Lecture 5 and 6 in the Ramadaan series:


Wednesday 29 and 30 April 2020 (5 and 6 Ramadaan 1441)

Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town

Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider

Tonight, we would like to address another important and highly debated issue in the Quran which is the concept of Divine Light or “Nur-ullah”. 

This discussion has much details since philosophers and scholars, mystics and exegetes, etc. have all discussed it deeply and in a rather complex manner. 

But for the purposes of our discussions we will try to respond to this question in a manner that would be beneficial to all. 


Firstly, let’s try to understand the word Nur or light itself. 

Light is a commonly used word and naturally we all have an understanding of what light is. Of course, the scientific definition of light is a completely different discussion but that is not our topic here. We are talking about the common man’s understanding of the word “light”. 

Light is something that is defined by having primarily two qualities: 

  • it is something visible by itself; and
  • it illuminates other things and thus makes them known

Light itself needs nothing to make it visible. It is visible by itself. 

But it also illuminates and brightens or shows other things that would not have been known to exist if light was not there.

For example, if you are in dark room, you cannot see what is inside it. But when you switch on the light, only then do you see light itself PLUS this light shows the other objects in the room too. 

This definition applies to any light no matter how strong or weak it is, whether you referring to the light of the sun, a light bulb in your house, the light of a candle, etc. – this definition applies to all these forms of light. 

In other words, this is light in the sense of physical objects or corporeal objects perceived by our senses. 


In fact, the same definition of light also applies to intellectual concepts or metaphysical objects.

Certain intellectual concepts are called light because they are visible themselves and at the same time they illuminate other notions. 

For example, knowledge is light because just like light is something that is known, so knowledge is also known. At the same time, it provides the ability to see and understand what was unseen, unnoticed, or simply not understood prior to the advent of that knowledge. Once you have knowledge then it makes it possible for what was unseen prior to the advent of that knowledge to also become known. 

Thus, knowledge brings enlightenment as it makes unclear things clear. 

Thus, the same definition applies to this intellectual concept like physical light – as it provides the ability to see or understand unknown things.


In the Quran Almighty Allah uses the term “light” numerous times and in numerous ways. From my count, the Quran uses the term “light” at least 36 times or more. 

And the usage of the term “light” is not in relation to one meaning or concept only. The Quran uses the term “light” with numerous meanings too. Some scholars say that the Quran uses the term “light” to refer to 14 different notions and I will make reference to some of these notions. 

Firstly, the Quran refers to “light” in a material sense like the light of the sun and moon. We read in Surah Nuh Verse 16:

  وَجَعَلََ الْقَمَرََ فيِهِنََّ نُورًا وَجَعَلََ الشَّمْسََ سِرَاجًا

“And has made the moon a light therein and made the sun a brilliant lamp”.

Here the Quran is referring to light in terms of something that has a “physical” existence.  

Then there are a number of intellectual notions in the Quran for which the term “Nur” or “Light” is used to explain these notions. You may ask why that is so. And the answer again is that it is because those concepts have these 2 qualities of light that we mentioned in its definition: 

  • the concepts are self evident just as light is self evident; and
  • they expose other concepts too by making them known. 

The first example hereof is the Quran itself is “Nur” or “Light”. For example, we read in Surah Ma’ida Verse 15:

  قَدَْ جَاءكُم مِّنََ الَلِّ نُو رَ وَكِتَا بَ مُّبِي نَ

“Indeed there has come to you, from Allah, a Light and a clear Book.”

Why is the Quran referred to as “Nur”? Because it is clear like light is clear AND it enlightens our minds and removes us from darkness of taking the wrong path. Thus, the Verse 16 of Surah Ma’ida further elaborates this point when it says the following about the Quran: 

يَهْدِي بِهَِ الَلُّ مَنَِ اتَّبَعََ رِضْوَانَهَُ سُبُلََ السَّلامََِ وَيُخْرِجُهُم مِّنَِ الظُّلمَُاتَِ إلَِى النُّورَِ

 بِإذِْنِهَِ وَيَهْدِيهِمَْ إلَِى صِرَا طَ مُّسْتَقِي مَ

“With it Allah guides whoever follows His pleasure into the ways of safety, and He brings them out of darkness towards the Light by His Will, and guides them to a right path.”

