Sources:

  • Tayseer al-Kareem by Shaikh as-Sa’dee
  • Qalaa’id al-Jumaan by Shaikh as-Sa’dee
  • Adwaa’ al-Bayaan by ash-Shanquiti
  • Tafseer Ibn Katheer

What is the Wisdom behind setting Parables in the Qur’an?

1- Shaikh as-Sa’dee (Rahimahullaah) said: “Know that the Qur’an compromises the highest, most perfect and beneficial subjects which all creation needs. It compromises the best way of teaching (the creation) and transmitting its meanings to the hearts in the most clear and easy way.

One of the highest (most excellent) ways of teaching is by setting Parables. Allaah, the Exalted, utilizes this way (of teaching) to emphasize important matters, such as Tawheed and the state of the Monotheist as well as Shirk and the state of its people. They also teach us the fundamentals of the religion as well as the most noble deeds, etc.

The wisdom behind all that is to clarify the beneficial meanings and exemplify them (i.e. illustrating by examples) with tangible matters, such that the reciter will be able to visualize its meaning.

This is out of Allaah’s care and subtlety with His slaves.” [Qalaa’id al-Jumaan fi Tafseer al-Qur’an]

2- Shaikh Abu Ishaq al-Huwaini said: “Allaah (Azza wa Jall) set forth Parables several times in the Qur’an, and the wisdom behind that is to make His creation understand His Speech. Therefore, the reason behind setting forth Parables in the Qur’an is to clarify an idea or a thought which is ambiguous (unclear) to the mind. So whoever fails to understand the Parable should weep for himself. Ibn Katheer (Rahimahullaah) said in his Tafseer that when some of the predecessors did not understand a Parable, they wept for themselves. The hard-hearted people do not understand the Parables, even if they are clear, as Allaah (Ta’ala) says in Surat al-Baqarah (2:26):

“Verily, Allaah is not ashamed to set forth a Parable even of a mosquito or so much more when it is bigger (or less when it is smaller) than it. And as for those who believe, they know that it is the Truth from their Lord, but as for those who disbelieve, they say: ‘What did Allaah intend by this Parable?’ By it He misleads many, and many He guides thereby. And He misleads thereby only those who are al-Fasiqun (the rebellious, disobedient to Allaah).”

They (the disbelievers) say: “What does Allaah want from setting this Parable?”

So, the disbelievers are those who do not understand the Parables even if they are clear.” [Al-Amthaal Fii al-Kitab was-Sunnah]

Ash-Shanquiti (Rahimahullaah) said: “Allaah (Ta’ala) has set examples and Parables in the Qur’an for the people to receive admonition, but no one can comprehend their meanings except the people of knowledge.

Allaah (Ta’ala) says in Surat al-‘Ankabut (29:43):

“And these similitudes We put forward for mankind, but none will understand them except those who have knowledge (of Allaah and His Signs).”

Shaikh as-Sa’dee (Rahimahullaah) said: “Allaah (Ta’ala) set forth Parables for the sake of the people, to teach them, and for them to get benefit. The Parables are one of the means of teaching knowledge because they (the Parables) make the sensible matters tangible, and accordingly the meaning becomes clear. Therefore, setting Parables is good for all people.

‘But none will understand them except those of knowledge.’

In this verse there is praise for setting the Parables.”

So whoever understands them, ponders over them and acts upon them is from “Al-‘Alimoon”, the genuine people of knowledge, whose knowledge has reached their hearts.

Therefore, whoever leaves the understanding of the Parables is not one of the people of knowledge.

3- From the wisdom behind setting an example in the Qur’an is for the people to be reminded as Allaah (Ta’ala) says in Surat Ibraheem (14:25):

“Allaah sets forth Parables for mankind in order that they may remember.”

Allaah (Ta’ala) also says in Surat al-Hashr (59:21):

“Such are the Parables which we put forward to mankind that they may reflect.”

Shaikh as-Sa’dee (Rahimahullaah) said: “In this verse Allaah (Ta’ala) mentions that He set forth Parables for mankind, and shows them the lawful and the unlawful in His Book in order for them to reflect upon His Ayaat (signs, verses, proofs, evidences, etc.). Indeed, thinking considerably will open treasures of knowledge for the slave, show him the way of good and evil, encourage (incite) him to good conduct and noble character, and will forbid him from having bad character. There is nothing more beneficial for the slave than reflecting upon the verses of the Qur’an and pondering over its meanings.”[Tayseer al-Kareem]

4- Although Parables or similitude show the truth to people, the people are divided into two categories regarding them:

a- those who benefit from the Parables

b- those for whom the Parables are a means for their misguidance.

