The main themes of the holy Quran revolve around monotheist belief and good action [2:3]. Belief concerns faith in Almighty Allah, the angels, the divine scriptures, the divine messengers, destiny and the final hour [4:136]. Action requires worship [6:162], charitable giving [9:60 and 2:177] and good conduct in society [5:93]. Muslims are required to serve the cause of peace and preserve the divine balance on earth by not corrupting it [3:110 & 7:56]. There is no compulsion in religion; everyone has a free choice to accept or reject the divine message [2:256].
Why are belief and action so important? This is because time is constantly on the move. Man cannot help prevent growing old or escaping death [3:185]. The offspring of Adam are all travellers on the journey of earthly life with no control over time [103-1 & 2]. Whether they like it or not, they are constantly moving forward from this temporal world to the eternal life of the hereafter to be judged against the scroll of their deeds hanging from their necks which everyone will write for himself in this earthy life [17:13].
Human beings are physically weak and easily given to temptation. Allah wants to lighten their burden [4:28]. They can be easily deceived, exploited and provoked because they are born with restless disposition [70:19]. Almighty Allah has provided humans with free air, sunshine and all the provisions necessary for their survival on earth [6:151]. He has sent divine messengers and scriptures from time to time to guide mankind on the right path. Allah has also permitted Shaitan, the devil, who fell from heavenly grace because of his self imposed rivalry to Adam, to chase the children of Adam and make them also fall from God’s grace by disobeying Him [7:18]. Allah tests human beings through power, position, wealth, health, temptation or adversity [9:16]. Those who remain steadfast join the party of Allah [58:22]. Those who follow their carnal desires join the party of Shaitan [58:19].
To warn the children of Adam against the evil designs of Shaitan, Allah’s messengers came in all regions of the world in every era from Adam till the last and final prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. Their mission was to convey Allah’s divine message to their nations and set a personal example of how to live a clean life according to the universal principles of justice and good human values. The long line of messengers ended after prophet Muhammad. In this post-modern era, the prophetic work of guiding people now rests on the shoulders of Muslims [21:43]. Everyone who claims to be a follower of prophet Muhammad is obliged to set an example to others as a good Muslim by enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong and living a life of universally proclaimed principles of humanity and moral values, which form the bedrock of Islam [3:110].
In the holy Quran Allah Ta’ala has followed the same biblical tradition as in the Gospel and Torah to relate stories and events in history, which the people of their time could easily understand without requiring long annotations. In the holy Quran, Allah Almighty used the parables and historical events known to the local Arabs, in particular to the Jews and Christians of the Arabian peninsula, at the time of prophet Muhammad to relate the message of the Quran to the followers of other holy scriptures [11:100 & 20:99].
In our time, as indeed in the time following the demise of the Prophet when the generation that was familiar with those stories passed away, some Quranic parables needed additional explanation to be understood by the latter generations. This gap was filled by the early mufassereen of Quran who relied on hadith and their authentic narrators to provide additional information about these stories. Hafiz Imaduddin Ibn Kathir [774H] is one of those mufassereen who are widely consulted. His Tafseer has also been translated in English. Others are: Al-Tabari [310H], Zamakhshari [538H], Qurtubi [671H], Baidawi [685H], Al-Suyuti  and Shokani [1250H].
The explanations of some of these stories are also found in Talmud (known as Israelyat) and Christian commentaries but one needs to be careful about the source and should be aware of the differences between the account of the stories mentioned in the Quran and those narrated in the Gospel or Torah. For example in the Christian texts it was Adam who ate the forbidden fruit after he was deceived by Shaitan, but in the holy Quran it is not just Adam; he and his wife Eve together ate the fruit of the forbidden tree. Similarly, Iblis is an angel in the Gospel, whereas in the Quran he is described as jinn. The story of Ibrahim’s supreme sacrifice is mentioned in Torah, the Gospel and the holy Quran but while the Jews and Christians believe that Ibrahim took his son Ishaq to sacrifice him, the holy Quran mentions that it was Ismail who accompanied his father to comply with the commandment of God in Ibrahim’s dream. It is therefore important to know the Quran first before consulting other religious texts to search for detailed explanations for the parables of Bani Israel.
