Why does God use allegories in the Quran?
According to 3:7, the Quran contains two types of verses:
1- Straightforward verses, which are the foundation of the book. These are primarily the verses which state the Law of God. They are all the verses which contain the rituals and practises of the religion plus all the prohibitions.
2- Verses which can be interpreted in more than one way, plus other verses which are allegorical.
Why does God use multiple meaning and allegorical verses in the Quran? Some may say: why couldn't have all the verses in the Quran be written in simple one-meaning words?
There are at least four reasons why we have the multi-meaning and allegorical verses in the Quran:
First: In order for any test to be valid, the receiver of the test must have the option of different choices. If the receiver had no choice there would be no test. The choice of the receiver determines his success or failure in the test that has been set.
As an example, suppose you would like to test your 6 year old son and see whether he will obey you or not. You take him to his room and ask him not to leave the room.
You leave the door open so he is given the choice whether to obey you and stay, or to disobey you and leave the room. The fact that you have given him two choices: the good (obey you), and the bad (disobey you) means that there was indeed a valid test.
Now let us suppose you have done the same as above but this time you locked the door. In this case your son does not have the option of disobeying you. You come back after one hour and find him still inside the room, but this time, was he really tested? The answer is no, because your son had no option of disobeying you, and thus he had no choice.
When we import this logic to the multi-meaning verses in the Quran, we find that among various other ways God has tested us, one test is by deliberately including the multi-meaning verses in the Quran.
In 3:7 we read:
"He sent down to you this scripture, containing straightforward verses - which constitute the essence of the scripture - as well as multiple-meaning or allegorical verses. Those who have perversity in their hearts will pursue the multiple-meaning verses to create confusion, and to extricate a certain meaning."
The ones who's hearts are perverse will abuse these multi-meaning verses to create confusion, so in these verses is a deliberate test set by God.
This same test (giving the human the choice of good or bad) started with the very first test, when God commanded Adam not to eat from the forbidden tree. God could have created Heaven without that tree if He willed, but then the test would not have been possible. God could have created the world without the pig , which He commanded us not to eat its flesh, and so on.
God could have disallowed all the hadith from being written (6:112), but for the same purpose, God allowed the hadith to exist in order for the test to exist.
A further summing up is given in 91:7-8:
"The 'Nafs' (soul) and Him who created it. And showed it what is sinful and what is good."
Second: God uses the multi meaning and allegorical verses to facilitate our comprehension of various issues that are beyond our limited understanding. These (beyond our understanding issues) cannot be described in simple words. Suppose you wanted to describe the taste of chocolate to someone who has never tasted it before? What would you say? You can only say it tastes like this, or like that, but you can never describe the exact taste accurately in simple words. The same principle would apply to issues like Heaven and Hell and their descriptions. God uses allegories to describe these places because the human being will never comprehend the nature of these places, if indeed they are places in the physical sense.
This applies to God's description of all other matters which are beyond our understanding. For example God speaks of angels as having two wings, three wings and four wings (35:1). Do angels really have wings? To answer this question, we must first understand why are wings needed. The obvious answer is to fly. If we take the example of birds, birds need wings to create lift and thrust, and also to counter weight (gravity) and drag.
Do angels have to counter gravity? Do angels have to counter drag? Are angels subject to the physical limitations of the universe in which we humans are trapped in?
The answer is no. The allegory of wings in 35:1 is a way of saying that some angels are given greater powers and authority by God than others.
Third: The third reason why God uses multi-meaning verses in some Quranic verses is to shed more light on a certain issue, whereas if only literal words were used the meaning would not be as comprehensive. This may sound vague, but the following is a good example:
"You shall maintain your devotion absolutely to God alone. Anyone who sets up any idol beside God would be like one who fell from the sky, then gets snatched up by vultures, or blown away by the wind into a deep ravine." 22:31
It is clear that God is giving us an allegory in the above words, for in reality no idol worshippers will jump out of a plane (without a parachute) nor will be literally snatched by vultures in the sky!
God could have simply said that idol worshippers will be at a great loss, or words to that effect, but with the above glorious words, we get much more precise information than if 22:31 was worded in simple words:
a- The person who is falling from the sky is in what is known as ‘free fall’, and the greatest natural fall we know is that of free fall, the full force of gravity is in control. So to start, this allegory gives us the knowledge that whoever commits idol worship will experience the greatest fall (loss).
b- Since free fall is a state where there is no resistance to gravity, it produces weightlessness or "zero-G". The state of weightlessness is allegorical to someone with virtually no resistance or immunity to any danger, a totally vulnerable state.
c- The words "gets snatched up by vultures" in 22:31 are also very siginificant. The word “vultures” is allegorical to the devils. These words indicate that anyone who harbours the seeds of idol worship will be easy prey to the devils and their idolatrous invitations. The devils know which humans have idolistic tendencies and they prey on them, they are easy prey.
d- When we are on the ground our weight is supported by the earth below us, but a person in free fall has no support whatsoever for his plunging body, and is heading towards assured death. This is the case of an idol worshipper who sets up partners with God, he has no support whatsoever from God (since idol worship is the only unforgivable sin and is thus heading for assured damnation:
“God does not forgive the setting up of partners with Him, and He forgives all other sins for whom He wills. Whoever sets-up partners with God has indeed committed a great sin.” 4:48
In contrast, God always supports the genuine believers to lead them out of the darkness into the light.
In 33:41 God speaks to the believers, and in verse 43 God says:
"He is the One who helps you, together with His angels, to lead you out of darkness into the light. He is Most Merciful towards the believers."
