Reflections on Spider Houses in the Quran

I was never afraid of spiders as a child.

Even though I lived in a place that is home to almost every type of spider known to man, I never met a spider other than the super tiny spiders that jump around and would only hurt a fly.

I never watched arachnophobia, but heard it referenced all the time, and wondered how people could be afraid of those tiny jumping things.

I just didn’t get it. That was until I moved to another city and met face to face the huge, scary, venomous kinds of spiders that truly evoke fear. Then I totally got it.

Interestingly enough, the first time I met a terrifying spider was also around the first time in my life that I heard of the chapter in the Quran called Al-Ankabut, or The Spider. I had only been Muslim for a few months. So armed with my new found faith and my new found fear, I sat down to ponder the chapter of the Quran. I guess I was hoping to learn more about this creepy, eight-legged monster so that I could reduce my fear.

I ended up loving the chapter named after the spider and specifically verse 41:

{The parable of those who take protectors other than God 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)

I was captured by this statement of Allah.

The House as a Structure

I sat stuck on the verse. I knew that the spider builds its home out of silk that forms a web. And this silk has been studied and found to be one of the strongest naturally occurring material in this world. One thread of spider silk is stronger than most kinds of steel.

According to NOVA, “newly discovered Darwin’s bark spider of Madagascar […] builds one of the largest webs known. The silk of this spider is twice as strong as other spider silks, ranking it among biological materials with the highest tensile strength and toughness known”.

The material is so strong, scientists are trying to replicate its structure to make body armor and more protective materials from it. This was amazing to me. I doubted that the Arabs in the 7th century during the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) knew of the comparable strength of spider silk. And here is a parable telling humankind that what the creation thinks is strong and protecting is nothing compared to Allah’s protection.

So many of us think that we can protect ourselves with money, power, etc. and that these are firm and trustworthy structures of security. But just like we see time and time again the spider’s web blowing in the wind, we find these sources of security utterly failing. Truly in Allah can we find the only safety, the best protection.

The House as a Family

But then I researched the verse further and found that not only is the house referring to the material structure it can also be viewed as referring to the family structure of the spider. The spider family is utterly destructive.

It is well known that the female spider, and most notably the Black Widow, often eats her mate after or even during copulation.

According to wikipedia, these homicidal tendencies run deep in the spider’s nature. Sometimes even male spiders “cull” older females who are less fertile than their young counterparts, and offspring have been known to eat their mother.

This is indeed a flimsy house, built upon aggression and cannibalism. We often think we can find the most safety and protection from our families. But the security Allah provides is far better and more lasting. So much so that even our houses that are a safe haven for us in comparison to Allah’s protection is nothing.

This verse reaffirmed my faith that Allah is the most high, all competent, and all wise. To put forth such a parable that can have so many layers and meaning is amazing to me. To make the human being really think about how we view the life of this world and all the helpers we seek out other than Allah is profoundly moving … if we just think.

This verse reminds me that shirk (idolatry) can sneak into our lives in the subtlest of ways. It can creep in by just putting more faith in the creation than we do in the Creator.

It reminds me every day that this world is flimsy, fleeting, like a dream.

Even the strongest of the creation is utterly flimsy compared to Allah’s promise. And even the protection of our own families can never compare to Allah’s protection and provision.

About Theresa Corbin
Theresa Corbin is the author of The Islamic, Adult Coloring Book and co-author of The New Muslim’s Field Guide. Corbin is a French-creole American and Muslimah who converted in 2001. She holds a BA in English Lit and is a writer, editor, and graphic artist who focuses on themes of conversion to Islam, Islamophobia, women's issues, and bridging gaps between peoples of different faiths and cultures. She is a regular contributor for AboutIslam.net and Al Jumuah magazine. Her work has also been featured on CNN and Washington Post, among other publications. Visit her blog, islamwich, where she discusses the intersection of culture and religion.