Divine Illustrations: A Reflection on Allegories in the Qur’an

In this Qur’an We have presented every kind of illustration for people but man is more contentious than any other creature (Q. al-Kahf, 18:54).

Comparisons, allegories, and examples from the world around us are used in the Qur’an by God to not only illustrate a point, but evoke emotion.  These examples enrich the lessons, by associating a concept (like resurrection) to the world around us (like plant life after rainfall); and through them higher meanings become more familiar and recognizable. Yet, human beings, who are the most contentious of creatures, do not always reflect.  Led instead by passion—and the seeking of lower desires—human beings become blind to not just these examples within the Qur’an, but also the world around them from which these examples are drawn.  They do not witness the signs (ayāt) in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of night and day.  Nor do they recognize the examples within the Qur’an (like those following) but, instead, ask “by this what does God mean?”

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Praise be to God who has sent down the Qur’an to mankind and explained in it things in various ways—including warnings and glad tidings—so that people may beware and take notice, but it has only turned a party among them further away (Q. 20:113, 17:41).  And all thanks be to God who has, throughout the Qur’an, set out all kinds of examples for people to ponder over, yet most, instead, persist in disbelieving (Q. 17:89).  Do they not see that God explains His revelations in various ways, but it will only be clear to those who know, for God has willed that only the wise and thankful will grasp them (Q. 29:43, 6:105, 7:58).  Our Lord, Most Generous, has repeated His message to humanity so that they might take heed, but, rather, many persist in their disbelief (Q. 25:50).  So, God has destroyed communities that once flourished after giving them various signs so that they might return to the right way (Q. 46:27).

Examples of all kinds of illustrations have been put forward throughout the Qur’an so that people may take heed, and, in turn, be mindful of God (Q. 39:27-28).  So let them reflect:

 A good word is like a good tree whose root is firm and whose branches are high in the sky, yielding constant fruit by its Lord’s leave—God makes such comparisons (al-amthāl) for people so that they may reflect—but an evil word is like a rotten tree, uprooted from the surface of the earth, with no power to endure.  God will give firmness to those who believe in the firmly rooted word, both in this world and the Hereafter, but the evildoers He leaves to stray: God does whatever He will (Q. 14:24-27).

Do they not see that God even compares the effects of charity to that of grains of corn that produce seven ears, each bringing a hundred grains (Q. 2:261), and His provision for his servant is like the water He sends that fills riverbeds to overflowing, each according to their measure (Q. 13:17). Do they not recognize these examples from the world around them?

However, human beings are boastfully arrogant while God, Most High, does not shy away from drawing comparisons with something as lowly as a gnat, or higher (Q. 2:26).  Why do they not reflect? Do they not see that they are acting like a dog that pants with a lolling tongue whether you drive it away or leave it alone (Q. 7: 176)?  Calling to them is like a herdsman calling to things that hear nothing but a shout and a cry: they are deaf, dumb, and blind, and they understand nothing (Q. 2:171).  Why can they not perceive that even if they combined all their forces they would be unable to create a fly, and if a fly took something away from them, they would not be able to retrieve it (Q. 22:73).  They have no grasp of God’s true measure: God is truly most strong and mighty (Q. 22:74).

Everything sounds His praises, though they do not perceive it.  Even the thunder sounds His praises, as do the angels in awe of Him; yet still they dispute about God (Q. 13:13).  How can one understand who does not reflect?  Believers, be not among those who with no knowledge, argue about God, and follow every devilish rebel fated to lead astray those who take to his side (Q. 22:1-3).  Do not the disbelievers see that they are only being led to their own suffering?  People, do you not see how God has made what is in the heavens and on the earth useful to you, and has lavished His blessings on you both outwardly and inwardly? Yet some people argue about God, without knowledge or guidance or an illuminating scripture (Q. 31:20).  By what right do they have to speak against their Creator?  The disbelievers seek to refute the truth with false arguments and make fun of God’s messages and warnings (Q. 18:56); but God seals up the heart of every arrogant tyrant (Q. 40:35).  So, believers, take care how you speak with them and argue only in the best way (Q. 29:46).

Leave the hypocrites in their blindness, though God may use them to create a light for those around them (Q. 2:17). And reflect! Allow God’s comparisons to sink into your heart! How can the blind and the deaf be compared to those who can see and hear well (Q. 11:24)? And how can a dead person brought back to life by Us, and given light with which to walk among people be compared to someone trapped in deep darkness who cannot escape? (Q. 6:122).  How astray is the human being who can not see that God created him from a drop of fluid? Yet—lo and behold!—he disputes openly, producing arguments against Him (Q. 36:77-78). Has not God sent verses down to you clarifying the right path, examples of those who passed away before you, and teaching for those who are mindful of God (Q. 24:34)?

You will find in this Qur’an God has set every kind of illustration before people (Q. 30:58), and that there are truly signs in the creation of the heavens and earth, and in the alternation of night and day, for those with understanding (Q. 3:190). But know that, without a doubt, God is above all comparison in the heavens and the earth; He is the Almighty, the One who Governs (Q. 30:27). Rather,

 God is the Light of the heavens and earth. His Light is like this: there is a niche, and in it a lamp, the lamp inside a glass, a glass like a glittering star, fueled from a blessed olive tree from neither east nor west, whose oil almost gives light even when no fire touches it—light upon light—God guides whoever He will to His Light; God draws such comparisons for people; God has full knowledge of everything (Q. 24:35).

Do you not see that if God had sent this Qur’an down to a mountain, you would have seen it humbled and split apart in awe of God; God offers people such illustrations so that they may reflect (Q. 59:21).  Yet the disbelievers still say, ‘You [prophets] deal only in falsehood.’ (Q. 30:58).  Do you not see that those who, with no authority to do so, dispute God’s messages, there is nothing in their hearts but a thirst for a greatness they will never attain? So seek refuge in God, for He is the All Hearing, the All Seeing (Q. 40:56).

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