Quranic Reflection No. 512. Āyat 57:12 – The Believers’ Light

يَوْمَ تَرَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتِ يَسْعَىٰ نُورُهُم بَيْنَ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَبِأَيْمَانِهِم
Yawma taral-mu’minīna walmu’mināti yas‘ā nūrūhum bayna aydīhim wabiaymānihim
The day you will see the faithful, men and women, with their light moving swiftly in front of them and on their right.
(Sūrat al-Hadīd, No 57, Āyat 12)

This verse describes the believers on the Day of Judgement moving towards Heaven with their light. There will be a light in front of them and a light on their right-hand side. This could refer to the two groups of believers mentioned in Sūrat al-Wāqi‘ah, the foremost ones who will have a light in front, and the people of the right hand who will have their light on the right. It is also possible that this light encompasses all the groups of believers and the light on the right-hand side is a reference to their book of good deeds that will be given to them in their right hand.

What is this light that will accompany the believers, and where does it come from? Will all the believers have the same light? The concept of light on the Day of Judgment is fascinating and has many scholarly explanations. Its intensity and duration depend, of course, on what we do in this world to accumulate it. Those who have a higher status will have a light that illuminates a bigger area, while there will be some whose light only shows them the immediate space in front of them, for some just showing them the points of their toes in front of them.

Every action of a human being is said to have two forms. One is an apparent one which can be seen, or sensed, in this world. Its effects are discerned through how the action affects the individual and those around him. Every action also has another worldly form that exists alongside the worldly form. This immaterial reality is emitted from the action itself and will lead to a form in the hereafter, pleasant or disturbing, completely in line with the action itself. Reward and punishment in the Hereafter are not external forces imposed upon the human being. They are the exact effects of the actions of the human being.

Shaykh Muhammad Saeed Bahmanpour in his book Towards Eternal Life writes, “In paradise and hell every experience that is encountered is governed by the inner state of the human being . . . [they] are like magical realms in which everything that stems from the mind, soul, and being of an individual finds an eternal existence that is real and tangible. This is called the embodiment of deeds – tajassum al-a‘māl” (p.195).

Light in the Hereafter is mentioned in many places in the Quran. There is light in the face, or for some darkness due to the absence of light: on the day when [some] faces will turn white and [some] faces will turn black (Q 3:106). There will also be light that will accompany the believers. The light in the above verse is an actual form that goes in front of, or alongside the believers and guides them to Heaven. It lights up the path for them and is a sign of their status. This light is also mentioned in the verse: on the day when Allah will not let down the Prophet and the faithful who are with him. Their light will move swiftly before them and on their right. They will say, ‘Our Lord! Perfect our light for us and forgive us! Indeed, You have power over all things (Q 66:8).

Imam Ali Zaynul ‘Ābidīn (a) in a lengthy Munājāt prays for this light:
O Allah, what You have made flow on our tongues from the light of communication and the explanation of Your proofs, make it a light for us in our graves and when we are raised, and in our life and in our death. Make it a source of honor for us, not of disgrace, and let it be a cause of safety for us from what we fear of this world and the Hereafter (Bihār al-Anwār, 91:126, h19))

Our light in the Hereafter depends on the choices we make in this world. It is entirely up to us to decide what type of light we want there. Let this verse remind us of the form that is being created from our actions in life. May it be a light for us on that day.

Sources: Allāmah Muhammad Husayn Tabātabā’ī, Tafsīr al-Mīzān; Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh.