Is Qur’an literal or metaphor?
Mohamad Mostafa Nassar
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم الحمد لله وحده و الصلاة و السلام على من لا نبي بعده و على آله و أصحابه أجمعين
The short answer to this question is that it is literal and metaphorical where Allah Ta’ala explicitly states it. This is not an issue for Muslims; however the need for this article has arisen due to several sects interpreting everything metaphorically. For example, these sects state that heaven and hell is not a place but a condition, fire of hell is a metaphor and heavenly delights are also all metaphors. The Qur’an says otherwise!
The article will be divided into following parts:
2) Heaven and Hell are places and not a condition
3) Meanings of a few words “Naazil” and “Rafa’a” from the Qur’an
4) Heavenly delights
5) Physical raising up
6) Punishment in Hell is physical and literal
7) Some other examples from the Qur’an claimed to be metaphors
A lot has already been written on these topics and this article aims to put all points in one place. There are a few points that are of much importance but since a lot has been written on them, a few links are provided that prove extensively from the Qur’an, Hadith, logic and science that Allah Ta’ala is outside the creation and above all over the Arsh [*][*][*]. This is important to understand as the belief that Allah is everywhere is the base of fallacy.
2. Heaven and Hell are places and not a condition
There are some metaphorians who argue that pain and suffering in this world is referred to as hell or fire. Their explanations and tricks may fool those who have never read the Qur’an. They mainly attract ultra modernist Hadith rejectors. The Qur’an answers their fallacy:
وقالوا لن يدخل الجنة الا من كان هودا او نصارى تلك امانيهم قل هاتوا برهانكم ان كنتم صادقين
And they say: “None shall enter Paradise unless he be a Jew or a Christian.” Those are their (vain) desires. Say: “Produce your proof if ye are truthful.”
[Surah Baqarah 2:111]
Here Allah Ta’ala tells us that the Jews and Christians claim that only they will enter heaven. This shows that heaven is place to enter and not a physical, emotional or an intellectual condition that one experiences. Furthermore, if this belief of paradise being a place had been a fallacy, Allah Ta’ala would have corrected it. Allah Ta’ala does not rebuke them for believing in heaven to be a place but Himself says elsewhere that it is a place:
Whenever he is told, ‘Fear Allah’, his vanity (holds him back and) keeps him staunch and steady on (the road to) sin. For him, hell shall suffice! How wretched is that resting-place! [Surah Baqarah 2:206]
There is however a group that is not as ultra modern, as those mentioned before, who do believe in afterlife but metaphorically. They state that fire refers to some sort of state of the soul in discomfort in afterlife not imaginable. Again they deny any sort of “fire” in hell.
Then would those who are followed clear themselves of those who follow (them): They would see the penalty, and all relations between them would be cut off. [Surah Baqarah 2:166]
Allah Ta’ala tells us that the punishment would be seen. After tremendous evidences from the Qur’an, the metaphorians need to privode some sort of evidence to support their claim; so far their stance is pure guesswork.
Jahannam (Hellfire) exists now
Many of the Imams of the Sunnah used this Ayah to prove that the Fire exists now. This is because Allah said,
(prepared) meaning, prepared and kept. There are many Hadiths on this subject. For instance, the Prophet said,
«تَحَاجَّتِ الْجَنَّةُ وَالنَّار»
(Paradise and the Fire had an argument..)
Also, the Prophet said,
«اسْتَأْذَنَتِ النَّارُ رَبَّهَا فَقَالَتْ: رَبِّ أَكَلَ بَعضِي بَعْضًا فَأذِنَ لَهَا بِنَفَسَيْنِ: نَفَسٍ فِي الشِّتَاءِ وَنَفَسٍ فِي الصَّيْف»
(The Fire sought the permission of her Lord. She said, ‘O my Lord! Some parts of me consumed the other parts.’ And Allah allowed her two periods to exhale, one in winter and one in summer.)
