Translation & Commentary of Verses from Surah al-`Ankabut (The Spider) [56 – 69]

[56] O My slaves who have believed, surely My earth is wide. Therefore, Me alone should you serve.74


74. “Implying that since the earth offers innumerable, multiform facilities to human life, there is no excuse for forgetting God ‘owing to the pressures of adverse circumstances.’ Whenever, or wherever, the worship of God – in its essential, and not merely liturgical sense – becomes impossible, the believer is obliged to ‘forsake the domain of evil’ … and to ‘migrate unto God,’ that is, to a place where it is possible to live in accordance with one’s faith” (Asad).

Sa`eed b. Jubayr explained the verse as meaning: When sins are committed in a land, then leave the place. For, Allah’s earth is vast. Mujahid added: “Emigrate, and join in Jihad.” `Ata’ expressed a similar opinion. Ibn Zayd said however, that Makkan Muslims were the immediate context. They were urged to leave the township in view of persecutions. Ibn Jarir explains that the words with which the verse ended, “Then Me, and Me alone you serve” imply that if Allah’s worship is not possible in a land, one might leave it. Qurtubi has similar opinions and adds the words of SufyanThawri to expand the meaning, “If you are in an expensive place, shift to another where you can fill your basket with bread for a Dirham.”

On Zubayr b. al-`Awwam’s authority, it is reported in Ahmad that the Prophet said,

“The lands are Allah’s lands, and people are Allah’s slaves. Therefore, wheresoever you find good, take up residence there” (Ibn Kathir).

The report is thought to be weak by Haythamiyy (Au).

Zamakhshari adds: “Places widely vary from one another from the point of view of being or not being conducive to Islam and its demands. We have tried, as others before us have also tried, and have found that among the places we lived in, and they lived in, there is no place more helpful in suppressing the inner self, destroying the base desires, more in-gathering for the heart, more bringing together the spread out worries, more urging to contentment, more chasing away the Satan, more away from trials and tribulations, than the city of Makkah.”

This comes from a man of letters, a philosopher, and a migrant to Makkah with no means of income in a city of harsh economic environment, which offered none of the charms that cities like Cairo, Dimashq, Kufa or Busra, or even Madinah offered. He ends his passage above by saying, “Praise be to Allah then, for making it easy (to live in Makkah), and for bestowing perseverance and gratefulness.” (Au.)

We could end with a note from Yusuf Ali: “There is no excuse for anyone to plead that he could not do good or was forced to evil by his circumstances and surroundings, or by the fact that he lived in evil times. We must shun evil and seek good, and Allah’s Creation is wide enough to enable us to do that, provided we have the will, the patience, and the constancy to do it. It may be that we have to change our village or city or country; or that we have to change our neighbors or associates; or to change our habits or our hours, our position in life or our human relationships, or our callings. Our integrity before Allah (swt) is more important than any of these things, and we must be prepared for exile (or Hijrat) in all these senses. For the means with which Allah (swt) provides us for His service are ample, and it is our own fault if we fail.‏”

Mufti Shafi` tells us about when Hijrah becomes obligatory. First, it must be noted that at the beginning of Islam, Hijrah was a requirement of faith for every Makkan Muslim, man or woman. Those who did not migrate were not considered Muslims. This rule came to end with the fall of Makkah. The Prophet then said, “There is no Hijrah after the fall.” Now the situation is that Hijrah once again becomes obligatory if Muslims find themselves in Dar al-Kufr, that is, a place where they do not have the freedom of faith, or are not allowed to practice the essentials of Islam. But of course, this is conditional to the ability to migrate. On the other hand, although it is not obligatory, it is desirable (mustahab) to migrate from Dar al-Fisq, i.e., where Islamic commandments are openly flouted. Such a place need not necessarily be Dar al-Kufr. This was also the opinion of Ibn Hajr.

[57] Every soul shall taste death.75 Then unto Us shall you be returned.


