Ibn al-Qayyim tells us of another of Allah's creatures, and explains to us how Allah (SWT), has guided it in the way in which it lives:
"The ant is one of the most guided of creatures, and the way in which it is guided is most wondrous. The tiny ant comes out of its home and looks for its food, even if it is far away. When it finds it, it carries it and drags it through winding paths, uphill and downhill, no matter how difficult the route, until it brings it back to its home, where it stores its food when possible.
When it has stored it, it goes to the things that can grow and splits them into two so that they will not grow. If they grow even after being split into two, it then splits them into four. If (the stored food) gets wet and the ant is afraid that it may go rotten, it waits for a sunny day, then it brings the food out and spreads it out by the entrance to its house, then it puts it back, and no ant eats the food that another has collected.
In order to know how Allah (SWT), has guided the ant, it is sufficient for us to know what Allah has said in the Qur'an about the ant which Sulaymaan (Solomon) (AS) (may peace be upon him) heard speaking to its companions and saying,
... يَاأَيُّهَا النَّمْلُ ادْخُلُوا مَسَكِنَكُمْ لَا يَحْطِمَنَّكُمْ سُلَيْمَنُ وَجُنُودُهُ وَهُمْ لَا يَشْعُرُونَ الله..."O' ants! Enter your dwellings, lest Sulaymaan and his hosts should crush you, while they perceive not." (Qur'an 27: 18)
The ant started by calling out in a manner that would be heard by those whom she was addressing, then she mentioned the ants in general terms because she was addressing them as a whole. Then she told them to enter their dwellings and protect themselves from the army, and told them why they should go in, which was because she was afraid that the army would step on them and that Sulaymaan and his army would crush them. Then she excused the Prophet of Allah and his army by noting that they would not realize that. This is amazing guidance.
Think about how Allah (4), speaks highly of the ant when He says:
وحُشِرَ لِسُلَيْمَانَ جُنُودُهُ مِنَ الْجِنِّ وَالإِنسِ وَالطَّيْرِ فَهُمْ يُوزَعُونَ اللهAnd there were gathered before Sulaymaan [Solomon] his hosts of jinn and men, and birds, and they all were set in battle order [marching forward]. (Qur'an 27: 17)
Then He (SWT) says:
الله حتى إذا أَتَوْا عَلَى وَادِ النَّمْلِ ...Till, when they came to the valley of the ants...(Qur'an 27: 18)
Allah tells us that they all passed through this valley, and that this valley was known for its ants, as Wadi as-Sibaa' (valley of the wild animals) (was known for its wildlife) etc. Then Allah tells us something which indicates how clever and precise this ant was, because she told the other ants to go into their homes. She and the other ants knew that each group of them had its own home which others would not enter. Then she said: ...Lest Sulaymaan [Solomon] and his hosts should crush you...) (Qur'an 27: 18). So she both referred to him by name and acknowledged who he was; she knew that they were his troops and he was their leader. Then she said: ...while they perceive not... (Qur'an 27: 18). It is as if she both excused the army for not realizing the harm that they caused, whilst blaming the ants for not taking precautions and entering their homes. For this reason the Prophet of Allah smiled at what she said, because it was appropriate to smile in amazement at this point.
Az-Zuhri narrated from 'Abdullah ibn 'Abdullah ibn ‘Uyaynah from Ibn 'Abbaas that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ),
"forbade the killing of ants, bees, hoopoes and hawks." 1
Muslim narrated from Abu Hurayrah (RA) that the Prophet (ﷺ) said:
"One of the Prophets stopped beneath a tree, and an ant bit him. He ordered that his luggage should be taken away and that the ant's village (nest) should be burned. Then Allah revealed to him: one ant bit you and you burned an entire community of ants who glorify (their Lord)! Was not one ant enough?"2
'Awf ibn Abi Jameelah narrated that Qusaamah ibn Zuhayr said: Abu Moosa al-Ash'ari narrated: 'Everything has a leader, even ants have leaders.'
Among the wonders of the way in which ants are guided is that the ant knows that its Lord is above the heavens on His Throne. Imam Aḥmad narrated in Kitaab az-Zuhd from Abu Hurayrah (RA), attributed it to the Prophet (ﷺ):
"One of the Prophets went out with the people to pray for rain, and they saw an ant raising its legs to heaven, praying lying on its back. He said: 'Go back, for someone else has sufficed for you, or has ensured that you will be granted rain.""
