This sūrah, comprising 69 verses, was revealed in Makkah at a time when the believers were being subject to severe persecutions. It takes its name from the word al-‘ankabūt (“the spider”) in verse 41, implying the frailty of false beliefs, and encouraging the believers to show patience and resistance. The sūrah, which also threatens the rebellious polytheists with an evil end, puts forth irrefutable arguments for God’s Oneness and the afterlife.
- Alif. Lam. Mim.
- Do people reckon that they will be left (to themselves at ease) on their mere saying, “We believe,” and will not be put to a test?
- We certainly tested those who preceded them. (This is Our unchanging way) so that God will certainly mark out those who prove true (in their profession of faith), and He will certainly mark out those who prove false.1
- See 2: 155–157 and the corresponding notes 121, and 122.
- Or do those who do evil deeds (and persecute the believers) reckon that they can frustrate Us and escape Our punishment? How evil is the judgment they have reached!
- Whoever looks forward to meeting with God, the term set by God (for His meeting) will certainly come. He is the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing.2
2. God is He Who hears whatever people utter openly or within themselves, and He knows them fully in every state, all their intentions and deeds, and with all that they reveal and all that they keep concealed. Nothing escapes Him. Mentioning God in this verse with these two Names is both a glad tiding to those who are sincere in their belief and expectations, and a warning to those who are not sincere, as well as to the unbelievers.
- And whoever strives hard (against his carnal, evil-commanding soul and Sa- tan to be a good Muslim and to resist all persecutions in God’s cause) strives for the good of his own soul only. Surely God is Self-Sufficient in absolute inde- pendence of all the worlds.
- Those who believe and (in striving hard to be good Muslims) do good, righ- teous deeds, We will most certainly blot out from them their evil deeds, and will
most certainly reward them in accordance with the best of what they used to do.
- (As the requirement for being good Muslims) We have enjoined on human to be kind and good to his parents; but if they endeavor to make you associate with Me anything as partner, about whose being so you impossibly have no knowl- edge, do not obey them. To Me is your return, so I will make you understand what you were doing (and call you to account for it).
- Those who believe and do good, righteous deeds, We will most certainly in- clude them among the righteous (who enter Paradise).
- Among the people are such as say, “We believe in God,” but when (such a person) is subjected to persecution (for his confession of faith) in God, he con- strues persecution at the hands of people as God’s punishment (and rejects his faith); but if a victory comes from your Lord (to the believers), (such people) will most certainly say, “Surely we have always been with you.” Or (do they think that) God is not fully aware of what is in the bosoms of all creatures (that He created)?
- God will most certainly mark out those who truly believe and He will most certainly mark out the hypocritical ones.
- Those who disbelieve say to those who believe: “If you follow our way (of religion and life), we will take your sins upon us, yet they cannot take upon them anything of their sins. They are liars indeed.
- They will most certainly have to bear their own burdens, and other burdens together with their own;3 and, most certainly, they will be called to account on the Day of Resurrection for what they were busy fabricating (against God and other truths of faith).
3. The burdens these people will have to bear besides their own are the burdens of those whom they have misled (16: 25), and of those who follow the evil path they have estab- lished. God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, declared: “Those who establish a good path in Islam receive the reward of those who follow it, without any decrease in their (own) reward. Those who establish an evil path in Islam are burdened with the sins of those who follow it, without any decrease in their (own) burden” (Muslim, “Zakāh,” 69; Ibn Mājah, “Muqaddimah,” 203).
- Indeed, We sent Noah to his people (as Messenger), and he remained among them a thousand years save fifty years, and in the end the Flood overtook them as they were wrongdoers (who persisted in associating partners with God and committing grave injustices).
- Yet We saved him and those who were together with him on the Ark, and We made this event as an exemplary sign (full of lessons) for all the people (to come after).
- And Abraham, too, (We sent as Messenger). He said to his people (in con- veying this message): “Worship God alone and keep from disobedience to Him in reverence for Him and piety. Doing so is the best for you, if you would know (the truth of the matter).
