Published on: Friday 14 Oct, 2005
Basically, the gist of the missionary claim is:
Why does the Qur’an say that ants talk (27:18-19)? Everyone knows that ants communicate by chemicals detected by scent and never sound! Is this not a scientific error in the Qur’an?
This style of argument is quite sophomoric in that it is entirely based on someone who does not even have a rudimentary level understanding of zoology or entomology (I believe this is covered in 9th-Grade Biology in the USA). Its sadly typical of this genre of anti-Islamic quasi-polemicists. You seriously couldn’t go to the library or even do a web search for information on acoustic communication by ants? What does this say about your credibility as a genre collectively?
The critic fallaciously relied upon an English translation of the Qur’an which no Muslim relies upon. Unlike the Christians’ New Testament which has no Syriac or Aramaic original, nor even a Greek codex from the 1st century CE, the Qur’an has always been in Arabic as it is today and this is the standard throughout the world. Critics and supporters alike agree that the Qur’an was always Arabic (ignoring any neophytes who baselessly claim it was Syriac). Even orientalists with half a brain quote from the Arabic text.
Firstly, have you ever heard of something called a “miracle” associated with something called a “prophet”? If Moses can part the Red Sea, Solomon hearing the communication of ants is nothing.
So the question is: Do ants communicate acoustically?
Here is the verse:
(18) hatt?th?t???-naml??t namlat(un) y?yyuha-naml?ul??nakum l?ahtimannakum sulaym? wa jun? wa-hum l?ash`ur?19) fa-tabassama d?kam-min qawlih?a q? rabb?wzi`n?nn ashkura ni`mataka-llat?n`amta `alayya wa `al??dayya wa ann a`mala s?h(an) tard? wa-adkhiln?i-rahmatika f?ib?ka-s?h?
This is the translation:
(18) Until when they reached a valley of naml?one of the namlat(un) conveyed: O you company of naml?into your dwellings lest Solomon and his armies crush you unbeknownst to them. (19) So he smiled, amused by her message, and said: O my Lord! Order me that I may be grateful for Your favours which you have bestowed on me and on my parents, and that I may work righteousness that will please You. And admit me, by Your Grace, to the ranks of Your righteous servants.”
First of all we have the word “naml” in Arabic which is a word for ants as well as termites in the Arabic language. Ants are usually called in Arabic “an-Naml al-Abyad” meaning “the white ant”.
The antagonist(s) typically make the fallacious assumption that ants do not communicate by sound. Not only do ants communicate by sound, but termites are specifically known to communicate by sound. Regarding ants, their acoustic communication has been thoroughly researched and documented in a study from Robert Hickling, National Center for Physical Acoustics University of Mississippi and Richard L. Brown, Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology, Mississippi State University entitled “Nearfield acoustic communication by ants”.
Not only did they document ant sounds – and here’s the devastating blow to this missionary nonsense – they recorded the sounds you can hear on the web at the following URL:http://home.olemiss.edu/~hickling/
Here are the actual .wav files you can listen to:
Stridulation Sounds of Black Fire Ants (Solenopsis richteri) in Different Situations
Alarm signal generated by black fire ants when a microphone probe is inserted into their mound
Normal movement sounds of a group of ants with occasional bursts of stridulation sound from a single ant
Sounds of ants attacking a caterpillar with stridulation sound from a single ant
Distress signals emitted by a single major worker with a caught antenna
Now that absolutely ends the argument right there. But to take it even a step further, scholars of Qur’?c hermeneutics have stated that due to the verses preceding 18-19 it can be strongly adduced that these are winged ants or possible winged termites.
In verse 27:16 which is 2 verses before the topic of this discussion, Solomon states: “`ullimn?antiqa-tayr?.” meaning, “we have been taught the mode of communication for those things which fly (birds, etc)”. The word “tayr” literally means to fly as the words for “bird” and “airplane” also derive from the same root of “tayr” in the Arabic language. This is the opinion of ash-Shu`b?s related in al-Qurtub? tafs? vol. 13 who states: “These ‘namlah’ had two wings, thus they were categorized as tayr…” I use the word “naml” instead of “ant” and “things that fly” instead of “bird”, since the English translations have failed to capture these linguistic nuances which must be explained. It is well known that termites communicate by sound and this does not require any posting of a research paper. Even the Orkin pest control guy knows that they do.
What is interesting to note is that wings in ants is a sign of unmated males and females, as they are called “winged reproductives” or “swarmers”. This is because they leave their mounds en masse to mate. Hence, the verse mentioning that these ants are not in their mounds but out in the open. This verse uses the feminine verb “q?t” in regards to the ant that warned the others. Thus, it was perhaps a winged, unmated queen.
Now do critics of a Judeo-Christian background have anything to stand upon when they make this criticism?
No. The word used in verses 18-19 for communication are inflections of the word “q?quot;. This word does not only mean to speak, but also to convey something or to make sound. The cognate for this word in previous scriptures is also “Q?quot; in Aramaic and is found in the Book of Daniel in the following manner:
“ch?h hav? b?ayin min-q?millayy?abreb?’ d?arn?memallel?..”
“I beheld then because of the voice of the great words which the horn spake…” (Daniel 7:11)
A talking horn? The notion of an inanimate horn talking is even more absurd than an ant talking! You will often find that the Christian missionaries like to cast stones from glass houses. The fact is that these are miracles and you aren’t supposed to try and “scientifically explain” them anyways. However, even when we answer the missionaries’ challenges by doing so, they end up falling flat on their faces.
So in conclusion, how does the Qur’an document such detail which would have literally been unknowable in the 7th century C.E.? According to those who say the Prophet Muhammad (P) invented the Qur’? one would have to conclude that he was a Biblical Scholar, a Semitic Etymologist with prowess in Hebrew, Syriac and Greek on a scholarly level, an OB-Gyn, a Chemist, a Meterologist, a Geologist, a Zoologist, a Chemist, etc, etc, and now an Entomologist! Maybe he had a time machine, eh? Dismissing the Qur’?as the Prophet’s (P) invention creates more problems than it addresses.
And only God knows best.