The Parable of the Spider's House¶
Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri from the book “The Mercy of Qur’an and The Advent of Zaman Tafsir of Surat Ankabut, Rahman, Waqiá, Mulk”
“The parable of those who take guardians besides Allah is like the parable of the spider that spins for itself a house. Most surely the frailest of houses is the spider’s web if only they understood.” – Qur’an, 29:41.
The spider’s web is exposed to the elements of nature: heat, cold, wind and rain. In fact, the web does not protect the spider from anything, as its main function is to provide the spider with insects for food. It is the least secure, and the least stable, of structures. Any human being who believes he or she is stable, or secure materially or socially in terms of habits or habitat, is dwelling on as flimsy a premise as the spider’s web.
One’s attachments, phobias and habits are as secure as the wisp of thought that repeatedly brings them about. The ultimate refuge is with Allah. Man takes refuge in Allah when he pursues the knowledge of Reality by realizing that everything other than Allah is relative and unsatisfactory, like the house of the spider. When the wind or rain comes, the web often breaks apart. By taking refuge in Allah, man leaves what is relative and insecure and orientates himself towards what he knows to be reliable and permanent. He migrates from ignorance to knowledge. The closer he comes to knowledge of Allah the more he discovers the relativity of everything else. Discrimination and wisdom enable him to interact correctly with the laws governing existence. He finds them simple to deal with and therefore has little trouble with what is existentially necessary.
The natural way to familiarize oneself with the laws of existence is to step out of one’s self-made spider’s web, the barriers and veils that a person has woven around his heart, considering them to be important. If one leaves all of that, the heart has no connection to illusions and its functioning becomes natural. One who finds that he has become too attached to a place or situation will feel as though his heart has been stripped from him when that place or situation disappears. It is usually false imagination and habits.
The spider leaves the torn web behind and spins another one with little trouble. Man, however, will weep and blame bad luck. With consciousness one can become aware of this affliction; one becomes conscious of being conscious.
From Prophetic traditions we know that one hour’s reflection is better than the ritual and formal worship of seventy years. Reflecting upon creation is one of the highest actions one can perform in this existence. Prayer, fasting, and all the other pillars of the life-transaction (din) are helpful in the same way as the structure and foundation of a house are helpful to its occupant. Living in the house joyfully is the ultimate purpose, and this is attained by deep reflection. The best time for reflection is when one has been jolted, when one’s web has been torn away from its support, which is itself flimsy and transient.
Observing the lives of the prophets and the great ones, one finds that they were afflicted to the limit of endurance; but because of their proximity to Allah, outer events did not affect their inner blessing and joy.