Few of the Literary devices used in Quran:

d. Higher frequency of rhetorical features

The Qur’an is a ‘sea of rhetoric’. The Qur’an exhibits an unparalleled frequency of rhetorical features, surpassing any other Arabic text, classical or modern.[23] The use of rhetoric in the Qur’an stands out from any other type of discourse.[24] The following examples show that the Qur’an employs a wider range and frequency of rhetorical features than any other rhymed prose; past or present [please refer to the original Arabic to understand the examples giveb below].

i. Alliteration.

This is a literary or rhetorical stylistic device that consists of repeating the same consonant sound within several words in close succession. For example repetition of kum in the following verse:

“He will direct you to do righteous good deeds and will forgive you your sins. And whosoever obeys Allah and His Messenger, he has indeed achieved a great achievement.” Surah al-Ahzaab (The Confederates) 33: 71.

Another example of alliteration occurs in Surah al-Mursalaat when the letter meem is repeated in quick succession:

“Did We not create you from a despised water? Surah al-Mursalaat (Those sent forth) 77: 20.

ii. Analogy

This can be a spoken or textual comparison between two words (or sets of words) to highlight some form of semantic similarity between them. For example:

“And cushions set in rows. And rich carpets spread out.” Surah al-Ghaashiyah (The Overwhelming) 88: 15-16.

“Therefore, treat not the orphan with oppression. And repulse not the beggar.” Surah ad-Duhaa (The Forenoon) 93: 9-10.

iii. Antiphrasis

This is a figure of speech that is used to mean the opposite of its usual sense, especially ironically. For example:

“Then pour over his head the torment of boiling water. Taste you (this)! Verily, you were (pretending to be) the mighty, the generous!” Surah ad-Dukhaan (The Smoke) 44: 48-49.

iv. Antithesis

This is a counter-proposition and denotes a direct contrast to the original proposition. For example:

“Those who disbelieve, theirs will be a severe torment; and those who believe and do righteous good deeds, theirs will be forgiveness and a great reward.” Surah Faatir (The Originator of Creation) 35: 7.

v. Asyndeton

This term is used for a stylistic scheme in which conjunctions are deliberately omitted from a series of related clauses. For example in the following verses the subject matter switches within the same verse without any linkage:

“Allah is He Who raised the heavens without any pillars that you can see. Then, He rose above the Throne. He has subjected the sun and the moon, each running (its course) for a term appointed. He manages and regulates all affairs; He explains the Ayat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.) in detail, that you may believe with certainty in the Meeting with your Lord.” Surah ar-Ra’d (The Thunder) 13: 2.

vi. Assonance

A refrain of vowel sounds to create internal rhyming within phrases or sentences, For example the words eeyaa bahum and hesaa bahum in the following two verses:

“Verily, to Us will be their return; Then verily, for Us will be their reckoning.” Surah al-Ghaashiyah (The Overwhelming) 88: 25-26.

vii. Cadence

Cadence is the rythmic rise or fall of the voice when a text is read aloud. This powerful feature is one of the most beautiful attractions of the Qur’an and is present throughout. It is a major phonetic and cohesive element which makes the Qur’an impossible to imitate. No other text has done this before, especially in such frequency and in combination with assonance and the many other phonetic devices such as assimilation, nasalisation, etc.

viii. Chiasmus

In rhetoric, chiasmus is the figure of speech in which two or more clauses are related to each other through a reversal of structures in order to make a larger point, for example:

“You make the night to enter into the day, and You make the day to enter into the night, You bring the living out of the dead and, You bring the dead out of the living. And You give wealth and sustenance to whom You will, without limit.” Surah aal-Imraan (The Family of Imraan) 3: 27.

ix. Epizeuxis

In linguistics, an epizeuxis is the repetition of words in immediate succession, for vehemence or emphasis. For example in Surah ash-Sharh we read:

“Verily, along with every hardship is relief, verily, along with every hardship is relief.” Surah ash-Sharh (The Opening Forth) 94: 5-6.

x. Equivoque

This is the use of a term with more than one meaning or sense. For example use of the word ‘mountains’ in the following verse:

“See you not that Allah drives the clouds gently, then joins them together, then makes them into a heap of layers, and you see the rain comes forth from between them; and He sends down from the sky hail (like) mountains, and strikes therewith whom He wills, and averts it from whom He wills. The vivid flash of its (clouds) lightning nearly blinds the sight.” Surah an-Noor (The Light) 24: 43.

xi. Homonymy

This is a group of words, that share the same spelling and the same pronunciation but can have a different meaning. For example, in the following verse the word makara can have both good and bad meaning. In the context of the verse we see the evil plotting and planning of those who wished to kill Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him) as opposed to Allah’s plan to protect Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him).

“And they (disbelievers) plotted (to kill Jesus), and Allah planned too. And Allah is the Best of those who plan.” Surah aal-Imraan (The Family of Imraan) 3: 54.

xii. Hyperbole

A term for when statements that are deliberately exaggerated to underline a point. For example:

“Verily, those who deny Our verses and treat them with arrogance, for them the gates of heaven will not be opened, and they will not enter Paradise until the camel goes through the eye of the needle (which is impossible). Thus do We recompense the Mujrimun (criminals, polytheists, sinners).” Surah al-A’raaf (The Heights) 7: 40.

“When they came upon you from above you and from below you, and when the eyes grew wild and the hearts reached to the throats, and you were harbouring doubts about Allah.” Surah al-Ahzaab (The Confederates) 33: 10.

xiii. Isocolon

A figure of speech in which parallelism is reinforced. For example:

“Let the rich man spend according to his means; and the man whose resources are restricted, let him spend according to what Allah has given him. Allah puts no burden on any person beyond what He has given him. Allah will grant after hardship, ease. And many a town (population) revolted against the Command of its Lord and His Messengers; and We called it to a severe account, and We shall punish it with a horrible torment (in Hell in the Hereafter). So it tasted the evil result of its affair (disbelief), and the consequence of its affair (disbelief) was loss (destruction in this life and an eternal punishment in the Hereafter). Allah has prepared for them a severe torment. So fear Allah and keep your duty to Him, O men of understanding, who have believed! Allah has indeed sent down to you a Reminder (this Qur’an).” Surah at-Talaaq (The Divorce) 65: 7-10.

xiv. Metaphor

A metaphor is a term that concisely compares two things, saying that one is like the other. For example:

“And We shall turn to whatever deeds they (disbelievers, polytheists, sinners) did, and We shall make such deeds as scattered floating particles of dust.” Surah al-Furqaan (The Criterion) 25: 23.

“And your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him. And that you be dutiful to your parents. If one of them or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of disrespect, nor shout at them but address them in terms of honour. And lower to them the wing of submission and humility through mercy, and say: “My Lord! Bestow on them Your Mercy as they did bring me up when I was young.” Surah al-Israa (The Journey by Night) 17: 23-24.

xv. Metonymy

This device is used in rhetoric in which a thing or concept is not called by its own name, but by the name of something intimately associated with that thing or concept. So for example in the following verse when describing the story of Prophet Noah (peace be upon him), the Arabic word for ark or ship is not in the verse but is implied by Allah’s mention of planks and nails:

“And We carried him on a (ship) made of planks and nails” Surah al-Qamar (The Moon) 54: 13.

xvi. Palindrome

This is a word or phrase that can be read both forwards and backwards, for example ‘race car’ or ‘radar’. The Prophet Muhammad was unlettered, so for him to construct palindromes in the Qur’an such as these would have been a very lengthy task of trial and error, especially when we consider that the Qur’an was revealed as an oral transmission and Prophet Muhammad would merely recite the revelation as soon as he had received it without editing or revising. Allah says in verse 3 of Surah al-Muddaththir (The One Enveloped, 74):

Translated into English this verse means;

“And magnify your Lord (Allah)!”

The example above of an Arabic palindrome is all the more remarkable because it maintains the Qur’an’s consistent unique style, and retains a coherent meaning which is often lost in normal Arabic poetry. When we take a closer look, we see the verse is composed of a palindrome. The word rabbaka (Lord) written backwards forms kabbara meaning ‘magnify’.

xvii. Parenthesis

This is an explanatory or qualifying word, clause or sentence inserted into a passage with which it doesn’t necessarily have any grammatical connection. For example:

“But those who believed, and worked righteousness – We tax not any person beyond his scope – such are the dwellers of Paradise. They will abide therein forever.” Surah al-A’raaf (The Heights) 7: 42.

xviii. Polyptoton

This stylistic scheme occurs when words are derived from the same root and repeated (e.g. ‘strong’ and ‘strength’). In the Qur’an for example Allah says sabab-nal maa a’ sabbaa and shaqaqq-nal arda shaqqaa:

“We pour forth water in abundance. And We split the earth in clefts.” Surah ‘Abasa (He Frowned) 80: 25-26.

xix. Rhetorical questions

This type of question is a figure of speech in the form of a question posed for its persuasive effect without the expectation of a reply (for example, Why me?). Rhetorical questions encourage the listener to think about what the (often obvious) answer to the question must be. When a speaker states, “How much longer must our people endure this injustice?”, no formal answer is expected. Rather, it is a device used by the speaker to assert or deny something. In the Qur’an, Allah uses rhetorical questions in many places, for example:

“Is there any reward for good other than good?” Surah ar-Rahmaan (The Most Gracious) 55: 60.

