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Allah says: “Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. His Light (in the Universe) may be likened to a niche wherein is a lamp, and the lamp is in the crystal which shines in star-like brilliance. It is lit from (the oil) of a blessed olive tree, that is neither eastern nor western. Its oil practically glows (by itself) as if no fire touched it. Light upon Light, Allah guides to His Light whom He wills. Allah sets forth parables to make people understand. Allah knows everything.” (24 An-Nur:35)

 

Light is something which makes things visible, which is itself clear and unmistakable to the eye or mind and helps make other things clear. The human mind conceives light in this very sense. Absence of light is termed darkness, invisibility and obscurity. On the other hand, when there is visibility and things become exposed to view, man says there is light. Allah has been called Light in this basic sense, and not in the sense of a beam of light which travels at the speed of 186,000 miles per second and stimulates the optic nerve through the retina. This conception of light has nothing to do with the reality of the meaning for which the human mind has coined this word. All human words used for Allah are used in their basic sense and meaning, and refer to their physical connotation. For instance, when, the word sight is used with respect to Allah, it does not mean that Allah has an eye like men, or animals with which He sees. Similarly, when we say that Allah hears or grips or grasps, it does not mean that He hears through ears, or grips or grasps with the hand like us. These words are used in a metaphorical sense that describe a thing by comparing it to some other thing.

 

Only a man of very poor intelligence would have the misconception that hearing, seeing or grasping is not possible except in the limited and specific sense in which we experience it. Similarly it would be shortsighted to interpret the word light in the sense of physical light rays emanating from a luminous body and affecting the retina. This word is not applicable to Allah in its limited sense, but in its absolute sense. That is, He alone in this universe is the real and prime cause of making everything clear, otherwise there is nothing but darkness here. Everything which gives light and illuminates other things has received its light from Him. It has no light of its own.

 

The word light is also used for knowledge. Therefore, ignorance is termed as darkness. Allah is the Light of the universe in this sense too, because the knowledge of reality and of right guidance can be obtained from Him alone. Without recourse to His Light, there will be nothing but the darkness of ignorance and the resultant vice and wickedness in the world.

 

In this parable, Allah has been likened to the Lamp and the universe to the Niche. The glass shade is the veil behind which Allah has concealed Himself from His creation. This veil is not a physical veil, but a veil caused by the intensity of divine clarity. The human eye is unable to see Him, not because of the intervening darkness, but because of the intensity of the all pervading, all-embracing Light, radiating through the transparent veil. The human vision, which is limited in nature, cannot comprehend it. It can only comprehend and perceive limited physical lights, which vary in brightness, which disappear and reappear, and Which can be perceived only by contrast to existing darkness. The Absolute Light has no confronting darkness. It does not vanish. It shines forth and pervades all around, with ever existing glory. It is beyond human perception and comprehension.

 

As for the lamp, which is lit with the oil of a blessed olive tree, which is neither eastern nor western, is to give an idea of the perfect light of the lamp, and its brilliance. In ancient times the source for brilliant light were the olive lamps, and the most superior oil for the purpose was that obtained from a tree standing in an open and elevated place. The tag name of Lamp, for Allah in the parable does not mean that Allah is deriving His energy from some external source. It only means that the Lamp in the parable is not an ordinary lamp, but the most brilliant lamp, that can be imagined. Just as a brilliant lamp illuminates the whole house, so does Allah illuminate the whole universe.

 

Again, the words “its oil is (so fine) as if it were to shine by itself, without fire having touched it” are also meant to emphasize the brilliance of the light of the lamp, which is being fed by the finest and most combustible oil. The olive, being neither eastern, nor western, and the high combustibility of its oil are not the essential elements of the parable, but are attributes of the lamp, which is the primary element of the parable. The essential elements of the parable are three: the Lamp, the Niche and the transparent Glass Shade.

 

The sentence: “His light may be likened,” dispels any possible misunderstanding that one could get from the words: “Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth.” This shows that the use of the word light for Allah does not at all mean that the essence of His Being is nothing but light. In essence, He is a Perfect Being, Who is All-Knowing, All-Powerful, All-Wise etc. and also possessing All Light. He has been called Light itself because of His Perfection, as a source of Light, just as somebody may be called Grace on account of his being highly gracious and beneficent, or Beauty because of his being highly beautiful and attractive.

 

Although Allah’s Light illuminates the whole world, everybody does not and cannot perceive it. It is Allah alone Who blesses whomsoever He wills with the capacity for perceiving His Light, and benefiting by it. Just as the day and night are alike to a blind man, so is the case of a man without the gift of inner perception. He may see the electric light, the sunlight, the moonlight and the light from stars, but he cannot perceive the Light of Allah. For him there is nothing but darkness in the universe. Just as a blind man cannot see the stone in his way unless he stumbles over it, so is the man without the gift of inner perception, who cannot perceive even those realities around him which may be all brilliance and shining by Allah’s Light. He will perceive them only when he is overtaken by the consequences of his own misdeeds.