Also, there is a Hadith recorded from Ibn Mas`ud that the Companions heard the sound of a falling object. When they asked about it, the Messenger of Allah said,
«هَذَا حَجَرٌ أُلْقِيَ بِهِ مِنْ شَفِيرِ جَهَنَّمَ مُنْذُ سَبْعِينَ سَنَةً، الْآنَ وَصَلَ إِلى قَعْرِهَا»
(This is a stone that was thrown from the top of Jahannam seventy years ago, but only now reached its bottom.) This Hadith is in Sahih Muslim.
There are many Hadiths that are Mutawatir (narrated by many different chains of narrations) on this subject, such as the Hadiths about the eclipse prayer, the night of Isra’ etc. [Tafsir Ibn Kathir]
Heaven (paradise exists now)
Say: Is it that ye deny Him Who created the earth in two Days? And do ye join equals with Him? He is the Lord of (all) the Worlds.
He set on the (earth), mountains standing firm, high above it, and bestowed blessings on the earth, and measure therein all things to give them nourishment in due proportion, in four Days, in accordance with (the needs of) those who seek (Sustenance).
Moreover He comprehended in His design the sky, and it had been (as) smoke: He said to it and to the earth: “Come ye together, willingly or unwillingly.” They said: “We do come (together), in willing obedience.”
So He completed them as seven firmaments in two Days, and He assigned to each heaven its duty and command. And We adorned the lower heaven with lights, and (provided it) with guard. Such is the Decree of (Him) the Exalted in Might, Full of Knowledge. [Surah Fussilat 41:9-12]
In these Ayaat, Allah Ta’ala describes the creation of heavens and earth. The creation of earth is very much literal, the creation of everything on it is also very much literal and then fact that universe came from smoke is also a scientific reality. Then how come heaven is a metaphor? It is clear from these Ayaat that heaven is a place just like earth is also a place.
3. Meanings of a few words “Naazil” and “Rafa’a” from the Qur’an
Naazil: The literal meaning of Naazil is “to send down”. Some, however, try to use it in metaphorical sense. However, if we look at the links provided in the first section, we find that Allah Ta’ala is not in the creation, He is outside the creation and is above the Arsh, above everything and so if we understand that Qur’an was “nazala” (sent down from above), then we need no metaphors; literal understanding is sufficient. Furthermore, the Qur’an and science prove this understanding of “naazil” as well.
Rafa’a: Rafaa means to raise up. It could be a physical raising up (55:7) or it could be the raising of the status (19:57). However, when the raising of the status or rank is concerned, it is mentioned very clearly. In short, Rafa’a means to raise up physically unless otherwise stated.
[19:57] We raised him to an exalted status!
[19:57] WarafaAAnahu makanan Aaaliyyan
When the raising is of the status, we find a clear mention of it with a follow-up word. However, in the case of Prophet Issa (peace be upon him), we see nothing like this and therefore we can conclude that he was raised physically to the heavens. A must read article regarding the raising up of Prophet Issa (peace be upon him).
Then did Satan make them slip from the (garden), and get them out of the state (of felicity) in which they had been. We said: “Get ye down, all (ye people), with enmity between yourselves. On earth will be your dwelling-place and your means of livelihood – for a time.” [Surah Baqarah 2:36]
We said: “Get ye down all from here; and if, as is sure, there comes to you Guidance from me, whosoever follows My guidance, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. [Surah Baqarah 2:38]
Allah Ta’ala tells the inhabitants of paradise to get down to earth clearly indicating that heaven is above. The word “all” is striking. Did they have children in paradise? If so, then the metaphorian concept of no sex in heaven is refuted by these Ayaat.
4. Heavenly delights
Before continuing with this section, kindly read this article.
But give glad tidings to those who believe and work righteousness, that their portion is Gardens, beneath which rivers flow. Every time they are fed with fruits therefrom, they say: “Why, this is what we were fed with before,”for they are given things in similitude; and they have therein companions pure (and holy); and they abide therein (for ever). Surah Baqarah 2:25
The inhabitants of paradise would be given food to eat similar to what would have been available in worldly life. They would have wives just like Aadam (alayhi Salaam) had a wife in heaven who gave birth clearly indicating that wives in paradise would be literal and real companions of the believers.
