Quranic Reflection No 664. Āyat 24:35 – The Parable of Light


 اللَّهُ نُورُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ ۚ مَثَلُ نُورِهِ كَمِشْكَاةٍ فِيهَا مِصْبَاحٌ ۖ الْمِصْبَاحُ فِي زُجَاجَةٍ ۖ الزُّجَاجَةُ كَأَنَّهَا كَوْكَبٌ دُرِّيٌّ يُوقَدُ مِنْ شَجَرَةٍ مُبَارَكَةٍزَيْتُونَةٍ لَا شَرْقِيَّةٍ وَلَا غَرْبِيَّةٍ يَكَادُ زَيْتُهَا يُضِيءُ وَلَوْ لَمْ تَمْسَسْهُ نَارٌ ۚ نُورٌ عَلَىٰ نُورٍ ۗ يَهْدِي اللَّهُ لِنُورِهِ مَنْ يَشَاءُ ۚ وَيَضْرِبُ اللَّهُ الْأَمْثَالَ لِلنَّاسِ ۗ وَاللَّهُ بِكُلِّشَيْءٍ عَلِيمٌ

Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The parable of His Light is a niche wherein is a lamp—the lamp is in a glass, the glass as it were a glittering star—lit from a blessed olive tree, neither eastern nor western, whose oil almost lights up, though fire should not touch it. Light upon light. Allah guides to His Light whomever He wishes. Allah draws parables for mankind, and Allah has knowledge of all things.

(Sūrat al-Nūr, No.24, Āyat 35)

Parables are a concise yet expressive way to demonstrate intricate principles. They have been used in several spiritual texts including the Bible and the Quran. In the previous reflection, we focused on the first part of this holy verse, and in this one, we look at the parable itself.

The perfect light of Allah prevails everywhere as it envelops everything while being 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; above all that which has been created. The lamp is the core of the real illumination. It is placed inside a glass which protects it from any outside interference or disturbance. 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. It is said that the oil of the blessed tree of olive keeps the lamp alive. This mystic olive is not localised. It is neither of the east nor of the west. It is universal like the light of Allah.

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 refers to this “point” as the exalted holy place chosen for the manifestation of Allah’s attributes. There should be an entity whose cognitive self becomes the focus of light. Both in the realm of creation as well as legislation and guidance, they are the best models.

The light emanating from a source may pass through transparent or opaque mediums, however, it is only conducive when it goes through a transparent medium. The glass itself 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 (s) were free from the impurity of polytheism.

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

Many esoteric and mystical interpretations are also mentioned about this parable, but we will suffice with a couple of examples:

Jabir bin Abdullah al Ansari narrates: “I entered the mosque of Kufa and saw the Commander of the Faithful (a) was writing something with His finger. He had a smile on His face. “O Commander of the Faithful (a)! What makes You smile?” I asked.

I find it strange that some people read this ayah but do not reflect upon it. “O’ Commander of the Faithful (a)! To which ayah are you referring?” I asked. He replied: Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth; a likeness of His light is as a lantern wherein is a lamp”. Muhammad (s) is the “lantern”, “wherein is a lamp,” The lamp refers to me (i.e. Ali ibn Abi Talib (a)). “The lamp is in a glass”. Hasan (a) and Husayn (a) are the “glass”. “The glass is as it were a brightly shining star”. Ali bin Husayn (a) is the “shining star”, “lit from a blessed olive-tree,”  Muhammad bin Ali (a) is the blessed tree and Ja’far bin Muhammad (a) is “the olive”, “neither eastern” refers to Musa bin Ja’far (a), “nor western” refers to Ali bin Musa (a), “though fire touch it not” refers to Ali bin Muhammad (a), “whose oil would almost glow forth (of itself) though no fire touched it” refers to Muhammad bin Ali (a), “light upon light” refers to Hasan bin Ali (a) “Allah guides to His light whom He pleases” refers to Al-Mahdi (af) (Al-Bahrānī, Tafsīr Al-Burhān, 5:392-393)

Similarly, in another tradition we read: Allah shows the way to the ones whom He chooses, as it says in the Hadith recorded by Imam Ahmad from ‘Abdullah bin ‘Amr, who said, “I heard the Messenger of Allah say:

إِنَّ اللهَ تَعَالَى خَلَقَ خَلْقَهُ فِي ظُلْمَةٍ ثُمَّ أَلْقَى عَلَيْهِمْ مِنْ نُورِهِ يَوْمَئِذٍ، فَمَنْ أَصَابَ مِنْ نُورِهِ يَوْمَئِذٍاهْتَدَى وَمَنْ أَخْطَأَ ضَلَّ فَلِذَلِكَ أَقُولُ: جَفَّ الْقَلَمُ عَلَى عِلْمِ اللهِ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ

Allah created His creation in darkness, then on the same day He sent His Light upon them. Whoever was touched by His Light on that day will be guided and whoever was missed will be led astray. Hence, I say: the pens have dried in accordance with the knowledge of Allah, may He be glorified. (Sunan Tirmidhi, H 2642, graded Sahīh by Al-Albāni)

As we welcome the month of Rajab full of blessings, we ask Allah to enlighten us through the light of the Ahlul-bayt (a) and continue to pray for the victory of Muslims, especially the resilient people of Palestine.