Islamic concepts

Mathal (@mvl@) — example, analogy, imagery, allegory

  • Such are the comparisons We draw for people, though only the wise can grasp them. Such are the comparisons We make for people, but only those understand them who have knowledge. These are parables which We tell to human being, but only the learned ones understand them. 29:43
  • We have explained in various ways in this Quran, for the benefit of mankind, all kinds of examples, but man is most contentious. 18:54
  • They are real. For example, the Pharaoh’s wife? was a real person.
  • Only ʿUlamāʾ can understand them 29:43
  • Allāh explains things using examples and analogies for our benefit 18:54

example, parable, symbolism

A Mathal (pl. امثال Amthāl)

And if all the trees on earth were pens, and the sea [were] ink, with seven [morel seas yet added to it, the words of God would not be exhausted: for, verily, God is almighty, wise. 31:27

Imagery of Allāh’s Light

Don’t invent metaphors for Allāh

  • Don’t invent metaphors for Allāh: Allāh knows, and you don’t. [...] (Qurʾān 16:74)

Tree of Īmān

  • [Prophet], do you not see how God makes comparisons? 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 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. 14:24-27
  • Water imagery

Analogy of harvest

  • Those who invest their wealth in God’s cause are like a grain that produces seven ears, each bearing a hundred grains. God gives multiple increase to whoever He wishes: He is limitless and all knowing 2:261

Analogy of single-tasking

  • God puts forward this illustration: can a man who has for his masters several partners at odds with each other be considered equal to a man devoted wholly to one master? All praise belongs to God, though most of them do not know. God sets forth a parable: there are two men—one belonging to many masters, all disagreeing with one another, and the other belonging entirely to one master: are those two equal in comparison? Praise be to God! But most of them have no knowledge. 39:29

Everything eventually goes up to Allāh, so why get caught up with other Masters?

When you’re spoiled, don’t take things for granted, don't become thankless, ungrateful

  • God presents the example of a town that was secure and at ease, with provisions coming to it abundantly from all places. Then it became ungrateful for God’s blessings, so God afflicted it with the garment of famine and fear, for what its people had done. 16:112

Not equal in power

  • God presents this illustration: a slave controlled by his master, with no power over anything, and another man We have supplied with good provision, from which he gives alms privately and openly. Can they be considered equal? All praise belongs to God, but most of them do not recognize this. God presents another illustration: two men, one of them dumb, unable to do anything, a burden to his carer- whatever task he directs him to, he achieves nothing good- can he be considered equal to one who commands justice and is on the straight path? 16:75-76
  • The Kalimah is like a healthy tree with firm, deep roots and high-reaching branches, giving fruit in all seasons (14:24)

[Prophet], do you not see how God makes comparisons? A good word is like a good tree whose root is firm and whose branches are high in the sky,

Example of the fly

  • People, here is an illustration, so listen carefully: those you call on beside God could not, even if they combined all their forces, create a fly, and if a fly took something away from them, they would not be able to retrieve it. How feeble are the petitioners and how feeble are those they petition! 22:73
  • God does not shy from drawing comparisons even with something as small as a gnat, or larger: the believers know it is the truth from their Lord, but the disbelievers say, ‘What does God mean by such a comparison?’ Through it He makes many go astray and leads many to the right path. But it is only the rebels He makes go astray 2:26

Is it real or is it a metaphor? More like ‘living metaphor’. haqq -- actualized, embodied, incarnate

  • They are like people who [labour to] kindle a fire: when it lights up everything around them, God takes away all their light, leaving them in utter darkness, unable to see 2:17
  • Calling to disbelievers 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. 2:171
  • Do you suppose that you will enter the Garden without first having suffered like those before you? They were afflicted by misfortune and hardship, and they were so shaken that even [their] messenger and the believers with him cried, ‘When will God’s help arrive?’ Truly, God’s help is near. 2:214

Don’t procrastinate?

