Monday, February 07, 2011

Light Upon Light

God is the Light of the heavens and the earth.
The parable of His light is,
as it were, that of a niche containing a lamp;
the lamp is enclosed in glass, the glass like a radiant star;
lit from a blessed tree ---- an olive tree
that is neither of the east nor of the west -----
the oil of which would almost give light
even though fire had not touched it: light upon light!
God guides to His light the one who wills to be guided;
and God offers parables to human beings,
since God has full knowledge of all things.


اللَّهُ نُورُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ ۚ مَثَلُ نُورِهِ كَمِشْكَاةٍ فِيهَا مِصْبَاحٌ ۖ الْمِصْبَاحُ فِي زُجَاجَةٍ ۖ الزُّجَاجَةُ كَأَنَّهَا كَوْكَبٌ دُرِّيٌّ يُوقَدُ مِنْ شَجَرَةٍ مُبَارَكَةٍ زَيْتُونَةٍ لَا شَرْقِيَّةٍ وَلَا غَرْبِيَّةٍ يَكَادُ زَيْتُهَا يُضِيءُ وَلَوْ لَمْ تَمْسَسْهُ نَارٌ ۚ نُورٌ عَلَىٰ نُورٍ ۗ يَهْدِي اللَّهُ لِنُورِهِ مَنْ يَشَاءُ ۚ وَيَضْرِبُ اللَّهُ الْأَمْثَالَ لِلنَّاسِ ۗ وَاللَّهُ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَلِيمٌ {35}
[Shakir 24:35] Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth; a likeness of His light is as a niche in which is a lamp, the lamp is in a glass, (and) the glass is as it were a brightly shining star, lit from a blessed olive-tree, neither eastern nor western, the oil whereof almost gives light though fire touch it not-- light upon light-- Allah guides to His light whom He pleases, and Allah sets forth parables for men, and Allah is Cognizant of all things.
[Pickthal 24:35] Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The similitude of His light is as a niche wherein is a lamp. The lamp is in a glass. The glass is as it were a shining star. (This lamp is) kindled from a blessed tree, an olive neither of the East nor of the West, whose oil would almost glow forth (of itself) though no fire touched it. Light upon light. Allah guideth unto His light whom He will. And Allah speaketh to mankind in allegories, for Allah is Knower of all things.
[Yusufali 24:35] Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The Parable of His Light is as if there were a Niche and within it a Lamp: the Lamp enclosed in Glass: the glass as it were a brilliant star: Lit from a blessed Tree, an Olive, neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil is well-nigh luminous, though fire scarce touched it: Light upon Light! Allah doth guide whom He will to His Light: Allah doth set forth Parables for men: and Allah doth know all things.
[Pooya/Ali Commentary 24:35]

The great mystery of existence, its eternal origin and infinite permanence is described in the most comprehensive and eloquent parable of light, which contains layer upon layer of allegorical comparisons to make apparent to man the purpose of the great author of the universe. The physical light is but a reflection of the true light in the realm of reality, and that true light is Allah. The performance of light is to manifest. It is Allah who manifests the universe. The human beings can only think of the factors of the spiritual world in terms of the phenomenal experience obtainable through physical senses; and in the phenomenal world light is the purest thing known to man. Due to the limitations of human experience man cannot see the real light but perceive only the lighted objects. So the physical experience is an illusion, because physical light has drawbacks incidental to its physical nature. It is dependent upon some source external to itself; it is a passing phenomenon; if it is taken to be a form of motion or energy it is unstable, like all physical phenomena; and it is dependent on space and time. The perfect light of Allah is free from any such defects. It prevails everywhere. It envelops everything. It is independent of time and space. The niche (mishkat) is the recess in the wall, high from the ground in the house. The divine light, according to the parable, is placed high above everything, all that which has been created, the whole universe. The lamp is the core of the real illumination. It is placed inside a glass which protects it from any outside interference or disturbance (refer to Saff: 8). The illumination shines bright like a star. In this world, governed by the laws of cause and effect, it becomes natural to know what makes the lamp burn, as no lamp burns without oil. So to give man the idea of causative factor of the generation of light, it is said that the oil of the blessed tree of olive keeps the lamp alive. It is said that after the great flood, the olive tree was the first to grow on the earth. This mystic olive is not localised. It is neither of the east nor of the west. It is universal like the light of Allah.

The light of wisdom (the Quran) in the heart of the Holy Prophet is as protected as the lamp in the glass. Verses 77 to 79 of al Waqi-ah clearly state that the Quran is a protected book; and no one can touch it save the thoroughly purified, the Ahl ul Bayt, according to the verse 33 of Ahzab. Therefore the true interpretation of "light upon light" is the Holy Prophet and his Ahl ul Bayt. It is further made clear in the next verse.

