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The Spider’s Web, Al-Quran Chapter : 29 (Al-Ankabut)

Al-Ankabut (The Spider) is the 29th chapter of the Quran. Historically, it was revealed to prophet Muhammad during the most critical juncture of his ministry when the trials of his followers by the Meccan chiefs were at their extremes. Thus, it represents the purest light in the wake of struggle against utmost darkness, and a comforting guidance to his companions at the crunch times, as it contains the very essence of Islamic teachings. The style of the stories related in this chapter are also of metaphorical significance due to their hermetic nature. The name of this chapter is ‘Al-Ankabut’, meaning ‘The Spider’ is actually the allegorical reference to the astrological Sun, as it travels through the twelve astrological signs forming the zodiac, or a “Spider’s house”. Since this chapter expounds the most momentous period of the early Islam, therefore, it relates the ‘astrological twilight zone’ in its stories, and the importance to deal with it through wisdom. Also, in this article I have extensively referred to the most authentic eclectic work on Islamic anecdotes called “Stories of the Prophets”, by Ibn Kathir.

The Astrological Twilight Zone

The ‘astrological twilight zone’ comprises of the rising and setting places of the Sun i.e., Aries and Libra, and the astrological signs in the immediate neighbourhood of them i.e., Pisces, Taurus, Scorpio, and Virgo. Overall the twilight zone consists of six out of the twelve signs of the zodiac. Their differences with other signs is on account of the variations in Sunlight they offer, whilst other signs perpetually remain either in total dark or light. It is important to note here certain astrological principles at work in this zone. For instance, within a twilight zone the signs with more light can overcome the signs with lesser light, and the opposite signs in the zone can restrict each other.

This chapter of the Quran was revealed around the time when prophet Muhammad was about to migrate from the city of Mecca to Medina. In the explanation of this chapter, I shall first state the narrative verses of stories that refer to the twilight zone of the zodiac, and afterwards discuss the spiritual philosophy described in this chapter.

Astrological Pisces, and the Story of Noah’s People

The verses 14–15 refer to the story of Noah. It says,

And verily we sent Noah (as Our messenger) unto his folk, and he continued with them for a thousand years save fifty years; and the flood engulfed them, for they were wrong-doers. (14)

And We rescued him and those with him in the ship, and made of it a portent for the peoples. (15)

Noah refers to the sign of Pisces. According to the Muslim lore narrated by Ibn Kathir, Noah had admonished his people from the worship of Idols, but they refused to heed his warnings. Then Noah made a ship in the midst of land, where alongside the passengers he gathered all sorts of animals and plants. His predictions of flood came true and that destroyed everything on the land, except those on board at his ship.

The idols in the above story are an allegorical reference to the ‘Virgin’ symbol of Virgo (the sign opposite to Pisces), and the land that was inundated is the element ‘earth’ of Virgo; whilst the flooding represents the ‘water’ element of Pisces, and the surviving ship of Noah is allegorical to the ‘fish’ symbol of Pisces.

Astrological Libra, and the Story of Abraham’s People

The verses 16–27 in the chapter refer to the story of Abraham. Here, I shall state only two of these verses for the purpose of explanation.

And Abraham! (Remember) when he said unto his folk: Serve Allah, and keep your duty unto Him; that is better for you if ye did but know. (16)

But the answer of his folk was only that they said: “Kill him” or “Burn him.” Then Allah saved him from the Fire. Lo! herein verily are portents for folk who believe. (24)

Abraham (Libra) also contended with his people against their practice of idol worship (the Virgo trait). Since Libra possesses more light in the twilight zone than Virgo, Abraham refused to worship the idols, and overcame his people by using diplomatic arguments (the Libra trait). Now Abraham’s people still tested him against the ‘fire’, which is the element of the opposite sign Aries. But Abraham being a true Libra, withstood the trial of fire without any hurt.

Astrological Scorpio, and the Story of Lot’s People (Sodom)

The verses 28–35 in the chapter refer to the story of Sodom. According to the Muslim lore in Ibn Kathir, people in the town of Sodom were sexual perverts. The Quran states, and here I quote only selected verses from the story.

And Lot! (Remember) when he said unto his folk: Lo! ye commit lewdness such as no creature did before you. (28)

For come ye not in unto males, and cut ye not the road (for travellers), and commit ye not abomination in your meetings ? But the answer of his folk was only that they said: Bring Allah’s doom upon us if thou art a truthteller! (29)

He said: My Lord! Give me victory over folk who work corruption. (30)

Lo! We are about to bring down upon the folk of this township a fury from the sky because they are evil-livers. (34)

Appropriately dealing with ones sexuality is a Scorpio trait. People of Sodom failed in that, and therefore, according to Ibn Kathir were punished by the showers of stone pellets (representing the element earth of opposite sign Taurus) falling from the sky, and also the land of their town was turned upside down.