- “You worship only idols instead of God, and thus you invent a mere false- hood (by deifying some things and beings such that it is impossible for them to be Deity). Surely those (beings whom you deify and make statues of, and idols)4 that you worship instead of God do not have power to provide for you; so seek all your provision from God, and worship Him and be thankful to Him. To Him you are being brought back.”
4. The pronoun used in the verse and translated as those is the pronoun used for living beings. So this shows that, as in all the polytheistic societies, the idols or statutes usually represented some beings whom people respected and then exalted and deified, such as angels, jinn, Prophets, heroes, or statesmen. The Prophet Abraham, upon him be peace, meant both those beings represented by idols and the idols themselves. Later generations began to forget the beings whose statues were made for deification, and rather came to deify and worship the statues themselves. However, besides some beings, people would personify many powers or things, such as spirits and “forces of nature,” and attribute God’s power or acts to many false deities or adopt many deities, to each of which they would as- sign a Divine act or power. We should note that paganism or idol-worship has not ceased. It continues in many explicit or implicit forms.
- If you deny Our Messenger, know that many communities before you de- nied (the Messengers sent to them, but their denial was of no avail to them). What rests with the Messenger is no more than to convey the Message fully and clearly.
- Have they not considered how God originates creation in the first instance, and then reproduces it? This is indeed easy for God.
- Say: “Go about on the earth and see how God originated creation. Then God will bring forth the other (second) creation (in the form of the Hereafter).5 Surely God has full power over everything.
5. For an explanation of this statement and the statement, God originates creation in the first instance, and reproduces it, in the previous verse, see 21: 104, note 25. While this verse
(20) is about the initial creation of the entire universe and resurrection after death, the previous one must be the uninterrupted and ever-renewed process of creation (see 55: 29, note 11), and the instances of death (in winter) and revival (in spring) which take place every year.
- (He will bring forth the Hereafter, where) He punishes whom He wills and has mercy on whom He wills.6 To Him you are being returned.
6. This verse indicates God’s absolute Will, Justice and special compassion, as explained in several places (sūrah 4: 79, note 18; sūrah 15, note 17; sūrah 17: 54, note 23; sūrah 24: 38, note 25).
- You cannot frustrate Him (in the execution of His Will, even if you pen- etrate the depths) in the earth or in the heaven. And you have none to protect you, and none to help you, except God.7
7. This verse both awakens the fear of humankind in order to discourage us from rebellion against God, and embraces us, calling humankind to God by reminding us that it is only God Who can protect and help us in any case.
- Those who disbelieve in the signs of God (in the universe and in themselves) and His Revelations, and in the meeting with Him (in the Hereafter) – they have no hope and expectation of a share in My Mercy. (God has forbidden them Paradise.) And for them there is a painful punishment.8
8. The verses 18–23 are implicit allusions to the Makkan unbelievers and to all humankind through Abraham’s account. From here on, the Qur’ān will proceed by relating Abraham’s encounter with his people.
- But the response of his (Abraham’s) people was only to say: “Kill him, or burn him,” but God saved him from the fire (that they kindled to burn him). Surely in this are signs (important lessons) for people who will believe and who will deepen in faith.
- He (Abraham) said to them: “You have taken to yourselves idols to worship instead of God, for no other reason than to have a bond of love and attachment between you only in the life of this world. But then, on the Day of Resurrection, you will deny one another (disowning any relation between you), and curse one another.9 Your final refuge will be the Fire, and you will have no helpers.
9. The disavowal mentioned in the verse is similar to that found in the verses: No indeed! Those (whom they deified – beings such as angels, jinn, Prophets, saints, and heroes, etc.) will deny their worship of them and turn against them as adversaries (on Judgment Day) (19: 82).