A second example that can be mentioned is that “Imaan” or faith is considered to be “light”. We read in Surah Baqarah Verse 257 (which is part of the 3 Verses making up Ayatul Kursi), that Allah says:

  الَلُّ وَليَُِّ الذَِّينََ آمَنُواْ يُخْرِجُهُم مِّنََ الظُّلمَُاتَِ إلَِى النُّوُرَِ

“Allah is the Guardian of those who have faith; He brings them out of darkness into light”

Similarly, we see in a third example in reference to Islam itself, it is considered a “light”. We thus read in Surah Saf Verse 8:

  يُرِيدُونََ ليُِطْفئُِوا نُورََ الَلَِّ بِأفَْوَاهِهِمَْ وَالَلَُّ مُتمَُِّ نُورِهَِ

“They intend to extinguish the Light of Allah with their mouths [namely their empty words and slanders]. But Allah will bring His Light to perfection”


Fourthly we see that Prophet Muhammad (sawa) himself is referred to as “light”.  

We read in Surah Ahzab in Verses 45 and 46 that Almighty Allah says the following in relation to Prophet Muhammad (sawa) himself when it says:

  يَآ أيَُّهَا النَّبِيَُّ اِنَّآ أرَْسَلْنَاكََ شَاهِداً وَمُبَشّـرِاً وَنَذِيراً  وَدَاعِياً اِلَي الَلَِّ بِاِذْنِهَِ وَسِرَاجاً مُّنِيراً

“O Prophet! Verily We have sent you as a witness, and as a bearer of glad tiding and as a warner,”

“And as one inviting to Allah by His leave, and as a light-giving lamp.”

Here we see Prophet Muhammad (sawa) is referred to as being “Siraajan muneeran” or a “light- giving” or “radiant” lamp.  

Besides Prophet Muhammad (sawa) being referred to as “light” in the Quran, even Imam Mahdi (a.s) is referred to as “light” in the Quran. We derive this from Surah Zumar Verse 69 which refers to the era of Imam Mahdi (a.s) when the earth will be beaming with the Nur of Allah which is the time when no other system except Islam will operate in this world. 

We read in this verse:

  وَأشَْرَقَتَِ الْْرَْضَُ بِنُورَِ رَبِّهَا

“[On that Day] the earth will shine with the Light of its Lord”.

All these different notions are referred to as “Nur” or “light” as they are considered to have the same qualities of being clear themselves and enlightening others. Prophets and Imams, besides being clear themselves, they also enlighten the earth.  


In the Ahadith of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) and the Imams of the Ahlul Bait (a.s), the term “light” has similarly been used to refer to many things and concepts. I will just give you two examples in this regard.

One is that in the Ahadith, knowledge itself is called light. For example, it says:

“Knowledge is a light that Allah casts in any heart that He wills.”

Another reference in the narrations is that we refer to the Imams as “light”. As we read in Ziyarat-iJami‘ah:

“Allah created you (as) lights, then He set you encircled (His Throne).” In the same Ziyarat we read:

“You are the light for the good ones and guiders of those who do good deeds.”

And there is much more that can be mentioned. 


Thus far our discussion seems to have been relatively easy to understand. But then there is something much more complicated when we read in the Quran that Allah refers to Himself as Light. 

Surah Nur in the Quran is named as such because it is the Surah in which Allah refers to Himself as Nur or “Light”.  

The very famous Verse called Ayah of Nur or the Verse of Light is Verse 35 of Surah Nur which is a lengthy Verse but its first part reads as follows:

  الَلَُّ نُورَُ السَّمَاوَاتَِ وَالارَْض

“Allah is light of the heavens and the earth”

And this is one of the most difficult verses to understand in the Quran. It has resulted in different scholars from different persuasions having gone into discussing this verse in great detail. 

