Is the female bee indicated in verse 68 of the chapter of an-Nahl? If yes, does only the female bee produce honey? Does the male bee not produce honey?

Details of the Question

- It is said that this is a miracle. Is it true? – In Arabic, some words are unreal or supposed feminine like the word shams (sun) and yad (hand). The word an-nahl (honeybee) mentioned in the verse is an unreal feminine word. As far as I know, an unreal feminine word is conjugated as a feminine word. Therefore, it is not possible to deduce that the honeybee mentioned in the verse is masculine or feminine and hence it cannot be said that this verse indicates a scientific miracle. Am I wrong?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Answer 1:

"And thy Lord taught the Bee to build its cells in hills, on trees, and in (men´s) habitations; Then to eat of all the produce (of the earth), and find with skill the spacious paths of its Lord: there issues from within their bodies a drink of varying colors, wherein is healing for men: verily in this is a Sign for those who give thought." (an-Nahl, 16/68, 69)

While narrating what the honeybee does, the Quran uses the feminine gender. In Arabic, verbs are conjugated according to gender. (It is like that in many other world languages.) The use of the feminine gender in the Quran in conjugation shows that the acts pointed out by the Quran are performed by the female bee. Therefore, it is more appropriate to translate the word nahl in the verse as "female honeybee". What the female honeybee does is described as follows in the Quran: (In Arabic, there is no separate masculine and feminine form of the word nahl (bee); both the male and female bee is used as nahl.)

1. Building its hive/house (verse 68)
2. Its activity in nature to collect nectar (verse 69)
3. Making honey(verse 69)

All of those activities mentioned in the Quran are performed by female bees. Therefore, the verb following the bee in the Quran is added the feminine suffix. The male bees have no connection with those activities mentioned by the Quran. The unique function of the male, more robust with big eyes, is to fertilize the young queen female bee. The male bees that fulfill this function are expelled from the hive by the females at the end of the summer and, as they are used to being looked after by the females, they die of starvation.

At the time of the descent of the Quran, people did not know the details of the distribution of work among the bees living in a hive; they did not know that those actively working in the hive were females. They did not know that the function of producing honey and collecting nectar from fruits belonged to female bees. Therefore, it is a miraculous expression that the Quran used the mode of conjugation in the Arabic intended for the female gender while listing the duties of bees and that it excluded the male bees.

- Is the bee a mathematics professor?

It is not possible not to be astonished by the abilities of the bee when we examine what the female bee does, which is pointed out in the Quran. It necessitates a mathematical genius for the bee to build its house and the hives in it.  

Honeybees produce their honeycombs in the form of hexagons. (This is understood from bee fossils dating back to millions of years ago.)

Why is the shape of the hive a hexagon but not a rectangle, heptagon or octagon? 

The mathematicians inquiring this showed that the optimum use of the entire space of unit could be no other than a hexagon, which also accounted for the production of cells using the available material in the most economical fashion. If the cells were of a different shape, i.e., triangular or quadrilateral, there would also be no vacuum but less material is required to build hexagonal cells than that required for triangular or quadrilateral cells. In many other shapes, there would be unutilized space left. Consequently, the hexagonal cell is capable of storing the greater amount of honey with less wax.

One of the most interesting aspect of this activity is that the result of the combined work of thousands of bees, each contributing to the entire geometrical opus. Mathematicians have proven that no larger space to harbor the larvae coming out of the eggs could be arranged with a given amount of wax to fit the geometrical design. The worker bees show how they can realize it in the most economical fashion with what they have.

A French entomologist called Antoine Ferchault posited a geometrical problem referred to as the “Bee Problem”. This is the problem:

A cell of regular hexagonal cross section is closed by three equal and equally inclined rhombuses. Calculate the smaller angle of the rhombus when the total surface area of the cell is least possible.

Three leading mathematicians, a German, a Swiss and a Brit, tried to solve this problem, and all of them found the following result: 70° 32' (70 degrees 32 minutes). This exactly fits the angle of cells constructed by the female bees.