“Then he turned to their alihah (gods) and said: “Will you not eat (of the offering before you)?” Surah as-Saaffaat (Those Ranged in Ranks) 37: 91.

xx. Synecdoche

This is closely related to metonymy and is a figure of speech that denotes a part of something but is used to refer to the whole thing. For example ‘a pair of hands’ referring to a worker. In the following Qur’anic verse there are many different aspects to consider. Firstly, a synecdoche when the word raqaba meaning ‘neck’ is used to refer to the whole ie. a slave. Then the charitable act itself being likened to a steep path, in other words a difficult course of action.

The psycholinguistics behind the verse alone opens up for consideration various aspects of human psychology, behaviour and comprehension in relation to language. Lastly, the use of the word raqaba achieves the effect of maintaining the rhyme created by the previous key word, ‘aqaba (the steep path).

“And what will make you know the path that is steep? (It is) freeing a neck.” Surah al-Balad (The City) 90: 12-13.

The Qur’an is a ‘sea of rhetoric’. The Qur’an exhibits an unparalleled frequency of rhetorical features, 
surpassing any other Arabic text, classical or modern.  The use of rhetoric in the Quran stands out from any 
type of discourse. 

A close up analysis of the Quran can highlight a wide range and frequency of rhetorical features. This is a 
comprehensive subject that requires further analysis, however to highlight the Qur’ans uniqueness, the 
following list has been provided to show that the Qur’an employs more rhetorical features than any other 
Arabic text; past or present.

 Analogy (For example see Qur’an 88:15–16 & 93:9-10)
 Alliteration (For example see Qur’an 33:71 & 77:20)
 Antiphrasis (For example see Qur’an 44:49)
 Antithesis (For example see Qur’an 35:7 & 9:82)
 Asyndeton (For example see Qur’an 13:2)
 Assonance (For example see Qur’an 88:25-26 & 88:14-15)
 Cadence - This is present in the whole Qur’an, it is a major rhetorical feature which is an inimitable 
feature of the Quran. The Quranic discourse uses assonance to deliver all the rhetorical features 
while employing the use of many phonetic features such as assimilation, nasalisation, etc. No other 
text has done this before, especially in such frequency.
 Chiasmus (See for example Qur’an 3:27)
 Epizeuxis (See for example Qur’an 94:5-6)
 Equivoque (See for example Qur’an 24:43)
 Homonymy (See for example Qur’an 2:14-15 & 3:54)
 Hyperbole (See for example Qur’an 7:40, 33:10 & 39:71-72)
 Isocolon (See for example 65:7-10)
 Metaphor (See for example 19:4 & 21:18)
 Metonymy (See for example 54:13 & 6:127) 
 Parenthesis (See for example Qur’an 7:42 & 4:73) 
 Polypton (See for example Qur’an 80:25-26)
 Rhetorical Questions (See for example Qur’an 55:60 & 37:91-92) 
 Stress (See for example Qur’an 29:62 & 3:92)  
 Synedoche (See Q:90:12-13)

Due to the range and frequency of these rhetorical features the Qur’an is on a level of its own. For a detailed 
examples and descriptions of the rhetorical features in the Qur’an please see the bibliography below.

H, Abdul-Raof. 2003. Exploring the Qur'an. Al-Maktoum Institute Academic Press, p. 265-398.
H. Abdul-Raof. 2000. Qur'an Translation: Discourse, Texture and Exegesis. Curzon Press, p 95-137
F Esack. 1993. Qur’anic Hermeneutics: Problems and Prospects. The Muslim World, Vol. 83, No. 2. p. 126 


http://www.netnavigate.com/hasan/newapproach/ch2.html (USE CAUTION)



Thought is a power which arises in the individual mind. It is expressed through the medium of words, and it is through words that the idea of one person is communicated to another.

The idea and the word are quite different from each other in both their nature and origin. The idea is a mental conception. The word (when spoken) is a sound, but in a mysterious way sound is harmonized with idea. In human life the beginning of the word is with the names of things. Allah taught Adam the names of all things (Qur’an 2:31). Conceptions are concealed in words, whether they are conceptions of things or those of feelings and emotions.

Prof. Leland Ryken observes “ Literature is an art form, and one of the criteria by which we classify something as literary is the presence of beauty, form, craft and technique.”

A word or group of words used in any composition to give particular emphasis to an idea or sentiment is termed as figure of speech.

If a word is used in a literal sense, it can be termed factual, but if instead it is used for expressing a combination of ideas, it is called a term. For example shirk, Ilah, taqwa are terms in the Qur’an. Similarly if instead of a literal meaning a word borrows a new meaning it is called the figurative use of a word. For example, if animals are called ‘cattle’, it is a factual statement, but if human beings are compared to animals, as in Qur’an 7:174, it is a figurative use of the word. Thus the Qur’an, in order to present some special concepts, had to use figurative language such as simile, metaphor, etc., in addition to literal language.

The whole realm of figurative language looms large in any consideration of the Qur’an as literature. Figurative language in the Qur’an includes almost all the figures of speech used in any language (Presently only 15 have been discussed) It is hard to find a ‘ruku’ in the Qur’an that does not contain figurative language.

An appreciation of the literary artistry of the Qur’an and the realization of its ‘ijaz’ began as early as the ninth century.

Abu Bakr Muhammed-al-Baqillani (d. 1013) demonstrated the occurrence in the Qur’an of the figures of speech used by the Arab poets. He identified not less than 34 different figures of speech in his monumental treatise ‘ Ijaz al-Qur’an’.

In fact, the Qur’an is rich in figurative terms, of which we use only a very small portion.

A figure of speech is a departure from the ordinary form of expression, or the ordinary course of ideas, in order to produce a greater effect. A “figure of speech if it has any purpose to serve in literature has to rouse the imagination and through its medium, graphically clinch an idea which in plain language might need an elaborate garb for expression”1. From ancient times to the present, figurative locutions have been employed by poets and writers to strengthen and embellish their compositions. According to Aristotle: “eloquence is achieved by beautiful tropes”.

The pre-Islamic Arab poets deviated from simple, direct expression and used figures of speech as poetic devices. The poets who took greatest liberties with word-forms were called ‘umra-al kalam’, princes of diction.

In sharp contrast to the use of the figures of speech by the pre-Islamic Arab poets which at times appeared to be a poor trick, the Qur’an employs the same figures of speech in a most magnificent way. It is more important as the Qur’an is the un-mediated word of God.

The Qur’an is basically a book of guidance. Even though words used in the Qur’an are, as a rule, taken in their literal meaning, some words have been used in different figures of speech to enable the addressee to fully understand some of the concepts of the Qur’an.

Rhetorical forms therefore, pervade the entire Qur’an; lending it literary quality. Whatever the form, conscious artistry, literary unity and design is evident in the Qur’an which heighten the reader’s attention.

Thus we find a number of figures of speech, also called tropes, in the Qur’an. The Qur’an, for example, has used figurative language to explain certain concepts such as al-Jannah, al-naar, al-akhirah, al-arsh, al-kursi, al-sa’at etc. which are beyond the range of human perception. The concepts behind these terms cannot be fully understood by the human mind, and therefore such concepts have been explained through expressions which the human mind can comprehend.

No human vocabulary can express these concepts as such. The Qur’an has successfully described them in terms and expressions which are generally employed in connection with tangible objects and has used such terms and words which are within the comprehension of the human mind. The figurative words used by the Qur’an cannot be termed ‘mutashabihaat’ as some scholars have suggested. The word ‘mutashabihaat’ has been rendered as ambiguous and is explained as follows:

“ ‘Ambiguous’ ayaat are those whose meaning may have some sort of equivocation. It is obvious that no way of life can be prescribed for man unless a certain amount of knowledge explaining the truth about the universe, about its origin and end, about man’s position in it and other matters of similar importance, is intimated to him. It is also evident that there are truths which lie beyond the range of human perception, and which have always eluded and will continue to elude man. No words exist in the human vocabulary which either express or portray them. We necessarily resort to words and expressions generally employed in connection with tangible objects. In the Qur’an too, this kind of language is employed in relation to supernatural matters; the ayaat which have been characterized as ‘ambiguous’ refer to such matters.

At best such expressions may serve to either bring man close or to enable him to formulate some view of reality, even if it is a faint one”1.

What Maulana Mawdudi has said about resorting to words and expressions generally employed in connection with objects is quite correct but he has applied them to ‘mutashabihaat’ which may not be acceptable. Moreover it may neither be proper nor correct to use the word ‘ambiguous’ for the Qur’anic ayaat.

The figurative words used by the Qur’an are in no way ambiguous or unintelligible. Similarly, it may not be correct to say that any ayah or word of the Qur’an has two meanings or can be interpreted in two ways. On the other hand, the Qur’anic expressions are very clear. The purpose of the Qur’an is fully served by these expressions. It is the beauty of the Qur’an that without knowing the precise nature and other particulars of heaven, hell, the hereafter, doomsday etc., one can grasp their real significance.