[وَلَهُمْ فِيهَآ أَزْوَجٌ مُّطَهَّرَةٌ]
(and they shall have therein Azwajun Mutahharatun). Ibn Abi Talhah reported that Ibn `Abbas said, “Purified from filth and impurity.” Also, Mujahid said, “From menstruation, relieving the call of nature, urine, spit, semen and pregnancies.” Also, Qatadah said, “Purified from impurity and sin.” In another narration, he said, “From menstruation and pregnancies.” Further, `Ata’, Al-Hasan, Ad-Dahhak, Abu Salih, `Atiyah and As-Suddi were reported to have said similarly.
[وَهُمْ فِيهَا خَـلِدُونَ]
(and they will abide therein forever) meaning ultimate happiness, for the believers will enjoy everlasting delight, safe from death and disruption of their bliss, for it never ends or ceases. We ask Allah to make us among these believers, for He is the Most Generous, Most Kind and Most merciful.
Those claiming metaphor need to provide some sort of evidence rather than mere guesswork. They only rely on twisted logic and not facts. They claim that the act of sexual intercourse is a filthy act and not worthy of being done in paradise. However this is their thinking only; if there is nothing wrong with the act in this life, then how can one find it wrong in afterlife.
5. Physical raising up
Or (take) the similitude of one who passed by a hamlet, all in ruins to its roofs. He said: “Oh! how shall God bring it (ever) to life, after (this) its death?” but God caused him to die for a hundred years, then raised him up (again). He said: “How long didst thou tarry (thus)?” He said: (Perhaps) a day or part of a day.” He said: “Nay, thou hast tarried thus a hundred years; but look at thy food and thy drink; they show no signs of age; and look at thy donkey:
And that We may make of thee a sign unto the people, Look further at the bones, how We bring them together and clothe them with flesh.” When this was shown clearly to him, he said: “I know that God hath power over all things.” Surah Baqarah 2:259
Behold! Abraham said: “My Lord! Show me how Thou givest life to the dead.” He said: “Dost thou not then believe?” He said: “Yea! but to satisfy My own undertaking.” He said: “Take four birds; Tame them to turn to thee; put a portion of them on every hill and call to them: They will come to thee (Flying) with speed. Then know that God is Exalted in Power, Wise.” [Surah Baqarah 2:260]
Those who swallow down usury cannot arise except as one whom Shaitan has prostrated by (his) touch does rise. That is because they say, trading is only like usury; and Allah has allowed trading and forbidden usury. To whomsoever then the admonition has come from his Lord, then he desists, he shall have what has already passed, and his affair is in the hands of Allah; and whoever returns (to it) — these arc the inmates of the fire; they shall abide in it. [Surah Baqarah 2:275]
And remember Moses said to his people: “God commands that ye sacrifice a heifer.” They said: “Makest thou a laughing-stock of us?” He said: “God save me from being an ignorant (fool)!” [Surah Baqarah 2:67]
So We said: “Strike the (body) with a piece of the (heifer).” Thus God bringeth the dead to life and showeth you His Signs: Perchance ye may understand. [Surah Baqarah 2:73]
These are several Ayaat that deal with the physical raising up. What is important about these verses is that they speak of dead people coming back to life so metaphorians cannot argue that bringing back to life could be water giving life to dead plants. The verses explicitly state the bringing back to life of human beings on the Day of Judgment. Moreover, it cannot be more evident than the following verse:
On that day will those who disbelieve and disobey the Apostle desire that the earth were leveled with them, and they shall not hide any word from Allah. [Surah Nisa 4:42]
6. Punishment in Hell is physical and literal
(As for) those who disbelieve in Our communications, We shall make them enter fire; so oft as their skins are thoroughly burned, We will change them for other skins, that they may taste the chastisement; surely Allah is Mighty, Wise. [Surah Nisa 4:56]
This verse indicates that there is something in the skin which makes us feel pain. This is exactly what modern science tells us i.e. pain receptors are responsible for feeling pain. It was thought that the sense of feeling and pain was dependent only on the brain. Recent discoveries however prove that there are pain receptors present in the skin, without which a person would not be able to feel pain.