Astrological Taurus, and the Story of Midian People

The verses 36–37 in the chapter refer to the story of Midian. The people of Midian were very greedy, and therefore used to cheat or embezzle others in business deals. According to the lore from Ibn Kathir, messenger Shu’eyb asked them to keep the balance straight while weighing merchandise, but they refused. The Quran states in the chapter,

And unto Midian We sent Shu’eyb, their brother. He said: O my people! Serve Allah, and look forward to the Last Day, and do not evil, making mischief, in the earth. (36)

But they denied him, and the dreadful earthquake took them, and morning found them prostrate in their dwelling place. (37)

Material wealth is a trait of the sign Taurus. Though Midian people were wealthy, but still stingy and greedy. As a result, the element earth of Taurus gave away from beneath them, and the town got destroyed due to the earthquake (trait of the opposite sign Scorpio).

Astrological Virgo, and the Stories of A’ad and Thamud

The verse 38 in the chapter refers to the stories of A’ad and Thamud. According to the lore in Ibn Kathir, they were two tribes of excellent craftsmen (Virgo trait). Those people were strong, tall, and used to hue their houses out of mountains and rocks. They eventually also used their strength and skills to carve idols to worship them. The Quran states,

And (the tribes of) A’ad and Thamud! (Their fate) is manifest unto you from their (ruined and deserted) dwellings. Satan made their deeds seem fair unto them and so debarred them from the Way, though they were keen observers. (38)

It is mentioned in Ibn Kathir that when people of A’ad (Virgo) refused the warnings of prophet Hud, they initially suffered from a severe drought (absence of element water of the opposite sign Pisces), followed by a hurricane (element air of the brighter sign Libra) that utterly destroyed them.

People of Thamud when denied the prophet Salih, were destroyed by thunderbolts (Pisces), and followed by earthquakes (the element earth of Virgo).

Astrological Aries, and the Story of Pharaoh

The verse 39 in the chapter refers to the story of Pharaoh. Ibn Kathir deals with the stories of Pharaoh and his cronies at considerable lengths, but the following verse mentions two of his ministers alongside Pharaoh. The verse also states that Pharaoh was proud and egotist (the Aries traits), and he misused his powers which eventually resulted in the fall of Pharaoh.

And Korah, Pharaoh and Haman! Moses came unto them with clear proofs (of Allah’s Sovereignty), but they were boastful in the land. And they were not winners (in the race). (39)

Korah was the finance minister (Taurus trait) of Pharaoh, and therefore got swallowed by the earth (the element of Taurus). Pharaoh and his secretary Haman represented Aries, so were drowned by the water element of Pisces (the brighter sign of the twilight zone).

Balance of Elements in the Twilight Zone

The verse 40 of the chapter relates the consequences of disturbing the elemental balance in nature. It says,

So We took each one in his sin; of them was he on whom We sent a hurricane, and of them was he who was overtaken by the (Awful) Cry, and of them was he whom We caused the earth to swallow, and of them was he whom We drowned. It was not for Allah to wrong them, but they wronged themselves. (40)

Here, the hurricane represents the disturbance in the element ‘air’; the ‘awful cry’ can also be translated as a strong blast or explosion, which is akin to the element ‘fire’; earthquakes represent trouble in the element ‘earth’, and floods or deluges represent turbulence in the element ‘water’. The verse ends by saying that people only cause trouble for themselves by not living with wisdom, and because the function of human intelligence is to keep themselves psychologically in balance alongside their physical environments.

The mention of the prophets in each of the stories, and the importance to follow their guidance is symbolic of the element ‘spirit’. When spirit rules the material elements than there exists the harmony, balance, and peace in the world, and humanity stays away from all forms of corruptions such as vanity (idol worship), greed, lust, and pride. But once spirituality is abandoned in human existence, it leaves a fertile ground for vices to breed. Therefore, it is extremely necessary to guard against iniquitous behaviours. The Quran states in verses 41–44 the importance of being judicious in life.

The likeness of those who choose other patrons than Allah is as the likeness of the spider when she taketh unto herself a house, and lo! the frailest of all houses is the spider’s house, if they but knew. (41)

Lo! Allah knoweth what thing they invoke instead of Him. He is the Mighty, the Wise. (42)

As for these similitudes, We coin them for mankind, but none will grasp their meaning save the wise. (43)

Allah created the heavens and the earth with truth. Lo! therein is indeed a portent for believers. (44)

In verse 41, the spider’s house is a metaphor for the zodiac. It says that to keep ones consciousness in balance is very tricky and requires great spiritual wisdom. The verse 43 suggests that wise people would understand the importance of this message.

The End Note

I should conclude this article by quoting a couple of initial verses from this chapter. I hope the reader would have found it revealing and useful.

Do men imagine that they will be left (at ease) because they say, We believe, and will not be tested with affliction? Lo! We tested those who were before you. Thus Allah knoweth those who are sincere, and knoweth those who feign. Al-Quran (29:2–3)