathy and truthfulness) have already begun cutting the flesh of ‘too big to fail systems’ to bones. Human beings are going to weave themselves together in a fabric of collective human consciousness. Eventually, it will lead to the emergence of a brand new world in a formation never imagined before. A world where public blessings and public prays will attend; a world where glories will be motives and not the ends.
    Last but not the least,
    Allah has never put true knowledge (Hidait, understanding) on whole sale; it is a privilege for those special ones, who deserve it.

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  15. Ultimately to cooperate, but not to compromise.
    Interesting! Not to compromise is an oxymoron to cooperate.

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