From among these ayat is His statement,
“And the example of those who disbelieve is like that of one who shouts at what hears nothing but calls and cries (cattle or sheep). (They are) deaf, dumb and blind, so they do not understand,” (Surah al-Baqarah:171)
Wherein Allah mentions a caller and the called; the former is a person addressing the idol, and the latter is the idol. It was said that the caller of cattle exemplifies the idol worshipper and the one called exemplifies the idol since the condition of the disbeliever when invoking (his idols) is similar to the condition of the one calling to something that cannot hear. This understanding has been adopted by a group of scholars as Abdul-Rahman ibn Zayd. This view has ben deemed problematic by the author of ‘al-Kashshaf’ and some others who said: the phrase ”what hears nothing but calls and cries” negates their view because idols cannot hear a call or a shout. This objection has been replied to with three answers.
The first answer: It is a linguistic application in which ‘ill’ (translated as ‘but’) is deemed additional and hence has no meaning. However, this answer is invalid because ‘ill’ cannot be used as an addition in language.
The second answer: The form of similitude used in this ayah is particular to all types of calling and not related to the characteristics of the called or invoked.
The third answer: The meaning of this similitude is that those who invoke their idols that cannot comprehend their prayers are like a person calling for and shouting at his sheep; he does not benefit with his calling and shouting. Smartly, idolaters who invoke their idols gain nothing out of their invocations and calls but the effort they exerted.
It is also said: ‘The example of disbelievers is like cattle that do not understand what their shepherd shouts except that they only hear his sound, therefore the shepherd shouts except that they only hear his sound, therefore the shepherd is the caller of disbelievers and the cattle are the disbelievers.’
Shibawayh said that the meaning (of this ayah) is, ‘O Muhammad, the example of you and disbelievers is like the caller and the one called.’
Based on this, the meaning is, ‘The example of those who disbelieved and the one who calls them, is like the sheep and the one who shouts at them.’
If we consider this similitude as a complex one, then it likens the inability of disbelievers to understand and comprehend, to sheep that do not understand the calls of their shepherd, except for hearing of noise. On the other hand, if we consider the similitude in this ayah as a multiple parable, then the ayah likens disbelievers to cattle, the voice of the caller to the one calling disbelievers to the right path and guidance and the inability of disbelievers to understand this call for guidance, to the inability of cattle to understand the calls of their shepherd. And Allah knows best.
Paragons of the Qur’an by Ibn Qayyim al Jawziyyah Pages 94-96