Spiders belong to a species of insects who live both in the wild and with humans in their homes and workplaces. What makes them distinct from other eight-legged creepy crawlies is their silky geometrical webs which have fascinated us for generations, as something extraordinary and awe inspiring. Few insects resemble spiders in their weave and workmanship.
Spiders’ webs are by themselves a strange phenomenon. Though they look very similar, no two webs are exactly alike. There are about 130 known different types of spiders’ webs. Spiders’ webs come in different shapes and sizes. There are spiral orb webs, funnel type webs, the most popularly known cobwebs, mesh webs, sheet webs, and webs with extend thread lines to trap insects. Spiders’ webs are very strong, having a tensile strength of up to 1.75 gigapascals (GPa) or about 178 kilograms per square millimeter in cross-section. Spiders’ webs are made of secretions from their tiny silk glands located under their abdomen. Male and female spiders have different silk glands that produce about three to four different types of silky fiber.
A spider’s silk fiber is highly elastic up to 300% and is capable of withstanding massive impact from a flying object such as a honeybee. Spiders’ webs have unique engineering properties of strength and flexibility in comparison with other fibers, including Kevlar, the toughest man-made polymer. A spider’s web is five times stronger than steel of the same diameter. A strand of spider silk weighing 0.45 kilogram can be stretched to circle the entire globe without requiring a knot. A spider’s silk is rich in vitamin K and can be used as a bandage on wounds.
A spider’s web is finer than human hair. It is sticky in the central part of the web where the prey is caught but its spokes are not sticky. Spiders’ webs lose their stickiness after a couple of days due to air pollution. To save energy and proteins, a spider eats its own web before making a new one in a different or same place. That’s why most of the time spiders don’t just sit idle, they are busy weaving webs. Spiders’ webs have caught the imagination of chemists for years as they continue to discover new properties of spiders’ webs and apply it in manufacturing artificial fibers.
A spider’s web is its home. It lives inside its home building it, destroying it and rebuilding it again and again.
One might wonder with such fascinating information about a spider’s web, why Allah has called a spider’s web the weakest of homes in the holy Quan.
مَثَلُ ٱلَّذِینَ ٱتَّخَذُوا۟ مِن دُونِ ٱللَّهِ أَوۡلِیَاۤءَ كَمَثَلِ ٱلۡعَنكَبُوتِ ٱتَّخَذَتۡ بَیۡتࣰاۖ وَإِنَّ أَوۡهَنَ ٱلۡبُیُوتِ لَبَیۡتُ ٱلۡعَنكَبُوتِۚ لَوۡ كَانُوا۟ یَعۡلَمُونَ
Translation: Those who take protectors other than Allah can be compared to spiders building themselves houses; the spider’s is the frailest of all houses- if only they could understand.” [Surah Al-Ankabut -29, Ayah 41].
Let us look at the spider’s web from another perspective. A spider spends lots of time and energy to make a home, but the final product of its hard work is a flimsy structure with no entrance, no exit, no shelter, and no depth. The spider is not at fault for building such a home, but it is at fault in taking this weak structure as its home.
As a spider is not a strong creature, its home is also not a fortress. In its home, a spider cannot protect itself from heat, cold, rain, pests, and predators. It cannot withstand a snow or wind storm. Just as the home of a spider is weak in comparison with other homes, idol worship is a weak religion in comparison with monotheism.
A spider’s home has no foundation, no walls and no roof and it cannot hold items inside it. Likewise, the infidel has no roof over him. He has no foundation or structure to stand on. He only relies on observation and delusion, not on facts and knowledge.
A spider does not have a fixed home. It keeps shifting and changing places. So is the idol worshipper who keeps wandering and changing his goalposts.
It is also an empty house in which there is nothing except design and deception. The irony cannot be greater because the spider builds its home on mountains, caves, and stone works (all symbols of strength) and yet it does not know that the home it builds with the proverbial sweat and blood is not safe. When a spider needs its home most for protection against predators, it is not sufficient to even hide it from their sight. What a beautiful example it is to show how the idol worshippers tie their barges of hope on the altars of false gods when the latter are themselves totally helpless and unable to protect themselves, let alone their followers.
