76. With regard to the word “Nur”, Ibn `Abbas said that the allusion is to Allah’s guidance found in every believer’s heart. Some others have said that it is the Nur of the Qur’an which is the source of all guidance. There have been a few other, minor opinions too (Ibn Jarir).
Qurtubi writes: The attribution of Nur to Allah is in the same vein as the people saying about a man, “He is the light of the town.” Allah may be referred to as Nur by way of praise; otherwise, Allah is not ‘the Light’ that the eyes can see.
One might be reminded, says Shabbir, that just as other Attributes of Allah, such as Hearing, Sight, etc. Nur is another Attribute that does not hazard a guess on the basis of attributes known to us.
Ibn `Abbas and Anas b. Malik have also explained the words, “Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth” as meaning, “He is the Guide of all those in the heavens and the earth,” for, Anas added, Allah’s Light is His guidance (or, conversely, His guidance is like Light: Au.). – Ibn Jarir.
In fact, Qurtubi writes, Allah (swt) named His Book as Nur. He said (4: 174): “We have sent down to you a clear Light.”
Allah also called His Messenger a Nur. He said (5: 15): “Surely, there has come to you from Allah a Light and a clear Book.”
Zamakhshari comments: The meaning is, He is the possessor of the Light of the heavens and the earth, and the Owner of the Light of the heavens and the earth ..in the like manner of Allah’s words (2: 257), “Allah is the protector of the believers. He brings them out of darknesses into Light” – i.e., from falsehood into guidance.
Allah attributed Light to the heavens and the earth in one of the two senses. Either to point at the vastness of its radiance and its dissemination, so that it reaches all corners of the heavens and the earth; or it might have been meant to say that those in the heavens and the earth seek and draw Light thereby.
`Ali (ra) is reported to have commented on the words, “Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth” as meaning, “He spread across the truth in it, has proliferated it so that it brightened up by His Light, or, brightened the hearts of its inhabitants.”
We have a report in the Sahihayn which says that when the Prophet got up for his pre-dawn Prayer he would say,“O Allah, for You the praise. You are the Light of the heavens and the earth and what is in them. For You the praise. You are the Care-taker of the heavens and the earth and what is in them…” to the end of the hadith (Ibn Kathir).
Yusuf Ali adds: “The physical light is but a reflection of the true Light in the world of Reality, and that true Light is Allah. We can only think of Allah (swt) in terms of our phenomenal experience, and in the phenomenal world, light is the purest thing we know, but physical light has drawbacks incidental to its physical nature: e.g. (1) it is dependent upon some source external to itself; (2) it is a passing phenomenon; if we take it to be a form of motion or energy it is unstable, like all physical phenomena; (3) it is dependent on space and time; its speed is 186,000 miles per second, and there are stars whose light takes thousands of years before it reaches the earth. The perfect Light of Allah is free from any such defects.”
We could perhaps end with Dr. Iqbal’s remark as quoted by Majid. Noting that Iqbal died in the 1930’s, one may appreciate how abreast he was of newest discoveries and how intelligently he applied them to religious truths, in contrast with the cheap material now being presented under the nomenclature ‘The Qur’an and Modern Science’: “The teaching of modern physics is that the velocity of light cannot be exceeded and is the same for all observers whatever their own system of movement. Thus in the world of change, light is the nearest approach to the Absolute. The metaphor of light as applied to God, therefore, must in view of modern knowledge, be taken to suggest the Absoluteness of God.”
77. In our effort to understand this parable, which can be referred to as the “beauty-spot” of the Qur’an, and which has not failed to strike as the most beautiful to countless non-Muslim readers, we might start with a general remark by Yusuf Ali. We shall turn to him often for his remarks as we go down the text. He writes at this point, “Embedded within certain directions concerning a refined domestic and social life, comes this glorious parable of light, which contains layer upon layer of transcendent truth about spiritual mysteries. No notes can do adequate justice to its full meaning. Volumes have been written on this subject.”
78. “The likeness of His Light”: To whom is the pronoun “his” referring to, and to what Light is the allusion? There are a variety of answers from the earliest commentators. As for the pronoun, Ubayy b. Ka`b said that the allusion is to the believer. That is, Allah is talking of the light in the heart of the believer.
79. Asad remarks: ‘The particle ka (“as if” or “as it were”) prefixed to a noun is called kaf al-tashbih (the “letter kaf points to a resemblance [of one to another]” or “indicating a metaphor”). In the above context it alludes to the impossibility of defining God even by means of a metaphor or a parable – for, since “there is nothing like unto Him” (42: 11), there is also “nothing that could be compared with Him” (112: 4). Hence, the parable of “the light of God” is not meant to express His reality – which is inconceivable to any created being and, therefore, inexpressible in any human language – but only allude to the illumination which He, who is the Ultimate Truth, bestows upon the mind and the feelings of all who are willing to be guided. Tabari, Baghawi and Ibn Kathir quote Ibn `Abbas as saying in this context: “It is the parable of His light in the heart of a believer.”’
80. In explanation of the words niche, lamp, glass and the oil, a variety of opinions have been expressed by the scholars of the first few generations. Tabari sums up as follows: The Light is the light of the Qur’an, the niche the believer’s breast, the lamp is the Qur’an, and the glass his heart. Ubayy b. Ka`b, Ibn `Abbas and a few others expressed opinions close to this.