Why is it difficult to understand? 

It is because the other verses that we have made reference to wherein the Quran uses the term “light”, it all applies to the different “creation” of Allah, whereas here in Ayah Nur or Verse 35 of Surah Nur, Allah refers to Himself as Nur or “Light”.

This seems like a contraction. 

We read in Surah An’am Verse 1 as follows:

  الْحَمْدَُ لَِِِّ الذَِّي خَلَقََ السَّمَاوَاتَِ وَالْرَْضََ وَجَعَلََ الظُّلمَُاتَِ وَالنُّورََ

“(All) praise belongs to Allah, Who created the heavens and the earth and appointed darkness and light”

Here we clearly see that Allah is the one who made light and darkness. And there are various references like this in the Quran.

So, we see that Nur or Light is a creation of Allah whether it be light in a physical sense or light in a metaphysical sense (ma’qoolat) it is still the creation Allah. How can the creation of Allah be Nur or “Light” while at the same Allah Himself is Nur or “Light”??

This conundrum is answered on multiple levels. 

Firstly, a primary level response to the meaning of “Allah is the Light of the Heavens and the Earth” is that it is presented in the form of an exemplification and not with the intention that Allah is Light itself. 

So, Allah is exemplifying Himself to Nur or Light because He is clear and He illuminates everything else and whatever we see in this world is because He illuminated it. In other words the use of word “Nur” is figurative and not real in this ayah for Almighty. In fact, this interpretation is saying that You can compare Almighty to Physical light due to those common two qualities between him and light.

If Allah is not there, it will be like darkness like we discussed the example of a dark room – if there is no light in the room, we will not be able to see what is inside it, even though there might actually be something inside the room. It is the light that enlightens us about what is in the room. 

This explanation might not be wrong but of course is not a conclusive one.

Another explanation given is that Allah is Nur refers to the fact that Allah is the Guide of the heavens and the earth. Like Light, Allah doesn’t need to be guided but he is the One who guides whoever is in the earth and heavens generatively as well as legislatively. This is mentioned in one of narrations reported from the 8th Imam of Ahlulbait (as). 

But again, the use of word Nur in the ayah will be metaphorical.

All the responses given from the most deepest and delicate ones by the Urafa or mystics to regular commentators of the Quran have taken this principle definition of light as their criteria (light is visible by itself and it illuminates others). 


A second, more deep response given by exegetes and even philosophers is that the meaning of “Allah is the Light of the Heavens and the Earth” is that Allah is Nur in the REAL sense as He is THEE most evident and visible Reality and Truth. There is nothing more clear or obvious than Almighty Allah.  

In this explanation hereof, unlike the previous one that says it is an exemplification, this deeper meaning is indicating that Allah is Nur or Light itself. In other words, the use of the word “Nur” for Allah (self-evident and illuminative and manifesting others) is Real and it is taken from there and used for other objects metaphorically. 

Based upon this, all other “Nur” that the Quran speaks about and makes reference to are “reflections” of that Real Nur. None of them are Nur in the Real sense as they are not genuinely visible BY THEMSELVES. In their own visibility, they require Light of Almighty Allah. 

Until Allah does not illuminate them, they are not illuminated or visible. Once they become visible from Almighty Allah, then they illuminate others. 

Example – who gives knowledge? Allah does. So, knowledge by itself is not genuinely visible. Once it has been made visible by Allah, then it becomes itself visible and illuminates others. 

So, the definition of Light – that it is visible itself and makes everything else visible – it only truly and genuinely applies to Almighty Allah. Thus, the use of the word Nur for Allah is in its Real sense and not an exemplification. 

This profound understanding is in fact, inspired from divinely words of Ahlul Bait (a.s). 