The Qur’an, as observed above, has used effective and forceful language to successfully convey its lofty ideas to us human beings. The Qur’an speaks through anecdotes and parables which are extremely apt and go straight to the hearts of the listeners. It instructs through hints and suggestions. According to the Qur’anic approach, examples serve better than precept. It has used various figures of speech which every student of the Qur’an should be well acquainted with, in order to understand its full meaning. “It will be unfair to the Qur’an, the ‘Kitab-al mubeen’, the open book, to take the literal sense of its figurative language, or to read any hidden meaning into it.” 1

The combination of the religious and the literary approaches to the Qur’an has made the study of the Qur’an from the literary point of view different from the study of other literature.

A literary approach to the Qur’an is necessary because the Qur’an is, a work of literature; it has its own procedures and corresponding rules of interpretations. It will yield its meanings fully only if explored in terms of its kinds of writing. Better understanding of the Qur’an mainly depends on the reader’s ability to interpret the figurative language and the rhetorical devices used in the Qur’an.

1. Simile and Parable


When one thing is compared to another because of mutual resemblance, it is called a simile.

A simile is “an explicit comparison between two different things, actions or feelings, using the words ‘as’ or ‘like’.”2

A simile is usually introduced by such words as, ‘like’ ‘as’ or ‘so’. A comparison of two things of the same kind is not a simile.

The Qur’an has very frequently used this figure of speech to convey its message. The similes of the Qur’an are not far fetched. It is however, necessary to have a clear picture of what the words meant for the first addressees of the Qur’an. Then the simile will be seen to have a quite startlingly effective impact. While showing the resemblance, the Qur’an makes it clear that the literal meanings are not to be considered. The Qur’an draws the attention towards the resemblance by negating the literal meaning and introducing the simile by such words as ‘like’, ‘as’, etc.

The literal meanings are negated by prefixing the Arabic alphabet ‘kaf (meaning similar or like) such as:

“Then your hearts hardened and became

like rocks, or even harder.” (Qur’an 2:74)

Here the literal meaning of the word ‘rocks’ is negated by prefixing with the word ‘like’.


Parable is a comparison or similitude. It is a narrative of an interesting or striking incident or event in which some thing is expressed in a general way in terms of something else. By parables ethico-religious relations are typically set forth. It is an account or anecdote told to illustrate a fundamental truth. Use of this term is figurative.

“A parable is a picturesque figure of language in which an analogy refers to a similar but different reality”.1

It is necessary for a parable to contain an element of narration, although this narration is not of a particular incident (or a story), but of a general nature.

Differences between simile and parable:-

There is a subtle difference between simile and parable. In a simile, a comparison is made and the similarity is pointed out, whereas in a parable, the similarity is shown by citing the example, followed by vivid, imaginative and graphic description. In other words a simile is a comparison between two things, whereas a parable is a comparison of two situations.

Difference between Allegory and Parable:-

“An allegory consists of a string of metaphors that have individual meanings, whereas a parable is essentially a single metaphor possessing a single meaning. The details of a parable, then, should not be pressed for meaning; rather, one should seek only its basic point of comparison.”[1]

Differences between narrative and parable:-

A narrative is a story or an account. It is a tale or recital of facts. For example, in a narrative, a specific historical event would be cited, whereas in a parable an example of event is given in a general way. A parable is not a story.

Prophet Isa conveyed his message mostly in parables. In his parables he repeatedly used illustrations from daily life. According to Mark, Prophet Isa taught in parables in order to convey his message.

Says the New Testament:

1. He (Jesus) never spoke to them except in parables; but privately to his disciples he explained everything.” (Mark 4:34)

2. In all his teachings to the crowds Jesus spoke in parables; in fact he never spoke to them without a parable; thus making good the prophecy of Isaiah:

I will open my mouth in parables;

I will utter things kept secret since the world was made. (Matthew 13: 34, 35)

“In contrast to Aristotelian tradition, no sharp distinction is drawn in the Bible between simile/allegory and metaphor/ parable.”1

The Qur’an has used many parables and has termed them ‘amsaal’. The parables in the Qur’an have been used for conveying and disseminating knowledge and wisdom so that man can draw inspiration from them. Allah sets forth similitude (parables) to bring home certain basic truths. According to Zamakhshari, “Parabolic style is to illustrate, by means of something which we know from our experience of something that is beyond the reach of our perception.” There are a number of parables in the Qur’an, each one to convey some basic truth and then to draw morals therefrom.

The Qur’an asserts that it has propounded parables for men:

1. “Thus, indeed, we have propounded unto men all kinds of parables in this Qur’an, so that they might think themselves.” (Qur’an 39:27)

2. “ . . . . . . and (all) such parables We have propounded unto men. so that they might (learn to) think.” (Qur’an 59:21)

3. “Allah disdains not to use the similitude of things lowest as well as highest. Those who believe know that it is truth from their Lord. Those who reject faith say: what does Allah mean by such similitude. By such similitude Allah leads many to the right path and He causes many to astray.” (Qur’an 2:26)

4. “Thus does Allah set forth parables (amsaal).” (Qur’an 13:17)

5. “So Allah sets forth parables (amsaal).” (Qur’an 14:25)

6. “We held out examples (amsaal) before you.” (Qur’an 14:46)

7. “And so We propound these parables unto men: but none can grasp their innermost meaning save those who (of Us) are aware.” (Qur’an 29:43)

When parables are used in the Qur’an, the word ‘masala’ is mostly used to indicate that it is a parable.

In certain ayaat of the Qur’an, to explain a particular universal truth or situation, Allah gives the examples (amsaal) of things which are already in the observation of human beings:

1. To bring home the fact that of all the efforts of man, only such efforts will survive which are for the good of humanity, the Qur’an gives the parable of foam during the floods and the scum on the surface of a melted ore, which soon disappear, while the water and metal (which are useful for mankind), remain. (Qur’an 13:17)

2. To explain that the benefits of a good word will be eternal, the similitude (masal) of a healthy tree which yields fruits in all seasons is given. (Qur’an 14:24)

3. To expose the futility of relying on anyone other than Allah, the parable of the spider web is given: The spider lays the trap by relying on the web, which is in fact the frailest of all houses. (Qur’an 29:41)

4. To show the enormous strength of the Qur’an in warning human beings, the parable is given that had Allah sent down the Qur’an on the mountain, it would have crumbled down in fear of Allah. (Qur’an 59:21)

The Qur’an uses relics of the past as similitude as well:

“And you resided (as successors) in the dwellings of those who had wronged themselves, and it was made plain to you how we dealt with them; and struck out parables (amsaal) for you.” (Qur’an 14:45)

In this case, taking lessons from history and comparing one’s own life with the lives of previous generations and their fate or doom is also used as a parable (masal).

As stated above when parables are used in the Qur’an, the word masala is invariably used to indicate their presence. However, in certain ayaat, the word masala is not to be found. For example, there is no use of the word in 2:266.

After giving two parables in ayaat 2:264 and 2:265, the Qur’an poses a crucial but pertinent question:

“Would any of you desire to have a garden of date palms and vines through which running waters flow and have all manner of fruit therein - and then be taken by old age, with only weak children to (look after) him - and then (see) it smitten by a fiery whirlwind and utterly scorched. In this way Allah makes clear his messages to you, so that you might reflect.” (2:266)

This cannot be regarded as parable, An undesirable situation is presented in allegorical, albeit graphic terms. It is obvious that no one would like to see his flourishing garden destroyed in his old age. This question makes one reflect upon and compare his plight when he finds that at the end of his life he is empty handed as far as good deeds are concerned.

Similarly ayaat 7:57 and 7:58 are not parables as such; the word ‘masala’ is not used. In these ayaat the winds are compared to the Divine message. The land is compared to men. In the same way as rainfall revives the dead earth, so Divine guidance brings the dormant people back to life. Only the righteous people benefit from the Divine guidance. If the people are not righteous, they cannot benefit from it.

Due to graphic details, it appears that parables are used in these ayaat. No incident is mentioned in a general way and therefore the allegorical description cannot be termed as parable.

The parable in 18:32-44 is most expansive. This is to illustrate the comparison between two companions, one is a rich unbeliever and the other is a believer but not so rich. The unbeliever said to his companion, “I have more wealth, honor and power than you.” The believer replied, “If you have more wealth because of your gardens, our Lord could give me something better than your garden”. Then Allah destroyed the gardens and the owner realized that there was none to help him against Allah.

Parable in ayah 7:176.

“Now had We so willed We could indeed have exalted him through those signs, but he clung to earthly life and followed his carnal desires. Thus in parable is that of the dog who lolls out his tongue whether you attack him or leave him alone. Such is the parable of those who reject Our signs as false. Narrate to them these parables that they may reflect”.

The parables of the Qur’an were addressed to the contemporaries of the prophet, whereas the basic point of comparison is not only meant for them but for the posterity. It is therefore, necessary to understand their meaning in their original setting. Moreover the Qur’anic parables should be interpreted in the light of the totality of their teachings.

2. Metaphor

A metaphor is a figure of speech in which words are used to indicate something different from its literal meaning. It is an implied simile. It, does not, like the simile, state that the thing is like another or acts as another, but takes that for granted and proceeds as if the two things were one.

Metaphor means borrowing. It is a figure of speech in which a word loses its literal meaning and borrows a new one. It is an unstated comparison, where the object compared is identical to the object of comparison. A metaphor has a double meaning; two concepts come to mind instead of just one, and both have some resemblance and unity. In other words a metaphor means the use of a word in a figurative sense in such a manner that the relationship of resemblance between the real and the figurative meaning is maintained, but the resemblance is not stated.