Yusuf Ali offers a few clues and opens new avenues of thought: “The first three points in the Parable center round the symbols of the Niche, the Lamp, and the Glass. (1) The Niche (Mishkat) is the little shallow recess in the wall of an Eastern house, fairly high from the ground, in which a light (before the days of electricity) was usually placed. Its height enabled it to diffuse the light in the room and minimised the shadows. The background of the wall and the sides of the niche helped to throw the light well into the room, and if the wall was white-washed, it also acted as a reflector: the opening in front made the way for the light. So with the spiritual Light; it is placed high, above worldly things; it has a niche or habitation of its own, in Revelation and other Signs of Allah; its access to men is by a special Way, open to all, yet closed to those who refuse its rays. (2) The Lamp is the core of the spiritual Truth, which is the real illumination; the Niche is nothing without it; the Niche is actually made for it. (3) The Glass is the transparent medium through which the Light passes. On the one hand, it protects the light from moths and other forms of low life and from gusts of wind, and on the other, it transmits the light through a medium which is made up of and akin to the grosser substances of the earth (such as sand, soda, potash, etc.), so arranged as to admit the subtle to the gross by its transparency. So the spiritual Truth has to be filtered through human language or human intelligence to make it intelligible to mankind.”
81. Asad notes: ‘The “lamp” is the revelation which God grants to His prophets and which is reflected in the believer’s heart – the “niche” of the above parable (Ubayy ibn Ka`b as quoted by Tabari) – after being received and consciously grasped by his reason .. for it is through reason alone that true faith finds its way into the heart of man.’
82. “Neither eastern nor western”: once again, there are several opinions. Tabari’s own preference is that the olive tree is situated in such a way that it receives full light from the sun – in the east-west direction. Such an olive tree yields full fruit. However, Hasan has said that it is not a tree of this earth but rather heavenly, and hence neither eastern nor western.
Ubayy b. Ka`b said, “That is how a believer is. He is protected from calamities touching him, and if struck, he is helped by Allah to remain steadfast. Thus he lives following four conditions: if he speaks, he speaks the truth; if he judges, he judges in justice; if he is tried, he observes patience; and if given, is grateful. Among others (not of his class) he is like a living person walking about between the dead in the graves (Ibn Kathir).
Yusuf Ali adds: “This Olive is not localised. It is neither of the East nor of the West. It is universal, for such is Allah’s Light. As applied to the olive, there is also a more literal meaning, which can be allegorised in a different way. An olive tree with an eastern aspect gets only the rays of the morning sun; one with a western aspect, only the rays of the western sun. In the northern hemisphere the south aspect will give the sun’s rays a great part of the day, while a north aspect will shut them out altogether, and vice versa in the southern hemisphere. But a tree in the open plain or on a hill will get perpetual sunshine by day; it will be more mature, and the fruit and oil will be of superior quality. So Allah’s light is not localised or immature: it is perfect and universal.”
83. That is, the Qur’anic revelation is of such qualities as to shine by itself. When details, evidences and other signs are added, then it is light upon light (Ibn Jarir).
84.Ubay b. Ka`b commented on “light upon light” in the following words:”So (the possessor) goes about with five kinds of nur: His speech is nur, his action is nur, his entry is nur, his departure is nur and his ultimate destination is nur on the Day of Standing to Paradise” (Ibn Kathir).
Asad again, “The essence of the Qur’anic message is described elsewhere as ‘clear [in itself] and clearly showing the truth’… and it is, I believe, this aspect of the Qur’an that the above sentence alludes to. Its message gives light because it proceeds from God; but ‘it would well-nigh give light [of itself] even though fire had not touched it’: i.e., even though one may be unaware that it has been ‘touched by the fire’ of divine revelation, its inner consistency, truth and wisdom ought to be self-evident to anyone who approaches it in the light of his reason and without prejudice.”
85. A hadith explains this. Imam Ahmad reports the Prophet as having said, “Allah created His creation in darkness then He threw of His Light on them. So, whosoever received the Light that day, was guided aright, while he who missed it, went astray.” (Suyuti declared the report as trustworthy in his Jami`: Au.). Another hadith – quite trustworthy – of Imam Ahmad says, “Hearts are of four kinds, (a) a clear heart like a shining lamp; (b) a covered heart, bound from all sides; (c) a heart turned upside down; and (d) an armor-clad heart. The clear heart is that of the believer. It has its shine. The closed heart is that of the unbeliever. The heart turned upside down is that of the hypocrite: he knew and then denied. As for the armor-clad heart, it is one which has both faith and hypocrisy embedded in it. The example of the faith in it is like a plant that is helped by clean water; and the example of hypocrisy in it is like that of a wound which is worsened by blood and pus. So, whichever of the two overcomes the other, dominates” (Ibn Kathir).
86. “I.e., because of their complexity, certain truths can be conveyed only by means of parables and allegories” (Asad).
Thanwi writes: In the like manner, when Allah (swt) places the light of His guidance into the heart of a believer, then, his willingness to receive the guidance increases by the day as he is ever ready to act according to commandments. Sometimes, he might not even be aware of the commandments, for knowledge is obtained gradually, (yet he is ever ready to obey) in the same manner as the oil, which would light up even if fire did not touch it. When he obtains knowledge, then, with his resolve to live by it, which is a higher state, his light of knowledge blends with it, and the fusing together of knowledge and action (`ilmwa `amal) get transformed into true light. It does not happen with him that when he receives knowledge, he suffers from indecision or procrastination, so that, if it agrees with the baser self then it is accepted, and when not, rejected. This opening of the heart and the light have been referred to in another verse which says (39: 22),
“He then, whose heart Allah opened for Islam, so that he is upon a Light from his Lord..” and, in another place (6: 144), “Then whomsoever that Allah wishes to guide, He opens his heart for Islam.”