A spider’s web is found mostly in corners of walls and other places. So is the path of the unbeliever and idol worshipper. Such a person relies on secrecy and hypocrisy compared to a Muslim whose religion is a transparent path and it cuts no corners.
A spider’s web represents greed, deception, and materialism. It is built with the intention to trap other insects and take their lives. The religion of an idol worshipper is also built on deception and takes him to destruction. A Muslim on the other hand builds his faith on honesty, truth, pursuit of knowledge and serving humanity.
Just as a spider’s home is unable to protect itself from cold, heat, rain, pests and calamity, an idol worshipper takes his gods who cannot benefit nor harm him and can do no good nor evil. He is simply deluding himself. An idol worshipper is like a person who is walking in a desert and imagining a mirage, but when he reaches that place, he finds no water and realises that it was a mere illusion.
Those who take guardians other than Allah are also imagining that their idols will make them successful in this world and the hereafter, but they are like a traveler who is pursuing a mirage in vain. Such a person is also as weak and helpless as a spider who obtains no benefit from his home. If the spider knew the reality of its home, it would probably not build it.
In building its home, a spider builds a prison for itself and its prey. This is likened to the condition of an idol worshipper who follows the devil in chains and shackles. Such a person is bound to go astray and remain deprived of the mercy and blessings of Allah.
The larger the web of a spider, the greater are the chances for its destruction in a storm. It is likened to the actions of an idol worshipper. The more he indulges in his polytheistic beliefs, the greater are the chances of his never returning to the correct path.
The house of a spider stands for a broken household and a decadent way of life. In many species, spiders eat their web before replacing it with a new one. Female spiders also eat their male after mating. Femle spiders are also disloyal to their male as they can have many sexual partners before fertilising themselves with the sperm of one male spider sack. In some species of spiders, a male spider mutilates the epigynum of its mating partner by self-castration to prevent her from mating with other males. This is a relationship of deceit and destruction, quite unlike a family life one expects to see inside the impressive webs spiders build for themselves.
All creatures go out of their homes to look for food, but spider is one insect that uses its home to trap other insects to eat. Home is a place for peace and safety but for the spider, its home is a trap to kill and eat its prey.
The Quraish of Makkah used to say that Muhammad’s God uses examples of small insects such as a fly or a spider and they used to laugh at it. Allah uses these examples according to His wisdom to make us understand His message. In this verse, Allah is comparing the faith of the believer with that of the idol worshipper whose ignorance is like the very insect he considers insignificant and laughable. Just as the web of the spider is unable to save it in calamity, the polytheism of the idol worshipper is unable to save him from hellfire in the hereafter. Allah has used the imagery of animals and insects such as bee, ant, fly, mosquito, cow, camel, donkey and dog in the holy Quran to elucidate His message. The spider is a part of these illustrations.
The spider is associated with the Hijrah in a positive light. It wove a web on the mouth of the cave where Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, rested with his companion Abu Bakar Siddiq on his way to Madinah while the idolators of Makkah were chasing him with the evil intention to kill him. The point to note here is that it is not the spider (and a pigeon) that made prophet Muhammad undetected by his enemies, but it was Allah who saved His prophet in the same way as he saved the companions of the cave by His will, using a dog as a medium (Surah Al-Kahf). In this instance Allah used a spider and a pigeon to protect His prophet. These animals were only a medium, they were not his saviours.
It is narrated on the authority of Ali AS who said: “purify your homes from the web of the spider, for leaving it in the homes inherits poverty”. Some commentators have said that Shaitan takes the form of spider to enter homes and therefore spiders should be killed. However, majority of commentators do not agree with this. Spiders of creatures of Allah and we should not take that extreme step to remove them like we remove other pests from our homes, but we must be aware that its’ web is a symbol of weakness and decay and should be regularly removed from inside homes.
What man calls one of the great wonders of the animal kingdom, Allah likens it to the great temples and decorated altars of the idol worshippers which are nothing but the weakest and unsuccessful links to reach Allah. Without divine knowledge, one is unaware of this reality.