 

This means two things: First, He knows what parable can best explain a certain reality, and secondly, He knows who is entitled to receive this bounty and who is not. Allah has no need to show His Light to the one who has no desire or longing for it, and who is utterly lost in worldly pursuits and in seeking material pleasures and gains. This bounty can be bestowed only on the one, who in the knowledge of Allah has a sincere desire for it.

 

Allah says: “(Those who are directed to this Light are found) in houses which Allah has allowed to be raised and wherein His name is to be remembered. In them people glorify Him in the morning and in the evening,” (24 An-Nur:36)

 

Some commentators have interpreted these houses to mean the mosques, and raising them to mean constructing and reverencing them. Some others, however, take them to mean the houses of the believers, and raising them, to mean, raising their moral status. The words to mention His name therein seem to refer to the mosques and support the first interpretation, but if we look deeper, we see that they also support the second interpretation, equally well. This is because divine law does not confine worship to mosques alone, as is the case with the priest-ridden religions where the rituals can only be performed under the leadership of a clergy. In Islam a house is also a place of worship, like the mosque, and every man is his own priest. As this Surah mostly contains instructions for ennobling domestic life, we feel, that the second interpretation is more in keeping with the context, though there is no reason for rejecting the first interpretation. There will be no harm if both the mosques and the houses of the believers are implied here.

 

Allah says: “people whom neither commerce nor striving after profit diverts them from remembering Allah, from establishing Prayer, and from paying Zakah; people who dread the Day on which all hearts will be overturned and eyes will be petrified;” (24 An-Nur:37)

Allah says: “(people who do all this) so that Allah may reward them in accordance with the best that they did; indeed He will bestow upon them more out of His Bounty, for Allah grants whomsoever He wills beyond all measure.” (24 An-Nur:38)

 

Here those characteristics have been described, which are necessary, for the true reception of Allah’s Absolute Light, and for benefiting from His bounties. Allah does not bestow His bounties without reason. He bestows them on the deserving ones alone. He only sees this, that the recipient has sincere love for Him, stands in awe of Him, seeks His favors, and avoids His wrath. He is not lost in material pursuits, but in spite of his worldly engagements keeps his heart warm with God’s remembrance. Such a person does not rest content with low spiritual levels, but actively endeavors to attain the heights towards which, his Master may guide him.

 

He does not go for the paltry gains of this transitory world, but has his gaze constantly fixed on the everlasting life of the Hereafter. These are the things which determine whether or not a person should be granted the favor to benefit from Allah’s Light. Then, when Allah is pleased to bestow His bounties, He bestows them without measure; and it will be man’s own incapacity if he does not receive them in full.

 

Allah says: “But for those who deny the Truth, their deeds are like a mirage in the desert, which the thirsty supposes to be water until he comes to it, only to find, that it was nothing. He found instead, that Allah was with Him and He paid his account in full. Allah is swift in settling the account.” (24 An-Nur:39)

 

That means, they refused to sincerely accept the divine message, which was brought by the Prophets, and which, at that time was being given by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). These verses clearly show that only the truthful and righteous believers can benefit from Allah’s Light. In contrast to them, the state of those people is being described here, who refused to believe and obey the Prophet (pbuh), who was the real and only means of attaining the Light of Allah.

 

This parable describes the condition of those people who, in spite of disbelief and hypocrisy, practice some good deeds and also believe, among other things, in the life after death. In the hope, that their good deeds will be of some help to them, in the Hereafter even if they did not believe in, and follow the Prophet, and lacked the qualities of true believers. In this parable they are being told, that their expectations of reaping benefits, in the Hereafter, from their flashy deeds of virtue, are no more than a mirage.

 

Just as a traveler in the desert takes the glittering sands for a surging pool of water and runs towards it to quench his thirst, so are these people traveling on the road to death, cherishing false hopes on account of their good deeds. But, just as the one running towards a mirage does not find anything there to quench his thirst, so will these people find nothing to avail them when they enter the state of death. On the contrary, they will find Allah there, Who will require them to account for their disbelief, hypocrisy and misdeeds, which they committed along with their showy deeds of virtue, and will deal with them in full justice.

 

Allah says: “Or its similitude is that of depths of darkness upon an abysmal sea, covered by a billow, above which is a billow, above which is cloud, creating darkness piled one upon another. When he puts forth his hand, he could scarcely see it. He to whom Allah assigns no light, he will have no light.” (24 An-Nur:40)

 

This parable describes the condition of all the disbelievers and hypocrites including those who perform good deeds for show. It is being stated that such people are passing their life in a state of absolute and complete ignorance. Whether they are the most learned people in the world and leaders in their respective fields of learning. They are like the man who is lost in complete darkness where no ray of light can reach him. They think that knowledge merely consists in producing atom bombs, hydrogen bombs, supersonic planes and moon rockets, or in attaining excellence in economics, finance, law and philosophy.

 

However, they little understand that real knowledge is something entirely different and they have no idea of it. They are ignorant, and an illiterate peasant who has gained some acquaintance of the divine truth is wiser than them.

 

Here is stated the real object of the discourse which began with: “Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth.” When in fact there is no light in the universe except, the Light of Allah. All manifestation of reality is due to that Light. From where, can the one whom Allah does not give light, have light? There exists no other source of light, from where he can receive even a ray.

 

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