Getting to Know Allah
47:1 Those who have disbelieved and barred others from the Path of Allah, He will render their works perverse;
47:2 But those who have believed and done the righteous deeds and believed in what was sent down upon Muhammad, which is the Truth from their Lord, He will remit their sins and set their minds aright.
47:3 That is because those who have disbelieved have followed falsehood, but those who have believed have followed the truth from their Lord. Thus does Allah frame the parables for mankind.
18:54 We have set out in this Qur’an, for the people every manner of example; but man is the most contentious being.
18:55 Nothing prevents men from believing when the guidance comes to them, or from seeking forgiveness from their Lord; but they wait for the faith of the ancients to overtake them, or to be confronted with the punishment (on Judgement Day).
A parable can be defined as an uncomplicated short story used to illustrate a religious, moral or philosophical idea. Allah’s allegories differ from that definition in one significant way; for the layperson, and even the scholar, they can be somewhat confusing.
Allah's parables also tend to differ from those found in the New Testament in that the correct choice or the lesson to be learned is not always evident. His often tall tales are much like riddles which only certain people will understand, as Allah readily admits
2:26 Surely Allah does not disdain to give as a parable an insect or something bigger. Those who have believed know that it is the Truth from their Lord; but those who have disbelieved say: “What does Allah mean by this parable?” By it, He leaves many in error, and guides well many others. And by it, He leaves in error only the sinners (those who disobey Allah).
29:43 Those are the parables We devise for mankind, and only the learned will grasp them.
Allah says His parables are also meant to make one reflect, but what is there to reflect about in inanimate objects being self-aware, such as a mountain which is simultaneously prostrate and rent asunder, not because of the weight of the Book Allah threatens to send down upon it, but out of fear of Allah. Then again, the message of such a parable may be that if Allah can scare a mountain, you should be afraid, you should be very afraid; and that is definitely something to reflect upon, something that should make everyone think twice about defying this god.
59:21 Had We sent down this Qur’an upon a mountain, you would have seen it bowing down and rent asunder out of the fear of Allah. Those are the parables which We Recite to mankind, that perchance they might reflect.
Allah revealed that His exhaustive supply of parables (Yusuf Ali’s translation’s identifies 26 altogether) are intended to make His Message easier to remember.
39:27 We have given mankind every kind of parable in this Qur’an, that perchance they might remember.
Allah's “every manner of parable“ may also be signs which are likewise dismissed by the clueless as being falsehoods because He has sealed their hearts.
30:58 We have cited in this Qur'an every manner of parable; indeed were you to bring the unbelievers a sign, they would only say: "You are purveyors of falsehoods."
30:59 Thus Allah places a seal upon the hearts of those who do not know.
The “certitude of faith” will definitely be helpful in understanding and not questioning the seemingly unexplainable and the outwardly bizarre comparisons made by Allah.
30:60 Be patient then, for Allah’s Promise is true; and do not be disheartened by those who lack the certitude of faith.
Allah's parables are meant to "illustrate truth and falsehood" in an often obscure sort of way.
13:17 He sends water from the sky making riverbeds flow, each according to its measure. Then the torrent carries along swelling foam; similar to it is the scum that comes out from that which they smelt on the fire for making ornaments or tools. Thus Allah illustrates truth and falsehood. The scum is cast away, but what profits mankind remains in the earth. Thus Allah sets forth the parables.
While you will learn something from Allah’s parables, don’t tell Him parables, they have nothing to teach Him.
16:74 Do not set forth parables for Allah. Surely Allah knows and you do not know.
The King Who Disputed With Abraham
In this parable, the Patriarch of Arabs and Jews explains to a king why Allah is more powerful. The king is dumfounded by the explanation, and with good reason.
2:258 Have you not considered him who disputed with Abraham regarding his Lord, because He had given him the kingdom? When Abraham said: “My Lord is He Who gives life and causes death”, the other said: “I give life and cause death.” Abraham [then] said: “Allah brings the sun from the East, bring it up from the West.” Thereupon the unbeliever was confounded. Allah does not guide the wrongdoers.