Allaah (Ta’ala) says in Surat al-Baqarah (2:26):

“Verily, Allaah is not ashamed to set forth a Parable even of a mosquito or so much more when it is bigger (or less when it is smaller) than it. And as for those who believe, they know that it is the Truth from their Lord, but as for those who disbelieve, they say: “What did Allaah intend by this Parable?” By it He misleads many, and He guides thereby. And He misleads thereby only those who are al-Fasiqun (the rebellious, disobedient to Allaah).”

Allaah knows if one says: “What did Allaah intend by this Parable?” whether he is enquiring or he is mocking. If he is asking intending to understand, he will be of the first group whom Allaah praises otherwise he is of the second group whom Allaah will mislead.

This is the description of the hypocrites who attended the gathering of Prophet Muhammad (Salla-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam). After he (Salla-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) finished, they were saying:

ماذا قال آنفا

“What has he said just now?”

Allaah (Ta’ala) says about them:

“Such are men whose hearts Allaah has sealed, and they follow their lusts (evil desires).”[Surat Muhammad 47:16]

Therefore, the Salaf used to be scared and weep if they did not understand a Parable. They feared that the Parable might be referring to them.

One should exert his utmost to understand the Word of Allaah and especially the Parables.

In Surat ar-Ra’d (13:17), Allaah (Ta’ala) sets forth a Parable; then, in verse 18, Allaah (Ta’ala) says:

“For those who answered their Lord’s Call [believed in the Oneness of Allaah and followed His Messenger (Salla-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) (i.e. Islamic Monotheism)] is al-Husna (i.e. Paradise). But those who answered not His Call [disbelieved in the Oneness of Allaah and followed not His Messenger (Salla-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam)], if they had all that is in the earth together with its like, they would offer it in order to save themselves (from the torment, but it will be in vain). For them there will be the terrible reckoning. Their dwelling place will be Hell; and worst indeed is that place for rest.” [13:18]

Ash-Shanquiti (Rahimahullaah) said: “Undoubtedly, those who responded to their Lord are those who understood and comprehended the meaning of the Parable, benefited of what it comprised of truth; and those who did not answer the call of their Lord are those who did not understand the Parable and what it included of truth. Accordingly they were misled as Allaah (Ta’ala) says in Surat al-Baqarah: ‘By it He misleads many, and many He guides thereby. And He misleads thereby only those who are Fasiqun (the rebellious, the disobedient to Allaah).’

You choose for yourself from which group you want to be.

Understanding the Parables is a means of attaining the attributes of the people of perfection, and not understanding them is a cause of being attributed with a defective attribute.

Allaah said about them, that they are misled. Allaah misled them because they neglected to understand the Parables.

So, taking care of the Parables is one of the requirements of knowledge.”

5- Some of the fruits of setting Parables:

Shaikh as-Sa’dee (Rahimahullaah) said, interpreting the verse (Al-‘Ankabut 29:43):

“And these similitudes We put forward for mankind.”

“i.e. for their sake; to teach them so that they might benefit from them. That is because setting forth Parables is one of the ways of explaining the sciences; making the rational (logical, sensible) close to the perceptible (tangible) matters.

Accordingly, the meaning will be clear to the mind. Therefore, it is beneficial for all mankind. But none can understand it and apply it and comprehend it by heart except al-‘Alimoon (the real people of knowledge), those whom the knowledge has reached their hearts.”

Shaikh as-Sa’dee then added: “And this is, (1) a praise for setting the Parables; (2) an exhortation (encouragement) to understand and ponder over them; and (3) a praise for whoever understands them, because this indicates that he is one of the people of knowledge.

Therefore, whoever does not understand them is not of the knowledgeable ones. The reason behind that is that Allaah (Ta’ala) puts forth the Parables in the Qur’an to emphasize the great matters, the noble goals (acquirements) and the magnificent matters. The people of ‘Ilm (knowledge) know that they (the Parables) are more important than other than them, (or they know their importance).

a- Because Allaah (Ta’ala) took care of them, and

b- He encouraged His slaves to ponder over their meaning in order for them to exert their utmost to know them.