This essay attempts to provide an index of the parables, miracles, similitudes and future events mentioned in the holy Quran. The parables are not explained here because this will require a full book to be composed. The references can be used to access material available elsewhere about the parables and stories. However, it must be borne in mind that the objective of the stories is not an end in itself but to draw lessons from them and bring Muslims back to the fundamental theme of Quran which is belief in one Allah and following the guidance in the holy Quran and Sunnah and avoiding the way of the earlier nations who were destroyed because of their disobedience and rebellion.
The parables on the Quran are mostly from the stories familiar to the local Arabs during the Prophet’s time and in particular to the Jewish rabbis and Christian priests. Most of the parables relate to previous prophets and their nations, but some are from the time of Prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him. These include the following:
- The creation of Adam from clay [38:71]; Adam and Eve’s abode in the garden of peace and innocence [2:35],
- Adam and Eve’s fall from heaven, repentance and redemption and warning to humans not to fall prey to Shaitan’s deception [7:24 to 27];
- The story of two sons of Adam and Qabeel’s remorse [5: 27 to 31];
- The parable of two angels Harut and Marut practicing sorcery in Babylon and warning people that they were but a temptation to evil [2:102];
- The angel-borne heritage of the House of Musa and Haroon known as Taboot-e-Sakeena or the Ark of the Covenant, which is precious to the children of Israel [2:248];
- The story of King Talut whose side defeated the army of Jalut in a battle and the test for the troops of Bani Israel [2:246-252];
- The story of Musa telling his people to enter the Holy land and their refusal to do so on account of their rebellious nature and their subsequent punishment of banishment into the wilderness for forty years [5: 21 to 26].
- The story of prophet Isa asking Allah on the request of his followers to send down a basket full of food from heaven which may be a happy occasion for them and their generations, present and future [5:114].
- The story of Moses from his infancy to his growing up in the palace of Pharaoh (Ramses 1) [20:40];
- The incident of two fighting men, one from the tribe of Bani Israel and the other from the enemy tribe, and when Musa intervened with them to end the fighting his unintentional blow killed the Egyptian [28: 15 to 20];
The story of Musa fleeing Egypt [28: 22 to 26], his training under prophet Shoaib after his marriage [28:27];
- Discovery about the infinite nature of knowledge after Musa located Khizr and spent some time travelling with him [18: 60 to 82];
- Zulqarnain’s conquests in distant lands and account of the people who submitted to him. [18: 83 to 98];
- Musa’s journey to Mount Sinai and his dialogue with Allah and his subsequent encounter with the Pharaoh (Ramses 2) [Surah 28],
- Musa’s spectacle with the magicians on the day of the Egyptian festival [20: 59 to 73];
- The story of the rich man of Egypt, Qaroon [28:74-82];
- The story of the owners of an orchard who wanted to pluck its fruit at dawn in order to avoid the poor fearing that they would ask for help but a fire consumed their harvest while they slept and they themselves became poor [6:17 to 33];
- The parable of flood, locusts, lice, frogs and blood as distinct signs of Allah to warn the arrogant Egyptians to accept Musa’s message [7:133];
- Musa takes Bani Israel from Egypt to Palestine accompanied by his brother Harun [7:138];
- The story of a party of Bani Israel who demanded to see God and were struck by lightening [2:55 & 56];
- The story of the man called Samri who made an idol (golden calf) from the jewellery of families who left Egypt in a hurry and accompanied Musa to take them to Palestine [20: 85 to 97];
- The story of Ibrahim from his youth, his discovery of Allah [6:74 to 83], his tests, travels and reconstruction of Kaaba in Makkah accompanied by his son Ismail [2: 124 to 132] and his thanksgiving to Allah [14: 35 to 40];