Fourth: The fourth reason is a scientific one. The Quran contains a wealth of scientific information, and most of this information was not common knowledge at the time of the revelation of the Quran. Straightforward words in this type of verses would not have made much sense in those early days before the discovery of scientific knowledge which is the subject of the verse. As a result we find these verses worded in allegorical fashion. Many centuries later, when the scientific knowledge (contained in the verse) was discovered, these verses became very clearly of great scientific significance.
The following is one example:
"Whomever God wills to guide, He renders his chest wide open to Submission. And whomever He wills to send astray, He renders his chest intolerant and constricted, as if he were ascending in the sky." 6:125
In a research by Dr Salah Al-Deen El-Magrabi, a member the American society of Space Medicine, he outlined the condition of the human chest and what happens to it when the human climbs up in the higher layers of the atmosphere. He stated that the vesicles inside our chest play the key role. When we breath, oxygen enters these vesicles causing them to fill up and get enlarged. But if we climb up in the atmosphere the pressure decreases. Consequently, the vesicles shrink, and as a result the chest becomes constricted and breathing becomes more difficult.
It is for these dangers that aircraft are supplied with extra oxygen plus means of adjusting the air pressure inside the plane. These measures are crucial for insuring that the cabin where people are located is adapted for natural breathing as the plane sores at heights of 30,000 to 35,000 feet above sea level.
This knowledge, is detailed very accurately in the Quranic words:
" ..... his chest intolerant and constricted, as if he were ascending in the sky."
This scientific information is common knowledge today, however the Quran was revealed fourteen centuries ago long before man invented flying machines that could take him to these vast heights to be able to discover this phenomenon.
The scientific content in 6:125 was only understood many centuries after the revelation of the Quran, hence the use of an allegory in that verse.
The words in 24:35 is also a good example of how God uses an allegory to speak of a scientific knowledge that was not known at the time of the revelation of he Quran. The details of the allegory in 24:35 is found at the following page under item 13: Glorious Quranic Verses
Allegories and the believer:
After demonstrating the purpose and use of allegorical and multi meaning verses in the Quran, we may well ask another important question:
Does the multi-meaning verses issue differ from one person to another? Would a verse have multi-meanings for person A while as it has only one meaning for person B?
To reply to this question we must first make a distinction between those who believe the Quran unconditionally, and those who say they do but in reality they don’t. It may appear obvious to state that all Muslims believe the Quran, but in reality very few actually do! The following are some examples:
a- We are told in 6:114 that the Quran is fully detailed, and in 6:38 we are told that nothing has been left out of the book, and in 16:89 we are told that the Quran gives explanations to all things.
Sadly, all hadith followers do not believe any of the above! They insist that the Quran contains only the headlines while as the details of the religion can only be found in the hadith! As a result, they do not believe the Quran!
b- In 2:197 we are given a very clear message stating that the Hajj can be observed anytime during the specified months. These are four months and they are called the “hurum” months (9:36) because they are dedicated to Hajj and the “ihram” (abstention) during Hajj.
Sadly, Muslims today have totally ignored this message in 2:197 and have reduced the time of Hajj to the first 10 days of the month of Zhu Al-Hijjah!
Do they believe 2:197? Once again the answer is NO.
When they are asked why do they not heed the message in 2:197 they will come up with the most ridiculous explanations! To read more about this issue please go to: Duration of Hajj
The interesting matter is that when these Muslims are asked why they cannot accept the simple literal meaning of 6:114 or 6:38 or 2:197, or many other simple verses, they will say that the Quran is not easy to understand and that only the inspired scholars can decipher its words! In other words, they have reduced the nature of such verses from being straightforward and clear to understand into being allegorical ambiguous verses! What this means is that for them there are many more allegorical and ambiguous verses in the book!
Many other examples can be cited to show how many so-called Muslims do not believe the Quran, but the above is sufficient for now.
The relevance of the above is that it tells us that those who choose not to believe simple words in the Quran (even though they claim they do) will have much more multi meaning verses to contend with than the genuine believe who believes God’s words on face value.
One good way of determining the purity of any person's faith in God and in the Quran is by looking into how many Quranic verses appear as “mutashabihat” (multi meaning) for him.
A very genuine believer, who believes God’s words with no ifs or buts, for him there will be fewer multi meaning verses, while as for the hypocrites who say they believe the Quran when they don’t, almost every other verse in the Quran will have more than one meaning!
God gives the genuine believers the blessing of understanding the Quran, and for them there will be less multi meaning verses. On the other hand, God blinds the idol worshippers from understanding the book, and that is because they reject the simple meaning of God’s words.
Allegories and God
Although we have numerous verses in the Quran that can have more than one meaning, yet in absolute terms, every Quranic verse has one definite meaning, but only God knows the exact meaning of every Quranic verse. This is confirmed in 3:7 with the words:
“None knows its true interpretation other than God”
Because God wrote the Quran, God knows the meaning of every verse in the Quran. For God there is only one correct meaning to every Quranic verse.
One of the many glorious names of God is Al-Mumin (The Believer). Many wonder as to how can God call Himself the Mumin (Believer)? God created all things, so what is He required to believe in?
This can be explained by the fact that for God there is no doubt surrounding the meaning or the truth, not only of every Quranic verse, but in everything that exists. For the human being, there will always be an element of doubt in all matters but for God there is zero doubt and 100% certainty (yaqeen). That is why God calls Himself the (absolute) Believer.