At that time, those who were followed (in the world, as the elders, heads, or leaders, and who were loved as God is loved), will disown those who followed them and declare them- selves innocent of their evil deeds; they will see the punishment and that the relations between them are cut off (2: 166).
And the curse is like that which is mentioned in the verse: He (God) says: “enter in com-
pany with the communities of jinn and humankind that went before you into the Fire!” every time a community enters the Fire, it curses its fellow-community (that went before it) – so much so that, when they all have gathered there one after another, those who came later say of those who came earlier: “Our Lord! Those are the ones who led us astray: give them, therefore, double suffering through fire!” He (God) says: “For each is double (since those who went earlier both strayed themselves and led others astray, and those who came later both strayed themselves and imitated the others blindly), but you do not know.” Then, the preceding ones among them say to the succeeding ones: “You are in no wise superior to us, so taste the punishment for all (the sins) that you were busy earning (through your belief and deeds)!” (7: 38–39)
- Lot believed in him, and he (Abraham) said: “I am emigrating to my Lord (leaving my land and people for a place where I can practice my Religion). Sure- ly, He is the All-Glorious with irresistible might (whomever He helps cannot be debased, and whomever He preserves does not fail), the All-Wise (in whatever He does and decrees there are many instances of wisdom).
- We bestowed upon him (a son) Isaac and (a grandson) Jacob, and caused Prophethood and the revelation of the Book to continue among his offspring, and We granted him his reward in this world, also;10 and he surely is among the righteous in the Hereafter.
10. God put the Prophet Abraham, upon him be peace, through tremendous tests, and he fulfilled them all, bearing many hardships purely for God’s good pleasure. So God made him a leader for people and also appointed leaders among his offspring (2: 124). He abso- lutely purified his household (3: 33), and granted them (including the progeny of Ishmael, proceeding from him, as well as that of Isaac, upon them both be peace) a mighty dominion in both the material and spiritual realm (4: 54). God also granted Abraham, upon him be peace, a good, blessed life in the world after his emigration for His sake (16: 122).
- And Lot too (We sent as Messenger). He said (to his people in conveying this message): “Indeed you (the men of this whole community) commit an inde- cency such as none people in all the world has have ever done before you.
- (After such severe warnings of God) will you continue to go come to men with lust, waylay (travelers) on the road (especially male travelers), and commit shameful deeds in your assemblies? The response of his people was only that they said (mocking and challenging him): “Bring down upon us the punishment of God with which you threaten us, if you are truthful!”
- He (Lot) said (in supplication): “My Lord, help me against these people given to spreading corruption.”
- And so, when Our (heavenly) envoys came to Abraham with the glad tid- ings (of the birth of Isaac),11 they said to him: “We are going to destroy the
people of that township, for its people are wrongdoers (who exceed all bounds in indecency).”
11. See sūrah 11: 69–71.
- He said: “But Lot is there.” They said: “We know very well who is there. We will certainly save him and his family (by allowing them to leave the place), except his wife, who (as has been decreed) is among those who will stay behind (and be destroyed).”
- And when Our messengers came to Lot, he was troubled on their account and felt himself powerless to protect them. They said: “Do not be worried, nor be grieved. We are going to save you and your family except your wife who (as has been decreed) is among those who will stay behind (and be destroyed).
- “We are going to bring down on the people of this township a scourge from the sky because they have persistently been transgressing (all bounds of decency and equity).”
- Assuredly We have left behind a clear sign for a people who use theirwill reason and understand.
- And to Midian We sent their brother Shu‘ayb (as Messenger), and he said (to them in conveying this message): “O my people! Worship God alone and be prepared for the Last Day (in certain expectation that you will be asked to account for all your deeds in the world), and do not go about acting wickedly in the land, causing disorder and corruption.”
- But they denied him, and in consequence a shocking catastrophe seized them, so that they lay prostrate (and lifeless) in their dwellings.
- And the Ād and Thamūd – (their fate) is manifest to you from their dwell- ings (still lying in ruins). Satan decked out their (evil) deeds to be appealing to them, and so debarred them from the right way,12 though they were intelligent (enough to see the truth).