- The story of Dawood and two farmers who came to him for a judgement about their dispute [38: 21 to 25];
- The story of Saleh’s camel who was sent to his nation as a test [11:64],
- The story of Suleiman and his stallions [30: 35 to 40], S
- The story of Suleiman learning about the Queen of Sheba and his letter to her and her response [27: 23 to 34];
- The amazing story of Yusuf’s patience, wisdom, purity, piety and knowledge of interpreting dreams [Surah 12];
- The story of Isa son of Mariam from his birth [3:45], his miracles [[3: 49]; his teachings to his companions and his ascension to the heaven [3:52 to 55];
- Stories of other prophets such as Ayub [38:41 to 45], Yunus [37:137 to 147];
- Destruction of nations mentioned in the Quran such as the Aaad [11:50 to 60], Thamud [11:61 to 68], Al-Hijr [15:80], Al-Ras [50:12]; and Al-Aikah [11:84 to 95] who rejected Allah’s messengers and made evil plots against them;
- The parable of the woman who untwisted the yarn after spinning it thereby bringing her labour to naught [16: 92]
- The advice of the wise man, Luqman, to his son about how to live a humble and good life on earth and taking no partners with Allah (31:13 to 19];
- The brave talk of a believing noble in the court of the Pharaoh (Ramses II) who spoke in defence of Musa and his message after the Pharaoh said he would like to see Musa killed [40: 23-44];
- The man of faith who came in defence of three messengers who faced opposition from the people to whom they were sent (some believe that his name was Habib and he was from the tribe of Niger) [36: 13 to 26];
- The story of the scholar Bal’aam bin Ba’ura, who fell for the pleasures of this world and traded away his rewards in the afterlife [7:175-176],
- An account of the people of Yemen under a righteous king Tubba [44: 37];
An account of the people of Iram [89: 7 & 8];
- The story of the people of Bani Israel, who did not carry out the commandment to observe the day of Sabbath [4:47];
- The story of the destruction of the army of elephant [Surah 105];
- Ibrahim’s dialogue with the king (believed to ne Namrood) about the existence of one Supreme Lord [2:258];
- The story of the slaughtering of the cow by Bani Israel in response to their approach to Musa to help identify a murderer among them [2:271 & 274];
- The account of a small group of righteous youth who took refuge in the cave to save themselves from persecution [Surah 18];
- The parable of opening of the Prophet’s heart to receive divine revelation [94:1];
- The miracle of the splitting of the moon during the time of the Prophet [54:1];
- The story of the Prophet’s migration from Makkah to Madina [9:40];
- The story of how the battle of Badar was won [8:15 to 20 and 3:123];
- The lesson learnt in the battle of Uhud [3:121-122 & 154 and 24:62];
- Condemnation of Abu Lahab and his wife [111:1];
- The battle of Ahzab [33: 9 to 31];
- The battle of Hunain [25: 26 to 27];
- Change of direction of Qibla from Jerusalem to Makkah [2:144].
- Admonition for the outrageous slander against the Prophet’s wife, Ayesha [24: 11 & 12];
- The account of the Prophet’s marriage to his wife Zainab and Allah’s commandments for the wives of the Prophet who are declared mothers of Muslims, and His commandment for other Muslim women concerning modesty (33: 28 to 40];
- The compromise agreement reached at Hudaibiya with the Quraish and prediction of the conquest of Makkah [Chapter 48];
- The story of Prophet’s ascension to the heavens [17:1 and 53: 14 to 18];
Recurrence of the night of power [Surah 97];
- The story of the blind man who came to the Prophet seeking Islam [80: 1 to 12];
- The parable of the three companions of the Prophet who were pardoned after repentance [9:118]; and,
- The ten companions of the Prophet who were given the good news of paradise in their lifetime [3:133 implied for Ashra Mubashsharah].
The holy Quran uses images from our environment and nature to illustrate the various points focusing on the purpose of life and building our moral code of ethics. These images are also used to draw strong comparisons between good and evil, obedience to Allah and defiance, and light and darkness in faith.
