Mystery and Meaning
Muslims believe that everything in existence has an apparent (zahir) and hidden (batin) meaning. Furthermore, our limited intellect is unable to grasp fully the Being of God. God is beyond this limited material world as we can see in this example:
When Moses came to the place appointed by Us, and his Lord addressed him, He said: “O my Lord! Show (Thyself) to me, that I may look upon thee.” Allah said: “By no means canst thou see Me (direct); But look upon the mount; if it abide in its place, then shalt thou see Me.” When his Lord manifested His glory on the Mount, He made it as dust. And Moses fell down in a swoon. When he recovered his senses he said: “Glory be to Thee! To Thee I turn in repentance, and I am the first to believe.” (Surah 7:143)
Hence, God describes Himself to His creation in order to know Him; one important example is the verse of Light (Ayah al-Nur): ‘Allah is the Light of the Heavens and the earth…’ (Surah 24:35).
The Qur’an consists of explicit (muhkamat) and ambiguous (mutashabihat) verses (Surah 3:7). The latter may be interpreted in many ways and some cannot be taken as literal. Hence there are many verses that have symbolic meanings especially the ones describing God, for example:
[…] the Hand of Allah is above their hands […] (Surah 48:10).
[…] Everything (that exists) will perish except His own Face […] (Surah 28:88).
These two examples (referring to God’s power (hand) and His eternal presence (face) cannot be understood literally as the Qur’an asserts that there is nothing like God. God is beyond anything that we can imagine, but the use of analogy and metaphor in the Qur’an help the human being to grasp the deeper meanings behind some of the verses. The Qur’an also uses symbolic language as explanation, for example:
For Him (alone) is prayer in Truth: any others that they call upon besides Him hear them no more than if they were to stretch forth their hands for water to reach their mouths but it reaches them not: for the prayer of those without Faith is nothing but (futile) wandering (in the mind) (Surah 13:14).
But the Unbelievers—their deeds are like a mirage in sandy deserts, which the man parched with thirst mistakes for water; until when he comes up to it, he finds it to be nothing: But he finds Allah (ever) with him, and Allah will pay him his account: and Allah is swift in taking account (Surah 24:39).