The meaning of words is expanded through similes and metaphors. A metaphor creates two concepts instead of one, but both have similarity and unity in them.

A metaphor is an effective means of expression and the creation of meaning.

According to Chris Baldick, a metaphor is “the most important and widespread figure of speech in which one thing, idea, or action is referred to by a word or expression normally denoting another thing, idea or action, so as to suggest some common quality shared by the two. In metaphor, this resemblance is assumed as an imaginary identity rather than directly stated as a comparison; referring to a man as ‘that pig’ or saying, ‘he is a pig’ is metaphorical, whereas ‘he is like a pig’ is a simile.”1

Thus when we say, “He fought like a lion”, we use a simile, but when we say “He was a lion in the fight” we use a metaphor.

Every simile can be compressed into a metaphor and every metaphor can be expanded into a simile.

The Qur’an has used metaphors to convey its message. The word ‘shayatin’ (plural of shaytan) in certain cases is used as a metaphor, for example ayaat 2:14, 6:112 etc. In these ayaat shayatin’ denotes people who, through their insolent persistence in evil doing, have become like devils. In fact, by this metaphor the Qur’an refers to all evil forces inherent in man. The ‘scattered pearls’ in ayah 76:19 is also a metaphor used for the children in paradise.

1. In ayaat 2:115, 3:103, 57:29 the words ‘face of Allah’, ‘cable of Allah’, and ‘hand of Allah’ are used respectively as metaphors. In the above ayaat, the surface meanings cannot be accepted. The words ‘face’, ‘cable’, and ‘hand’ cannot be taken literally. These words have been used in a way in which the literal and figurative meanings show a similarity, but that similarity has not been classified. Therefore these words (‘face’, ‘cable’ and ‘hand’) should be considered as metaphors.

2. The Qur’an says:

“. . . . . it is they who carry the shackles (of their own making) around their necks; and it is they who are destined for the fire, therein to abide.” (Qur’an 13:5)

Here, ‘shackles’ is “a metaphor of man’s wilful self-abandonment to false values and evil ways, and of the resulting enslavement of the spirit (Cf Zamakhshari, Razi, Baydawi)” 1.

Allah’s placing ‘shackles’ around the sinners’ necks (36:08) is also a metaphor. This metaphor is similar to Allah’s sealing the hearts of the sinners. (02:07). In this ayah, the “reference (is) to the natural law instituted by God, whereby a person who persistently adheres to false beliefs and refuses to listen to the voice of truth gradually loses the ability to perceive the truth, ‘so that finally, as it were, a seal is set upon his heart’. (Raghib)”.2

3. “...We could surely have deprived them (the sinners) of their right, so that they would stray forever from the (right) way: for how could they have insight (into what is true?)” (Qur’an 36:66)

4. “We could have deprived them of their sight” or “We could have blotted their eyes” is a metaphor for “We could have created them morally blind.”

5. “....... they have bartered the guidance for error; (but) their trade has not turned out profitable .......” (Qur’an 2:16)

Other Metaphorical forms, such as those of metonymy, parable and allegory are frequently used in the Qur’an.

3. Symbolism


In the simplest sense, a symbol is ‘something that stands for, represents or denotes something else (not by exact resemblance, but by vague suggestion, or by some accidental or conventional relation) especially a material object representing or taken to represent something immaterial or abstract.”[2]

“A symbol is characterized not by its uniformity but by its versatility.”[3]

In literal usage, however, a symbol is an especially evocative kind of image: that is, a word or phrase referring to a concrete object, scene or action which also has some further significance associated with it: a rose, etc.

Similes, metaphors and symbols are the tools whereby expression is made more effective. Unlike similes and metaphors, in a symbol there is no question of comparison. The words themselves explain the subject and the literal meaning is liberated from its trammels. The functions of simile, metaphor and metonymy are also performed by the symbol.

“A symbol differs from a metaphor in that its application is left open as an unstated suggestion... the metaphor ties a concrete image... symbol... remains mysteriously indeterminate in its possible meanings.”[4]

Symbols reveal their meaning gradually and through direct human attention to the eternal realities of the universe like the Day of Judgment........ realities which are not comprehensible to the human mind.

Every word can assume the status of a metaphor, a simile, an allusion, or a symbol. Ideas and conceptions are embellished by means of similes and metaphors, and a figurative language is adopted in place of a literal one. When the scope of ideas and conceptions are wider, some metaphors and other figures of speech are continuously used, and this is the beginning of symbolism. In other words, a metaphor assumes the status of a symbol through a multiplicity of usage.

In a symbol, the same word is expanded in meaning so much so that its implication becomes symbolic for an entire life, or for some aspects of life.

Literature at its highest level has many layers, and contains a multiple meanings, in other words, ideas are expressed at two or more levels through symbols. A literary masterpiece cannot be fully understood unless these symbols are kept in mind. For understanding these symbols, it is necessary to know the background of their usage.

Great literature is mostly introspective. In it, words do not completely convey the meaning and therefore, symbols are used for the full expression of ideas. In other words, many areas of human consciousness do not come within the grasp of words. When words fail to express these subtle shades of meaning, a suitable symbol is employed which creates the necessary atmosphere for them.

Words become associated with a limited range of meaning because of their use for centuries. When a movement brings new ideas and new concepts, their expression requires a new medium. In higher literature, symbols are often used for universal implications. They are derived from the currents and crosscurrents of life in order to enable them to express new ideas and emotions.

The use of symbols in literature is called ‘symbolism’. A basic problem of symbolism is the proper selection of symbols. In the selection of symbols, it has to be borne in mind that there should be resemblance and relationship in characteristics. Symbolism tends to be very compact. Where there is a mythological element, the use of symbolism is comparatively more frequent. In most of the religious books symbols are used. Symbols themselves have no meaning. It is the writer who assigns meaning to the symbols and his method of approach determines the meaning of the symbols. If emotions have central position in description, the use of symbols becomes necessary. The emotions of pain, sorrow, happiness and other subtle feelings cannot be fully expressed without the use of symbols. This method of expression is in every way different from the one in which the symbols are used without the element of emotion.

The Qur’an had the problem of presenting its universal message keeping in view eternal realities, wisdom and mental background and the limitations of the addressee.

The vast vocabulary of the Arabic language was incapable of expressing certain concepts; therefore Allah created the necessary atmosphere for comprehending them through the medium of symbols.

Words become confined to a limited atmosphere because of their usage over a long period of time. The Qur’an introduced new ideas and new concepts and for their expression it provided new terms and continuously used metaphors. The Qur’an also introduced the usage of symbols. Accordingly, we find symbolism in the Qur’an. In other words, metaphors assumed the status of symbols on account of their frequency of usage. It is one of the miracles of the Qur’an that we become aware of the situation in our after-life during our lifetime only through the means of symbols.

In mathematics, the meaning of a symbol is definite and fixed, there is no possibility of deviation in it. However, unlike mathematics, in higher literature, the meaning is most undetermined. In other words, it always has a possibility of alteration or deviation. The Qur’an, being an eternal message, the symbols in it are not subject to revision. The meanings assigned to a symbol must last forever, and this is one of the miracles of the Qur’an. It has successfully expressed feelings which cannot be expressed in normal words. The Qur’an’s figurative style creates an atmosphere in which concepts and meanings appear in the form of symbols. For example, the Qur’an has used subh’ (morning) as a symbol for the appointed time of chastisement as in (11:67, 11:81, 11:94) or ‘evil dawn’ as in (Qur’an 37:177). Even the derivative of ‘subh’ ie. ‘yusbihun’ (Qur’an 23:40) is used to mean smitten.

Assessing the attitude of Firaun and his people Prophet Musa addressed them and said:

“I am an apostle (sent) unto you, worthy of trust, and exalt not yourselves against Allah; for, verily, I come unto you with a manifest authority (from Him); and behold, it is with my Sustainer - and your Sustainer ---- that I seek refuge against your stoning (tarjumun).” (Qur’an 44:18-20)

The expression ‘tarjumun’ in the above ayaat has a symbolic meaning indicating the entire attitude of Firaun and his people. According to Abdullah Yusuf Ali “Stoning may be here symbolical of any injury or vilification.”1

Prophet Musa was facing rejection, ridicule, condemnation, vilification, denunciation etc. all at a time which cannot be represented by any other word except ‘stoning’.

A symbolical reference is called allusion. Allusion is an in direct reference in a discourse by passing mention or quotation, to something generally familiar.

Salat has also been used as a symbol in the Qur’an. When Prophet Shoaib conveyed the message to the people of Madyan, they said:

“Oh Shoaib, does your salat command you that we give up all that our forefathers were wont to worship or that we refrain from doing whatever we please with our possession.” (Qur’an 11:87)

In the above ayah the word salat is used as a symbol for the word din.

In Surah 111, ‘Abu Lahab’ is used as a symbol for those who oppose the ‘Divine Message’.

In the Qur’an ‘the winds’ is used as a symbol for intellectual progress and hope.

