Spiritual things can only be understood by symbols taken from things which are familiar to us in this life. In a sense this fleeting life itself is a symbol. History is a symbol. The whole phenomenal world is a symbol. The reality lies behind it, like the real light behind the Cave, in Plato’s Theory of Ideas. This is not to say that Islam agrees with the Vendatists in calling this whole visible world an illusion. It is an illusion to suppose that it is the only world. But it is equally an illusion to suppose that this world is of no consequence. It is of as much consequence as our thoughts, feelings, dreams, and Life. We have to make use of them, study and respect their laws, and obey the duties imposed on us by the spiritual part of us being entangled in their chain. But they are not eternal, and they will pass away. Our duty is to prepare ourselves for the truer life, the eternal life : we emancipate ourselves from them, not by fleeting them ((for that is impossible)), but by fulfilling our obligations in them, as an apprentice or probationer attains his real position by completing his apprenticeship or probation satisfactorily and so ceasing to be an apprentice or a probationer.
From this point of view there is an allegorical meaning in all experience, history, and spiritual teaching. The temporary relationships, the fleeting events. our triumphs, defeats, and difficulties in this phenomenal world, are the bridges through which we pass to the higher world. Our temporal experiences are the foundation on which our greater and real Life is built up. This greater and real Life is not merely a thing of the future. It is within us all the time, if we only seek its truer light and try to fulfill our lower and temporal functions by the more stable principles with which it furnishes us.
-two paragraphs taken from Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s – Holy Quran. Appendix VI : Allegorical Interpretation of the Story of Joseph (sura xii)