Thursday, January 3, 2008

Divine Illumination, an examination of Ayah an Noor, 24:35

Allah is the light of the Heavens and the Earth. The parable of his light is as if a niche, inside of which is a Lamp. The Lamp enclosed in glass, the glass itself comparable to a bright heavenly object [Kaukaab-un]. Lit from a blessed Olive tree, neither Eastern nor Western, whose oil is self-illuminating, although not touched by fire. Light upon Light, Allah guides to his light whom he wills, and [in addition] Allah does set forth [such] examples for mankind, and Allah is knowledgeable about all things” 24:35

I must confess my love for this verse. I have studied perhaps countless commentaries, both ancient and modern, ‘orthodox’ and ‘unorthodox’ about this sublime Ayah, known as Ayat An-Noor or the Verse of light, and can never tire in hearing its recitation, in using it in my prayers, and in attempting to receive more “light” from it. All Muslims should feel thankful to the Almighty for placing such a text in the Last Scripture, and for protecting that scripture from corruption or deviation from his purposes [Qur’an 18:1]

The statement that The Divine being is “The light of the heavens and the Earth” shows that God’s guiding beacon is unlimited. It cannot be confined to the place of prayer [Mosque/Church, etc] nor can it even be confined to the scripture itself! This does not negate the Qur’an as the last scripture; it simply shows the existence and power of Allah which exists outside the confines of a book, tradition, or historical narrative. “To Allah belongs the dominion of the Heavens and the Earth. Surely, Allah is Independent, Praiseworthy. And if all the trees on the Earth were pens and the Oceans ink, and seven more oceans added to replenish [the ink], Allah’s words would not be exhausted. Truly, Allah is Mighty, Wise” [31:26-27]

The guidance from the Divine is a constant in the life and mind of the believer. The very fact that Muslims are to recite “Guide us upon the straight path” daily is enough evidence to prove that. In short, this shows that Allah is the ultimate source of light. This “light” is not only in the form of messengers, Prophets and teachers, but it comes in the form of goodly ideas, of ‘intuition’, and what can be described as ‘gut feeling’. Many of us can recall an occasion wherein we took a different direction from our usual practice which resulted in avoiding a catastrophe, saving our lives, or that of our loved ones.

The Divine light, we are told, is comparable to a lamp that is enclosed in glass. The glass protects the lamp from deterioration. Humans have created acrylic glass, which is used on helmet visors, Aquariums, and a number of other uses designed for protection. It seems logical to assert that the “glass” [zujaa-jah] spoken of here is indestructible. The glass surrounds and protects what is inside of it. The glass itself is the outer shell, that which is on display, and must look appealing. When describing Acrylic glass, we recall that it presents what ever is inside of it in a dignified and beautiful manner. Thus, Almighty Allah says “...Comparable to a bright heavenly object [Kaukaab-un]...”

The Divine Light is majestic because it encompasses or surrounds all of creation. The Light itself is quite bright and is really unaffected by any other factors. This is similar to the message of Ayatul Kursiyy [see article ‘The Divine Throne: An examination of Ayatul Kursiyy 2:255’], which shows that God’s rule and awareness encompasses the entire creation as well. There are forces interested in keeping this information away from the public, as they view it with jealousy, suspicion, or outright enmity. These interests wish to direct us to a very limited path which will be very dark, gloomy and stagnant. Many desire a deity or a religion which can be twisted to suit their own agendas or desires. Ultimately this approach fails, as we are taught. “ They desire to extinguish Allah’s light with their mouths, however, Allah will never permit [that], except that his light will be perfected, despite the hatred of the disbelievers” [9:32].

It should be noted that An-Noor is one of the names of Allah given in the Qur’an. How can the disbelievers, or anyone for that matter, attempt to blow out Allah’s light, which will be “perfected’? The answer is that Divine Illumination comes forth to the sincere and devoted believer, a light which those with diseased hearts are jealous of, and thus will attempt to downplay the believer. Allah does not allow that, but he makes the believer grow constantly.

Allah does not discriminate or prevent someone from his light because of race, color, social class or the amount of money in their bank accounts. Lit from a blessed olive tree, neither Eastern nor Western. The usage of “Olive” is also quite interesting. Olives are a common ingredient in dishes in the Middle East, and remains an important export for Middle Eastern economies today. Olive trees and olive oil were seen as a symbol of great power and vitality. The Qur’an elsewhere has this usage, as in the Divine oath “By the fig and the Olive” [Q 95:1]

The olive oil, as is the tree, apparently represents the powerful source of illumination which cannot be hidden. The illumination itself surrounds the mind of the believer, the actions and even the very person of the believer. The Quranic story of Joseph, peace be upon him, is another good example of this. We are told that women upon seeing him for the first time actually cut their hands with their dinner utensils in amazement [12:31]. The story does not suggest he performed some sort of miracle, or that he was an extraordinary character. On the contrary, it shows that Joseph was natural in his lifestyle as a believer, in an environment where such behavior was rare, and that attracted attention and admiration, and, eventually, the power and ability to change the society and save it from a catastrophe.

It should be noted that the Qur’an teaches that Hypocrites will seek to, when possible, take advantage of a light from sincere believers to their own advantage. Perhaps by using the presence of the enlightened believer to fool others in order to attain an advantage over others? To this, Allah teaches that all individuals are responsible for attaining their own enlightenment, by means of study, prayer, proper deeds and cultivation, and sincerity, not by piggy-back riding off of others. [57:12-15, also see 103:1-3]
The statement “Light upon Light” has been variously interpreted over the ages by Scholars, mystics, and Imams. I would venture to say that the Islamic foundation is referred to by the first mention of ‘Light’. By accepting that Allah is One and alone, that none deserve worship and devotion except him, the spiritual environment of a person is now ready for building up on that foundation more and more in the form of insight, faith, practice etc., thus, we have the second light [‘Light upon Light’]. A practical example in Muslim practice is the Salaah. The five daily prayers must be established, as they are obligatory in Islam. That foundation will allow you to move beyond the five prayers to performing the Tahajjud prayers, which, combined with Qur’an study, Fasting and a variety of other means, will certainly lead to spiritual growth and nourishment. These acts must be performed with the right intentions in order to be affective; otherwise the acts will be useless. We are warned of that by the statement “Allah guides to his light whom he wills…”

We pray to the Almighty in the following words “Our Lord, perfect for us OUR LIGHT, bestow upon us your forgiveness, surely you are powerful over everything” [Q 66:8]

Shamsuddin Waheed is an Imam, Quranic Arabic instructor and lecturer. For further information, contact him via e-mail Waheed79-at-yahoo-dot-com or visit his website Islam in View