The reader of the Qur’an must have been wondering why Surah 16, An-Nahl or the Bee, is named after a lowly creature, but in the scientific language, all the honeybees belong to the genus Apis.
Karl von Frisch, a scientist in the 1940s, first discovered the significance of bees’ dances. Once the honeybee discovers a source of food, it returns to the hive and the forager bee recruits other bees through both sound and dances and communicates information about the location of food.
The exactness of the Qur’anic words in their reference to this scientific phenomena occurs in Surah 16, ayath 68, which states, “And the Lord inspired the bee, saying: Choose thou habitations in the hills and in the trees and in (men’s) habitations.”
Yusuf Ali says: “Auha: wahyan” ordinarily means inspiration, the message put into the mind or heart by Allah. Here, the bee’s instinct is refereed to Allah’s teaching, which it undoubtedly is.
In the above verse, Allah (SWT) is commanding the bee to choose (to make a hive) a dwelling in the hills, trees and other places which man has built.In Arabic, the verb assumes a specific form when it is in the imperative form and can be either masculine or feminine, according to the context.
In the Qur’an, the Arabic command of ittakhizee (go choose) is given to the bee in the feminine imperative form. It is shockingly true that only the female bee finds a new home. The queen and the workers are the heart of the hive; the male drones exist solely to mate with the queen. Thus, the Qur’an makes a very accurate statement when it refers only to the female bee as the one which is being commanded from Allah (SWT) to make a dwelling. As we know, the Qur’an is a book of guidance and the theme of the Qur’an is “mankind,” and it is not a book of science.
However, over 750 verses are found in the Qur’an, which relate to scientific phenomena as an argument to invite the believers to the Truth.
Noted scholar, Afzalur Rahman, in elaborating the interconnectedness between science and the Qur’an said, “The Qur’an clearly establishes the fact that science and Qur’an are two aspects of the same Truth and there is no contradiction between them…Thus the Qur’an introduces new dimensions into the study of religion and its philosophy and seeks to bring men of knowledge (scientists) closer to Allah, through the study of His attributes and manifestations in the material world.”
In another verse in Surah 16, An- Nahl, the Qur’an says, “Then eat of all fruits (all produce of the earth), and follow the ways of thy Lord, made smooth (for thee). There cometh forth from their bellies a drink of hues (varying colors), wherein is healing for mankind. Lo! herein is indeed portent (sign) for people who reflect.”… 16: 69
Then eat of all fruits (all produce of the earth), and follow the ways of thy Lord, made smooth (for thee). There cometh forth from their bellies a drink of hues (varying colors), wherein is healing for mankind
Allama Yusuf Ali, in his commentary, stated, “The bee assimilates the juice of various kinds of flowers and fruits, and forms within its body the honey, which it stores in its cells of wax. The different kinds of food from which it makes its honey give different colors to the honey, e.g., it is dark-brown, light-brown, yellow, white, and so on. The taste and flavor also varies, as in the case of heather honey, the honey formed from scented flowers, and so on. As food, it is sweet and wholesome, and it is used in medicine. Note that while the instinctive individual acts are described in the singular number, the produce of “their bodies” is described in the plural, as the result of their collective effort.
Honey: A healing for mankind
As stated in 16:69, there is a natural healing power in honey, which is of great benefit to mankind. This has been documented in the world’s oldest medical literature.
For example, the Sumerans and the Egyptian physicians, about 4000 years ago, used honey to treat internal and external wounds, ulcers, diseases of the eyes, lungs, skin and in particular, diseases of the stomach and intestines. The Chinese, Indians, Greeks and Romans have recorded similar practices. Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, used honey to treat a number of diseases.
Ibn Sina, the Prince among Muslim physicians listed several beneficial uses of honey in his monumental work of medicine “The Canon of Medicine”.
Among the uses he listed are: preservation of youthfulness, improvement of memory, a feeling of happiness, assisting in digestion, increasing appetite and helping to promote in one’s rendering of speech.
The composition of honey is very complex, containing a variety of biochemical compounds, including vitamins, amino acids, enzymes, hormones, etc.,
It is used in the treatment of wounds and ulcers. Surgeons and physicians are using honey in the treatment of gunshot wounds, ulcers, surface wounds, cuts and abrasions, in the treatment of gastroenteritis (diarrhoea). In the academia, a number of Ph.D. dissertations have been written on honey, particularly on its biochemical properties. Endocrinologists say that glucose levels in blood of healthy volunteers are increased, whereas among diabetic patients, it is decreased after consumption of honey.
Smartness of the honeybee
How smart is the common honeybee? It is far smarter than today’s most powerful supercomputers. Modern computers can attain the amazing processing speed of 16 gigaflops or 16 billion simple arithmetic operations, such as adding two numbers, each second.
On the other hand, the bee’s brain shows that the lowly honeybee performs the equivalent of ten trillion operations per second. Very astounding!
In the spring of 1983, the Smithsonian Institution conducted a symposium on animal intelligence at which one of the researchers was Princeton ethnologist, James L. Gould, an internationally renowned expert on honeybee behavior.
In one of his experiments, he wanted to observe the ways bee locate new food sources. To achieve this, Gould provided honeybees with desirable food sources. Once they were accustomed to feeding at the stations, he moved the food sources by a factor of 1.25 the distance of the previous move.
What Gould found was that after a few such moves, the honeybees no longer had to search for the new location, but anticipated Gould’s behavior so accurately that he found the bees circling the new location before he had even arrived and waiting for their food.
The honeybees were able to construct quite a complex simulation of reality in their tiny brains (less than 10 milligrams) and deduce from past experience where Gould was going to place the food next.
The bee does all of this while consuming a lot less power than a computer. According to Byte magazine, “a honeybee’s brain dissipates less than 10 microwatts of energy… It is superior by about seven orders of magnitude to the most efficient of today’s manufactured computers.” What it means is that over ten million bee brains can operate on the power needed for a single 100-watt light bulb. The most efficient of today’s computers uses hundreds of millions of times more energy to perform an equivalent number of operations.
As shown above, they are able to navigate across long distances to locate sources of nectar and then return to the hive and communicate directions to fellow bees. They prepare special food items, such as royal jelly and beebread, for their young.
They protect their home by recognising and repelling intruders. They regularly remove garbage and other refuse from their hive. They control the climate in the hive by fanning the fresh air and sprinkling water during summer and by clustering together for warmth in the winter.
When their hives become overcrowded, they are smart enough to know that some have to leave and establish new colonies and live independently. Yet, supercomputers require teams of programmers, engineers, and technicians.
Bees truly are a marvel of Allah (SWT)’s creation. Is there any doubt why Surah 16, the Qur’an is called NAHL?