Prophet Muhammad spoke in Metaphors and Parables

Mubaashir Uqdah

By Mubaashir Uqdah

Imam W. Deen Mohammed is well known for being blessed with the ability to interpret the message in the scriptures; both Bible and Qur’an. He has provided wise interpretations of religious concepts that a majority of believers accept literally.

Some critics think that his prolific exegesis of scripture is purely speculative and some even avoid giving consideration to his commentary for this reason. Their concern is that metaphors and parables are unclear by nature and only Allah knows the meaning of these things.

They believe that people who offer explanations do not know if they are correct or not and therefore could be misleading people and sending them astray. They reason, “Why engage in 'guesswork' and risk misguiding someone to the fire and causing yourself to end up there also?”

The conundrum with this line of thinking is that Allah constantly tells us throughout the Qur’an that He teaches by way of metaphors, parables, signs, etc. Well, if the G-d teaches by way of metaphors and parables, then He must expect people to be able to learn and understand them.

Why would Allah teach something that He didn’t intend at least one person to understand? Now, perhaps the metaphor or parable might not be understood by you or me, but that doesn't mean the message won't be understood by someone, even if it takes 1400 years.

On many other occasions I have discussed the Qur’an’s position on metaphors and parables. However, in this brief article, I would like to share with you the fact that our beloved prophet and leader, Muhammad (SAW), also spoke in metaphors and parables.

I think this would be clear to many regular readers of ahadith, but it is something that I do not hear preachers and teachers elaborating upon.

I think this is a significant fact to recognize and give exposure to, because it may help us to understand many hadith better and may shed some new light on how we read and understand some of the reports about what our Prophet is reported to have said.

For instance, here is a report narrated by Abu Huraira. It is reported that "Abu Huraira said that he heard Allah's Apostle saying, 'While a lady was nursing her child, a rider passed by and she said,' O Allah! Don't let my child die till he becomes like this (rider).' The child said, 'O Allah! Don't make me like him,' and then returned to her breast (sucking it).

“(After a while) they passed by a lady who was being pulled and teased (by the people). The child's mother said, 'O Allah! Do not make my child like her.' The child said, 'O Allah! Make me like her.'

“ Then he (the Prophet) said, 'As for the rider, he is an infidel. While the lady is accused of illegal sexual intercourse (falsely) and she says: 'Allah is sufficient for me (He knows the truth).'"

First, I'll ask the question, “Do you think the baby actually understood what the mother was saying about the rider and the woman in the story? Do you think the child literally spoke?” If your answer is no, then you would agree with me that the Prophet was relating a parable to whoever he was telling this story to.

Now, we must ask the question, why did the Prophet tell this parable? What is the meaning? Perhaps the prophet was using the parable or fictionalized story to teach the lesson of not “judging a book by its cover.”

The rider appeared heroic, but he was an infidel. The woman appeared to be a prostitute, but she was falsely accused and trusted in Allah despite the accusations.

Here is another example. It is reported that "Abu Said Al-Khudri said, 'The Prophet said, "Amongst the men of Bani Israel there was a man who had murdered ninety-nine persons. Then he set out asking (whether his repentance could be accepted or not).

“He came upon a monk and asked him if his repentance could be accepted. The monk replied in the negative and so the man killed him. He kept on asking till a man advised to go to such and such village.

“(So he left for it) but death overtook him on the way. While dying, he turned his chest towards that village (where he had hoped his repentance would be accepted), and so the angels of mercy and the angels of punishment quarreled amongst themselves regarding him.

“Allah ordered the village (towards which he was going) to come closer to him, and ordered the village (whence he had come), to go far away, and then He ordered the Angels to measure the distances between his body and the two villages. So he was found to be one span closer to the village (he was going to). So he was forgiven.'"

I ask the questions: Do you think the one village got up and actually moved closer, while the other village stood up and moved further away from the man? Do you actually think that the angels were literally quarreling over what to do with this person and that Allah literally stepped in to break up the argument and that the Prophet was watching all of this as it was happening?

Now, think about this: Why would the Prophet tell this story, if this man’s destiny was already written and decreed by Allah?  Did the Prophet receive the knowledge of this story as part of revealed knowledge or was he relating a parable to help someone he was talking to understand a moral lesson?

Perhaps, he was trying to teach someone that, “Even if you have done a lot of wrong in your life, it is not too late to repent and change and save your soul.”

It is problematic for some people to see these kinds of ahadith as parables, because it means that the Prophet told someone a story containing information that was not a true. They feel that this implies that the prophet would lie to make a point and that this would detract from his impeccable character and that this is unacceptable and unthinkable.

For these individuals, a better approach is to accept the literal story and stipulate that while they may not understand it and it may not seem logical or possible, this is where the faith of the believer is tested. They say, “The believer must believe it, even though he can't explain it.”

The students of the thinking or thought of Imam W. Deen Mohammed would not reason in this way, but we are not to have disdain for other Muslims who might. If there is one thing that we have learned from the Qur'an and our teacher, it is that many messages can come from the same object.

An example of this is the following hadith. “It is reported that The Prophet said, While a man was riding a cow, it turned towards him and said, 'I have not been created for this purpose (i.e. carrying), I have been created for sloughing.’

“The Prophet added, ‘I, Abu Bakr and 'Umar believe in the story.’ The Prophet went on, ‘A wolf caught a sheep, and when the shepherd chased it, the wolf said, 'Who will be its guard on the day of wild beasts, when there will be no shepherd for it except me?'

“After narrating it, the Prophet said, ‘I, Abu Bakr and 'Umar too believe it’"

We could read this hadith and say that this is proof that the Prophet and two of his most faithful companions believed in strange and illogical stories, such as cows and wolves talking. And therefore the true believer is emulating the best examples in the world by doing the same, that is believing in strange and unnatural things.

We could also read this hadith and say that the Prophet and his Companions believed in the truths of the story; namely that cows are not made for carrying heavy loads and when there are only wild animals around, no humans will be there to watch over the sheep. But the wolves will be there watching (and licking their chops!).

Keep this message before your mind as you continue reading and study of hadith and never put down the new mind you have been given. It is what will allow you to see insights into the Book of Allah and the example of His Messenger.

It is what will give you your contribution of service to our Ummah around the world. Remember, if you are always a carbon copy of something else, you are never yourself. And if you are not yourself, then you have nothing to offer.




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