Metaphor and Parable in the Noble Quran

“Truth and beauty are aspects of the same divine Reality. The truth and beauty of the Holy Quran will continue to inspire its readers until the end of time. But Allah’s Book is more than an inspired and inspiring literary classic. The Holy Quran is more than just the greatest work of literature in any language. It’s much more than a collection of amazing stories, metaphors and parables. It’s pre-eminently THE book of divine Wisdom, the  Criterion between right and wrong, the radiant guiding light for us to navigate our way through the treacherous waters of life.”

Arshad Gamiet/Royal Holloway University of London/ 30 August 2014

(To listen to the audio version of this khutbah, please click here):

“As-salámu ‘alaikum wa rahmatul láhi wa barakátuh!”

“A-úthu billáhi minash shaytánir rajeem. Bismilláhir rahmánir raheem

Al hamdu lillahi nahmaduhu wanasta’eenahu, wanastagh-firuhu, wanatoobu ilayhi, wana’oothu Billaahi min shuroori an-fusinaa, wamin sayyi aati a’maalinaa. May- Yahdillahu fa huwal muhtad, wa may- yudlill falan tajidaa lahu waliyan murshida. Wa ash-hadu an Laa ilaaha ill-Alláh, wahdahoo laa shareeka lah, wa ash-hadu anna Muhammadan ‘abduhoo warasooluh

All Praise is due to Alláh, We praise Him and we seek help from Him. We ask forgiveness from Him. We repent to Him; and we seek refuge in Him from our own evils and our own bad deeds. Anyone who is guided by Alláh, he is indeed guided; and anyone who has been left astray, will find no one to guide him. I bear witness that there is no god but Alláh, the Only One without any partner; and I bear witness that Muhammad, sws, is His servant, and His messenger.

Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem! Ya Ay-yuhal-latheena ‘aamanut taqul-laaha, haqqa tuqaatihee wala tamu tun-na, il-la wa antum Muslimoon.”

O You who believe, – Fear Allah, as He should be feared, and die not except as Muslims.

Ya Ay-yuhal-latheena ‘aamanut taqul-laaha, wa qooloo qawlan sadeedaa. Yuslih-lakum a’maalakum wa yaghfir lakum thunoobakum, wamay yu-til-laaha warasoolah, faqad faaza fawzan atheemaa.”

O You who believe, – Be aware of Allah, and speak a straightforward word. He will forgive your sins and repair your deeds. And whoever takes Allah and His Prophet as a guide, has already achieved a mighty victory.

In the opening verse of Sura An-Nisaa’, Allah says:

“O mankind! Show reverence towards your Guardian-Lord Who created you from a single person, created, of like nature, his mate and from the two of them scattered (like seeds) countless men and women;― Be conscious of Allah, through Whom ye demand your mutual (rights) and (show reverence towards) the wombs (that bore you): for surely, Allah ever watches over you.”

My Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The more we read the Holy Qur’an the more we can wonder at its construction, its use of language. It has a unique ability to fire up the human imagination and to deliver ideas into our hearts and minds in a powerful way. Over the last 14 hundred years scholars, experts in Arabic language and literature have marvelled at the way the Holy Qur’an sets the standard for communication, by informing, instructing and inspiring its readers. The Quran has become the ideal standard by which the power of written and the spoken word can be measured. This amazing book is of course not the product of a human mind or human imagination. This is the very Word of Allah: the Revealed Word of the Most High, transmitted through the archangel Gabriel, Jibreel, alahis salaam, and made audible and intelligible to us by the noblest of all creation, the seal of all the Prophets, khaataman nabiy-yeen, Prophet Muhammad (sws).

Often when Allah wants to explain an important idea, He uses a powerful figure of speech, a story or a metaphor that lingers in the memory and helps us to take hold of the message and fix it firmly into our hearts. There are many examples in the Holy Qur’an but we have time only to consider a few.

One example is the importance of remembering that every good thing that comes to us comes from Allah, and every bad thing comes to us comes from our own lower nafs, when we pervert or do harm to our own soul, through our own bad thoughts and actions. If Allah were to simply make a statement in a bland way we may not remember the message. But he uses powerful imagery. He tells us a story, for example, a parable of the two men arguing in Sura Kahf. One is filled with pride and arrogance over his beautiful garden and he tries to humiliate his poorer neighbour. So to teach him a lesson, Allah destroys it overnight. The poor man then reminds him that he forgot to say,

“Ma sha Allah, la kuw-wata il-La bil-Lah!” (18:39)

“This is the Will of Allah, there is no power and no strength except from Allah.”

Muslims have been so impressed by the power of this parable, this simple story. To make sure we don’t become like the unfortunate man who was puffed up with pride, we’ve placed reminders about this story all around us. I’ve seen the Arabic words “Ma-Sha-Allah” beautifully inscribed on the marbelled walls of palatial homes and humbler dwellings, carefully and lovingly painted by hand on busses, trucks and scooter taxis from Karachi to Cairo and from Chittagong to Kuala Lumpur. No believing Muslim wants to invite a nasty fate by forgetting his utter reliance on Allah’s generosity and mercy.