There is a clear comparison between ‘the winds’ and the ‘ayaat’ of the Qur’an. Just as winds may either bring clouds and rain as a hope for the crops, or bring disaster, the ayaat of Allah also bring hope to the believers and fear to the unbelievers. It is therefore, apt that the Qur’an has used wind and rain as symbols of intellectual progress. Says the Qur’an:

“And it is He who sends the winds as a glad tiding of His coming grace - so that, when they have brought heavy clouds, We may drive them towards dead land and cause thereby water to descend; and by this means do We cause all manner of fruit to come forth: (and this) you ought to keep in mind.” (Qur’an 7:57)

“As for the good land, its vegetation comes forth (in abundance) by its Sustainer’s leave, whereas from bad it comes forth but poorly. Thus do we give many facets to Our messages for (the benefit of) people who are grateful.” (Qur’an 7:58)

4. Allegory

Allegory is a figure of speech in which a name of a descriptive term is transferred to a subject with which it has some similarity. In other words, allegory is the “description of a subject under the guise (or image) of some other object of aptly suggested resemblance”. It is “an extended metaphor”.[5]

According to Chris Baldick, allegory is “a story or visual image with a distinct meaning partially hidden behind its literal or visible meaning. The principle technique of allegory is personification where abstract qualities are given human shape. An allegory may be conceived as a metaphor that is extended into a structural system. In written narrative, allegory involves a continuous parallel between two (or more) levels of meaning in story”.[6]

According to Shipley, it is “distinguished from metaphor and parable as an extended story that may hold interest for the surface tale”.[7]

A symbolical reference is also called allusion. Allusion is an indirect reference in a discourse by passing mention or quotation, to something generally familiar.

The interpretation of an authoritative text as having a deeper meaning than what its words seem to suggest was an old practice among the Greeks.

In English literature “The Pilgrim’s Progress” by John Bunyan is a typical allegory in which the central character is called “Every man”. The name “Everyman” is significant and gives the clue to the real subject. This allegory describes the ups and downs in the spiritual life of “Everyman”, which in fact, is a description of the ups and downs of the religious life of every person.

Another allegory in English literature is “The Battle of the Books” by Jonathan Swift. In this allegory a controversy between the relative merits of ancient and modern writers is represented by a dialogue between a bee and a spider.

In this allegory the bee represents the ancient writers. Just as the bee provides honey and wax, the ancient writers through original writings provide knowledge and culture which have been summed up in the phrase of “Sweetness and light”. On the other hand, the spider represents the modern writers. Just as the spider does not create anything new but only makes frail cobwebs, modern writers have not made any real contribution to knowledge. Thus the bee and the spider are allegorical figures.

Allegorical narration is also called ‘apologue’. It is an illustration of something that is beyond the reach of our perception by means of something which we know. It is intended to convey a useful moral lesson.


We find beautiful allegorical narrations, or apologues, in the Qur’an which convey a lasting message concerning higher faculties of mind intended to benefit the lives of the adherents of Islam.

One such allegorical narration is the story of Adam, which is also found in the Bible.


Portions of the story of Adam are found in Surah Al-Baqara, Surah Al-Araf, Surah Bani Israil and Surah Ta-Ha. The story of Adam,as found in the Qur’an, is as follows:

Allah said to the Angels, “I will make a Khalifah on earth” (Qur’an 2:30). He created Adam from dust (Qur’an 3:59), and gave him shape (Qur’an 7:11). Allah fashioned him in due proportion and breathed into him something of His spirit. (Qur’an 32:9) Allah taught him the names and nature of all things. (Qur’an 2:31) Then He tested both the angels and Adam (Qur’an 2:31-33). After Adam was successful in the test, Allah ordered the angels to bow down to Adam, which they all did, except Iblees (Qur’an 2:34, 7:11, 17:61, 18:50, 20:116). Allah asked Adam and his wife to dwell in the Garden (Jannah) and to eat freely but prohibited them from eating ‘the tree’ (Shajarah) (Qur’an 2:35, 7:19). Allah warned them that if they approached ‘the tree’ they would be wrongdoers. (Qur’an 7:19) Allah said, “O Adam! Verily Satan is your enemy and of your wife; Let him not drive you out of the Garden (of bliss) so that you are landed in misery; Verily, there (in the Garden of bliss) you will have no hunger, nakedness, thirst or exposure to the sun” (Qur’an 20:117-119).


However, Satan tempted them and suggested (evil) to them in order to reveal their hidden parts of which they were not (till then) aware, and said, “O Adam! Shall I lead you to ‘the tree of Eternity’ and to a kingdom that never decays?” (Qur’an 20:120) “Your Lord has forbidden you (to go near) this tree, that you may not become immortal” (Qur’an 7:20). Satan swore to them both that he was their sincere advisor. (Qur’an 7:21). So, it was by deceit that Satan brought about their fall; when they tasted of the tree, their shame became manifest to them and they began to sew together the leaves of the Garden over their bodies (Qur’an 20:121). Thus Satan had Adam and his wife banished from the (blissful) state they were in.

Allah said to them,

“Did I not forbid you the tree and tell you that Satan was your avowed enemy?” (Qur’an 7:22).


He then ordered,

“Get (all of) you down with enmity between yourselves and earth shall be your dwelling place for a time ordained” (Qur’an 2:36).


Then words (of repentance) were inspired to Adam (Qur’an 2:37). Adam and his wife said,


“O Lord! We have wronged our own soul; if you forgive us not and bestow not upon us your mercy, we shall certainly be lost” (Qur’an 7:23).


Allah forgave them (Qur’an 2:37) and said, “Get you down with enmity between yourselves and earth shall be your dwelling place for a time ordained” (Qur’an 7:24)


“And if guidance comes from Me, there shall be no fear for those who follow my guidance” (Qur’an 2:38).


The story of Adam as narrated by the Qur’an can be termed as one such allegory. In this story Adam is the archetype of all mankind, who has been presented as an allegorical figure. It is the story of a man depicting human nature. The allegory starts with a revelation of the Divine design that Allah intended to make Adam a Khalifah, (or ruler on Earth). Although Adam is mentioned in the allegory, the purport is to say that ‘man’ is made a ‘Khalifah’. Dust is indicated as the common source of creation of Adam and of man. Breathing the soul represents the fact that every human being is endowed with the Divine gift of distinguishing between right and wrong.


Allah then brought about a competition in knowledge between the angels, representing all objects of nature and Adam representing mankind, asking the former to name things (to describe their nature). The angels could not do so, but Adam could.


In this narrative regarding the creation of Adam, the emphasis is on the following points:


1.                  Man is endowed with the faculty of knowledge and discretion. To indicate that this faculty is similar in nature to the divine faculty, the words used are:


“I breathed into Adam of My spirit” (Qur’an 15:29).


2. The evil force only looked at the source of man’s creation i.e., clay and failed to appreciate man’s unique faculty of knowledge and consciousness.


3. Evil suggestions affect only those persons who respond to them.


It was after Adam (as standing for all mankind) had been so taught the angels were asked to bow down to him, for by the grace of Allah his status had actually been raised higher.


Adam was asked not to approach the Shajarah. “It was a trial in which Adam was placed to demonstrate the fact that however may man be equipped with wisdom and knowledge, he cannot of himself find the way to rectitude without guidance from God.”1


It may, here be noticed that ‘la taqrabun’ (Do not go near), is not used for corporeal approach.


In a different context the Qur’an had used the word ‘la taqrabun’ in the following ayaat:


1. “Do not approach them (your wives) until they have been clean”. (Qur’an 2:222)

2. “Do not go near indecency”. (Qur’an 6:151)

3. “Do not go near adultery” (Qur’an 17:32)

In the above ayaat the Qur’an uses the word ‘la taqrabun’ for the intangible.

It may be noted that Al-shajarah is a beautiful allegory for the act of procreation. The Qur’an, while dealing with the delicate relationship of sex, has conveyed the idea in a most decent manner.


Allah warned Adam saying, “Satan is your enemy, and of your wife.” Through this the human beings are warned against ‘the provocation for evil from an outside source’. In the story Satan tempted Adam and his wife to approach Al-shajarah regarding it as the tree of Eternity. Through this allegorical expression, it is shown that man has an inherent desire to become immortal. Since he is a mortal being, man according to his limited thinking, found the only way to become immortal was to procreate.

When Adam and his wife disobeyed Allah and indulged in sex, Allah said, “Get (all of) you down with enmity between yourselves, and earth shall be your dwelling place for a time ordained”. Here, while addressing Adam and his wife, Allah has used the plural form. Some exegetes are of the opinion that Allah has included Satanin addition to ‘the couple’. However, Satanis obviously excluded by the words “earth shall be your dwelling place for a time ordained”. Here the address is to the progeny of Adam and it is the beauty of the allegory that the allegorical meaning has been clearly suggested.

It is mentioned in the allegory that words of repentance were inspired to Adam and his wife and admitting their mistake, they begged for forgiveness. Accordingly, Allah forgave them. Here it is also shown that man,. who is prone to disobedience has been endowed with the faculty of realizing the disobedience as a sin, and if he/she repents and asks for forgiveness, Allah is ever-forgiving.

In the allegory Allah says to Adam that if guidance comes from Him, there shall be no fear for those who follow it. Here again, through Adam, the address is to all mankind.