The Traveller Who Slept for a Hundred Years
Revelation 2:259 is a parable about a man whom Allah causes to sleep for a hundred years, while keeping his food from rotting and his drink from evaporating, but perhaps not him “Look also at the bones [and see] how we have restored them, then clothed them with flesh”. After a hundred years He restores him, and his ass I assume, to pristine condition and wakes him up and asks him “how long have you tarried?” When he learns how long, he quickly realises that Allah, indeed, “has power over all things”.
2:259 Or [consider] him who, passing by a ruined city (Jerusalem) said: “How will God bring this to life after its death?” Thereupon Allah caused him to die for a hundred years, then brought him back to life.
Allah asked him: “For how long have you tarried?” He said: “I tarried for a day or part of a day.”
Allah said: “No, you have tarried for a hundred years. Look at your food and drink; the years have not changed them. Look at your ass. With this we make of you a sign for mankind. Look also at the bones [and see] how we have restored them, then clothed them with flesh.”
When [all] this became clear to him, he said: “[Now] I know that Allah has power over all things.”
The Good Tree and the Foul Tree
14:24 Do you not see how Allah sets forth as a parable that a good word is like a good tree, whose root (sic) is firm and its branches are in the sky.
14:25 It brings forth its fruit all the time, by its Lord's Leave. Allah gives parables to mankind that perchance they may be mindful.
14:26 And a foul word is like a foul tree which has been uprooted from the surface of the earth, having no stable base.
The Secure Town
16:112 Allah has given as a parable a town which was safe and secure, and its provision came in abundance from every side; then it denied Allah’s Blessings, and so Allah made it taste the engulfing hunger and fear on account of what they used to do.
16:113 A Messenger from among them came to them, but they denounced him, and so they were smitten by our punishment for being wrongdoers.
The Two Gardens
A parable that bears some resemblance to the Talents parable of the New Testament:
18:32 And relate to them as a parable the case of two men. To one of them, We gave two gardens of vine, which we surrounded with palm trees and placed between them a cornfield.
18:33 Both gardens yielded their produce and did not waste any of it, and We caused a river to flow through them both.
18:34 And he had some fruit. So he said to his companion, while conversing with him: “I have greater wealth than you and a mightier following.”
He must have been on his neighbour’s or his companion’s property for he then enters his garden (no it is not a typo, we started with two gardens and now it’s one) and makes a comment which Allah interprets as a denial of the last Day.
18:35 Then he entered his garden, wronging himself. He said: “I do not think this will ever perish.
18:36 “And I do not think the hour is coming. If I am returned to my Lord, I will surely find a place better than this.”
Moududi’s interpretation of the phrase “I will surely find a place better than this” is that of an unwarranted presumption, the type which gets Allah’s blood boiling. His explains that the man who entered his garden assumed he was “a favourite of God" because of his prosperity and therefore will “fare even better there (Paradise) than in the present.” Wrong!
18:37 His companion said to him, while conversing with him: “Do you disbelieve in Him Who created you from dust, then from a sperm, then fashioned you into a man?
The parable may not be about not associating other gods with Allah, but why pass up the opportunity.
18:38 “But as for me, Allah is my Lord and I do not associate anyone with my Lord.
What the gardener should have done and said, according to his companion, and the repercussions for that dangerous oversight.
18:39 “If only you were to say, upon entering your garden: ‘What Allah pleases [shall come to be]; there is no power save in Allah’. If you see me possessing less wealth and children than you;
18:40 “Perhaps, my Lord will give me a better garden than yours and will release upon yours a thunderbolt from the sky, so that it will turn into a barren wasteland.
18:41 “Or its water will sink into the ground, so that you will not be able to draw it.”
The unpardonable sin is not ingratitude, but of associating other gods with Allah. Go figure!
