On his way to school every day, Joseph walks over to the garden of the house across the street and waits there for a while. A very special friend of his lives in this garden. No one knows this friend, but Joseph loves him a lot. Joseph never forgets to visit his friend, and enjoys their friendship a lot.
After all, he has a friend who is more intelligent than anyone else. Despite being very small in size, his friend can do many important things. He is also very hard-working. He does all of his jobs very well and at the proper time, just as if he was a soldier in an army. Although he does not go to school like Joseph, he successfully carries out the many tasks which he needs to do in his life. You are wondering who this little friend is, aren't you?
Joseph's secret friend is a little ant, who can do many wonderful things. You may never have heard how skilful and intelligent ants are. Some of you may even think of them as simple insects that wander around all day without doing anything. But those of you who think like that are mistaken, because ants, just like many other living things, also have a life of their own.
Ant families are very big. For instance, you probably have a family of 4-5 people. In an ant family, however, there are sometimes millions of ants. Now think for a minute: if you had millions of brothers and sisters, would you be able to live in a single house? Surely not!
The astonishing features of ants do not end here. Despite the fact that millions of them live together, they have no problems with each other, no mix-ups and no disorder. They live an extremely well planned life with everyone obeying the rules.
Some ant families do tailoring, others grow their own food like farmers, and yet others run small farms where they raise some smaller animals. In the same way as human beings breed cows and use their milk, ants breed small plant lice (aphids) and use their milk.
Weaver ants are skilful tailors. They combine leaves by pulling them from two sides and sewing the leaves together. In this way, they make a nice home for themselves.
Joseph: I first noticed him when I saw his tiny head emerging from the earth. His head attracted my attention, as it was a bit bigger than his body. I wondered why his head was like that and started to watch this tiny friend of mine. The big head on his little body was helping him serve as a guard at the entrance of the nest. Do you want to know 'how?' He was checking whether the ants that attempted to enter the nest belonged to his own family or not, and did not let them in if they were strangers.
Soon after seeing him, I met him and asked him to tell me what was happening inside. My little friend understood my curiosity, and started to tell me about it. What I was wondering most was how the ants with big heads recognized their nest-mates and let them in. ...and these are my hard-working friends.
The Ant: Joseph, let me first tell you that we call our families a 'colony.' In other words, we live in communities called colonies. An ant can easily tell whether another ant belongs to its own colony or not. He does it by touching the other ant's body with his antenna, (thin little rods coming out of the top of his head) which helps him to distinguish strangers, thanks to the 'colony scent' they have. If the ant is a stranger, then we cannot let him into our home. Moreover, we may even have to use force to send him away.
Ants do not want strangers to enter their nests, because this will threaten their security. They never hesitate to get into a fight to protect their nest and friends.
Joseph was surprised to hear about their perfect security system and wondered how strangers that tried to enter the nest dared to do so. When he shared this thought with his friend, he smiled at him and said that there were many other things that would surprise him.
The Ant then said: "Let me tell now you about the inside of our nest, which you were eager to know about. Our colonies consist of the queen ant, male ants, soldiers, and worker ants.
The queen and male ants keep our species going. The queen is larger than all of us. The duty of the males is to make the queen give birth to new ants. Soldiers are responsible for protecting our colony, hunting, and finding new places for nests. The last group consists of the worker ants. Worker ants are all sterile female ants. That is, they cannot give birth to new ants. They take care of the queen and her babies, and clean and feed them.
In addition, they also have to do all the other jobs in the colony. They build new corridors in the nest, search for food, and clean the nest up. The worker and soldier ants also divide into smaller groups among themselves. Some of these are breeders, builders, and food-hunters. Each group has a different job. While one group fights off enemies or hunts, another group builds the nest, and yet another takes care of the cleaning and repairs of the nest."
As Joseph's little friend explained all that, he listened to him with wonder, and then asked him: "Do you never get bored, waiting at the entrance of the nest all the time? What is your duty in the nest?"
The Ant replied: "I am also a worker, and my duty is to serve here as a doorman. As you see, my head is big enough to cover the entrance hole of the nest. I am pleased that I have this ability, and I carry out my duty with great pleasure. I never get bored; on the contrary, I am very glad that I protect friends from threats."
Joseph couldn't help but be amazed at his answer. Ants were working all the time to help others, with no thought for them selves and without any problems-something even people cannot manage most of the time.
From what his little friend told him, he could easily understand that the work of the nest was perfectly divided up between the ants. It was obvious that the life of ants was very well-ordered and all the ants had to be quite unselfish. Then he wondered whether they had any fights amongst themselves because some of them claimed that they were better or stronger than others. His friend said that nothing like that ever happened and added:
"We are a big family, Joseph. There is no jealousy, competition, or ambition among us. We always help each other and do our best to serve the colony. Everything in the colony is based on sacrifice. Each ant thinks of the good of his friends first, and only then of himself.
Let me give you an example. When there is a shortage of food in the colony, the worker ants immediately change into 'feeder' ants, and start feeding others with the food in their reserve stomachs. When there is enough food in the colony, they again become worker ants. I used to hear people saying that there is competition among living things in nature. Never believe what they say. We know very well that we have to cooperate to be successful."
Joseph said that what he had told him about himself and his colony was a very good example of this. He was very glad to know that God had created him so unselfish, helpful and so fond of his friends. After what he told him, he decided to be at least as thoughtful of others as ants were, and be a good person whom God loves.
When mentioning the bees who have a social order similar to that of the ants, Allah states in the Qur'an that this social order has been "revealed" to them:
"And your Lord revealed to the bee: 'Build dwellings in the mountains and the trees and also in the structures which men erect. Then eat from every kind of fruit and travel the paths of your Lord, which have been made easy for you to follow.' From inside them comes a drink of varying colors, containing healing for mankind. There is certainly a sign in that for people who reflect." (an-Nahl: 68-69)
The verse conveys the message that everything the honey bees do is governed by a "revelation" Allah has given to them. Accordingly, all the "homes", that is, hives - and therefore the entire social order in these hives - and all the work they perform to make honey, are made possible by an inspiration Allah has given them.
When we look at ants, we see that things are no different for them either. Allah has inspired in them a social order also and they abide by it absolutely. This is the reason why each group of ant performs the duty assigned to it perfectly with absolute self-surrender and does not strive for more.
The Islamic Bulletin
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