No doubt the story of Adam is borrowed from the Bible, which was current among the ‘People of the Book’. The Qur’an has used it as an allegory, and made it a convenient vehicle to convey its message. The story of Adam, as told in the Bible, in its present form, cannot be taken as an allegory.

However, the story of Adam in the Qur’an cannot be taken as real history. If taken literally it is difficult to believe that what is described actually did happen. If taken as an allegory, the story becomes meaningful.

Another allegory is the story of Prophet Suleyman’s death. An incident is mentioned in the (Qur’an 34:14) where the death of Prophet Suleyman was not made news to the laborers (jinn). It was made known only through the termite which ate up his staff.

The Solomonic legend was part of ancient Arabian tradition according to which “Solomon died on his throne, leaning forward on his staff, and for a long length of time nobody became aware of his death; with the result that the (laborers who were) constrained to work for him, went on laboring at the heavy tasks assigned to them. (His death was known to the laborers only when) termite ate away Solomon’s staff, and his body, deprived of support, fell to the ground.

The Qur’an uses the legend to convey its teachings “This story only hinted at in its outline; is apparently used here as an allegory[8]”. Through the allegorical illustration the reference is to the weak rule of Suleyman’ son and successor, Rehoboam, who led a life of luxury and ease; and instead of acting on the advice of the older men, yielded to the pleasure seeking wishes of his companions. (1 Kings 12:13)

“The casting away of his staff signifies the disruption of the Kingdom. The Jinn, as already remarked, mean the rebellious tribes who had been reduced to subjection by Solomon, and who remained in subjection to the irraclites for a time, until the Kingdom was shattered”.[9]

5. Personification:

Personification is a figure of speech in which inanimate objects and abstract notions are spoken of as having life and intelligence. Personification is “the act of personifying; especially as a rhetorical figure or species of metaphor.[10]” In personification, an imaginary person is conceived as representing a thing or abstraction. In other words, in personification a person or thing is viewed as embodying a quality etc. or as exemplified in a striking manner, an incarnation (of something). It is a “dramatic representation or literary description of a person or thing.”[11]

According to Chris Baldick it is “a figure of speech by which animals, abstract ideas or inanimate things are referred to as if they were human”[12].

According to Harry Shaw it is “a figure of speech by which abstraction, animals, ideas and inanimate objects are endowed with human form, character, trait or sensibilities”.[13]

Syed Qutub is perhaps the first scholar who has discussed personification as a stylistic feature of the Qur’an.

Some of the examples of personification in the Qur’an are as follows:

1. “Verily We! We did offer the trust the heavens and the earth and the mountains, but they refused to bear it and shrank therefore. Yet man took it up for, verily he was very iniquitous and very ignorant.” (Qur’an 33:72)

2. “………….. We caused them to become (one of those) tales (or things long past), and scattered them in countless fragments”. (Qur’an 34:19)

3. “And heavens and the earth wept not over them (the children of Israel) nor were they respited. “ (Qur’an 44:29)

4. “This Book of Ours speaks against you with truth; verily We have been setting down whatsoever you have been working.” (Qur’an 45:29)

5. “The Day when We will ask Hell: ‘Art thou full?....’ and it will answer ‘is there yet more (for me)?’.” (Qur’an 50:30)

6. “And when the female infant buried alive shall be asked: Was it for any crime that she had been put to death”. (Qur’an 81:8 and 9)

6. Apostrophe

An apostrophe is a rhetorical figure in which a speaker or writer makes a direct exclamatory address to the dead, the absent, or to a personified object or idea. It is a “device by which an actor turns from his audience, or a writer from his readers, to address a person who is usually either absent or deceased, an inanimate object, or an abstract idea.”1 This figure of speech is a special form of personification. It is an address to some one or something absent as though they or it were present.

There are very good examples of Apostrophe in the Qur’an. Some of them are as follows:

And it was said:

“O earth! swallow up/down your water, and O Sky! Withhold (your rain)” (Qur’an 11:14).

We said:

“O Fire! be thou cool, and to Ibrahim, a safety” (Qur’an 21:69)

“And We bestowed grace from Us (and We said): ‘O ye mountains! sing ye back the praises of Allah with him (Dawood)! and ye birds! (also)’ and We made the iron soft for him.” (Qur’an 34:10)

“ The Day when We will ask Hell: ‘Art thou full?’ ” (Qur’an 50:30)

(As a direct exclamatory address the above ayah is an example of ‘apostrophe’. As the Hell is personified it is also an example of personification).

7. Hyperbole (Mubalagha)

Hyperbole is a “figure of speech consisting in exaggerated statement, used to express strong feeling or produce a strong impression and not intended to be taken literally”.[14] It is a ‘statement which is made emphatic by over statement. Hyperbole is used for the sake of emphasis or rhetorical effect.

“It is an “exaggeration for the sake of emphasis’; in figure of speech; not meant literally.”[15]

According to Al-Baqillani (d. 1013) mubalagha’ means little else than ‘emphasizing.’[16]

The Qur’an has used hyperbole to make its address more effective:

1. “Had We sent down this Qur’an upon a mountain, verily you would have seen it humbling itself and cleaving asunder for fear of Allah.” (Qur’an 59:21)

2. “Verily, We did offer the trust to the heavens and the earth, and the mountains; but they refused to bear it and shrank therefore. Yet, man took it up for, verily, he was very inquitous and very ignorant.” (Qur’an 33:72)

3. “On the Day (of Resurrection) when you behold it, every woman that feeds a child at her breast will utterly forget her nursing, and every woman heavy with child will bring forth her burden (before her time); and it will seem to you that all mankind is drunk, although they will not be drunk- But vehement will be (their dread of) Allah’s chastisement”. (Qur’an 22:2).

4. “Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The parable of His light is, as it were, that of a niche containing a lamp; the lamp is (encased) in glass, the glass (shining) like a radiant star: (a lamp) lit from a blessed tree, an olive tree that is neither of the east nor of the west-the oil whereof (is so bright that) it would well-nigh give light (of itself) even though fire had not touched it: light upon light...” (Qur’an 24:35).

8. Aposiopesis

Aposiopesis is “a figure in which the speaker suddenly halts, as if unable or unwilling to proceed.”1 This figure of speech in rhetoric is used to heighten the effect of the suddenness of a statement emphasizing the tremendous impact of an event.

The Qur’an has used this figure of speech most effectively:

Hud was an Arabian prophet sent to the people of ‘Ad, who occupied a large tract of country in Southern Arabia. The people were great builders. They irrigated the land with a network of canals. They forsook Allah and oppressed their people. As a warning from Allah, they were afflicted with famine which lasted for three years. But they did not heed. Then a terrible blast of wind destroyed them. The calamity was sudden and quite unexpected. The Qur’an, with the main purpose of inviting the readers to draw a lesson and to describe the calamity in the most effective language says:

“Then they (the people of ‘Ad) saw a cloud, traversing the sky advancing toward their valleys, they said: ‘This is just a passing cloud that will bring us rain.’ (Prophet Hud said) ‘No. It is what you did seek to hasten, a blast wherein is a grievous punishment. It will destroy everything at the bidding of its Lord.” (Qur’an 46:21, 25)

It is at this juncture that the Qur’an uses the figure of speech, aposiopesis, to heighten the effect of the suddenness and completeness of the great calamity:

“So in the morning! There was nothing but their ruined houses. That is how We requite the sinners.” (Qur’an 46:25)

The Qur’an has used ‘aposiopesis’ in the following ayah:

“And so, when they embark on a ship (and find themselves in danger) they call upon Allah (at that moment) being sincere in their faith in Him alone; but when He brings them safe to land, behold! They give a share (of their worship to others)”. (Qur’an 29:65)

In the above rendering of this ayah, the word ‘behold’ represents the sudden halt used in the original text of the Qur’an.

Similarly the Qur’an has restored to aposiopesis in the following ayah:

“When We let men a taste of (Our) mercy, they rejoice in it but if evil afflicts them as an outcome of what their (own) hands have wrought they are in despair”. (Qur’an 30:36)

Here again the word ‘lo’ represents the pause in the original text, intended to heighten the effect of the statement.

9. Metonymy (kinayah)

Metonymy (literally, a change of name) is a figure of speech “in which the name of an attribute or adjunct is substituted for that of the thing meant, e.g. ‘sceptre’ for authority”.[17]

It is a statement from which another statement is derived.

A well-known metonymic saying in English is: “the pen is mightier than the sword”. (i.e. writing is more powerful than warfare.)

In metonymy, an object is designated by the name of something which is generally associated with it. Metonymy means a secret implication or a concealed idea. It has compactness instead of expansion. Words used in metonymy have a meaning different from their literal meaning. But they can contain literal meaning as well.

According to Chris Baldick Metonymy “involves establishing relationships of contiguity between two things, whereas metaphor establishes relationships of similarity between them.”[18]

The difference between metonymy and metaphor is that metonymy has words which are used in a non-literal sense in such a way that they can also have literal meaning. If the word does not have literal meanings then it is a metaphor.

Some metonoyms when used often become idioms. For the full understanding of such idioms, it is necessary to know their metonymic use. It is with this purpose, that they have been discussed under both.

The Qur’an has also used metonymy to convey ideas and concepts. For example:

1. “Entering houses from the rear” (Qur’an 2:189) is used in the Qur’an as a metonym for deviating from the right path. It amounts to approaching questions of faith through the ‘back door.’

