By Sadia Dehlvi
May 31, 2016
The Quran has an entire chapter called Namal (ant), named after one of God’s tiny creations. It contains the enchanting story of Prophet King Solomon and his encounter with the ant colony. God gifted Solomon, son of David, with special powers to hear and understand the communications of all Jinns, birds and animals.
The organisational capabilities of ants, their colonies and ability to carry almost 50 times more than their body weight are fascinating qualities. Ants usually nest in soil with colonies containing millions of ants. They communicate with each other, heading out in large groups to collect food. Ants have clear divisions of labour amongst themselves and a God-given ability to solve complex problems.
Over more than a thousand years ago, Imam Ali gave a sermon in which he reflected on ants, and asked people to notice the different species created by the Almighty. “Look at the ant for its small body and delicate form. It carries the grain to its hole and deposits it in its place of stay. It collects during the summer for its winter and during strength for the period of its weakness. Its livelihood is guaranteed, and it is fed according to fitness. Allah, the kind, does not forget it and does not deprive it. If you tread on the paths of your imagination and reach its extremity it will not lead you anywhere except that the originator of the ant is the same as he who is the originator of the date-palm, because everything has delicacy and detail.”
Ant colonies are ruled by a queen with male ants few in number. Male ants don’t survive for long after performing their role of mating with the queen. Interestingly, the Quran clearly refers to the female gender of ants in inscribing their story.
One day Solomon along with his massive army that consisted of men, birds, animals and Jinns were marching to the country of Ashkelon. Seeing them approach the ant colony, the queen ant addressed her nation saying, “O ye ants.” She warned them of the impending danger and commanded them to go inside their dwellings, “lest Solomon and his men crush you unconsciously.”
Grateful to God for the special gifts bestowed on him, Solomon smiled at the ant’s speech. Thankful to God, the Prophet King prayed that he work to please God and be admitted to the ranks of the righteous servants.
It is understood that Solomon ordered his army to step aside to avoid crushing the ants. While most readers of the Quran marvel at Solomon’s amazing powers, few reflect on the wisdom of the tiny ant. The queen ant called her people, acknowledged the crowd, identified the problem and prescribed a strategy. The three aspects of the queen’s speech are contained in a single sentence. The Quran gives the mike to the little ant but just one or two Quran commentators listen to her. Ibn Hazm, the famous Islamic scholar of the 11th century, called it the best short speech in history!
The ant realises that Solomon and his army do not intend to destroy them. The deeper message is that we cannot be conscious when we hurt or kill people. Violence is an act of heedlessness, committed when one is unconscious of one’s conscience. There is wisdom in the ants going into their dwellings in dangerous times. It emphasises the importance of turning inwards to our true dwelling — that is the heart — to find solutions rather than engage in aimless confrontations.
Sadia Dehlvi is a Delhi-based writer and author of Sufism: The Heart of Islam.