Let us examine a few verses of the very mystical Dua of Arafah of Imam Husayn (a.s) which demonstrates to us why Almighty Allah is Nur in the Real sense. In the latter portion of this long dua he says:  ايَكُونَُ ل غ يْْكََ  منََ الظهُو رَ ما ليْسََ لكََ

  حَتَّ يكُونََ هُوََ المُظ هرََ لكََ

“Can anything other than You hold a (kind of) manifestation (visibility) that You lack and thus, it may act as an appearance for You? Or can manifest you”

It is basically asking is there any one that has visibility or clarity more than Allah such that the more visible thing can illuminate Allah?!

This goes back to the definition of light. Light is visible by itself and illuminates others. So, Imam Husayn (a.s) is saying that Allah is the most visible Existence, so can we use something to find Allah which in its light and radiance is much weaker than Allah’s Light. It’s like attempting to use a torch or a candle to show the sun!!   

Yes, sometimes abundance and excess of something results in overlooking the same thing without our realising it. If sometimes the notion of Almighty Allah becomes peculiar to us, it is due its extraordinary visibility of Him the exalted.

The great 19th century philosopher, Mulla Hadi Sabzwari was someone who wrote a summary of main subjects of philosophy in the form of a poem which is contained in his famous work called Sharhu Manzuma. 

In this book he has a couplet wherein he says about Allah: 

 »يا مَ نْ هوَُْ ا ختفَىَ لفِ رَطِْ نورِهِ، الظاّهِرُْ ا لباطِنُْ فى ظهُورِهِْ«

“O One who is hidden due to abundance of his Light”!

Who’s outer (apparent) is exactly his inner in his manifestation”

When something becomes too bright, then you cannot see it as our eyes cannot tolerate it directly. It is like our physical eyes cannot look directly into the sun as it is too bright.

In other words, nothing is an obstacle between us and Him except an excess of His Illumination and our incapacity to tolerate it.  


So, when we put our elaboration of the above mentioned second perspective all together, then we come to a certain understanding of the verse “Allah is the Light of the Heavens and the Earth”.

But before we mention what that is, it is necessary to understand what does “the Heavens and the Earth” in this verse refer to?

Heavens and Earth here does not mean the heavens which is above us and the earth that we live on but refers to the “Aalam ulyaa” and “Aalam suflaa” or the “higher world” and the “lower world” which is the totality of existence.

Therefore “Allah is the Light of the Heavens and the Earth” means Allah is the ONLY Light of whatever exists. All other things that we consider Nur is a reflection of that Original Nur. 

And thus, Imam Husayn (a.s) also says in Dua Arafah:

  مَت  غبْتََ حَتَّ تََْتاجََ ا لى دَلي لَ يدُلَُّ عَليْكََ

“When you were absent that you need to bring a sign for your presence”?


There is a delicate point I wish to explain here, from Allama Tabataba’i. He concludes that if Almighty Allah (SWT) is Noor and everything is receiving its visibility and appearance from Allah (SWT), it means that He is not unknown to anything which exists! Allah is known to EVERTHING that is created – not only to human beings.

This is because the appearance of everything whether it is appearance of itself or appearance for others, it is all exactly the illumination of Almighty Allah (SWT), because He is the one who is visible by Essence. 

Therefore, Allama Tabataba’i explains this truth and reality from verse 41 of Surah Noor (chapter 24 of the Holy Quran):

أَلََْ تَ رَ أنَّ اللهَ يسَبحُ لهُ مَنْ فِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْْرْضِِ وَالطيْ رُ صَافاتٍ  ْۖ  كُلٌّ قدْ عَلمَ صَلََتهُ

 وَتسْبيحَهُ  ْۖ وَاللهُ  عَليمٌ بِا ي فْعَلونَ

“Do you not see that Allah is He Whom do glorify all those who are in the heavens and the earth, and the (very) birds with expanded wings? He knows the prayer of each one and its glorification, and Allah is Cognizant of what they do.”

For who is this Tasbih (glorification) and knowledge of Tasbih and knowledge of praying, other than Allah (SWT)? It makes no sense for it to be anyone else. They know Allah (SWT) and therefore they know why they are performing Tasbih. 

Verse 44 of Surah Israa (chapter 17 of the Holy Quran) amplifies the point of there being nothing in this world except which glorifies Allah (SWT).

