The term parable is derived from the Greek arabolae, which means juxtaposition, the placing of two things or ideas side by side for comparison. In Septuagint, the 3rd century B.C. Greek translation of the Old Testament, the word parable is used as the Greek translation of the Hebrew word mashal. Hence, the Hebrew word mashal and the Greek word parable are broadly used to denote proverbs, allegories, riddles, illustrations and stories: they can refer to any striking speech formulated to stimulate thought. A parable is therefore in the literal sense, a placing side by side, a comparison, a similitude, and an illustration of one subject by another. It signifies a narrative under which is veiled some important truth. There are two cognate words in the Koran, i.e. mathal and mithal, which appear with a significant frequency. The word mathal has its counterpart in the Hebrew word mashal. Both are considered equivalent of the English word parable.

The word mithal (pl. amthal) means similitude, likeness, like, similar, or equal, while the word mathal however means like, likeness, equivalent, comparison or metaphor. The word mathal occurs 39 times in the Koran. It occurs another 67 times with certain modifying pronoun suffixes like lun, hu, hum, kum etc., which means its occurrence for 102 times. In the Koran commands a similarly wide range of meaning in the following verses: “Thus God coins the similitudes” (3:17), “Each of them We warned by examples” (25:39), “And these are parables, which We coin for the use of mankind, but none reason them out except the learned” (29:43), “And there will be hurries with wide lovely eyes, like unto preserved pearls” (56:23), “Communities like you” (6:38). “We are not to be frustrated from changing your forms and creating you again” (56:61), “Ten times the like thereof” (6:160), “God destroyed them completely and a similar fate awaits the disbelievers” (47:10), “Thus does God set forth for mankind their similitudes” (47:3) and “And God explains with similitudes, so that people may easily understand” (14:25).

In most instances, it is interchangeable with the word mathal. For example: “So put not forward similitude for God” (16:74), while in other place, “His likeness is the likeness of a smooth rock on which is a little dust; on it falls heavy rain which leaves it bare”(2:264). In other place, it is stated: “And the likeness of those who spend their wealth