Girish Mahajan

An Naml

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Classification  Meccan
No. of verses  93
No. of Rukus  7
No. of Sajdahs  1 (verse 25)

Sūrat an-Naml (Arabic: سورة النمل‎‎, "The Ant, The Ants") is the 27th sura of the Qur'an with 93 ayat.



Sura 27 tells stories of the prophets Moses, Solomon, Salih, and Lot to emphasize the message of tawhid in Jewish and Arabian prophets. The surah mentions the phrase “bismillah Arahman Arahem” twice. The miracles of Moses, described in the Book of Exodus, are mentioned in opposition to the arrogance and kufr of Pharaoh. The story of Solomon is most detailed: Solomon converted Bilqis to the "true religion" after a hoopoe reported to him that she was a sun-worshipping queen. sura was likely revealed to address the role of the "Children of Israel" among the believers in Mecca, to emphasize and commend of piety of past prophets, and to distinguish the present Qur'anic message from past traditions.

Significance of title

The sura's name is taken from the ants whose conversations were understood by Solomon. Similar to Sura 13 (The Thunder) or Sura 29 (The Spider), The Ants has no thematic significance in the Sura beyond it being a familiar phrase amongst believers, a reminder of the sura's story of Solomon.

It should be noted, however, that ants do hold a privileged status among animals in Islam on account of the story of Solomon. Hadith literature tells of Muhammad forbidding Muslims to kill the ant, bee, hoopoe, or shrike; it is no coincidence that they are all featured in Sura 27 and that Sura 16 is entitled The Bee. One interpretation for the ant's theological significance coincides with its role historically. As written in the 1993 edition of the Encyclopaedia of Islam, "Since early Antiquity, ants have been an object of admiration on account of ... the feverish activity with which they provide for their sustenance and the perfect organisation of their societies." This perfect organization under one cause correlates well with the Islamic idea of obedience, or ibadah.

Main concepts

  • Tawhid was preached by many Jewish prophets as well as Arabian prophets prior to Qur'anic revelation.
  • "Truly, this Qur'an explains to the Children of Israel most of what they differ about, and it is guidance and grace for those who believe."
  • God has no equal as a creator; all those who associate others with God are guilty of shirk.
  • Earthly knowledge is nothing compared to God; only those with open ears and eyes will turn to God.
  • Disbelievers of the message of God will have no hope come Judgement Day.
  • The revelation is a clear warning. Sura 27 reiterates that all humanity must turn to God without delay.
  • Chronology

    Sura 27 is agreed to be a Meccan Sura from the middle of the Meccan period. Tafsīr al-Jalālayn notes that some exceptions exist: ayat 52-55 are from the Medinan period; aya 85 was revealed during the Hijra to Medina.

    Nöldeke's Chronology

    Orientalist Theodor Nöldeke's chronology places Sura 27 as 68th out of 114. He places it amongst the 21 suras of the Second Meccan Period (See Muhammad in Mecca). (The Meccan period is estimated to be from 610-622 CE.) Nöldeke estimates Sura 27 to be preceded by Sura 17 Al-Isra and followed by Sura 18 al-Kahf. All three suras use allusions to Judaism and the stories of Moses in particular.

    Egyptian Chronology

    Standard Islamic Egyptian chronology places Sura 27 as 48th out of 114. In this order, it comes before Sura 28 al-Qasas and after Sura 26 al-Shu'ara, following its order in the standard 'Uthmanic Qur'an (see History of the Qur'an). Amongst all three suras and all suras numbered between 19 and 32, the account of revelation begins with "mysterious letters," the meaning of which is speculated among some and among others remains unknown; they are speculated to have been variant Arabic dialects. Sura 27 begins with the words "Ta Sin." As evident in Tafsīr al-Jalālayn, these words are sometimes interpreted as mysteries of God - signs to believe.


    Sura 27, as a mid-Meccan Period sura, can be interpreted multiple ways in terms of structure. Thematically speaking, the sura progresses across several subjects:

    1. Declaration of Qur'an - (In Sura 27:1, the Qur'an refers to itself consciously as a scripture, mean to make all clear.)
    2. Moses's Signs are Ignored by Pharaoh
    3. Solomon realizes God's blessings and dedicates himself to God's service.
    4. The Queen of Sheba deals well with Solomon and acts generously with him.
    5. The Queen of Sheba, one from disbelievers, converts and devotes herself to tawhid.
    6. The people of Thamud disregard the warnings of Salih; Lot is likewise rejected by his people. The disbelievers are thus destroyed for scheming.
    7. Declaration of God's universality, omniscience, and omnipotence - The Sura's phrasing condemns forgetting God's omnipotence.
    8. Declaration of Abandonment of Disbelievers - Prophet is to wash his hands of them.
    9. Foretelling of Judgement (see Islamic view of the Last Judgment) and Indication of Signs.
    10. Reiteration of Qur'an's purpose as a Warning.

    Straight-forward interpretation

    According to a chronological reading of the text, the Sura ends on a bold note of warning. This is a perfectly valid reading of the text. Tafsīr al-Jalālayn concurs with this reading, suggesting in reference to ayat 91-93 that the prophet's duty is only to warn; the powerful, imminent tone expressed supports the conclusion that the final point of the Sura is the focal point.

    Ring structure

    Another valid reading of the text utilizes ring structure (see Chiastic structure). Favored in prominent modern scholar of Qur'anic studies Carl Ernst's interpretations of certain middle to late Meccan period suras, it can be applied to Sura 27 as well. In ring structure, the focal point of the piece is found in the center, surrounded front and back by parallel statements. (Such parallel statements could elaborate on one another, contrast each other, or affirm one another. Multiple interpretations exist.) One could interpret Sura 27 as follows:

  • 1. Declaration of Qur'an
  • 10. Reiteration of Qur'an's purpose as a Warning.
  • 2. Moses's Signs are Ignored by Pharaoh
  • 9. Foretelling of Judgement and Indication of Signs.
  • 3. Solomon realizes God's blessings and dedicates himself as a Believer.
  • 4. The Queen of Sheba deals well with Solomon and acts generously with him.
  • 5. The Queen of Sheba, one from disbelievers, converts and devotes herself to tawhid.
  • Note: Combining the story of Solomon as a whole reveals allows one to view the story holistically as a motif for tawhid and the believers.
  • 6. The people of Thamud and of Lot reject their prophets and are destroyed.
  • 8. Declaration of Abandonment of Disbelievers
  • Note: These themes can be combined and contrasted with 3, 4, and 5 as well, depending on interpretation.
  • 7. Declaration of God's universality, omniscience, and omnipotence
  • According to this example of ring structure interpretation, the focal point of Sura 27 can be viewed as a declaration of God's omnipotence and condemnation for disbelief, also in keeping with Qur'anic message.


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