 وَإنْ مِنْ شَيْءٍ إلََّّ يسَبحُ بِِمْدِهِ وَََٰلكِنْ لََّ تَ فْقَهُونَ تسْبيحَهُمْ  ْۖ 

“And there is not a single thing but glorifies Him with His praise, but you do not understand their glorification.”


The mystics take this understanding further by saying that the meaning of “Allah is the Light of the Heavens and the Earth” means “Allah is the Existence of the Heavens and the Earth”.  

For them, Allah is not only the Most Evident or Most Visible, but they say Real Nur or Light is the Truth or Reality of Existence itself. 

For them “Nur” is equal to “Wujood” (Existence or Being). 

Allamah Tabataba’i explains that any substance or concept only becomes visible or a tangible reality when it comes into existence. 

For example, you can imagine a bird with 200 wings, 500 legs, 5 kilometres width, etc. but this is only an image in your mind – it does not have a tangible reality because it does not ACTUALLY exist beyond the mental existence in your mind as it does not exist in the outside real world. 

When does it become visible? When it gets existence. As soon as it gets existence, it is visible. 

Naturally until existence is not there for any notion or substance, it will not be visible.

Therefore, if you look at any object in this world, it only becomes visible when it exists and comes into being from non-being.

They thus say that if the above mentioned is the case, then nothing is really visible or Nur other than Almighty Allah! Real Existence is only the Existence of Allah because the idea of “evident by itself” only applies on Him. We are visible because He gave us existence, and our visibility depends completely on Allah. 

But since Allah Exists Essentially by Himself who does not get His existence from outside, therefore in Real sense only on Him the word Nur applies. 

So “zuhur” which is the spirit of Nur or Light is basically “wujood” or “existence” and the “Light of Lights” which is the source of all existence which does not need someone else to give it visibility. It is self-visible, it is Wajibul Wujud (Necessary Existence which is Allah) which is “Nurun Nur” (Light of lights) or “Creator of lights” or “Light before all lights” or “Light after all lights” (like we read in Dua Jawshin Kabeer). 

As you can see this mystical understanding is also inspired by the Ahlul Bait (a.s) and again I refer you to Dua Arafah of Imam Husayn (as) wherein he says:

 كَيْفََ يسْتدَلَُّ عَليْكََ  بِا هُوََ فى وجُو دهَ  مُفْت ق رَ ا ليْكََ

“How can You be figured out through that whose existence relies on You?


Now we explore a further explanation given by Urafa and examine the thoughts of scholars whose line of thinking is influenced by Hikmahtul Ishraaq or the Illuminationist Philosophy of a Great Scholar called Shahaabudien Sahrawardi and also Ibn Arabi. 

They say when we defined Wujood or Existence as Nur or Light, then we have to understand the concept of Existence with the understanding of the concept of Light. 

They then try to explain what the relationship is between this Real Nur or Wujud (Existence) which is Existence by itself vis a vis other existents or beings. Other beings are possible beings where their existence is obtained from Almighty Allah. 

This is where the explanation gets spectacular.

They say between cause and effect, the relationship between these 2 can be understood in 2 ways. 

Firstly, between cause and effect, the relationship is based upon acknowledging the existence of the cause and the existence of the effect and then establishing a connection between these 2 called “causality” (illiyyat). Of course, we accept that the effect comes after the cause. 

But then these scholars explain in the background of the understanding of Divine Light that sometimes the relationship between cause and effect is “Ishraaqiyya” meaning “illuminative”.   

Consider how does light shine over other objects and make them visible to us? In this phenomenon it is only light which really is active and effective. From this manifestation they draw the relationship between Almighty Allah and His creation in the sense of existence that the relationship is relationship of illumination. 

The example presented earlier of imagining a bird of numerous dimensions is one of the best examples to understand this concept as well. When does that image of the bird with all its dimensions exist in your mind? As soon as your place your focussed attention on it – it is there immediately. Your focussed attention illuminates the image of the bird in your mind.