12. Satan can only try to kindle an inclination to evil within a person’s heart in order to convince them that the deed to which they have been aroused is a good thing. He has no power to force a person to do something. A person follows Satan’s call out of his or her free will and under the influence of his or her carnal desires or material interests or because of arrogance or certain racial, ideological, or religious prejudices. A person’s being able to see the truth is not usually enough for him or her to follow the truth, unless he or she is saved from the influence of such deviating factors.
- And Korah, Pharaoh, and Haman – indeed Moses came to them with clear
proofs of the truth, but they were arrogant and oppressive in the land. Yet they could not outrun (Our punishment).
- each of them (of the communities mentioned), We seized in their sins. Of them are those upon whom We sent a hurricane (of stones); and of them are those whom the awful blast seized; and of them is him whom We caused to be swallowed by the earth; and of them those whom We caused to drown.13 God would never wrong them, but it was they who wronged themselves.
13. Those upon whom God sent a hurricane of stones were the tribe of Ād, who were de- stroyed in a sandstorm which lasted seven nights and eight days (7: 72; 11: 58; 23: 27; 26: 120; 69: 7), and the people of Lot, upon him be peace, upon whom an evil rain of stones was sent (7: 84; 11: 82–83; 15: 73–74). Those whom the awful blast seized were the tribe of Thamūd (7: 78; 11: 67; 15: 83; 69: 6), and the people of Shu‘ayb, upon him be peace (7: 91; 11: 94; 26: 189). The one whom God caused to be swallowed by the earth was Korah (28: 81), and those whom God caused to drown were the people of Noah, upon him be peace (7: 64; 11: 42–44), as well as Pharaoh, Hāmān, and their hosts (10: 90; 20: 77–78; 26: 65–66).
- The parable of those who take to them other than God for guardians (to entrust their affairs to) is like a spider: it has made for itself a house, and surely the frailest of houses is the spider’s house.14 If only they knew this!
14. This comparison has, in fact, two meanings: (1) Whoever relies on something other than God, it is as if he were relying on or taking refuge in a spider’s web. (2) A spider’s web is formed of numerous fine threads, yet it easily catches weak creatures, such as flies; the unbelievers can easily hunt people who are as weak as a fly in spirit and willpower. The traps they build have many threads to catch their victims, such as addiction to comfort, love of position and money, lusts, ego-centeredness, racial prejudices, etc.
- God surely knows what they deify and invoke apart from Him and that their doing so is not based on any truth. He is the All-Glorious with irresistible might (Who never accepts any partner in Divinity, Lordship and Sovereignty), the All-Wise (in Whose creation and rule there are many instances of wisdom).
- Those parables – We strike them for people (so that they may see the truth and mend their ways). But none reasons to understand (their true meaning and purpose) save the knowledgeable.
- He has created the heavens and the earth with truth (meaningfully, and for definite, wise purposes, and on solid foundations of truth). Surely in this is a sign for the believers.15
15. The Qur’ān reiterates that only those who believe or are disposed to believe can grasp the meaning and purposes in creation and God’s signs in it. This is of great significance because of the following examples, as expounded by Said Nursi:
The value of the iron (or other material) from which a work of art is made differs from the value of the art expressed in it. The art’s worth is far more than its material. An antique may fetch as much as a million dollars, while its material is not even worth a few cents. If taken to an antiques market, it may be sold for its true value, because of the skill involved and the fame of the artist. If taken to a blacksmith, it will only attain its scrap value.
Similarly, each person is a unique, priceless work of God Almighty’s art. We are the most delicate and graceful miracles of His Power, beings created to manifest all His Names and inscriptions as unique specimen of the universe. If we are illuminated with faith, these meaningful inscriptions become visible. Believers manifest these inscriptions through their connection with their Maker, for the Divine art contained in each person is revealed through such affirmations as: “I am the work of the Majestic Maker, the creature and ob- ject of His Mercy and Munificence.” As a result, and because we gain value in proportion to how well we reflect this art, we move from insignificance (in material terms) to beings ranked above all creatures. We address God, we are His guests on earth, and we are quali- fied for Paradise.
