Ibn Katheer, the famous commentator, while discussing this ayah, has reported a lesson-filled event on the authority of Mujahid as narrated by Ibn Jarir and Ibn Abi Hatim.
He recounts the event concerning a woman from an earlier community. Soon after her pregnancy matured, she gave birth to a child and sent her servant out to fetch some fire. As soon as the servant stepped out of the door of the house, he saw a man appear suddenly before him. He asked, ‘What baby this woman has given birth to?’ The servant told him that it was a baby girl.
Thereupon, the man said, ‘You must remember that this girl will sleep with a hundred men and will finally die through a spider.’ Hearing this, the servant returned immediate with a knife and slit the abdomen of that girl open. Taking her to be dead, he ran away from the house. But, a little later, the mother of the girl stitched up the skin of the abdomen slit by the servant. Then came the day when this girl grew to be young and beautiful, so beautiful that she was considered to be the jewel of the city.
As for the servant, he escaped overseas where he stayed for a long time and, in the meantime, assembled a fortune for himself. When he planned to get married, he returned to his old city. There he met an old woman. He told her that he was looking for a bride, but he was eager to marry the most beautiful woman in town. The old woman told him about a certain girl whose beauty was unmatched in the whole city and insisted that he should marry her. The servant, now a rich man, made efforts and finally got married to that girl.
While getting to know each other, the girl asked him as to who he was and where did he live. He told her, ‘Actually, I belong to this very city, but I had to run away because I had slit the abdomen of a girl open.’ Then, he narrated the whole event. Hearing this, she said, “I am that girl.” She showed him her abdomen. The cut mark was still there. Seeing this, the man said, “If you are the same women, I disclose two things about you. The first one is that you will sleep, with a hundred men.” Thereupon, the woman confessed that she has done that, but she could not remember the number. The man said, “The number is hundred. And the second one is that you will die through a spider.”
The man who was now rich had a grand palace built for her which was absolutely free of any spider webs. On a certain day, while they were resting in their room in the palace, they noticed a spider on the wall. The woman said, “Is this the spider you scare me of?” The man said, “Yes.” Thereupon, she sprang up from the bed saying, “Then, this one I am going to kill right now.” Having said that, she drowned the spider on the floor and trampled her dead under feet.
The spider died all right but the poison from her infected her feet and nails and the message of death became all too clear for her. [Ibn Katheer]
Here was a woman living in a palace, new and very clean, but she died through a spider all of a sudden. Compare her case with many others who spent a life time in fighting battles yet death did not come to them there. Think of Khalid ibn Waleed radhiAllahu anhu, the famous soldier and general of Islam known by his oft-repeated title, Saifullah – the Sword of Allah. He had a burning desire to die as martyr in the way of Allah. So, he kept fighting all his life, engaging in one Jihad after another and longing to become a shaheed. He killed
He killed thousands of disbelievers on the battlefields, living dangerously and daringly against many a trial, always praying and pleading that he be saved from the fate of dying in bed like women and praying and pleading that Allah favor him with the death of a fearless soldier in the heat of some Jihad. But, as decreed by Allah, he finally died nowhere else but on his own bed in the house.
The lesson is that the arrangement of life and death stays in the hands of our Creator whose decisions are final. There is nothing we can do about it. It is He who can, if He wills, give us death on a luxury bed at the hands of a spider; or, if He elects to save us, he can keep us alive amid swinging swords or zooming fires.