Oxford defines an analogy as a “comparison between one thing and another, typically for the purpose of explanation or clarification”. Analogies are used to try to explain concepts which can be understood by the person sharing the concept, but may not be understood as well by the recipients of such information. This gap could be due to information asymmetry, where one party has had prior knowledge, access to knowledge or experience to the other, or could even be due to the different capacity to attempt to comprehend such information to begin with.
In Islam, mankind’s quest to find answers to everything has also resulted in the use of analogies to help answer certain questions and quench that curiosity thirst. For example, in the Al-Quran, God in His infinite wisdom gives mankind a glimpse to His light in the following manner:
“God is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The likeness of His Light is as a niche wherein is a lamp. The lamp is in a glass, the glass as it were a glittering star kindled from a Blessed Tree, an olive neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil would almost glow forth [of itself], though no fire touched it. Light upon light. God guides to His Light whom He will. And God strikes similitudes for men; and God is Knower of all things” (Surah An-Nur: 35)
We again see the use of analogies, this time to explain to humanity on the vastness of Allah SWT’s signs and commandments; that they are infinite and cannot be expressed completely with any resources possible:
“And if all the trees on earth were pens, and the sea replenished with seven more seas, the Words of God would not be spent. Truly God is Mighty, Wise.” (Surah Luqman: 27)
These are just two examples of the many analogies used in the Quran and also in the sayings of the Prophet PBUH. Analogies are tools of mercy in Islamic marketing as they attempt to explain without conveniently avoiding the question or brushing it aside. Used properly, they strike the balance between respecting your questioner and his curiosity yet at the same time giving justice to the real answer and not watering it down unnecessarily.
Have you used analogies when explaining certain concepts, in theology or other subjects? What are your favourite analogies that you find useful when explaining difficult concepts? Leave your comments below and share your stories here.