So, whoever does not understand them, in spite of their importance, then this indicates that he is not from the people of ‘Ilm. This is because if he does not know the important matters of the religion, then he does not know the other matters even more. Therefore, most of the Parables that Allaah (Azza wa Jall) has set forth in the Qur’an are about the fundamentals of the religion.” [Tayseer al-Kareem]

Two Parables prove that Truth remains and falsehood perishes

In Surat ar-Ra’d (13:17), Allaah (Ta’ala) says:

“He sends down water (rain) from the sky, and the valleys flow according to their measure, but the flood bears away the foam that mounts up to the surface and (also) from that (ore) which they heat in the fire in order to make ornaments or utensils, rises a foam like it, thus does Allaah (by parables) show forth truth and falsehood. Then, as for the foam it passes away as scum upon the banks, while that which is for the good of mankind remains in the earth. Thus Allaah sets forth parables (for the truth and falsehood; i.e. belief and disbelief).”

Let one understand the first picture that the human being can relate to, i.e. the tangible matter [Mushabbah bihi (Arabic)], which is water that comes down from the sky. Ibn Katheer (Rahimahullaah) said: “Allaah sends rain and each valley takes its share according to its capacity, for some valleys are wider and can retain more water than others which are small and thus retain a smaller measure of water. This verse indicates that hearts differ, for some of them can retain substantial knowledge while others cannot entertain knowledge, but rather are bothered by knowledge, but the flood bears away the foam that mounts up to the surface of the water that ran down the valley.” This is the first Parable.

In the second Parable, Allaah (Azza wa Jall) says (interpretation of meaning): “and (also) from that (ore) which they heat in the fire in order to make ornaments or utensils.” When gold and silver ore is heated with fire to make ornaments with it, and iron and copper ore are heated to make pots and the like with it, foam also rises to the surface of these ores, just as in the case of water.

فأما الزبد فيذهب جفاء

“Then, as for the foam it passes away as scum upon the banks,”

for it carries no benefit and dissipates and scatters on the banks of the valley. The foam also sticks to trees or is dissipated by winds, just as the case with the scum that rises on the surface of gold, silver, iron and copper ores when they are heated with fire to make ornaments or utensils. All of the scum that rises on the surface of gold, silver, etc. goes away and never returns. However, clean water and gold and silver remain and they are used to man’s benefit.

Allaah (Ta’ala) says (interpretation of the meaning):

“Thus, Allaah sets forth Parables.”

in order to understand that this is a Parable. [Tafseer Ibn Katheer]

One should know or understand the matter (al-Mushabbah) which Allaah wants to point out or emphasize.

In this verse it is not mentioned clearly and that is because it is known that it is knowledge, the Qur’an or guidance (that has been sent down).

If one cannot understand it, then one should go to the interpretation in the Tafseer.

Shaikh as-Sa’dee (Rahimahullaah) said: “Allaah (Ta’ala) resembles the guidance that He sent down upon His Messenger (Salla-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) to revive the hearts and souls, with the water which He (Ta’ala) sends down to revive the bodies for living.

And He (Ta’ala) resembles the general abundant benefit which is in the Huda (guidance) which the slaves need, with what is in the rain of general necessary benefits.

The matter which Allaah wills to point out  The tangible things which humans  can relate to Similarity
1-    Huda (guidance) Water Life
2-    Benefit in Huda Benefit in water Benefits and necessity

Allaah (Ta’ala) resembles the hearts and their variance in carrying knowledge and guidance to the valleys through which the floods flow. Wide valleys are able to retain more water, similar to hearts that are able to retain substantial (abundant) knowledge, and small valleys that retain smaller measures of water are like hearts that retain little knowledge, etc. The similarity between the valleys and hearts is the capacity.

Shaikh as-Sa’dee (Rahimahullaah) then added: “And He (Allaah) resembled the doubts and the desires that are in the hearts, when the truth reaches the heart, with the foam which mounts up to the surface of the water.”

Explanation:

Doubts and desires exist in the heart. When knowledge reaches the heart, the heart is bothered or disturbed. Like the valley in which there exists leaves, dirt, etc. when water (or flood) flows through it, the dirt rises up and floats on the surface of the water. Similarly, this happens to the doubts and desires in the heart. One may not be aware what sicknesses exist in one’s heart, but when knowledge comes to it, these sicknesses are revealed; they are brought to the surface.