There are a number of isnads for this report, which is also narrated by At-Tahaawi in At-Tahdheeb, and by others.
In Musnad al-Imam Aḥmad it says that Sulaymaan ibn Dawood went out to pray for rain, and he saw an ant lying on its back, raising its legs towards the heavens and saying, "O' Allah, we are part of Your creation, and we cannot do without Your rain and Your provision. Either send us rain and provision or let us die. He (Sulaymaan) said: Go back, for you will be given rain by the du'aa' of someone else."
I was told about an ant which came out of its home and found part of a locust's body. It tried to carry it but was not able, so it went and brought others to help carry it. I (the person who told this story) picked it up, and the ant walked around in the place where it had been, and did not find it. The other ants went away and left the first ant. Then I put the locust down, and the ant tried to carry it and could not, so she went to bring the others back. I picked it up, and the ant walked around in the place where it had been, and did not find it, so the others went away. I did this several times, and the last time I did it, the ants made a circle around the first ant and tore it apart. I told this story to our shaykh and he said: Allah has created these ants in such a way that they hate lies and punish liars.
The ant is one of the most careful of creatures whose caution is proverbial. It is mentioned that when Sulaymaan (Solomon) saw how cautious the ant was and how careful it was to store food, he brought out an ant and asked it how much an ant eats each year? It said, three grains of wheat. So he ordered that the ant should be placed in a bottle, and be given three grains of wheat, and the bottle should be sealed and be left there for a year. When the year had passed, he commanded that the bottle should be opened, and he found one and a half grains of wheat left. He said, Did you not claim that you needed three grains of wheat per year?
The ant said, Yes, but when I saw that you were busy with the affairs of your own kind, I thought of how much of my life was left, and I realized that it was longer than the time that you had allocated for me, so I limited myself to eating half of the food, and I left half in order to ensure my survival. Sulaymaan was impressed by how cautious the ant was, which was part of the guidance given to it.
This caution makes the ant strive hard all summer, gathering food for the winter, because it knows that it will be difficult to find anything during the winter. Although the ant is small, it is very strong and is able to carry many more times more than its own body weight, and drag it to its home.
Ants do not have a leader who is in charge, as is the case with bees, but they do have scouts who look for food. If the scout finds something, it tells its companions, who all come out. Each ant works hard for the good of all, without stealing any grain to keep for itself.
Among the wonders of the ant is that if a man wants to prevent ants from falling into honey etc., if he digs a hole and surrounds it with water or fills a large vessel with water, and puts that thing (honey or whatever) in it, then an ant comes and cannot get to it, it will try to climb a wall and walk across the ceiling until it is above the thing, then it will drop down onto it. We ourselves have tried this.
A craftsman once heated a ring in the fire, then threw it on the floor to cool off. It so happened that some ants were trapped in the middle of the ring. The ants tried in all directions to get out, but the heat pushed them back. So they stayed in the middle of the ring, precisely in the centre, which was the furthest point from the circumference. 3
The white ant: its food and habitation
Professor Yusuf 'Izz Uddeen tells us about what science has discovered about the mysteries of this creature:
"Among the instincts that Allah, the Almighty, has given to such tiny creatures are amazing things which make every thinking person fall down in prostration to the Mighty Creator.
For example, let us look at a colony of the kind of insects that are known as 'white ants' (termites). These insects also live in colonies, and when the number of individuals in the colony is too much in proportion to the amount of food available, they know this instinctively, so they start to eat a large number of their eggs. This solves both the problem of overpopulation and the problem of food shortages, because eating the eggs provides some nourishment and at the same time reducing the numbers of offspring.
These insects do not know why they do this; it is divine inspiration which makes them do things which they cannot understand, but which are of benefit to them and help them to avoid extinction.
These insects themselves feed on wood, which they devour avidly. In some places which are infested with termites, a family may eat their food at the table, then the following morning they go to eat their breakfast, and they find that the legs of the table have collapsed in a single night.
In some areas of Australia which are infested with this destructive insect, tourists have been known to ask the name of a village which they can see in the distance from the train in which they are travelling; they are astounded when they are told that no people live in that village, and that these are the dwellings of white ants.