75. That is, if you fear that during, or after, emigration in the way of Allah (swt), you will face deprivation or death, then you might remember that death will overtake you in any case. None will escape it. (Razi, Qurtubi)

[58] Then those who believed and did righteous works, We shall surely lodge them in lofty chambers of Paradise76 underneath which rivers flow, abiding therein forever; an excellent reward for those who labored.


76. Muslim has a report that the Prophet said, “The inhabitants of Paradise will see the people of the Ghuraf (lofty chambers) above them as you see the bright stars appearing in the eastern or western horizons – such will be the differences in ranks between them.” They asked, “Messenger of Allah! Those must be places for Prophets that other than them can never obtain.” He answered, “By Him in whose hands is my life, (they will be for) men who believed in Allah (swt) and gave credence to the Prophets.”

And Tirmidhi has a report that there are chambers in Paradise whose inside can be seen from outside and the outside from inside. A Bedouin got up and asked, “Whom are they meant for O Messenger of Allah?” He replied, “For him who fed the food, uttered good words, followed Prayers and fasts (with Prayers and fasts), and stood in the night (in Prayers) while the people were asleep.” (Qurtubi)

Haythamiyy declared it Sahih.

[59] Such as those who persevered, and who place their trust on their Lord.77


77. Allah (swt) mentioned two qualities: patience and trust. This is because time has three phases: past, present and future. Past is past; there is no point in discussing it. Present is worthy of patience and perseverance. As for the future, one should adopt the policy of trust in Allah (swt). Further, patience and trust in Allah (swt) are qualities that cannot be obtained without the knowledge on the one hand, of what is with Allah (swt) and the knowledge of what is with other than Allah (swt). He who knew ‘what is other than Allah,’ knew that it is going to pass away. This knowledge makes it easier for him to bear hardships with patience. And, one who knows Allah (swt), knows that He is Eternal. He places his trust in Him, in the hope of future bounties. From another angle, some people can put up with persecutions, others cannot, and so they emigrate. Now, those who cannot emigrate, bear the persecutions with patience, while those who can, do emigrate, placing their trust in Allah (swt). (Razi)

[60] And how many a moving creature carries not its own provision; Allah provides for it and for you also.78 He is the All-hearing, the All-knowing.



78. Muslims are being encouraged to emigrate, take up Jihad, and not to slacken from the fear of provision. (Ibn Jarir)

The point of discussion then, is not trust in Allah, but show of weakness in His path (Alusi). Accordingly, Ibn `Abbas reports that the Prophet (saws) told Makkan Muslims when they were subjected to persecutions: “Go to Madinah; do not live among a transgressing people.” They said, “We have no homes there, nor property, nor anyone to feed us.” So Allah (swt) revealed, “And how many an animal carries not its own provision…” The verse then is not saying that food storage is disallowed. In fact, the Prophet used to distribute (in his final years: Au.), provision of a whole year amongst his wives, as recorded in the Sahihayn; and so did many of the Companions, who were leaders in piety and trusted Allah (swt) to an unsurpassable degree. (Qurtubi)

While reading the Bible for the first time a quarter century ago, this writer’s mind had immediately committed to memory a beautiful line which said, “Sufficient unto the day the evil thereof.” Mawdudi’s eye fell upon the same lines. He quotes the entire passage. He writes: “Precisely the same thing was taught by the Prophet Jesus (may Allah’s peace be upon him) to his disciples when he said,

“No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, or love the other: or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore, say I unto you, Take ye no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what shall you put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body more than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add a cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore, take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? Or What shall we drink? Or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things the Gentile seek); for your heavenly Father knoweth that you have need for all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take, therefore, no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.’ (Matt. 6: 24-34)”

[61] And if you asked them ‘who created the heavens and earth and subjected the sun and the moon (to law)?’ they will certainly say, ‘Allah.’ How then are they deluded?79


79. Asad elucidates: “The perversion consists in their thinking that they really ‘believe in God’ and nevertheless worshipping false values and allegedly ‘divine’ powers side by side with Him: all of which amounts to a virtual denial of His almightiness and uniqueness.”