18:42 Then, his fruit was destroyed, and so he began to wring his hands at what he had spent on it, while it had fallen down upon its trellises, and he was saying: “I wish I had not associated anyone with my Lord.”
Not only that, no one came to his aid. Allah could have, but he declined for obvious reasons.
18:43 And he did not have a faction to help him besides Allah, nor was he able to defend himself.
The unexpected lesson to be drawn from this parable:
18:44 There, protection is from Allah, the True God. He is Best in rewarding and Best in requiting.
The Companions of the City
To confirm that the following revelations were indeed a parable and not a recollection of actual events, I consulted other translations including Yusuf Ali, who translated revelation 36:13 as “Set forth to them, by way of a parable, the (story of) the Companions of the City. Behold!, there came apostles to it.”
36:13 And relate to them the case of the people of the city, when the Messengers came thereto.
36:14 When We sent them two men, but they denounced them as liars, and so We reinforced them with a third. Then they said: “We are indeed Messengers unto you.”
36:15 They said: “You are only mortals like ourselves and the All-Compassionate has not sent down anything. You are only lying.”
36:16 They (the Messengers) said: “Our Lord knows that we are indeed Messengers unto you,
36:17 “And it is up to us to deliver the Manifest Message.”
36:18 They said: “We augur ill of you. If you will not desist, we will stone you and a very painful punishment from us will afflict you.”
36:19 The (the Messengers) said: “Your bird of omen is with you, if you are reminded, but you are an extravagant people.”
36:20 Then a man came from the farthest point of the city. He said: “My people, follow the Messengers.
36:21 “Follow those who do not ask you for a wage and are rightly guided.
36:22 “And why should I not worship Him who created me and unto Him you shall be returned?
36:23 “Shall I take, apart from Him, gods whose intercession, should the All-Compassionate wish me ill, will not avail me anything and they will not deliver me?
36:24 “Then, I am truly in manifest error.
36:25 “I have believed in your Lord, so listen to me.”
36:26 It was said: “Enter Paradise.” He said: “I wished my own people knew;
36:27 “About my Lord’s forgiving me and making me one of the favoured.”
36:28 After him, We sent down no troops from heaven; nor would We ever send any down.
The battle of Badr (8:9, 3:124-125), the battle of Hunayn (9:26) and the invisible soldiers Allah sent to protect His Prophet when he hid in a cave (9:40) to avoid being captured by Meccans intent on killing him may have all been exception to this hard and fast rule of never again sending troops from heaven to do battle down below.
36:29 It was only one cry; and behold they were silenced.
36:30 Woe betide the servants; no Messenger comes to them but they mock him.
36:31 Have they not seen how many generations before them We destroyed and unto them they will not return?
36:32 And all of them will be brought before Us?
The Companions Tested
An allegory of sorts, which is a variation on The Two Gardens parable. In this garden story, a crop is destroyed as a punishment for arrogance, or to prove that, except for the punishment or the bliss, nothing is a sure thing where Allah is concerned. Glorify Him if you do not want nasty surprises like seeing your harvest disappear overnight.
68:17 We have tested you, just as We tested the Companions of the Garden when they swore to pluck its fruit in the morning.
68:18 Without any reservations.
68:19 Then a night-stalker from your Lord visited them while they were asleep.
68:20 And so it (the Garden) became black like a cropped off field.
68:21 Thereupon they called out to each other in the morning:
68:22 “Go forth to your tillage, if you would crop it off.”
68:23 So, they set out whispering to each other:
68:24 “Let no destitute person enter it today with you around.”
68:25 And they proceeded next morning angrily, fully determined.
68:26 When they saw it, they said: “We have surely gone astray.
68:27 “Rather we are dispossessed.”
68:28 The most reasonable of them said: “Did I not tell you, if you only glorify.”
68:29 They said: “Glory to our Lord, we were indeed wrongdoers.”
68:30 Then, they turned to one another, reproaching each other.
68:31 They said: “Woe betide us; we have indeed been domineering.