  • You who believe, do not cancel out your charitable deeds with reminders and hurtful words, like someone who spends his wealth only to be seen by people, not believing in God and the Last Day. Such a person is like a rock with earth on it: heavy rain falls and leaves it completely bare. Such people get no rewards for their works: God does not guide the disbelievers. 2:264
  • But those who spend their wealth in order to gain God’s approval, and as an affirmation of their own faith, are like a garden on a hill: heavy rain falls and it produces double its normal yield; even if no heavy rain falls, it will still be watered by the dew. God sees all that you do. 2:265
  • In God’s eyes Jesus is just like Adam: He created him from dust, said to him, ‘Be’, and he was. 3:59
  • that which they spend in pursuit of the life of this world is like a biting frosty blast which smites the harvest of a people who have wronged themselves, and destroys it. God is not unjust to them; they are unjust to their own souls. 3:117
  • Is a dead person brought back to life by Us, and given light with which to walk among people, comparable to someone trapped in deep darkness who cannot escape? In this way the evil deeds of the disbelievers are made to seem alluring to them. 6:122
  • Whoever has done a good deed will have it ten times to his credit, but whoever has done a bad deed will be repaid only with its equivalent- they will not be wronged. 6:160
  • if it had been Our will, We could have used these signs to raise him high, but instead he clung to the earth and followed his own desires- he was like a dog that pants with a lolling tongue whether you drive it away or leave it alone. Such is the image of those who reject Our signs. Tell them the story so that they may reflect. 7:176
  • Those you [idolaters] call upon instead of God are created beings like you. Call upon them, then, and let them respond to you if what you say is true. 7:194
  • These two groups are like the blind and the deaf as compared with those who can see and hear well: can they be alike? How can you not take heed? 11:24
  • The deeds of those who reject their Lord are like ashes that the wind blows furiously on a stormy day: they have no power over anything they have gained. This is to stray far, far away. 14:18
  • You lived in the same places as others who wronged themselves before, and you were clearly shown how We dealt with them––We gave you many examples. 14:45
  • Those who do not believe in the Hereafter should have the contemptible image, and God should have the highest one: He is the Mighty, the Wise. 16:60
  • See what they think you are like! But they are lost and cannot find the right way. 17:48
  • In this Quran, We have set out all kinds of examples for people, yet most of them persist in denying the truth. 17:89
  • Tell them the parable of two men: for one of them We made two gardens of grape vines, surrounded them with date palms, and put corn fields in between; 18:32
  • We have sent verses down to you [people] clarifying the right path, examples of those who passed away before you, and advice for those who are mindful of God. 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, fuelled 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- 24:34-35
  • See what they think you are like! They have gone astray and cannot find the right way. 25:9
  • They cannot put any argument to you without Our bringing you the truth and the best explanation. 25:33
  • Those who take protectors other than God can be compared to the spider which builds itself a cobweb, but the frailest of all structures is the house of the spider, if they but knew it. 29:41

Hierarchy: Allāh is on top

  • He gives you this example, drawn from your own lives: do you make your slaves full partners with an equal share in what We have given you? Do you fear them as you fear each other? This is how We make Our messages clear to those who use their reason. 30:28
  • In this Quran We have set every kind of illustration before people, yet if you [Prophet] brought them a miracle, the disbelievers would still say, ‘You [prophets] deal only in falsehood.’ 30:58
  • Give them the example of the people to whose town messengers came. 36:13
  • In this Quran, We have put forward all kinds of illustration for people, so that they may take heed. We have put forth for men, in this Qur'an every kind of Parable, in order that they may receive admonition. We have set forth to men all kinds of parables in this Quran so that they may take heed. We have given all kinds of examples for the human being in this Quran so that perhaps he may take heed. 39:27
  • We made them a lesson and an example for later people. When the son of Mary is cited as an example, your people [Prophet] laugh and jeer, saying, ‘Are our gods better or him?’- they cite him only to challenge you: they are a contentious people-but he is only a servant We favoured and made an example for the Children of Israel. 43:56-59
  • Here is an imagery of picture of the Garden promised to the pious: rivers of water forever pure, rivers of milk forever fresh, rivers of wine, a delight for those who drink, rivers of honey clarified and pure, [all] flow in it; there they will find fruit of every kind; and they will find forgiveness from their Lord. How can this be compared to the fate of those stuck in the Fire, given boiling water to drink that tears their bowels? 47:15
  • Muhammad is the Messenger of God. Those who follow him are harsh towards the disbelievers and compassionate towards each other. You see them kneeling and prostrating, seeking God’s bounty and His good pleasure: on their faces they bear the marks of their prostrations. This is how they are pictured in the Torah and the Gospel: like a seed that puts forth its shoot, becomes strong, grows thick, and rises on its stem to the delight of its sowers. So God infuriates the disbelievers through them; God promises forgiveness and a great reward to those who believe and do righteous deeds. 48:29
  • and fair maidens with large, lustrous eyes like the pearls in their shells 56:22-23
  • Bear in mind that the present life is just a game, a diversion, an attraction, a cause of boasting among you, of rivalry in wealth and children. It is like plants that spring up after the rain: their growth at first delights the sowers, but then you see them wither away, turn yellow, and become stubble. There is terrible punishment in the next life as well as forgiveness and approval from God; the life of this world is only an illusory pleasure. 57:20
  • Not equal are the Companions of the Fire and the Companions of the Garden: it is the Companions of the Garden, that will achieve Felicity. Had We sent down this Qur'an on a mountain, verily, thou wouldst have seen it humble itself and cleave asunder for fear of Allah. Such are the similitudes which We propound to men, that they may reflect. 59:20-21
  • Those who have been charged to obey the Torah, but do not do so, are like asses carrying books: how base such people are who disobey God’s revelations! God does not guide people who do wrong. 62:5
  • God has given examples of disbelievers: the wives of Noah and Lot who married two of Our righteous servants but betrayed them. Their husbands could not help them against God: it was said, ‘Both of you enter the Fire with the others.’ 66:10
  • God has also given examples of believers: Pharaoh’s wife, who said, ‘Lord, build me a house near You in the Garden. Save me from Pharaoh and his actions; save me from the evildoers,’ 66:11
  • We have appointed only angels to be wardens of the Fire. We have specified their number only as a trial for those who are bent on denying the truth, so that those who were given the Book might gain in certainty, and those who believe might increase in faith— and so that neither those who have been given the Scripture nor the believers might have any doubts, and that those sick at heart and those who deny the truth might ask, ‘What does God mean by this parable?’ In this way, God lets go astray whom He wills, and guides whom He wills. And none knows the forces of your Lord but He. This is but a Reminder for man. 74:31