- Similitude of return on the investment of charity giving like a grain which grows into a plant with seven branches and each branch producing a hundred grains in return to make a total of seven hundred from one grain planted [2:261];
- Similitude of the reward of charity giving for seeking Allah’s pleasure like an orchard on a higher altitude which gives twice as much fruit when it rains or sprinkles a small drizzle [2:265];
- Similitude of the holy Quran for not taking it seriously, and if it was revealed on a mountain [59:21];
- Humanity’s failure to measure up to the moral responsibility arising from reason and choice which have been given to man by God whereas the heavens and earth have no free will [33:72];
- Similitude of exhausting all the seas if these were made ink for writing the glorification of Allah [18:109];
- Similitude of Allah’s light like a niche in which there is a crystal lamp shining like a star, and the cool light in it is from the choicest oil from the best harvest of an olive tree, light upon light [24:35];
- Similitude of disbelievers like darkness in the deep sea, covered by waves upon waves topped by dark clouds [24:40];
- The deeds of disbelievers are like a mirage for wanderers in a desert [24: 39];
- Similitude of a good land [7:58] and a good tree which provides cool shadow and fruits [14:24] and a barren tree that gives no benefit [14:26];
- Comparing the strength and contentment of the Prophet and his companions with the disarray and envy of the deniers of the Truth [48:29];
- Similitude of man’s helplessness against a fly [22; 73];
The spider’s web is the weakest of all homes despite its amazing qualities [29:41];
- Similitude of the creation of camel, being a very different kind of creature compared to other animals [88:17];
- Allah has no reservation giving an example of a mosquito [2:226];
- Similitude of unbelievers running away from the Truth like zebras from the lion [74:51] and its comparison with the command to Muslims to rush toward Allah [51:50];
- The example of two believing women who are awarded Paradise and two unbelieving women who are destined to hell fire. [66:10 to 11]
The holy Quran is itself a miracle of God with its superb imagery, linguistic eloquence, complex numeric equations, ease of text memorisation, its preservation throughout the centuries without any corruption, its scientific accuracy and it being an open challenge to mankind to produce a book like this if they ever dare to write one. The miracles mentioned in this divine scripture are also found in other scriptures.
- The destruction of the world after Adam and Nuh and his companions surviving the great flood [11: 25 to 48];
The destruction of many deviant nations by windstorm, blast, earthquake and flood [29:40];
- The supplication of Musa to provide Bani Israel with Manna and quails [2:57];
- Musa strikes a rock and twelve springs gush forth to provide fresh water to Bani Israel, a separate spring for each of their 12 tribes [2:60];
- Musa takes seventy elders from Bani Israel to accompany him to Mount Sinai to repent and seek Allah’s forgiveness [7:155];
- Musa’s staff turns into a moving serpent [26:45];
- Musa’s arm becomes a bright source of light [26:33];
- Musa strikes his staff on the river Nile to make a dry path [26:63];
- Prophet Isa’s supplication to Allah for a table of food for his companions [5:114];
- Ibrahim survives the pit of fire prepared for his punishment [21:69];
- Uzair’s questions about resurrection when he passed by a ruined city and wondered how could Allah bring it back to life after its destruction [2:259];
- Ibrahim’s question to Allah about resurrection when he said “O my Creator show me how you give life to the dead” [2:260];
Some future events including those occurring after the final hour mentioned in the Quran are:
- The difference of time calculation (300 and 309 years) in the story of the companions of the cave [18:25]. This Chapter was revealed in Makkah before the Hijra year which was adopted by Muslims as the Islamic calendar;
- Early prediction about the victory of Cross over the polytheist Romans which was realised by the Christians at the time the battle of Badr was fought in Madina [30:1 to 5];
- News of the great rupture and account of the day of judgement [89:21 to 26];
- Signs of the final hour [7: 187, 22:2 and 75: 1 to 13];
- Appearance of Yajooj and Majooj [21:96].
- The creature of the earth that will speak [27:82]
- Conversation between the people and angels when they will approach the gates of heaven and hell [39: 71 to 73];
- Conversation among the sinners [37: 27 to 39]
- Conversation between the people of paradise and the sinners and deceivers [7:44 and 57: 13 to 15];
- Conversation between Shaitan and the person who would have taken him as a companion in the world [43: 36-38];
- The account of the people of A’raf [7:46]
The purpose of this article is that next time you read the holy Quran and come across an example, a parable or imagery, stop there and reflect on the lesson Allah wants you to draw from it before proceeding to the next verse. Some stories give multiple lessons while others focus on only one theme. The more aware you are of the lessons from these examples and stories, they greater will be your pleasure reading and benefiting from the holy Quran Insha’Allah.