condense and become raindrops. The angels, who are the representatives of the laws [in force in the universe] and reflect its order, take them by the hand so they do not crowd together [in masses] and strike each other, and they take them down to the ground. In order to preserve the balance of the atmosphere, the seas and earth vaporize to replace what has been lost through distillation. The reason some people imagined the existence of a heavenly ocean was their conceiving of metaphors as facts. For to portray the green of the atmosphere as the colour of the sea, and the atmosphere as containing more water than the Pacific Ocean, is a figure of speech not distant from the reality.
Consider the verse: “And He sends down from the sky mountain masses [of clouds] wherein is hail”(24:43) and understand that to dwell on its apparent meaning although it has kindled a light with its metaphor (isti‘āra) is to be coldly insensible and literalist. For just as the verse “Crystal-clear, made of silver”(76:16) contains a fine metaphor, so does “mountain masses [of clouds] wherein is hail” consist of one that is singularly strange and beautiful. The food dishes of paradise are made neither of crystal nor of silver, but have the transparency of crystal and the shining whiteness of silver. This is indicated by the fact that crystal is not made of silver and that they are different materials, and also by the use of [the partitive] “of (min).” Similarly, “mountain masses [of clouds] wherein is hail” contains two metaphors which in the listener’s view are founded on poetical imagining. This imagining is based on observing an analogy and likeness between the representation of the higher world and formation of the lower one. And this observation is based on the idea of a beauty contest between the earth and the sky and a competition in the garments clothed on them by the hand of power. It is as though when the earth appears with its mountains clothed in the white garments of snow and ice in the winter, and is turbanned with them in the spring; and when in the summer it is adorned with its colourful gardens, presenting to the view of wisdom through its transformations the miracles of divine power; the atmosphere responds by imitating it and competing with it in displaying the miracles of divine sublimity. It appears veiled, attired in the broken clouds like towering mountains, hills, and valleys. Tinted with various colours, it depicts the earth’s gardens, intimating with the most shining of evidences divine splendour and majesty.
In consequence of this vision and mutual resemblance and imaginary vista, the simile of the clouds was greeted favourably in Arabic styles of speech, especially the summer clouds being likened to mountains, ships,