Another parable or metaphor that the Holy Qur’an uses, is the the way Allah separates truth from falsehood, by separating what is good for us from what is evil. There is a beautiful verse in Sura Ra’d (ch 13.v 17) which describes the way rain falls and the floodwaters carry a scum that rises to the surface, just like metal ore heated in a furnace produces a scum that rises to the top.

“He sends water down from the sky, and the channels flow, each according to its measure; but the torrent bears away the foam that mounts up to the surface. Even so, from that [ore] they heat in the furnace to make ornaments or utensils there is a scum likewise. This is how Allah uses parables to explain Truth and Falsehood; for the scum disappears like froth cast out; while that which is for the good of mankind remains on earth. This is how Allah explains with parables.”

raininspain smelting gold

This powerful metaphor reminds us that all the hardship and suffering that we endure is simply Allah’s way of burning off the impurities in our character so that our hearts can be refined and purified. The famous poet Jalaluddin Rumi wrote, ‘Suffering is a Gift: in it is a hidden Mercy.’ Allah mercifully cleans out our hearts for us so that we can be ready for al-Jannah, because, as the Holy Qur’an reminds us, no one will enter Allah’s Garden except those with a sound heart [qalbun saleem] [sura 26:v89]

Brothers and sisters, let us cultivate a daily habit of reading the Quran, reading and pondering over its meaning, even if it’s just a few verses. We must read it every day, and we must consider our day incomplete unless we’ve spent at least a few minutes with Allah’s Noble Book, reading it with understanding, reading it with love, devotion, consideration, tafakkur, contemplation and reflection. This is the way we can light up our lives through the darkness of human ignorance around us.

Innalláha wa malaaikata yusallúna alan nabi. Yá ay yuhal latheena ámanu sallú alayhi wasalli mú tas leema. Allahumma salli alá Muhammad, wa ala áli Muhammad, kama salayta ala Ibrahim, wa ala ali Ibrahim. Allahumma barik ala Muhammad, kama barakta ala Ibrahim, wa ala ali ibrahim. Fil ála meen, innaka hameedun majeed.

Second Khutbah:

Sub’ hanallahi wal hamdu lillah, wala hawla wala quwwata illah billah yu althi yual theem

Glory to Allah!  Praise to Allah! There is no power and no strength except from Allah!

My brothers and sisters,

One more example, perhaps the best example, of the beautiful use of language, of metaphor in the Holy Qur’an is in Sura Nur, verse 36. This is the famous verse of Light:

“Allahun nurus-sama waati wal ard…”

“Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The parable of His Light is as if there were a Niche and within it a lamp: the Lamp enclosed in Glass: the glass as it were a brilliant star: lit from a blessed Tree, an Olive, neither of the East nor of the West, whose Oil is almost luminous, although fire barely touched it: Light upon Light! Allah does guide whom He pleases to His Light. Allah does set forth Parables for men: and Allah knows all things.”

36 Such a light shines in houses which Allah has permitted to be raised to honour; for the celebration in them of His name: in such houses, is He glorified in the mornings and in the evenings (again and again)

37 By people who are not distracted by trade nor business, from  Remembering Allah nor from regular Prayer nor from the doing regular acts of Charity: their (only) fear is for the Day when hearts and eyes will be transformed (in a world completely new)

That Allah may reward them according to the best of their deeds and add even more for them out of His Grace: for Allah does provide for those whom He chooses, without measure.”

Brothers and sisters, these beautiful words have inspired people and moved them to tears, over the centuries. Truth and beauty are aspects of the same divine Reality. The truth and beauty of the Holy Qur’an will continue to inspire its readers until the end of time. But Allah’s Book is more than an inspired and inspiring literary classic. The Holy Qur’an is more than just the greatest work of literature in any language. It’s much more than a collection of amazing stories, metaphors and parables. It’s pre-eminently THE book of divine Wisdom, the  Criterion between right and wrong, the radiant guiding light for us to navigate our way through the treacherous waters of life. Let’s honour this Greatest of all Books by reading it, living by its advice, heeding its warnings and sharing it’s eternal truth and beauty with others.

When we die, the Holy Qur’an will either be a witness for us, pleading our case to save us from the fire, or we will stand condemned by it, for our negligence, for our disregard. Which one will it be? That’s for us to decide: it’s our choice, it’s our call.

Brothers and sisters, to conclude our khutbah:

InnaAllaha, Yamuru bil adel, wal ihsaan, wa eetaa-i zil qurba; wa yanha anil fuhshaa-i, wal munkari walbaghi; ya-idzukhum lallakum tathak-karoon. (Sura 16:90),

“Surely Allah commands justice, good deeds and generosity to others and to relatives; and He forbids all shameful deeds, and injustice and rebellion: He instructs you, so that you may be reminded.”

Fadth kuroonee adth kurkum, wash kuroolee walaa tak furoon [2:152].

“and remember Me: I will remember you. Be grateful to Me, and do not reject faith.”

wala thikrul-Laahi akbar, Wal-Laahu ya’lamu maa tasna’oon.” [29:45].

“and without doubt, Remembrance of Allah is the Greatest Thing in life, and Allah knows the deeds that you do.”

Ameen.                   Aqeemus salaah!