Giving Examples in Education
the teacher needs a method through which he can clarify complicated subjects and topics to his students. he might face some difficulties in expressing information to the mind of the listener or delivering his message to him. this is why he needs another method to enable him to reach his educational goal and broaden the horizon of his students to learn difficult matters with ease and clarity. some of these methods are similitudes or giving examples. an example semantically means a form of speech that helps clarify and visualize the meaning. the example is an illustration through which meanings become clearer and effective. it is also a representative or description of the complex meaning. the noble qur’an is filled with examples and similes; they are mentioned for clarification such as: “have you not seen how allah has struck a similitude? a good word is as a good tree: its root is firm and its branch is in the heaven. it brings its crop every season (literally: every while) by the permission of its lord; and allah strikes similitudes to mankind that possibly they would remind themselves. and the similitude of a wicked word is as a wicked tree: uprooted from above the earth; in no way does it have any stability.” (ibrahim: 24-26) ibn abbas said: “the part of the verse ‘have you not seen how allah has struck a similitude? a good word is as a good tree’ exemplifies the believer as the good tree. the firm root in the earth and the branch in the sky illustrates the good deeds accomplished by the believer. his good deeds and utterances are done on earth but they rich the sky.” so his good work, the root, reaches the sky like a tree extended from the soil to the sky through the branches.
about the verse, “allah strikes similitudes to mankind that possibly they would remind themselves.” ash-shokani said: “striking similitudes or exemplifying to people increases remembering, realizing and illustrating meanings.” ibn as saadi said: “exemplifying approximates mental meanings to tangible examples. using them clarifies the meaning that almighty allah addresses to people. it becomes clear and apparent. this reflects the mercy of almighty allah and the perfection of his explanation. so, thanks to almighty allah for his mercy.” abu bakr aj-jaza'iri said: “part of the guidance of these verses is the approbation of using examples to approximate the meanings to minds.”
the teacher of humanity prophet muhammad (peace be upon him) mentioned examples and similitudes in his prophetic teachings and sayings because he knew the power of examples, similes and figures of speech in general in visualizing the meaning and clarifying the content such as the following:
1- narrated abu musa al-ash'ari: the prophet muhammad (peace be upon him) said, "the example of a believer who recites the qur'an, is that of a citron which smells good and tastes good; and the example of a believer who does not recite the qur'an, is that of a date which has no smell but tastes sweet; and the example of a hypocrite who recites the qur'an, is that of an aromatic plant which smells good but tastes bitter; and the example of a hypocrite who does not recite the qur'an, is that of a colocynth plant which has no smell and is bitter in taste." (al-bukhari and muslim) my dear brother, think over this great detailed exemplification. then, concentrate on the effect of exemplification in clarifying the truth of a believer and a hypocrite who read the qur’an in comparison to their counterparts who do not read the qur’an.
2- imam ahmad recorded in his musnad that an-nawwas bin sam'an said that the prophet (peace be upon him) said, “allah has set an example: a sirat (straight path) that is surrounded by two walls on both sides, with several open doors within the walls covered with curtains. there is a caller on the gate of the sirat who heralds, 'o people! stay on the path and do not deviate from it.' meanwhile, a caller from above the path is also warning any person who wants to open any of these doors, 'woe unto you! do not open it, for if you open it you will pass through.' the straight path is islam, the two walls are allah's set limits, while the doors resemble what allah has prohibited. the caller on the gate of the sirat is the book of allah, while the caller above the sirat is allah's admonishment in the heart of every muslim.”
3- narrated abu huraira (ra) that the prophet muhammad (peace be upon him) said, “i and the prophets before me are like a man who built a home and made it wonderful and beautiful, except in a place of a one piece of adobe at its corner. people would go around it and get amazed of its beauty and say, “would not that adobe be put in its place?” i am this adobe; and i am the seal of prophets.” (al-bukhari, chapter of manaqeb, hadith 3535) ibn hajar said: “the prophet (pbuh) likened the prophets and the guidance they taught to people to a home founded and built. there is nothing left except for an adobe to be put in its place, and then the house will be perfect.” then he added: “in the hadith, examples and similes are used to convey the meaning to people’s minds. it also shows the status and bounty of the prophet muhammad (peace be upon him) in comparison to other prophets, for he is the seal of prophets and the message he spread to people, namely islam, is the final and completion of all previous monotheistic messages calling for tawhid, or the oneness of the creator.
1) striking similitudes and exemplifying is a good method of conveying meanings and ideas.
2) the teacher may use examples and comparisons when he is explaining a difficult subject, so he uses similes to simplify matters and make them easy to absorb.
the benefit of using similes and examples depends on the skill of the teacher in portraying the example in a way that conforms to the idea he wants to clarify.