The worker bees’ points of departure in the production process of these cells differ. As the work proceeds, the cells converge toward a central point. The angles of cells at the point where they meet are perfect. It is clear that bees do not start the construction of the hive randomly and that the construction of this design, the distances between the beginning and the end points and the precise calculation of the positions of their fellow workers display unbelievable exactitude. The most renowned mathematicians demonstrated the bees’ unerring calculation measured as 70 degrees 32 minutes. However, were we to suggest that these three men of science take a ruler in hand and make a hexagon with perfectly fitting angles, and then add to the instructions given to these three professors, asking that the calculation used to form the hexagons be regular and flawless and that all of them should start from a different place of the hexagon, they would fail in the task. We see that the bees are not only great theoreticians but also skillful practitioners. In the theoretical field, this calculation is incredibly exact, while their skill in applying it is unbelievably accurate.

- How do these bees, whose lifespans are only 6 weeks, achieve all these calculations and construction work?

To call this ingenuity mere “instinct” and to show those wonderful deeds as coincidence mean to take refuge in names as it is indicated by verse 40 of the chapter of Yusuf. The word "instinct" is no more than a name and it does not explain anything. The Quran states that the bee received revelations according to which Allah’s design and programming were put into execution. The cleverest of men could not learn even to count in six weeks. It is not possible to say that what the bee does can be learned by the bee or can take place coincidentally. It is clear that the Creator who created the bee created the bee with all her properties, solved for her all these mathematical problems and enabled her to carry out perfect applications. The same Creator shows His boons to human beings by making the bee produce more honey than she needs.  

Answer 2:

- You are wrong; you are completely wrong. For, unreal femininity is in question for the words that are not really feminine like shams (sun) and yad (hand). Real, not unreal or supposed, femininity and masculinity is in question for the beings that have the quality of femininity and masculinity.

The bee is a living being; there are male and female bees. The male and female of a camel are really male and female; similarly, male and female of a BEE are really male and female.

- According to some scholars, it is said that the femininity of the word “nahl” is unreal but it is a widespread view that this word is used for both masculine and feminine.

- Even if "nahl" is a word that is used for both genders, the fact that feminine pronouns are used for it in the Quran indicates that the bee that receives revelation is feminine.

It is a miracle at any rate that the femininity of the “bee” is emphasized in the word of Allah, who has endless knowledge, whether it is real or unreal feminine. For, if a masculine pronoun had been used for it, there would have been no drawback to it in terms of grammar. It does not associate with the consciousness of belief to refer this preference of Allah to coincidence.

- A real feminine is a being that has a masculine word of the same species like ba’ir (camel) rajul (man). As a matter of fact, Qadi Baydawi states that the word "nahl" is masculine in terms of form but feminine in terms of meaning and that feminine pronouns are used because of this. (see Baydawi Tafsir, the place in question)

- According to the people of Hejaz, the word “nahl” is the plural form of the feminine word “nahlatun”. (Abus-Suud, Shawkani, the interpretation of the verse in question)

Since the Quran is based on the dialect of Hejaz, it can be said that this word is used in feminine form in this verse.

- According to the determination of some scholars, BEES are divided into three as masculine, feminine and hermaphrodite. (Ibn Ashur, the place in question)

- It might have been evaluated differently in the past but it is a clear fact today that bees are divided into two as masculine and feminine. This was proved scientifically. Important researches and determinations are known about the duties and lifespans of male and female bees.   

According to those determinations, there are sometimes 50.000 bees in a hive. There are very few male bees in the honeycomb where the queen bee lives. The majority consists of female workers. The duty of the male bees is to fertilize the queen. (see al-Maraghi, the interpretation of the verse in question)

- It is understood from those explanations that BEES are real feminine and masculine beings. The only duty of the male bees is to impregnate the queen/mother bee. All of the other bees are female. They serve both the male bees and the queen. The main duty of the female bees is to collect nectar from flowers and to produce honey. (al-Maraghi, ibid)

Thus, the divine statement emphasizing that female bees produce honey is a scientific miracle.

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