68:32 “Maybe our Lord will give a better substitute for it (the Garden). We are truly turning to our Lord.”
68:33 Such is the punishment; but the punishment of the Hereafter is greater, if only they knew.
68:34 Surely, for the God-fearing there are Gardens of Bliss with their Lord.
The Lesser Gods and the Fly
22:73 O People, an example has been given; so listen to it. Surely, those (gods) whom you call upon, besides Allah, will never create a fly, even if they band together. And if a fly should rob them of something, they cannot retrieve it from it. How weak is the invoker and the invoked!
22:74 They do not give Allah His True Measure. Surely, Allah is Strong and Mighty.
Parables and Slaves
There are at least four parables where slaves are mentioned or implied. These parables are, for some, the clearest indication that Allah approves of slavery.
The Incapable Slave and the Well-Provided-For Slave
16:75 Allah sets forth this parable. Consider an owned slave who is unable to do anything; and one for whom We have provided from Our Bounty a fair provision, and he spends from it secretly and publicly. Are they then alike? Praise be to Allah; but most of them do not know.
According to Dr. Victor A. Gunasekara, author of Slavery and the Infidel in Islam, this verse is “one of the clearest instances where the institution of slavery is justified in the Koran as a divine dispensation."
This parable contrasts two people a slave who is owned by another and is completely powerless and a freeman on whom Allah has granted 'a goodly sustenance’ which he can spend openly or secretly as he pleases … Since Allah claims for himself the position of the granter of all benefits both the freeman's fortune and the slave's misfortune are ultimately determined by Allah. By his rhetorical question ‘Are the two alike?’ the Prophet Muhammad is actually justifying the inequality between the slave and the freeman as if it was a natural thing … because it is what Allah has ordained and ‘all praise is due to Allah’.
The Dumb Slave and the Righteous Slave
Some choices would seem obvious, but you can never be sure, especially if you are mentally challenged.
16:76 And Allah sets forth the parable of two men. One of them is dumb, unable to do anything and is a burden on his master; wherever he directs him, he brings no good. Is he equal to him who enjoins justice and is upon a straight path?
The Jointly-Owned Slave
30:28 He gave you a parable from your own selves. Do you have among what your hands own (slaves) partners in what We provided for you, so that you are equal therein? Do your fear them as you fear each other? Thus We expound the revelations to a people who understand.
The mushriks ("one who falsely associates (something) with God”), even after admitting that Allah is the Creator and Master of the earth and heavens and all that they contain, held some of His creatures as associates in His attributes and powers, and prayed to them … they used to pronounce while going round the Ka'bah. They said: "Here I am, O Allah, here I am in Thy presence! Thou hast no partner except the partner who is Thy own. Thou art his owner as well as owner of what he owns." … Allah has refuted this kind of shirk (associating other gods with Allah) in this verse. The argument is to this effect: "When you do not make your own slaves partners in your wealth, how do you think and believe that Allah will make His creatures partners in His Godhead?"
The Jointly-Owned Slave and the Slave of Just One Man
39:29 Allah has given as a parable a man owned by partners who are at odds and a man exclusively owned by one man. Are they equal in status? Praise be to Allah, but most of them do not know.
39:30 You are mortal and they are mortal too.
39:31 Then on the Day of Resurrection, you shall appear before your Lord defending yourself.
Moududi on revelation 39:29:
Allah in this parable has explained the difference between shirk and Tauhid (monotheism) and the impact each has on human life so clearly that it is not possible to put across such a vast theme so concisely and effectively in other words. Everyone will admit that the person who has many masters, each one pulling hire to himself, and the masters also so ill-tempered that no one spares him time in his service to obey the other, and no one rests content only with threatening and cursing him if he fails to carry out his command from among the contradictory commands of the other masters, but is bent upon punishing him, his life would certainly be in great anguish. On the contrary, the person who is the slave or servant of only one master, would be living a life of ease and comfort because he will not have to serve and seek the pleasure of another master. This is such a straightforward thing which does not need deep consideration for its understanding
Intriguing Comparisons or Mixed Metaphors
2:171 Those who disbelieve are like one who screams but is heard by one who hears only calling and shouting. They are deaf, dumb and blind, and so they do not understand.