[62] Allah extends the sustenance to whomsoever of His slaves He will, and constricts for him.80 Surely, Allah is of all things, Knowing.

[63] And, if you asked them, ‘who brought down water out of heaven and quickened the earth thereby after its death?’ they will certainly say, ‘Allah.’ Say, praise to Allah. But rather, most of them ponder not.


80. That is, Allah’s material bounties are not dependent on belief or unbelief. (Qurtubi)

The implication is both ways. (1) Allah (swt) extends provision to an individual at one time and restricts at another. (2) He extends to some people, while He restricts to another group of people. (Alusi)

[64] And the life of this world81 is no more than an amusement and play.82 Surely, the Abode of the Hereafter, it indeed is the (true) life83 – only if they knew.


81. The “this” of “this world” is to express the littleness of this world and worthlessness of its affairs (Zamakhshari).

The following may not be a very accurate description of what this world in reality is; but it does reflect how those devoted to the Hereafter have looked at it. Alusi writes that in the opinion of some of the Gnostics: “This world is less worthier than a dead swine’s limb, over which a leprosy-stricken dog had urinated.”

82. “That is,” comments Mawdudi, “the reality of it is no more than the children engaging in sport and pastime for a while, and then returning home. One who became a king, does not become one in reality, he is only playing his part in a game. When the time comes, he descends the throne and leaves as empty handed as he came. Similarly, time is elusive. No phase of life is enduring and lasting. Everyone is playing out his role for a time.” 

83. The construction of the word “haywan” on the pattern of “ghadban” or “lahyan” lends the connotation of activity and commotion, which is missing from the simple “hayaah,” (Zamakhshari), and, on the other hand, of exaggeration (Razi).

[65] Then when they board a ship, they supplicate Allah, making the religion pure for Him.84 But when He rescues them to the land, behold, they associate (others with Him).85


84. This kind of reaction has been reported quite often by passengers of ships who say that when the ship encounters rough weather, rocking left and right, everybody, including the atheists, turn to God the Supreme, begging forgiveness (Au.).

Ibn Kathir quotes `Ikrimah b. Abu Jahl from Ibn Is-haq: When the Prophet had subdued Makkah, he left the town escaping him. He boarded a ship heading for Abyssinia. Once in deep waters, storms struck and the ship started rocking. They began to say, ‘Fellow-passengers! Supplicate your Lord making your call pure for Him. No one can save you now except He.’ `Ikrimah said, ‘By Allah, if none can rescue except He in the waters, then surely, it is He alone who can rescue on the land.’ So, he supplicated, ‘You have my promise that if I escape this, I shall go back and place my hand in Muhammad’s hand.’ ‘I am sure,’ (He thought), ‘that I’ll find him kind and clement.’ Which is what, of course, he did.

85. That is, as soon as they are on land, they go back to their false beliefs and false deities. Or, it could mean that they attribute their escape to the skill of the ship’s captain and his crewmen. (Qurtubi)

[66] That86 they may be ungrateful for what We have given them, and to enjoy themselves. But soon they will know.


86. Although a few commentators have thought that the “laam” of “li-yakfuru” is “lamu-kayy”, others have thought that it is “laam-al-`Aqibah.” In Asad’s words, “The particle li prefixed to the subsequent verb yakfuru (‘they show [utter] ingratitude’) and yatamatta`u (‘they enjoy [or ‘go on enjoying’] their worldly life’) is not an indication of intent (‘so that’ or ‘in order that’) but merely of a causal sequence…”

[67] Do they not observe that We have made a Sanctuary secure (for them) while people are snatched away from all around them?87 Will they then believe in falsehood and be ingrate to Allah’s blessings?


87. The allusion is to the peace that the Quraysh and other Makkan pagans enjoyed, as custodians of the House of God, while others suffered violence of various kinds. The situation was that any individual other than they could be kidnapped, enslaved and sold as a slave, if a powerful tribe did not support him (Au.). Mawdudi comments: “That is, has the city of Makkah, in whose surroundings they enjoy perfect safety and security, been declared a Sanctuary by their deities?”

