Pondering over Similitudes of Truth and Falsehood in the Holy Quran

أَنزَلَ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ مَاءً فَسَالَتْ أَوْدِيَةٌ بِقَدَرِهَا فَاحْتَمَلَ السَّيْلُ زَبَدًا رَّابِيًا ۚ وَمِمَّا يُوقِدُونَ عَلَيْهِ فِي النَّارِ ابْتِغَاءَ حِلْيَةٍ أَوْ مَتَاعٍ زَبَدٌ مِّثْلُهُ ۚ كَذَٰلِكَ يَضْرِبُ اللَّـهُ الْحَقَّ وَالْبَاطِلَ ۚ فَأَمَّا الزَّبَدُ فَيَذْهَبُ جُفَاءً ۖ وَأَمَّا مَا يَنفَعُ النَّاسَ فَيَمْكُثُ فِي الْأَرْضِ ۚ كَذَٰلِكَ يَضْرِبُ اللَّـهُ الْأَمْثَالَ. ١٧

“He sends down water from the sky, and riverbeds flow according to their capacity. The current carries swelling froth. And from what they heat in fire of ornaments or utensils comes a similar froth. Thus God exemplifies truth and falsehood. As for the froth, it is swept away, but what benefits the people remains in the ground. Thus God presents the analogies. (17)”

After my reading of classical Arabic texts such as al-Qurtubi and al-Kashaaf among others on interpretation of verse 17 of Surah 13, the Thunder I found that a good rendering of the actual meaning of the verse in the English is as presented by Imam as-Suyuti and the wider range of esoteric interpretations presented by one of the Sufi commentators of works attributed to Ibn ‘Abbaas (ra).


He then strikes a similitude of truth and falsehood, saying: He, exalted be He, sends down water, rain, from the sky, whereat the valleys flow according to their measure, according to their full capacity, and the flood carries a scum that swells, rising above it, and this [scum] is the filth and the like that lies on the surface of the earth, and from that which they smelt (read tūqidūn, ‘you smelt’, or yūqidūn, ‘they smelt’) in the fire, of the earth’s minerals, such as gold, silver or copper, desiring, seeking [to make], ornaments, adornment, or ware, which is useful, such as utensils, when they [the minerals] are melted; [there rises] a scum the like of it, that is, the like of the scum of the flood, and this [latter scum] consists of the impurities expelled by the bellows. Thus, in the way mentioned, God points out truth and falsehood, that is, [He points out] the similitude thereof. As for the scum, of the flood and of the minerals smelted, it passes away as dross, useless refuse, while that which is of use to mankind, in the way of water and minerals, lingers, remains, in the earth, for a time: likewise, falsehood wanes and is [eventually] effaced, even if it should prevail over the truth at certain times. Truth, on the other hand, is established and enduring. Thus, in the way mentioned, God strikes, He makes clear, similitudes.

[Source:Tafsīr al-Jalālayn by: Jalāl al-Dīn al-Maḥallī Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūṭī; Translated by Feras Hamza and edited and with an Introduction by Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal. Published by: The Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought Amman, Jordan, 2007.]


Allah then gave a simile of the Truth and falsehood, saying: (He sendeth down water from the sky) He says: He sent Gabriel with the Qur’an and explained therein the Truth and falsehood, (so that valleys flow according to their measure) so the illumined hearts bore the Truth in proportion of their size and light, (and the flood beareth) the darkened hearts bore ((on its surface) swelling foam) much falsehood due to their whims (from that which they felt in the Fire) this is another simile. He says: and of that which you cast in the fire of gold and silver contains adulteration just as the foam of the sea does have salt (in order to make ornaments) which you wear. Allah says here: the Truth is like gold and silver which benefit people, and falsehood is like the impurities which are derived from the casting of gold and silver, which are of no benefit. Likewise falsehood benefits no one (and tools) ore and copper (riseth a foam like unto it) He says: these also have impurities, i.e. just as the foam of the sea. This is another simile. He says: the Truth is like ore and copper from which people benefit, just as people benefit from the Truth. And falsehood is like the impurities resulting from the casting of ore and copper, which are of no benefit, just as falsehood is of no benefit to anyone, (thus Allah coineth (the similitude of)) thus Allah explains (the true and the false. Then, as for the foam, it passeth away as scum upon the banks) it goes just as it comes: it is of no benefit to its owner, (while, as for that which is of use to mankind) pure water, gold, silver, ore and copper, (it remaineth in the earth) it is useful just as the Truth is. (Thus Allah coineth the similitudes) Allah explains the similes of the Truth and falsehood.

[Source: Tanwīr al-Miqbās min Tafsīr Ibn ‘Abbās; Attributed variously to: ‘Abdullāh Ibn ‘Abbās and Muḥammad al-Fīrūzabādī; Translated by Mokrane Guezzou and edited and with a brief Introduction by Yousef Meri. Published by: The Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought Amman, Jordan, 2007.]

In conclusion, this verse is a similitude for Truth and Falsehood. Truth is represented by rain which brings a multitude of benefits: to vegetation, wells as well as natural minerals that settle in the valleys [hearts, if taken figuratively] and soil over a long period of time and extracted periodically by people for smelting into various utensils and ornaments. This water, leaves a froth that settles on the surface of the soil and in settles into ponds of clean water with lasting benefits for its users. Unlike the froth which represents ‘Falsehood’ that is thrown away after the smelting of the iron ore extracted from the very earth brought together by the floods over time. That is the example of falsehood. In reality it produces nothing but illusion (a useless froth). When both sources of the scum and foam are compared the first is a direct result of Allah’s sending of the rains and torrents and the second is as a intermediate result of man’s manipulation of the benefits (minerals) and the froth that that produces is thrown away.  While is it true that both froths dissipates in the end one delivers sediments which provides a whole chain of production and products for both human and industrial use the latter is like smog, a pollutant. There are greater emeralds waiting to be discovered in this verse, like for instance the repetition of ‘froth’ or Zabad’ one that settles upon the earth by a natural process and the one that is thrown or cast upon the earth after a process of purification and distillation. Look at the fact that Zabad is used both for ‘Truth and Falsehood’ but towards the end of the verse. The Zabad of Truth – an indication that truth may appear to some viewers as froth-like – but notice how it dissipates into the phase ‘that which benefits people’ and the Zabad of Falsehood becomes Definite. The implied here is (and Allah knows best) is that the roots and veins of Truth’ are deep and therefore produces lasting goodness and ‘Falsehood’ which too can be confusing at times when demarcating it from truth, will eventually disappear and be thrown out, while the former settles and produces clear, clean water. Hence, the suggestion here is that falsehood at times does appear beneficial and may even temporarily bear the upper hand over truth. This simile is consistent with many of the others in the Holy Quran that show the endurance of truth over falsehood as mentioned in Chapter17,verse 81: “And say [O Muhammad] “The truth has come, and falsehood has withered away; for falsehood is bound to wither away.”

See also chapter14,verses24-27: “Do you not see how God presents parable?good word is like good tree—its root is firm, and its branches are in the sky. It yields its fruits every season by the will of its Lord. God presents the parables to the people, so that they may reflect. (25)  And the parable of bad word is that of bad tree—it is uprooted from the ground; it has no stability. (26)  God gives firmness to those who believe, with the firm word, in this life, and in the Hereafter. And God leads the wicked astray. God does whatever He wills. (27)” 

Allah knows best and may He forgive any transgression of mine in commenting upon these verses. 

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