This means we do not consider or acknowledge a real existence for the effect when the existence of the effect itself is coming from the cause. 

It must be understood that cause is not only the physical causes or any of the other preparatory causes, but cause is that which gives existence itself. Now the cause that gives existence itself to the effect means that without giving existence to the effect, the effect does not exist. 

Now they want to explain how Almighty Allah grants this existence to something that did not exist which is only maybe a notion or substance. They say it becomes a “sort of reality” or existence or “mawjud”.  

Here all the emphasis is on this “connection” and not on the effect itself. For them the effect is basically the “connection” itself and dependency itself.  

Here cause and effect is not considered separate. So, to explain this relationship, they basically say the effect is like a shadow of light. 

This is the foundation upon which the philosophy of Suhrawardi is based – the concept of Divine Light and Shadow. 

So here they thus interpret “Allah is the Light of the Heavens and the Earth” to mean Allah is the ONLY Existent in the higher and lower worlds (Aalam ulyaa and aalam suflaa). For them Allah is the Nur and everything else is a shadow. Shadow does not have a real existence – it’s just a reflection. 

Now we further understand that verse of the Dua Arafah of Imam Husayn (a.s) that we quoted earlier:

  كَيْفََ يسْتدَلَُّ عَليْكََ  بِا هُوََ فى وجُو دهَ  مُفْت ق رَ ا ليْكََ

“How can You be figured out through that whose existence relies on You?”

This means how can one the prove existence of Allah through an effect while the effect is nothing but a shadow of Allah?! 

Also in Dua Kumayl we get this same idea when it says:

 وَب نو رَ وجْ هكََ ال ذي أضَاءََ لهَُ كُلَُّ شَيْ ء

“And by the light of Your face, through which all things are illumined!”

This means nothing is visible or exists but is a reflection of the Light of Allah. In reality they are nothing but have a “shadowy” existence, not a Real Existence.  

Ibn Arabi uses Surah Furqaan Verse 45 to prove this concept which reads:

  ألََمَْ تَرََ إلَِى رَبِّكََ كَيْفََ مَدََّ الظِّلََّ

“Have you not seen your Lord, how He extends the shadow?”


The final point I would like to share based on the above outcome of our discussion is to see how it is reflected in various Ahadith of the Prophet (sawa) and the Ahlul Bait (a.s) when they refer to themselves also as Nur or Light. 

Example when Prophet Muhammad (sawa) says “The first thing Allah created was my Nur or Light”.  

What does this mean? 

It means that the reflection of that Real Nur in “Allah is the Light of the Heavens and the Earth” first reflected in the form of “the Reality of Muhammad (sawa)” (Haqiqati Muhammadiyya) or in form of the “Anwaarullah” which are the Ahlul Bait (a.s) (like we address them in Ziyarat Jaamia). 

Similarly there are other Ahadith with these concepts in it. 

Scholars explain to us that since the Light of Allah is in abundant or excessive, access to that Light is sometimes almost impossible to capture as elaborated by Mulla Sabzwari.

So our access to that Divine Light is through its reflection. They derive this delicate point from Surah Yunus Verse 5:

  هُوََ الذَِّي جَعَلََ الشَّمْسََ ضِيَآءًَ وَالْقَمَرََ نُوراً

“He it is Who made the sun a radiation/reflection and the moon a light”

If one analysis the reality of the solar system then we see that the moon is not the light but gets its light from the sun. Real Nur or light in the solar system belongs to the sun. 

But here the verse is saying that the sun is radiation or reflection because it wants to say that extraction of light of Real Nur is not possible directly from the sun itself and therefore through the moon which is having the light of the sun we extract light. 

Therefore we understand in various Ahadith that our Imams are the Nur or Light of the moon which is a ray of the sun’s climax or the Light of Allah. The Nur of Haqiqat of Muhammad (sawa) or the Lights of Allah being the Imams of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) are the first shadow of the Divine Nur and that is why they are called the Shadow of Allah through whom we have access to the Light of Allah.  

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