Stories of Faith
The Qur’an tells the stories of only a number of prophets among the 124,000 prophets that have been sent. Some of the ones told in some detail are the stories of Adam and Eve and their fall from Heaven, Noah and the Ark, Abraham and his trials, Joseph, Moses and Pharaoh, and Mary and the miraculous birth of Jesus. Whilst the Qur’an makes reference to the Prophet’s personality and being, it does not really tell stories about him in the way it does with those mentioned above. Nevertheless stories about the Prophet and his life are the most important in Islam but they are found in the Sunnah or in biographies (sirah). As for the Shi’ah who view their Imams as the extension of prophethood and hence as perfect examples just like the Prophet, stories about the Imams and their lives play a central role in their faith.
First, some of these stories are narrated in the Qur’an which Muslims believe is the verbatim word of God. Therefore it is a sacred book with God as its ‘author’. Since the Qur’an is the eternal book, its teachings still apply today and forever. As for the stories of the Prophet, and the Imams for the Shi’ah, they are sacred because these personalities are sinless and all their actions, sayings and approvals are in accordance with Islam and are the perfect example for Muslims of every age.
The stories of the Qur’an are sacred as the Qur’an is the Word of God. The Sunnah of the Prophet is sacred because everything he did or said was nothing other than revelation.
By the Star when it goes down—Your Companion is neither astray nor being misled. Nor does he say (aught) of (his own) Desire. It is no less than inspiration sent down to him. (53:1-4).
These stories are meant to bring a person closer to God. As the Qur’an says, the generations of the past have long gone. They alone are accountable for their own deeds. But God tells us their stories so humans can learn from their example because these stories are true and factual not fictional or mythical. These stories are important as they are reminders for Muslims of our own obligations and our own faith and we can benefit from them:
Therefore do remind, in case reminding does benefit [the hearer] (Surah 87:9)
As the Qur’an is considered the eternal word of God, each story or event mentioned can be interpreted according to context and time and people of all generations. In Islam, everything has a double meaning; one is apparent and the other is hidden. Hence these stories, other than their explicit meanings, have deeper implicit meanings. The Qur’an caters for the lay person just as much as for the learned, however based on each person’s intellectual abilities and spiritual level, there would be different levels of understandings and meanings.
The purpose of these stories is to guide and teach. Through these stories, one can learn from the example of the prophets but also from the example of the people they were sent to; so, how to be and how not to be. They also show the responsibility of each individual not just to follow the crowd but to think for himself because one is easily influenced by his environment which may lead him astray. As prophets (and Imams for the Shi’ah) are infallible beings, people should model themselves on these exemplary beings.