Qur’an 27:18: Till, when they came upon a valley [full] of ants, an ant exclaimed: “O you ants! Get into your dwellings, lest Solomon and his hosts crush you without [even] being aware [of you]!” – 27:19: Thereupon [Solomon] smiled joyously at her words, and said: “O my Sustainer! Inspire me so that I may forever be grateful for those blessings of Thine with which Thou hast graced me and my parents, and that I may do what is right [in a manner] that will please Thee; and include me, by Thy grace, among Thy righteous servants!” –
This story of the ants and Prophet Sulaiman (Solomon) is often taught to young Muslim children. The story goes on with Prophet Sulaiman hearing the cries of the chief of ants and stopping his army so that the ants may peacefully go along on with their work. Some commentaries include a further conversation between the chief of ants and the Prophet Sulaiman. I am studying this story with my five year old son and as we delved into it and the lessons one might learn as a child, I thought too about the morals I might derive from the story as an adult.
The Voice of One Matters
The ant was a voice that Prophet Sulaiman heard and in his sole capacity the ant saved the very fate of his people. To speak when harm may come into our lives and to speak even if a greater force may jump upon us can change courses of histories. Silence becomes complicity in so many ways when a truth of human rights is being systematically violated or pounced upon.
The narrative of the singular has great power not only because of the person, but because of the truth it tells of the story of a people as well. I pray daily for that courage, to tell the truth and speak it even if I might get stepped on. Perhaps even more telling will be whether I have the courage to tell the truth of other communities’ suffering in addition to my own and bear witness to justice for my own and for those who are strangers to me.
Listening as a Leader: The Voice of Ants
Prophet Sulaiman was rendered a specific gift of understanding the language of animals. He made a decision to change his course because he could hear the smallest creatures alive in that moment. However I think often we forget that the lesson is also that he HEARD and he LISTENED.
Is a just leader’s greatest achievement not his/her capacity to hear those who no one else listens to? To do so means to seek out those words, to go into the homes of people who are left out of formal processes, to go humbly into a place that has no material benefit for a person and listen to those stories. More importantly, to hear those stories and to adjust our ways of being and organizing around concerns that includes the influence of those who have no other outlets. It takes practice, it takes perseverance and perhaps most of all it takes time.
So, I pray for this too, to learn to be slower in my gait, in my entry into people’s lives and to seek out actively the voices that are not at the table.
The World Around Us: Remembering Creation beyond Humans
Perhaps one of the most salient points of this story is that Prophet Sulaiman listened to the Earth herself. The creatures who tread on the soil exclaimed their fear and he listened. As we think about justice on this Earth, we must remember we are not her sole inhabitants and that so we hold a community within this ecosystem we are a part of. Prophet Sulaiman was given the gift of hearing and listening. Perhaps for us all, we need to cultivate the capacity to see the signs of the Earth’s distress and the stress we create for the many of Allah’s creatures that roam these lands, seas and air. So think of justice not just for our human race, but for all who might be affected. So I pray for this awareness, this consciousness and this gift to hear the cries of all creatures, both great and small.
This article is cross-posted on Najeeba’s World.
Najeeba Syeed-Miller, J.D., is Professor of Interreligious Education at Claremont School of Theology. She has extensive experience in mediating conflicts among communities of ethnic and religious diversity, and has won awards for her peacemaking and public interest work. Najeeba also writes her own blog, “Najeeba’s world,” and can be followed on Twitter @najeebasyeed.