When a doctor examines a patient suffering from burn injuries, he verifies the degree of burns by a pinprick. If the patient feels pain, the doctor is happy, because it indicates that the burns are superficial and the pain receptors are intact. On the other hand, if the patient does not feel any pain, it indicates that it is a deep burn and the pain receptors have been destroyed.
Prof. Tegatat Tejasen, Chairman of the Department of Anatomy at Chiang Mai University in Thailand, has spent a great amount of time on research of pain receptors. Initially he could not believe that the Qur’an mentioned this scientific fact 1,400 years ago. He later verified the translation of this particular Qur’anic verse.
Prof. Tegatat Tejasen was so impressed by the scientific accuracy of the Quranic verse, that at the 8th Saudi Medical Conference held in Riyadh on the Scientific Signs of Qur’an and Sunnah, he proudly proclaimed in public: “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad (Peace Be upon Him) is His Messenger.”
The sensation of pain results from communication between nerve cells in the brain, spinal cord, and elsewhere in the body. When a person experiences an injury, such as a stubbed toe, specialized cells called nociceptors (another name for pain receptors) sense potential tissue damage
(1) and send an electric signal, called an impulse, to the spinal cord via a sensory nerve
(2). A specialized region of the spinal cord known as the dorsal horn
(3) processes the pain signal, immediately sending another impulse back down the leg via a motor nerve (4). This causes the muscles in the leg to contract and pull the toe away from the source of injury
(5). At the same time, the dorsal horn sends another impulse up the spinal cord to the brain. During this trip, the impulse travels between nerve cells. When the impulse reaches a nerve ending
(6), the nerve releases chemical messengers, called neurotransmitters, which carry the message to the adjacent nerve. When the impulse reaches the brain
(7), it is analyzed and processed as an unpleasant physical and emotional sensation.
Types of burns
The Ayat under discussion mentions the burning of the skin. The severity of a burn depends on its depth, its extent, and the age of the victim. Burns are classified by depth as first, second, and third degree. First-degree burns cause redness and pain (e.g., sunburn). Second-degree burns are marked by blisters (e.g., scald by hot liquid).
In third-degree burns, both the epidermis and dermis (external and internal parts of the skin) are destroyed, and underlying tissue may also be damaged. Further burn in the skin would damage the pain receptors and hence the person would not feel pain.
Quran rightly mentions this ‘extreme’ stage for the change of skin. The Arabic word used is نضجت which indicates the burning to the extreme stage. Ibn e Faris says that its basic meaning includes burning something to the last stage.
Hence, not only the Quran told humans that sensation is due to the pain receptors of the skin, Quran also describes accurately the type of burn that kills the pain receptors. [By brother Muhammad Awais Tahir]
7. Some other examples from the Qur’an claimed to be metaphors
Metaphorians have their own will in deciding what is a metaphor and what is not. This concept is very much similar to Taqqiyya. This way they can twist anything anyway they want. Religion to them is nothing more than whatever they want to do.
Do you expect them to believe in you? (Such are they, that) a group of them hears the word of Allah, understands it well, and then deliberately (twists and) distorts its meaning. [Surah Baqarah 2:75]
They claim that Jinn are not invisible other beings but hot tempered angry men, they do not believe in Shaytaan and whole lot more. If each and every single point is taken, the debate would take pages and pages to write and needlessly become overcomplicated and move away from the purpose. I recommend visiting this link for a lot of answers.
When one starts rejecting Ahadith, then he feels that he has an excuse to misinterpret the Qur’an any way he likes. However, the Qur’an itself answers all their fallacies.
Indeed Allah knows the best!
… by Adeel Tariq Khan