But if unbelief is ingrained in us, all of the Divine Names’ manifestations are veiled by dark- ness and, thus, non-expressive. If the Artist is unknown, how can the aspects that express the value of His art be identified? Thus, the most meaningful instances of that sublime art and elevated inscription are concealed. In material terms, unbelievers attribute such art and inscription to trivial causes, nature, and chance, thereby reducing them to plain glass instead of sparkling diamonds. They are no more significant than any other material entity, self-condemned to a transient and suffocating life, and no better than the most impotent, needy, and afflicted animal that eventually will become dust. Unbelief thus spoils our nature by changing our diamond into coal.
Just as faith illuminates human beings and reveals all the messages inscribed in their being by the eternally-Besought-of-All, it also illuminates the universe and removes darkness from the past and future. It displays all things and beings in their true worth coming from their connection with their Maker. But unbelief shows them only as physical entities mov- ing toward eternal non-existence (See The Words, “The 23rd Word,” 328).
- Recite and convey to them what is revealed to you of the Book, and establish the Prayer in conformity with its conditions. Surely, the Prayer restrains from all that is indecent and shameful, and all that is evil. Surely God’s remembrance is the greatest (of all types of worship and not restricted to the Prayer). God knows all that you do.
- Do not argue with those who were given the Book save in the best way, unless it be those of them who are given to wrongdoing (and, therefore, not ac- cessible to courteous argument).16 Say (to them): “We believe in what has been sent down to us and what was sent down to you, and your God and our God is one and the same. We are Muslims wholly submitted to Him.”
16. This verse, which must have been revealed during the migration to Abyssinia, teaches Muslims how they should behave toward the People of the Book. In fact, this manner is the
general way in which the Muslims must behave in their relationship with the followers of other faiths. They must convey Islam with gentle words and in a mild manner. If, however, those addressed show a harsh reaction, then the Muslims must avoid disputation with them (See 16: 125, note 29; 22: 67–68).
- It is in this way (upon the principle of submission to God and as a confirma- tion of all the previous Books and Prophets) that We have sent down the Book to you. So those who were given the Book before (and are sincere with respect to the Divine Revelation) believe in it, and among those (people of Makkah, also) there are some who believe in it. None could oppose and reject Our Revelations except unbelievers (those who knowingly cover them with falsehood).
- You did not (O Messenger) read of any book before it (the revelation of this Qur’an), nor did you write one with your right (or left) hand. For then those who have ever sought to disprove the truth might have a reason to doubt (it).
- It (the Qur’an) is indeed self-evident, enlightening Revelations (revealed by God and so able to impress themselves) in the hearts of those endowed with knowledge. None oppose and reject them except wrongdoers (those who cannot determine with justice and so act arrogantly in response to them).
- They say: “Why have no miraculous signs been sent down on him from his Lord?” Say: “The miraculous signs are but at the Will and in the Power of only God. I am but a plain warner (with no freedom and power to be able to do whatever I wish).”
- Is it not enough for them (as a miraculous sign) that We have sent down to you the Book which is recited to them? Surely in it there is great mercy and (instructive) reminder for a people who believe.
- Say: “God suffices as a witness between me and you. He knows whatever is in the heavens and on the earth. As for those who believe in the falsehood and disbelieve in God (by rejecting His Revelation and Messenger), they are the los- ers (who have ruined themselves).”
- They challenge you to hasten the punishment (with which they are threat- ened by God). Had it not been for the term appointed by God, the punishment would have come upon them (already).17And it will come upon them all of a sudden, when they are unaware.