2. The word ‘sama’ literally sky, was often used in classical Arabic as a metonym for rain. The Qur’an has also used this metonym.

3. Ma baina aidihim wa ma khalfahum’ ‘from between his hands and from behind him’ (Qur’an 2:255) The expressions ‘between his hands’ and ‘behind him’ are metonyms for something “perceivable by him” and something “hidden from him” respectively. The worldly ‘guards and aids’ on which a sinner relies may be tangible (like wealth, progeny etc.) or intangible (like personal power, high social status, or the belief in one’s luck): and this explains the phrase ‘both such as can be perceived by him’ and such as ‘are hidden from him.’

4. The Qur’an has used the expression ‘yasjud’ (prostrate himself or prostrate themselves) as a metonym for complete submission to His Will. (natural laws decreed by Him). (Qur’an 13:15, etc)

5. The word ‘yaqeen’ certainly is often used in the Qur’an as a metonym for death. (Qur’an 15:19)

6. Akhfiz lahuma Janaha (Qur’an 17:24) Literally means “lower for them the wings of humility and affection.” It is a metonymical expression evocative of a bird that lovingly spreads its wings over its offspring.

7. Adam is used in the Qur’an as a metonym for the whole human race. (Qur’an 17:61).

8. Saba’ (Qur’an 31:27) and ‘saba’een’ (Qur’an 9:80) are used in the Qur’an as a metonym for several. According to Mohammed Asad, number nine in (Qur’an 17:101) is also a metonym for several: “in my opinion, however, the number nine may be no more than metonym for several, just as the numbers seven and seventy are often used in classical Arabic to denote several or many.”[19]

9. Aurasnaha (Qur’an 26:59)

The reference to heritage in this and similar context is a metonym for Allah’s granting on the oppressed of a life of well-being and dignity.

10. The word ‘wajha’ (face) (Qur’an 30:30) “is often used in the Qur’an metonymically in the sense of one’s whole being’ “[20]

11.        Balagha ma-alsai (Qur’an 37:102) Literally means, attained (the age of) striving or walking. It is a metonym for the child’s attaining to an age when he understands, and shares in, his father’s faith and aims.

12.        Zul autad (Qur’an 38:12)

In classical Arabic this phrase was used as a metonym for ‘mightly domain’ or firmness of power. “ The number of poles supporting a Bedouin tent is determined by its size, and the latter has always depended on the status and power of its owner; thus, a mighty chieftain is often alluded to as ‘he of many tent-poles”.[21]

13. ‘Bima kasabat aidikum’ (Qur’an 42:30)

This is an oft recurring metonym for man’s doings and conscious attitudes in this world, meant to bring out the fact that these doings and attitudes are the ‘harvest’ of a person’s spiritual character and have, therefore, a definite influence on the quality of his life in the hereafter. The nature of (the life in the hereafter) depends on, and is a result of, what one has previously earned.

14. Akhizu bi nasiyatiha’ (Qur’an 11:56) and nasiyati (Qur’an 96:15,16)

This expression is a metonym denoting a person’s utter subjection and humiliation. When describing a person’s humility and subjection to another person, the ancient Arabs used to say ‘the forelock of so and so is in the hands of so and so.’

10. Interrogation

Interrogation as a figure of speech is the asking of a question, not for the sake of getting an answer, but to put a point more effectively.

This figure of speech is also known as ‘rhetorical question’ because a question is asked merely for the sake of rhetorical effect.

The Qur’an has frequently used this figure of speech in the most effective manner:

In some ayaat, the Qur’an has asserted that interrogation is used in it. Thus, the effectiveness of interrogation is stressed in the ayaat itself. In these ayaat, the Qur’an has both the question and the obvious answer.

1.            “If you ask them, (those who join partners with Allah) ‘who is it that has created the heavens and the earth?’ They would surely answer: ‘Allah’....” (Qur’an 39:38)

2. “If you ask them, ‘who created the heavens and the earth, and subdued the sun and the moon?’ they will answer: ‘Allah’...” (Qur’an 29:61)

3. “If you ask them, ‘who sends down water from the sky to revive the dead land?’ They will answer: ‘Allah.’” (Qur’an 29:63)

In the ayaat of the Qur’an (27:59-64), a series of questions is posed. Along with other questions, one question: ‘is there a god besides Allah?’ is repeated five times to make the interrogation more forceful. The rhetorical effect is produced by the interrogation as well as by the repetition of the question.

In case of some interrogations of the Qur’an, the answers are obvious, by universal consent, observation or by historical evidence, such as:

A. Universal consent

* “Is not Allah the most equitable of all Judges?” (Qur’an 19:08)

* “..who is there that could intercede with Him, unless it be by His leave?...” (Qur’an 02:255)

B. Observation

“Do they not look at the clouds how they are created? And at the sky how it is raised high? And at the mountains, how they are fixed firm, And at the earth, how it is outspread?” (Qur’an 88:17-20).

C. Historical Evidence

“Have you not observed how your Lord dealt with the followers of the elephant?” (Qur’an 105:01)

“Did We not destroy (so many of) those (sinners) of olden days?” (Qur’an 77:16)

“Are you not aware of how your Sustainer has dealt with (the tribe of ) ‘Ad? The people of lofty pillars, the like of whom has never been erected before in all the cities? And with (the tribe of) Thamud, who hewed rocks out of the valley? And with Fir’awn of the (many) tent poles?”

(Qur’an 89:6-10)

1. Some interrogations however are suggestive

The Qur’an makes the addressees to ponder and arrive at the answer themselves. By adopting this method, the answer which emerges in the minds of the addressees will have a deeper and more lasting effect. For example:

“O man! What has deceived you respecting your Lord?” (Qur’an 82: 6)

“Did you then think that We created you in jest, and that you would not be brought back to Us (for account)?” (Qur’an 23:115)

2. The Qur’an has also used this figure of speech to create feelings of astonishment or surprise.

“..How is it that I do not see Hud-Hud? or could he be among the absent?” (Qur’an 27:20)

“Yet, they say: ‘What sort of apostle is this (man) who eats food (like all other mortals) and goes about in the market-places?’ Why has not an Angel (visibly) been sent down unto him to act as a warner together with him.” (Qur’an 25:07)

3. To induce or to allure

“O you who have attained faith! Shall I point out to you a bargain that will save you from grievous suffering (in this world and in the life to come)?” (Qur’an 61:10)

4. To convey the sense of degradation

“Hence, whenever they consider you, (O Mohammed) they but make you a target of their mockery, (saying) ‘is this the one whom Allah has sent as an apostle?” (Qur’an 25:41)

In some ayaat, both the interrogation and the answer are provided in the Qur’an. Thus, the idea is fully conveyed.

“And O! Allah said ‘Jesus, Son of Mary! Did you say unto men: worship me and my mother as deities besides Allah?’. Jesus answered: ‘Limitless art Thou, in Thy glory! It would not be possible for me to say what I have no right to (say).’” (Qur’an 05:116)

11. Exclamation

In this figure of speech, the exclamatory form is used to draw greater attention to a point than a mere bald statement of it could do.

Exclamation or interjection “is a natural ejaculation expressing emotion, viewed as a part of speech.”1

The Qur’an has frequently used exclamatory form to stress its point. It has addressed Muslims as “O ye who believe!”. Not less than 89 ayaat in the Qur’an start with such an exclamation.

Humans have been addressed in 20 ayaat of the Qur’an as ‘Ya ayyuhan nas’ (O man!). Human beings have also been addressed as ‘ya bani Adam’ four times in the Qur’an. The Prophet has been addressed as ‘Ya ayyuhan Nabi’ in 12 ayaat, as ‘Ya ayyuhal Rasool’ in two ayaat, and once as ‘Ya ayyuhal Muzzamil’ and ‘Ya ayyuhal Mudaththir’ respectively.

The wives of the Prophet have been addressed in the following ayaat:

“O wives of the Prophet! If any of you were guilty of evident unseemly conduct, the punishment would be doubled to her, and that is easy for Allah.” (Qur’an 33:30)

“O Wives of the Prophet! You are not like any other women.” (Qur’an 33:32)

12. Comparison or Correspondence (Muqabala)

Comparison is an act of noting similarities and differences. It consists in a juxtaposition, ie. on the one side a concept (and its corresponding or congruous term) and on the other side the opposite of the first concept.

This figure of speech has the advantage of attracting more attention and when one object is presented as a foil to the other, or contrasted, the characteristics of each object are understood with greater clarity.

This figurative method has the advantage of attracting more attention and when one object is presented as a foil to the other, (or contrasted), the characteristics of each object are understood with greater clarity.

Some of the examples of the ‘comparison and correspondence’ in the Qur’an are as follows:

1. “(Allah) causes the night to interpenetrate the day and the day to interpenetrate the night. “ (Qur’an 22: 61)

2. “You would have thought them awake, while they were asleep. “ (Qur’an 18:18)

3. “He did not believe i.e. did not accept the truth (saddaqa) nor did he pray (salla). But he belied (rejected the truth-kazzaba) and disobeyed (tawwala).” (75:31-32)

In the above two ayaat, (75:31 and 32), ‘kazzaba’, corresponds to saddaqa’ and ‘tawwala’ corresponds to ‘salla’.

