The day the ant spoke! – By Prof. Afis Oladosu
In the name of the Almighty, the Beneficent, the Merciful
“O! Ibrahim, you have indeed fulfilled the vision; this indeed is how We reward the good-doers (Quran 37: 105).
When My servants ask you about me, tell them I am near”…Quran 2: 286
It was during one of those “sittings” with the past, one of those “outings” on the caravan of the intellectuals, that I chanced upon one other story of Prophet Sulayman (upon him be peace). Remember him? Prophet Sulayman, it was who prayed to the Almighty that he is granted a Kingdom the like of which had never been granted to anybody before. His supplication was consequently accepted. The wind was made subservient to him. He was equally granted the power to control men and Jinn. He was endowed with the ability to understand the languages of various animals- birds, ants, and termites among others. The Quran recounts that one day, Prophet Sulayman and his army entered a valley of ants. On seeing the Prophet and his army, a namlah (a female ant) warned all the others as follows: “… get into your habitations, lest Sulayman and his hosts crush you (under their foot) without knowing it.” (Quran 27: 9-19)…
That was Prophet Sulayman, but that is not the story of interest to me today. The story of interest to me is, like others in Islamic annals, an uncanny story of life and living. In it, I found many responses to urgent questions of life. In it, I learned, once again, those lessons I thought I had learned perfectly well before. Sometimes when we come face-to-face with the truth and the truthful, we are fazed and astounded by the sheer enormity of truth much of which we constantly gloss over.
The story goes thus: “one day Prophet Sulayman was sitting at the bank of a sea. Suddenly, he saw an ant carrying a seed of barley towards the sea. This caught the attention of Prophet Sulayman. He, therefore, began to follow the movement of the ant. When the ant reached the shore of the sea, there Prophet Sulayman saw a frog that puts its head out of the sea and opened its mouth. Sulayman was surprised when he saw the ant crawl inside the opened mouth of the frog. The frog thereafter disappeared inside the sea for a very long time. Meanwhile, Prophet Sulayman remained transfixed on the spot. He wondered exactly what could be happening.
Later, the frog emerged with its head out of the sea. It opened its mouth one more time and lo and behold! the ant came out but this time around without the seed of barley which it carried in its mouth while entering the frog’s mouth an hour before. Prophet Sulayman became curious. He wanted to know the story of the ant. He, therefore, commanded the ant to come over to him and tell him the story of its trip into the belly of the frog. The ant then said: “O! Prophet of the Almighty! Inside the deepest parts of the sea that you see is a mountain with a very deep gulf. Inside the gulf of the mountain is a blind worm. This worm was created there by the Almighty. It is incapable of coming out of the “womb” of the mountain in search of its own sustenance. I have been given charge by the Almighty to provide for its sustenance. But in order for me to discharge this assignment, the Almighty made the frog subservient to me. It was given the duty of carrying me inside its mouth in such a way that water would not injure me. On getting to the inner depths of the mountain inside the sea, the frog would open its mouth for me to deliver the food to the worm. It is part of its duty, i.e the frog, to equally bring me back to the shores”.
Prophet Sulayman then said: “do you hear any glorifications from the worm inside the mountain?” The ant said: “Yes! It constantly says: O! Ye who never forgets me inside this mountain and in the depths of this sea with His sustenance bestow your mercies on the believers…”
When I finished reading this story, it felt as if the story of the worm referenced above has been told to fill gaps in our spiritual life. More than ever before, believers of today run the risk of entertaining the thought that the Almighty has probably forgotten them. If indeed a seemingly helpless worm in the forgotten regions of the sea could enjoy the patronage of the Almighty, how could you or I entertain the possibility that He could go on “leave” from superintending our affairs. I soon came to the conclusion that there is probably no worm anywhere other than the “worm” in my location and yours. Wherever you may be and whatever could be your circumstance and mine, it is He alone, the Almighty, who could organize your rescue and sustenance the way He did for the worm inside the sea.
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Afis Ayinde Oladosu Ph.D
Professor of Middle Eastern, North African and Cultural Studies
Dean, Faculty of Arts,University of Ibadan, Nigeria