For "Allah guides whom He wills to His light" see the commentary of al Baqarah: 256 and 257-he who believes in Allah, indeed, has taken hold of the firmest handhold (or rope) which will not break off. Allah brings them out of the darkness into light-It is obvious that those who are guided unto His light are the thoroughly purified ones. They alone are the manifestations of the real light. Those who follow these reflection of the divine light receive guidance from the grace of Allah to the extend or degree of their sincere attachment to them. Salman was the only companion of the Holy Prophet who achieved the distinction of becoming one of the Ahl ul Bayt.

The Holy Prophet said:

"My Ahl ul Bayt are like the ark of Nuh. Whosoever sails on it is safe, and whosoever holds back shall perish."

Nubuwwah and imamah, jointly or separately, are the most perfect guidance unto the light of Allah. Allah Himself chooses and appoints the guide, but His choice is not arbitrary. There are conditions which have to be fulfilled. Refer to the commentary of al Baqarah: 124. When Allah appointed Ibrahim as an Imam after testing his faith and awareness, for the whole mankind, he requested Allah to continue this august office in his progeny. Allah agreed to do so, but "it is a covenant which shall not reach the unjust (zalim)" was added. According to verse 13 of Luqman polytheism is the greatest injustice (zulm), therefore as explained in detail in the commentary of al Baqarah: 124 the Ahl ul Bayt of the Holy Prophet was the only group which never worshipped any ghayrallah. Those who had worshipped idols at any time in their lives could not be chosen as Imams at all, but after becoming Muslims if they had accepted the Imams of the Ahl ul Bayt as their guides, and followed them, then, according to the degree of their sincerity and awareness, they are entitled to occupy suitable position in the journey towards the enlightenment available from the light of Allah. Mere verbal profession of faith in Allah without attachment to the Ahl ul Bayt is as bad as hypocrisy.

The existence of the supreme being has been compared to light in order to make human intellect understand a great attribute of Allah, otherwise He is the inconceivable absolute who has created the light. Light is His manifestation. It is not His being.

Aqa Mahdi Puya says:

To know the proper application of ayah al Nur the following points should be kept in view:

(i) It is a parable.

(ii) A parable implies several applications corresponding to various aspects.

(iii) The light should be understood in its widest sense, as a self-evident being which is evident by itself, and through which other beings become evident.

(iv) The light emanating from a source may pass through transparent or opaque mediums. Generally it is not serviceable when it passes through an opaque medium but is profitable when it goes through a transparent medium.

Transparent mediums have different degrees of transparency. Better conductivity depends on the degree of refinement and purification of the medium.

There may be a source or cause which produces the light. It may also be self-illuminating .

(vii) Usually light proceeding from a source illuminates a particular area, leaving other areas unlighted.

(viii) The source of the light, in this verse, is not localised. It is neither of the east nor the west-not any particular area or direction. See my note in Maryam: 16 to 40.

(ix) The parable is applicable to the process of creation as well as to guidance and also to legislation in order to regulate human behaviour both as an individual and as a member of society.

(x) Light as a symbol of guidance is one of the attributes of Allah. It is manifested in both the realms of creation and legislation.

Allah is the light through which every created being comes into evidence, and every being is guided toward the destination where it should reach. To reach to the destination of salvation, bliss and satisfaction it has to do that which guidance points out.

In every realm and sphere there is a point in which the light of creation or guidance manifests itself originally, and then illuminates the surroundings. Niche {mishtat) refers to this "point" as the exalted holy place chosen for the manifestation of Allah's name and attributes. There should be an entity whose cognitive self becomes the focus of light. Such entities have been pointed out clearly in Ahzab: 33 and Ali Imran: 61 as the first and the foremost in receiving the light of existence in the arc of descent and the-last in the arc of ascent. In the realm of creation they are the best entities or "points" in which the light of creation manifested itself originally. In the realm of legislation and guidance too they are the best models.

If applied to any individual the niche is the power of expression and the "house" (in which the niche is situated) is the body.

If applied to the group of the Ahl ul Bayt and the prophets, the niche in the house is the Holy Prophet.

The divine light passed through the purest transparent chain of prophets, without any detour, and manifested itself in its full glory in the Holy Prophet, to illuminate the human society for ever.

All the mediums-lamp, glass etcetera-which are the various stages between the original source and the final spreading of the light should be of the highest transparency so as not to affect the purity of light passing through them. It implies that the minds, hearts, loins and wombs of the ancestors of the Holy Prophet were free from the dirt of polytheism.

The house in which the niche always remained is described in verse 36. There always exists a group of persons whose hearts and minds are fully occupied with the remembrance of Allah.

The niche is the source of light, and the oil of the blessed tree is a pure "light above light". There is not a slightest trace of darkness. Darkness or evil exists outside the sphere of the houses in which the niche is located and cannot enter into it.

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