Multiplication of the Grain
2:261 Those who spend their wealth in the Way of Allah are like a grain [of wheat] which grows seven ears, each carrying one hundred grains. Allah multiplies [further] to whom He wills. Allah is Munificent, All-Knowing.
Charity is Like Rain
2:264 O believers, do not render vain your charities by taunts and injuries, like him who spends his wealth for the sake of ostentation and does not believe in Allah and the Last Day. He is like a smooth rock covered by earth; when heavy rain falls on it, it leaves it completely bare. Such people get no reward for their works. Allah does not guide the unbelievers.
2:265 But those who spend their money in order to please Allah and to strengthen their souls (by having a stronger grasp of faith) are like a garden on a hill which, when heavy rain falls on it, its produce is doubled; and if no heavy rain falls on it, then a shower [suffices]. Allah is aware of what you do.
3:116 As for the unbelievers, neither their riches nor their children will avail them anything against Allah. Those are the people of Hell, abiding therein forever!
3:117 That which they spend in the present life is similar to a frosty wind which smote the harvest of a people who had wronged themselves, and so destroyed it. Allah did not wrong them, but they wronged themselves!
Lost in the Dark
6:122 Is one who was dead, then We brought him back to life and gave him a light to walk among the people, like one who is in total darkness and cannot get out of it? Thus the unbeliever’s evil deed is made attractive to them.
13:14 To Him is the Call of Truth; and those on whom they call besides Him will not answer any of their prayers. They are like one who stretches out his hand to the water so that it might reach his mouth, but it will not reach it. The call of the unbelievers is only wasted.
The Blind Man and the Copycat Gods
13:16 Say: “Who is the Lord of the heavens and the earth?” Say: “Allah.” Say: “Have you then taken, besides Him, protectors who have no power to profit or harm even themselves?” Say: “Are the blind and the man who sees alike; or are the darkness and the light alike? Or have they assigned to Allah associates who created the likeness of His Creation, so that both creations seem to them alike?” Say: “Allah is the Creator of everything and He is the One, the Almighty.”
The Blind Again
13:19 Is he who knows that what is revealed to you from your Lord is the truth, like he who is blind? Indeed, only the people of understanding take heed.
Ashes in the Wind
14:18 The likeness of those of those who disbelieve in their Lord is this: their works are like ashes scattered by the wind on a stormy day, and they have no power over anything they have earned. That is truly the great perdition.
Straw in the Wind
18:45 And give them the simile of the present life; it is like the water We send down from the sky; then the vegetation of the earth is mixed in with it, and so it becomes straw which the wind scatters. Allah has power over everything.
The Rope to the Sky
22:14 Allah shall admit those who believe and do the righteous deeds into the Gardens underneath which rivers flow. Allah surely does whatever He pleases.
22:15 He who thinks that Allah will not give him support in this world or the next, let him stretch a rope to the sky then cut it up. Let him then see if his guile will remove what angers him.
22:16 That is how We revealed it (the Qur’an) as clear revelations, and Allah guides whomever He pleases.
22:31 Remain true to Allah, associating no gods with Him. He who associates anything with Allah is like one who has fallen from the sky and is snatched by the birds, or the wind hurls him down a very steep place.
Whose Work is like a Mirage in Level Ground or Dark Shadows on the Sea
24:36 In houses Allah allowed to be raised and His Name to be mentioned therein, He is glorified therein, mornings and evenings,
24:37 By men who are not distracted, by trading or trafficking, from mentioning Allah’s Name, performing the prayer and giving the alms. They fear a Day whereon the hearts and eyesight shall be turned around;
24:38 So that Allah may reward them for their fairest works and increase them from His Bounty. Allah provides for whomever He pleases without reckoning.