These dwellings may be several meters tall, and they are made from a strange substance which is a mixture of the termites' saliva and other things. It is stronger than reinforced concrete, and the walls cannot be penetrated by insects or by water. Inside these dwellings is a network of tunnels in which the white ants live.
These ants use a kind of code like Morse code to communicate from afar. One ant taps its head on the wall of the tunnel a certain number of times, and the other ants understand what it is trying to say from these coded taps. They do that without knowing what they are doing; they do it because of the divine inspiration which is called instinct. The scientists were confused for a long time about how these insects could live by eating wood, because wood does not contain any digestible organic substances, but finally they discovered the secret. In the digestive tracts of this insect, they discovered tiny, primitive, one-celled animals which secrete a substance which turns wood into easily-digested material, and this nourishes the termite.
It is amazing indeed that there are no termites whose digestive tracts are free of these primitive creatures. If these creatures had not existed in the digestive tracts of termites from the very beginning they would not have been able to survive, and they would have become extinct in the first generation. Could this have happened by accident or is it something that has been planned and decreed [by Allah (SWT)]?"
Ants keep flocks and plow the soil
Among the wonders of the ant is that which has been mentioned by Dr. Yusuf 'Izz Uddeen, who says that ants have tamed hundreds of kinds of creatures which are inferior to themselves, whilst man has tamed only about twenty kinds of wild animals which he has subjugated for his own benefit. Ants know how to farm and care for their "flocks" by instinct.
The insects called aphids, which we see on the leaves of some plants, are tended by ants who gain some benefits from them. In early spring, the ants send out scouts to gather the eggs of these aphids. They bring the eggs to the colony and keep them in the same place where they keep their own eggs, and take care of them just as they take care of their own. When the eggs hatch, they feed the small aphids and take care of them. After a short while, the aphids start to excrete a substance which is sweet like honey, just as cows excrete milk. The ants "milk" the aphids for this substance, just as if they were cows.
Ants do not only care for these "flocks," they also engage in farming and plowing the soil. One of the scientists noticed a piece of land in a forest where a semi-wild kind of short-grain rice was growing. This plot of land measured five feet by three feet, and the rice was growing nearly six centimeters tall. It seemed to the observer that there should be someone taking care of this piece of land, for the soil around the roots was well-tilled and the weeds had been uprooted. Strangely enough, there were no other rice plants growing nearby. This rice had not planted itself there - someone was tending it.
It was noted that groups of ants were coming and going from this plot of land. The scientist lay on his stomach on the ground, and watched what they were doing. It was not long before he realized that these ants were the ones who were tending the rice in that piece of land. They had taken it upon themselves to "farm” that land, where they worked all the time. Some of them tilled and plowed the land, whilst others uprooted the weeds. If any shoots of other kinds of plants showed themselves, some of the ants would go to them and cut them, then carry them far away from the "farm."
The rice grew until it reached a height of sixty centimeters and the grains of rice had matured. When the "harvest season" began, a line of worker ants was seen to come non-stop to the stems of rice, which they climbed until they reached the grains. Then each worker ant would take a grain of rice and quickly bring it down to the ground, then take it to their underground stores.
What is amazing is that one group of ants would climb the stem, pick up the grains and throw them down, then other ants would take the grains to the stores.
This kind of ant lives a civil life in houses like ours, with chambers and stories, parts of which are below ground and others above ground. In these cities we find servants and slaves.
What is more amazing is that they have nurses who tend the sick night and day, and others who take away the dead bodies of ants which have died...
They do all this kind of work without thinking. It happens by instinct, which Allah (SWT), has instilled in their tiny bodies.
1. Attributed by Al-Majd ibn Taymiyah in Al-Muntaga, Pp. 759, to Aḥmad, Abu Dawood and Ibn Maajah with the wording: "The Messenger of Allah forbade the killing of four (creatures): ants, bees, hoopoes and hawks."
2. Bukhari: 6/154, hadith no. 3019; 6/356, hadith no. 3318. Muslim: 4/1759, hadith no. 2241. The hadith is taken from the collection of reports narrated there.
3. Shifaa' al-'Aleel, by Ibn al-Qayyim, Pp. 104.
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