17. For an explanation and similar verses, see 7: 34, note 10; 10: 98, note 20; 18: 58.
- They challenge you to hasten the punishment (with which they are threat- ened by God). Surely Hell will encompass the unbelievers (with the reasons for
them to enter it,18 and it is bound to have them in it).
18. That is, unbelief and evil deeds are the reasons for entering Hell, and the unbelievers are bound to go into it. Secondly, as faith bears in itself the seed of Paradise, unbelief bears the seed of Hell and is, in fact, a manifestation of Hell in the heart of the unbelievers.
- On that Day the suffering will overwhelm them from above them and from beneath their feet, and (God) will say to them: “Taste now what you used to do (in the world)!”
- O My servants who believe (but are prevented from living according to your belief )! My earth is vast, so worship Me alone.19
19. That is, you can search for, and emigrate to, another place where you can worship Me without associating any partners with Me.
- every soul is bound to taste death,20 and then to Us you will be brought back.
20. For comment, see 21: 35, note 5.
- Those who believe and do good, righteous deeds, We will most certainly lodge them in high, lofty mansions in Paradise through which rivers flow, there- in to abide. How excellent is the reward of those who always do good deeds!
- They are patient (in the face of the adversities they suffer for the sake of wor- shipping God only), and in their Lord they put their trust (expecting no support from any other power or authority).
- How many a living creature there is that does not carry its own provision (in store), but God provides for them,21 and indeed for you. He is the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing.22
- For an explanation of God’s providing for creatures, see 11: 6, note 1.
- That is, you have no reason to fear for your sustenance when you emigrate to another land in order to be able to live according to your faith. There are many creatures that do not store up their provision for the future nor carry it with them. Just as God provides for them, He also provides for you and will continue to do so, because He hears all the petitions made to Him and knows all the needs of His creatures.
- If you ask them, “Who is it that has created the heavens and the earth, and made the sun and the moon subservient to His order (thereby sustaining life)?” they will most certainly say, “God.” How then are they (who oppose this Revela- tion) turned away from the truth and make false claims?
- God enlarges provision for whom He wills of His servants, and straitens it (for whom He wills). Surely God has full knowledge of everything.
- If you ask them, “Who is it that sends down water from the sky, and revives with it the earth after its death?” they will most certainly say, “God.” Say (you, also): “All praise and gratitude are for God.” But most of them do not use their reason (to know the truth and distinguish it from falsehood).
- The present, worldly life is nothing but a pastime and play,23 but the abode of the Hereafter is truly alive.24 If they but knew.
- For more on “the present, worldly life,” see 6, note 5.
- For the liveliness of the abode of the Hereafter, see 25: 12, note 4.
- When they embark on a ship (and find themselves in danger), they call upon God sincerely believing in Him alone (as the only Deity, Lord, and Sovereign). But when He brings them safe to land—see, they begin again to associate part- ners with God!25
25. This reality is not only restricted to when one encounters a danger in the sea. The dan- ger at sea is a metaphor used for perilous conditions one finds oneself in. Almost everyone experiences this several times in their life. In such conditions people—whether they are atheists, agnostics, or polytheists—discover God in the depth of their conscience, and call upon God only, without even remembering other so-called deities or powers. So their de- nial of God or associating partners with Him is the denial of their inner profession of God and implies self-contradiction.
- And so let them show ingratitude for all that We have granted them, and so let them give themselves up to the enjoyment of the worldly life; but they will come to know.
- Do they not consider that We have established (them in) a secure sanctuary while people are ravaged all around them? (How then) do they believe in false- hood and (show such ingratitude as) to disbelieve in God’s greatest blessing (of the Qur’an and Islam)?
- Who is more in the wrong than he who fabricates falsehood in attribution to God or denies the truth when it has come to him? Is there not a dwelling in Hell for the unbelievers?!
- Those (on the other hand) who strive hard for Our sake, We will most certainly guide them to Our ways (that We have established to lead them to salvation). Most assuredly, God is with those devoted to doing good, aware that God is seeing them.