Asad picks up spiritual overtones. He writes: “In contrast to the ‘sanctuary secure’ – the inner peace and sense of spiritual fulfillment which God bestows on those who truly believe in Him – the atheist or agnostic, is more often than not exposed to fear of the Unknown and a despair born of uncertainty as to what will happen to him after death.”

[68] And who can be more unjust than He who forged a lie on Allah, or cried lies to the truth when it came to him?88 Is not in Jahannum a home for the unbelievers?


88. The addition of the words, “when it came to him” implies that they did not wait to consider and weigh the truth when it came to them, but at once denied it, immediately as it came (Alusi).

[69] And those who strived in Us,89 We shall surely guide them to Our ways.90 Verily, Allah is with those who do things well.91


89. “All that man can do is to strive in Allah’s Cause. As soon as he strives with might and main, with constancy and determination, the Light and Mercy of Allah come to meet him. They cure his defects and shortcomings. They provide him with the means by which he can raise himself above himself. They point out the Way, and all the Paths leading up to it” (Yusuf Ali).

90. That is, We shall guide them to the several ways by which Our Pleasure can be obtained (Alusi).

Yusuf Ali elaborates: “The Way of Allah (sirat-ul-mustaqim) is a Straight Way. But men have strayed from it in all directions. And there are numerous Paths by which they can get back to the Right Way, the way in which the purity of their own nature, and the Will and Mercy of Allah require them to Walk. All these numerous Paths become open to them if once they give their hearts in keeping to Allah and work in right Endeavour (Jihad) with all their mind and soul and resources. Thus will they get out of the Spider’s web of this frail world and attain to eternal Bliss in the fulfillment of their true Destiny.”

Asad adds: “The plural used here is meant to stress the fact – alluded so often in the Qur’an – that there are many paths which lead to a cognizance (ma`rifah) of God.”

Majid has a pertinent point to make: “Note that mere sincere search after God and His truths, apart from all consequences, is promised reward. Sincerity of purpose is the main thing, good results will follow of themselves.”

The above reminds us of an American new-Muslim’s story told us by other than he. His mother fell sick and they lost hope of her recovery. He prayed to God that if she recovered he would devote himself to His service. She recovered but he, being a nominal Christian, did not know how to serve God. He went about with the thought that he needed to find God and serve Him.

One day, he was sitting with a fellow Muslim on a bench in a college campus while she was going through her mail. She had received some religious literature and he began to browse. He came across a word that somehow struck a note in him. It was ‘A`isha. He asked the girl how it was said. She pronounced it. It struck chord. Twice he had heard in his dreams a voice saying ‘A`isha, but being American, he hadn’t known what it meant or that it was a name. He followed the trail and became a Muslim: “Allah guides whom He will to a Straight Path.” (2: 213) – Au.

Some scholars have said that he who practices what he knows, receives Divine impulse for loftier deeds. It is also said that what we see of our ignorance concerning what we do not know, is because of our failure with what we already know. (Kashshaf)

Ibn Kathir adds that `Abbas al-Hamdani of `Akka said while commenting on these words of Allah, [“And those who strive in Us, We shall surely guide them to Our ways”], that the meaning is, “those who live by what they know; gain Allah’s guidance to what they do not know.”

Ahmad b. al-Hawwari said: “I mentioned this explanation to Abu Sulayman al-Daarani. He felt pleased but added the caution, ‘It is not right of anyone who has been inspired to a good deed, to actually do it, unless he finds support for it from the primary sources of Islam. If he finds support for it there, he can put it into action and express gratitude to Allah (swt) for having created corroboration and acceptance for the deed in his heart.’”

91. Ibn Abi Hatim has reported Sha`bi as saying, “`Isa ibn Maryam had said: ‘Ihsan is that you should do good to him who ill-treated you; it is not ihsan that you should do good to someone who did you good.’” (Ibn Kathir)

(To be continued)

About YMD

Past Issues