Before acquiring knowledge one does not know that he is an envious person or that he is bearing hatred or malice against anyone; one does not know that he has self-conceit or pride or that he is feeling contempt towards people, etc. One is dealing with people with all these major sins in one’s heart. When one acquires knowledge, all these sins appear on the surface (one becomes aware) and he pays attention to them.

All sicknesses can exist in the heart of the student of knowledge and they will appear to him. After understanding this parable, bear in mind that knowledge reveals to one his reality, but if this knowledge does not reach the heart then one may see the defects of the people while he does not see his own defects.

Shaikh as-Sa’dee (Rahimahullaah) then said: “Allaah resembled the doubts and desires that are in the hearts, when the truth reaches it, with the foam which rises up on the surface of the water; similar to the foam that rises to the surface of the ores (gold, silver, iron and copper) when heated to make utensils. The foam and dirt will remain on the surface, then pass away and vanish while that which is for the good of mankind will remain in the earth (of clear water and pure ore).

Similarly the doubts and lusts which the heart hates and strives hard against with truthful evidences (proofs) and with sincere resolutions will pass away and vanish and the heart remains pure and clear. Only what benefits the people of knowledge and love of truth will remain, while falsehood will vanish.”

Thus, does Allaah (by Parables) show forth truth and falsehood.” When they both exist, falsehood does not remain, just as foam does not remain on water, or the gold and silver ores which are heated in fire. Rather, foam dissipates and vanishes, “then, as for the foam, it passes away as scum upon the banks,” for it carries no benefit and dissipates and scatters on the banks of the valley. The foam also sticks to trees or is dissipated by wind, just as the case with the scum that rises on the surface of gold, silver, iron and copper ores; it all goes away and never returns. However, water, gold and silver remain and are used to man’s benefit. This is why Allaah said next:

“While that which is for the good of mankind remains in the earth.” Thus Allaah sets forth Parables.

Ibn ‘Abbaas (Radia-Allaahu ‘anhuma) commented on this Parable saying: “This is a Parable that Allaah has set; the hearts carry knowledge from Him, and certainty according to the amount of doubt. As for doubt, working good deeds does not benefit while it exists. As for certainty, Allaah benefits its people by it, hence Allaah’s Statement “then, as for the foam,” which refers to doubt, it passes away as scum upon the banks, while that which is for the good of mankind remains in the earth,” in reference to certainty. And just as when jewelry is heated in fire and is rid of its impurity, which remains in the fire, similarly Allaah accepts certainty and discards doubts.” [Tabari]

Shaikh as-Sa’dee (Rahimahullaah) said in “Qalaa’id al-Jumaan”: “Allaah (Ta’ala) resembled the Revelation and knowledge that He sent down upon His Messenger (Salla-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) in many verses, with rain which descends from the sky; and resembled the hearts of people with lands and valleys, in order to indicate that the effect of the Revelation and knowledge on the hearts is similar to the effects of the rain on the earth. There are good lands which accept water and bring forth plants and abundant vegetation like the hearts which comprehend the Speech and the Revelation of Allaah and His Messenger, understand it, learn it and act upon it and teach it to others according to its states, like the earth according to its state. There is a land which withholds the water and does not give forth plants such that people who get benefit from this land, drink from the water that it holds, and water their land and cattle, like the hearts which memorize the Qur’an and Sunnah and transmit to others, but do not have knowledge and do not benefit from its meaning.

There are lands which do not withhold water nor produce plants and vegetation like the hearts which do not benefit from the Revelation, they do not know it or memorize it, nor do they act upon it.

The similarity between the Revelation and the rain is as in the rain therein is the life of the land, the life of the slaves and their provision, also in the Revelation there is the life of the hearts, souls and their spiritual provision. This is out of Allaah’s care and subtlety with His slaves.” [Qalaa’id al-Jumaan Fi Tafseer al-Qur’an]

One Response to Pondering over the Parables in the Qur’an

  1. ummu-Makki says:

    subhaana’ALLAH! My ALLAH is MOST BEAUTIFUL MOST AMAZING!!!

    This is my passion to share and teach such knowledge.
    May ALLAH AZZA WA JALL grant you all the best of dunya and Aakhirah.and grant you All HIS RIDHA.

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