24:39 As to the unbelievers, their works are like a mirage in level ground, which the thirsty supposes to be water; but when he comes close to it, he finds that it is nothing. Instead, he finds Allah there and so he pays Him his account in full. Allah is quick in reckoning.
24:40 Or like dark shadows in a turbulent sea, covered by waves upon waves, above which are clouds. Dark shadows above which are dark shadows; if he brings his hand out, he will hardly see it. He to whom Allah as not granted a light will have no light.
The House of the Spider
29:41 The case of those who took up other protectors, apart from Allah, is like that of a spider who built a house. Truly, the most brittle of houses is the house of the spider, if only they knew.
29:42 Allah knows what they call upon, apart from Him, and He is the All-Mighty, the Wise.
The Blind and Deaf
30:53 And you shall not lead the blind away from their error. You will only make those who believe in Our Signs hear. For they are submitting.
41:34 The fair and evil deeds are not equal. Respond with that which is fairer, so that he against whom you have a grudge shall be like an intimate friend.
41:35 None shall be accorded this rank except those who have stood fast, and none shall be accorded it except one blessed with great good fortune.
In Yusuf Ali’s translation “rank” becomes “goodness”:
41:35 And no one will be granted such goodness except those who exercise patience and self-restraint,- none but persons of the greatest good fortune.
You may find Moududi's explanation as confounding as the revelations.
... achieving the rank of someone who can ward of evil with good “requires a great [of] will power, resolution, courage, power of endurance and full control over one's own self”, and that it “is a law of nature. Only a man of very high rank is characterized by these qualities…” which is why Allah added “persons of the greatest good fortune” to the revelation.
His Brother’s Flesh
49:12 O believers, avoid much suspicion; for some suspicion is a sin. Do not spy and do not backbite one another. Does any of you wish to eat his brother’s flesh dead (sic)? You would surely hate it. Fear Allah, for Allah is Truly Absolving, Merciful.
The Present Life
57:20 Know that the present life is but sport and diversion, adornment, boasting among you and rivalry in amassing wealth and children. It is like rain whose vegetation delighted the unbelievers, then it withered and you see it turning yellow and then it becomes stubble. In the Hereafter there is a terrible punishment, forgiveness from Allah and good pleasure. The present life is but the enjoyment of vanity.
Those who walk on their faces and their Creator
67:22 Is he who walks prone upon his face better guided, or he who walks a Straight Path?
67:23 Say: “It is He Who originated you and created for you hearing, sight, and hearts. How little do you give thanks?”
Then there are the obvious comparisons:
11:24 The case of the two parties (the believers and the unbelievers) is like the blind and the deaf compared with the man who sees and hears. Are they both alike? Do you not pay heed?
35:19 The blind and the seeing man are not alike.
35:20 Nor dark shadows or light;
35:21 Nor shade and torrid heat.
40:58 The blind and the seeing man are not equal; nor are those who believe and do the righteous deeds and the evil-doer. Little do you remember!
59:20 The Companions of the Fire and the Companions of Paradise are not equal. The Companions of Paradise are indeed the winners.
Then there are the apparently obvious:
35:22 Nor are the living and the dead alike. Allah makes whomever He wish to hear, but you will not make those in their graves hear.
30:52 For you cannot make the dead hear and you cannot make the deaf hear the call, if they flee turning their back.
39:9 Is he who worships devoutly in the watches of the night, prostrating himself and standing up, fears the Hereafter and hopes for the Mercy of his Lord [like unto the other]? Say: “Are those who know and those who do not know alike?” Only those possessed of understanding will remember.
Then there are the unanswered questions, such as ”why should creatures that crawl die for man’s sins and not the birds, the fish and the amphibians?”
35:45 Were Allah to take men to task for what they have earned, He would not have left upon the face of the earth a single creature that crawls; but He defers them unto an appointed term. Then, when their term arrives, Allah is surely fully Conversant with His servants.