13. Antithesis

Antithesis is “a figure of speech in which contrary ideas are expressed in a balanced sentence. The second part of ‘man proposes God disposes’ is antithetically parallel to the first part.”1

Following are examples of ‘antithesis’:

1. To err is human, to forgive Divine (Alexander Pope).

2. Where wealth accumulates, and men decay. (Oliver Goldsmith)

Most of the experts agree that antithesis means the mention of a thing and its opposite like night and day, vice and virtue etc.

In ‘antithesis’ a striking opposition or contrast of words or sentiments is made in the same sentence. It is employed to secure emphasis.

It is a ‘contrast or opposition, either rhetorical or philosophical, in rhetoric, any disposition of words that serves to emphasize a contrast or opposition of ideas, usually by the balancing of connected clause with parallel grammatical constructions is called antithesis”.1

One of the literary features of the Qur’an is the exposition of the meaning of words and terms by an antithetical method; for example, “day and night” etc. One of the principles to be followed for the understanding of the Qur’an is to bear in mind the antithetical epethets used in it.

Following are some of the examples of antithesis used in the Qur’an:

1. “Surely, We created man of the best stature (ahsani taqwim) then We reduced him to the lowest of the low. (asfala safilin)” (95:4 and5)

The lowest of the low (asfala safilin) is used as an antithesis to best conformation or best stature (ahsani taqwim).

2. “In retaliation is life for you” (Qur’an 2:178)

3. “The blind and the seeing are not alike; nor the depths of darkness and the light; nor are the cool shade and heat of the sun; nor are alike those that are living and those that are dead.-----” (Qur’an 35:19-22)

Antithesis as a figure of speech is used in ‘epigram’ which can be termed as a brief pointed saying or a witty condensed expression which excite surprise and arrest attention.

14. Pun

Pun is “ a play on words; the humorous use of a word emphasizing different meaning or applications.”[22]

A pun consists in the “ use of a word in such a way as to suggest two or more meanings, or the use of two or more words of the same sound with different meanings, so as to produce a humorous effect.”[23]

“It is an expression that achieves emphasis or humour by contributing an ambiguity, two distinct meaning being suggested either by the same word or two similar sounding words,”[24]

Pun consists in presenting two homogeneous words which conform in etymology and word pattern (ie. in the composition of their letters)

Specimens of pun from the Qur’an are:

1. “They keep others (yanhauna) from it (ie. the Qur’an) and withdraw (yan’auna) from it (themselves );------” (Qur’an 6:26)

2. “They who believe (aamanu) and have not tarnished their belief (Imanahum) with wrong, for them is peace (aman)......” (Qur’an 6:82)

3. “How great is my grief (yasafa) for Yusuf.....” (Qur’an 12:84)

4. “Man is made hasty (in disposition) (ajalin). Soon shall I make manifest to you My signs. Do not, then, ask Me to hasten it (fala tasta’jilun)” (Qur’an 21:37)

5. “------I do now submit (aslamtu) with Suleyman to the Lord of all domains of existence”. (Qur’an 27:44)

6. “ So set (fa’qum) your face to the Right Way (Deen-al qayyam) before there come from Allah the Day which there is no chance of averting.....” (Qur’an 30:43)

7. “ And verily We sent among them warners (munzirin). Then see what was the end of those who were warned (al-munzarin). “ (37:72 and 73)

8. “Say: It is Allah whom I will serve (a’budu) with sincere devotion; and (as for you) you may serve (fa’budu) whom you like beside Him.....” (Qur’an 39:14 and 15)

9. “ That was because you were wont to rejoice (tafrahun) on the earth in things other than the truth and that you were wont to be insolent (tamrahun).” (Qur’an 40:75)

10. “Woe to every (kind of) slanderer (humazatin) and defamer (lumazatin).” (Qur’an 104:1)

15. Irony

Irony is a mode of speech in which the real meaning is exactly the opposite of that which is literally conveyed.

It is “a figure of speech in which the literal (denotative) meaning of a word or statement is the opposite of that intended. In literature, irony is a technique of indicating an intention or attitude opposite to what is actually stated”1

Humor starts with the perception of some inconsistency strong enough to provoke tension. Sudden release from such tension results in a smile.

The Qur’an has used this figure of speech also. Some of the examples of ‘irony’ in the Qur’an are as follows:

1. “(O Prophet!) to the hypocrites give the glad tidings (bashshiril ) that there is for them (but) a grievous penalty”. (Qur’an 4:138)

The announcement of ‘grievous penalty’ is certainly not ‘glad tidings’. Here the meaning of the words ‘glad tidings’ are exactly opposite of the intended meanings.

2. “If you could but see when they (who rejected faith) shall be confronted with their Lord (on the Day of judgment) and He will say to them: ‘Is not this (the life of the Hereafter) a reality? They will say: ‘Yes, by our Lord it is.’ He will say: ‘Relish you then (fazuqu) the penalty, for having denied it.’ “ (Qur’an 6:30)

3. “We will certainly give unbelievers a taste (falanuziqanna) of a severe penalty, and will requite them for the worst of what they used to do.” (Qur’an 41:27)

4. “ (A voice will cry): ‘seize him and drag him into mid-hell, then pour over his head, to add to his torment boiling water (and it will be said to the sinner)’: ‘relish it (zuq) truly were you mighty full of power‘” (Qur’an 44:47-49)

Here the words ‘relish it’ and ‘ you were mighty, full of power’, are exactly opposite of the real and the intended meanings.






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1 Towards Reorientation of Islamic thought, Academy of Islamic Studies, Aziz Bagh, Hyderabad. Page 23

1 Maududi, Syed Abul A’ala ------ English version of Tafhim al – Qur’an translated and edited by Zafar Is-haq Ansari, 1989. Vol.I page 236

1 Towards reorientation of Islamic thought, Academy of Islamic

Studies, Aziz Bagh, Hyderabad page 23

2 Baldick, Chris -------- The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary

Terms, Oxford University Press, New York 1990.

1 The Oxford Companion to the Bible, Oxford University Press, New York, 1993. page 567

[1] ------ Ibid – Page 569.

1 The Oxford Companion to the Bible, Oxford University Press, New York, 1993. page 567

1 Baldick, Chris ------- The Concise Oxford dictionary of Literary terms.

1 Asad, Muhammad ---- The Message of the Qur’an. Note 13 to S. 13. Page 358

2 Asad, Muhammad ------- The Message of the Qur’an. Note 7, S.2. Page 4

[2] Little, William ------- Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. Page 2108

[3] Shipley, Joseph T. ----- Dictionary of World Literary Terms. Page 322

[4] Baldick, Chris ----- The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary terms.

1 Ali, Abdullah Yusuf ------ The Holy Qur’an – English Translation of the meanings and Commentary. Note 4705

[5] Little, William ---- Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, the standard literature Co. Pvt. Calcutta, 1959. Page 45

[6] Baldick, Chris ---- The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary terms.

[7] Shipley, Joseph T. ---- Dictionary of World Literary terms. Page 10

1 Muhajir, Ali Musa Raza -------- Lessons from the Stories of the Qur’an. Page 22

[8] Asad, Muhammad --- the message of the Qur’an. Note:20, Surah 34

Page 657.

[9] The Holy Qur’an, Containing the Arabic text with English translation

and commentary. The Islamic review office, England 1947. Note 2029

Page 839.

[10] Little, William --- Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. Page 1479.

[11] Little William --- Shorter Oxford English Dictionary Page 1479

[12] Black, Chris --- The Concise Oxford Dictionary of literary terms.

[13] Shaw, Harry ------- Dictionary of literary terms, Mc Graw Hill Book

Company, New York, 1972. page 283.

1 Funk & Wagnalls ----- New encyclopedia. Funk & Wagnalls. Inc. New York 1974. Vol 22. Page 144

[14] Little, William ----- Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. Page 943

[15] Baldick, Chris ---- The Concise Oxford Dictionary of literary terms.

[16] Al Baqillani ------ Ijaz al Qur’an (The sections of poetry) A Tenth

Century Documents of Arabic Literary Theory and Criticism

Translated and Annotated by Gustave E.Von Grunebaum. The

University of Chicago Press Chicago II. 1950.

1 Little, William ------ Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. Page 82

[17] Little, William ---- Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. Page 1244

[18] Baldick, Chris -------- The Concise Dictionary of literary terms.

[19] Asad, Muhammad ------ the message of the Qur’an. Note 119, Surah,

17 page 434.

[20] Asad, Muhammad ------ the message of the Qur’an. Note 25, Surah,

30 page 621.

[21] Asad, Muhammad ------ The Message of the Qur’an. Note 17 Surah 38 Page 696

1 Little, William ------ Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. Page 1027

1 Shaw, Harry ------- dictionary of literary terms, Mc Graw Hill Book company, New York, 1972. page 25

1 Baldick, Chris ---- the concise oxford dictionary of literary terms.

[22] Shaw, Harry ---- dictionary of literary terms, Mc Graw Hill Book

Company, New York, 1972. Page 308

[23] Little, William ------ shorter oxford English Dictionary. Page 1619

[24] Baldick, Chris -------- the concise oxford dictionary of literary terms,

oxford university press, New York 1990.

1 Shaw, Harry ----- dictionary of literary terms, Mc Graw Hill Book Company, New York, 1972. page 28