إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يَسْتَحْيِي أَنْ يَضْرِبَ مَثَلًا مَا بَعُوضَةً فَمَا فَوْقَهَا ۚ فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا فَيَعْلَمُونَ أَنَّهُ الْحَقُّ مِنْ رَبِّهِمْ ۖ وَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا فَيَقُولُونَ مَاذَا أَرَادَ اللَّهُ بِهَٰذَا مَثَلًا
Indeed Allah is not ashamed to set forth a parable whether it is that of a gnat or anything above it. As for those who believe they know it is the truth from their Lord; and as for those who disbelieve they say, what does Allah mean by this example?
(Sūratul Baqarah, No. 2, Āyat 26)
Almighty Allah gives many examples in the Holy Quran. These examples help make things easy to understand. According to the above verse, these examples also serve to distinguish between the ones who are rightly guided and those who are not. The content of the example carries an importance that goes beyond the apparent matter discussed in the verse.
This verse shows the attitude of hypocrites towards the examples in the Quran. One of the underlying factors behind hypocrisy is the search for excuses. He himself does not perform any action that is commendable but will always look for faults with the actions of others. Ayatullah Nasir Makarim Shirazi in his book Mithalhaye Zibaaye Quran (Beautiful Examples of the Quran) says in the Tafsir of this verse that if a community builds an Islamic centre which includes a mosque, a library, housing etc. a hypocrite will find fault and say the money could have been better used to feed the hungry who exist in the community. If the same hypocrite is among those who spend wealth to help the poor and feed them, he would insist that the money should be used to build a centre for Islam so that the propagation of the enemies of Islam can be countered. The hypocrite has no firm opinion on the matter. He is intent on sowing the seeds of discontent and negativity.
When the Almighty revealed certain verses with examples in them, the hypocrites started to find fault. Allah is greater than that He should give examples of weak and insignificant creatures such as spiders and gnats, or of inanimate objects such as fire, thunder, and lightning, they said. Their negative and skeptical message was that such verses cannot be from God. However if the verses would have been hard to understand and the examples were of things that were complicated and abstract, their response would have been that how can these be the verses of God when we cannot comprehend anything. Why could God not explain these complicated issues in simpler ways so everybody could understand? Such objections were found among the people of the other Prophets. The hypocrites during the time of Nabi Shuayb declared: O Shuayb, we do not understand much of what you say . . . (11:92)
Good examples are part of eloquent speech. They appeal to the audience and can bring subtle and complicated matters down to the level of the hearer. The use of appropriate examples according to the topic and situation illustrates the ability of the speaker. Eloquence consists of beauty of language as well as depth of content. The verses of the Quran have both, and the examples of the Quran illustrate this form of eloquence.
Recite this verse to remind you of the negativity of the hypocrites. Avoid excuses and unfounded criticism, and strive to see the good and greatness of all things, even the very small almost invisible ones.
Aytaullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirazī (ed), Tafsīr Namūne,
Aytaullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirazī, Mithalhaye Zibaaye Quran (Beautiful Examples of the Quran)