3rd Ramadaan, 1433:
A metaphor can come as a part of a simple sentence, or it can be used in various devices. In this section of the thread we consider examples of the various forms.
The simple metaphor
Consider these examples:
وَيَطُوفُ عَلَيْهِمْ وِلْدَانٌ مُّخَلَّدُونَ إِذَا رَأَيْتَهُمْ حَسِبْتَهُمْ لُؤْلُؤًا مَّنثُورًا
IMMORTAL youths will go about them; when you see them, you would suppose them to be scattered pearls. [Al-Insan, 19]
أَلَمْ نَجْعَلِ الْأَرْضَ مِهَادًا
وَمَا خَلَقْنَا السَّمَاءَ وَالْأَرْضَ وَمَا بَيْنَهُمَا لَاعِبِينَ
The second instance includes two simple metaphors put inside a question. The vehicles are objects of the word ‘make’, only put down in a query. This type of question is actually rhetorical, as it is meant as a persuasive argument, rather a real query. The metaphors are as follows:
earth ≈ cradle/spread
mountains ≈ pegs
The arabic word for the first metaphor, مِهَادًا, means something that is spread or made even/smoothed out↓2. Thus the translation of both ‘expanse’ and ‘cradle’ is correct as well as is the more general ‘resting-place’ which highlights the ground between earth and cradle. The upper layer of the earth (called ‘crust’) is spread out well enough for us to be used as a place to lie down by homeless people and tentless travelers. It’s expanse figuratively holds enough room for the world’s populace and by nature allows both humblest and grandest of abodes to be made upon it↓3. It is also supposed to be the literal cradle for our bodies when we die. Geologically, this upper layer consists of huge expanse of plates made up of soil and rock laid around the inner layers of the earth. Thus the metaphor scores from various angles, and seems to be a good example of how a metaphor is a conceptual web holding together related pieces of knowledge, potentially fueling further understanding (see Illuminating Metaphors Part II).
Mountain ranges typically form when crust plates jam into each other causing one to be forced upwards and the other to slide downwards (subduction). Thus mountains can be imagined as a series of pegs going throug both the inner and upper sides of the earth’s expanse, holding the plates together↓4. Al-Qur’an itself states:
وَأَلْقَىٰ فِي الْأَرْضِ رَوَاسِيَ أَن تَمِيدَ بِكُمْ وَأَنْهَارًا
AND He placed mountains as anchors in the earth so that it may not shake along with you, [An-Nahl, 15]
The metaphor thus holds both functional and visual commonality between vehicle and target.
The third instance above illustrates plain metaphor in a unique way: negation. The negative metaphor is لَاعِبِينَ – a noun with many meanings, the apt one here being ‘a plaything’,’game’, or ‘sport’. The only truly intelligent being on earth – humans – have used all sorts of naturally occuring phenomenae and facts inventively for their sport, entertainment and pastime. From national parks to ski resorts to playfields through to the virtual realities in electronic media are pointers that natural potentiality discovries and inventions of the world are all available for recreation. Philosophers have puzzled for centuries over the possibility that whether God has similarly created this universe as mere pastime. The commonality beween target (universe) and vehicle (all means of recreation in the world) is plausible, but here expressly denied by God in order to invite man to ponder more meaningful reasons behind the creation of universe.
Altogether these examples show how even the simple metaphor is used creatively and performs essential functions in the discourse. We move on with other forms of metaphors in the next post, InshaAllah.
1. See Tafseer Ibne Kathir, specifically Urdu version for the referred ayah.
2. Project Root List: Mim-Ha-Dal
3. For concordance see Tafsir Ibne Kathir
4. For relevant geography, see Mountain Formation on wikipedia.