Lecture 7 in the Ramadaan series:
UNPACKING THE MOST INTRIGUING QUESTIONS IN THE QURAN
Friday 1 May 2020 (7 Ramadaan 1441)
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
Verse 35 of Surah Noor, which has been the subject of our discussion over the past couple of lectures continues today with some thought-provoking discussion on a striking example referred to in this verse:
اللَّهُ نُورُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ ۚ مَثَلُ نُورِهِ كَمِشْكَاةٍ فِيهَا مِصْبَاحٌ ۖ الْمِصْبَاحُ فِي زُجَاجَةٍ ۖ الزُّجَاجَةُ كَأَنَّهَا كَوْكَبٌ دُرِّيٌّ يُوقَدُ مِنْ شَجَرَةٍ مُبَارَكَةٍ زَيْتُونَةٍ لَا شَرْقِيَّةٍ وَلَا غَرْبِيَّةٍ يَكَادُ زَيْتُهَا يُضِيءُ وَلَوْ لَمْ تَمْسَسْهُ نَارٌ ۚ نُورٌ عَلَىٰ نُورٍ ۗ يَهْدِي اللَّهُ لِنُورِهِ مَنْ يَشَاءُ ۚ وَيَضْرِبُ اللَّهُ الْأَمْثَالَ لِلنَّاسِ ۗ وَاللَّهُ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَلِيمٌ
“Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth; a likeness of His light is as a niche in which is a lamp, the lamp is in a glass, (and) the glass is as it were a brightly shining star, lit from a blessed olive-tree, neither eastern nor western, the oil whereof almost gives light though fire touch it not– light upon light– Allah guides to His light whom He pleases, and Allah sets forth parables for men, and Allah is Cognizant of all things.”
After explaining that Almighty Allah (SWT) is the Divine Light of the heavens and earth and basically all of existence, this verse explains that an example of His light is a lamp which is being placed in a niche. The lamp is in the glass, and the glass covering the lamp is shining like glittering stars. This lamp is lit, receiving its energy with the olive oil of a blessed tree which is neither Eastern nor Western. The oil is so pure and energetic, such that it can be lit without touching the flame! Allah (SWT) guides by His light whomsoever He wishes.
WHAT IS MEANT BY MATHALU NOORIHI (EXAMPLE OF HIS LIGHT)?
Here, the pronoun is Allah (SWT). There is no doubt, the Noor of Allah (SWT) is not referring to Allah (SWT) Himself. It is a specific reference to His light and not Him. This means, it is the light emerging as a reflection of His Divine Light. It is that Noor which gives Light to everything else.
Again, this Noor is not that general, broader Noor which includes everything and everybody. Towards the end of the same verse, we read that Allah (SWT) guides whomever He wants, through this Noor. As discussed previously, this guidance is for the believers (Mu’mineen) and pious people (Muttaqeen). Therefore, this is a very, very special Noor illuminating them.
The other important issue is that this Noor is given a very beautiful example, which is explained in this verse. Now, before we can expand on this example and understand what the similarities are and how this example fits in, I need to explain the elements mentioned in the example, from this verse.
The first is the reference to “niche”, which is a small opening in the wall. In the old days, they use to create a hole in the wall. This opening had the yard on the one side and the room on the other side. The yard-facing part of the opening was covered with glass, for light to come in. In simple terms, the purpose of the niche was like a window.
Also, the role of the niche was that if we place a lamp there during the night, it should be able to provide light inside the room and also be able to provide light into the courtyard, through the glass. In addition, the most important purpose of the niche was that it protects the lamp from extinguishing, in the event of a storm or strong winds which will not let the lamp burn properly.
The second reference is to the lamp itself (Misbah) which as we know has the cotton wick, which burns.
The third reference is to the glass shade. Normally, there would be a rectangular glass on the top of the lamp acting as a shade. This glass would have an opening, and the purpose of the glass was to facilitate proper air circulation and to reflect the light. Since light shines through glass, that flame which is burning from the lamp will generate much increased light when shining through a very clean glass.
The fourth reference is to the oil or fuel, which is under the lamp, providing the energy which keeps the lamp burning.
THE LIGHT OF GUIDANCE EXPLAINED IN ITS FOUR ELEMENTS
These four elements are very important to remember as we build on this discussion. Let us now understand how this example relates to this Noor mentioned earlier.
We noted earlier, that the last part of the verse refers to the Noor of Almighty Allah (SWT) which is reflecting over the Muttaqeen.
Now, what is this Noor? Some commentators of the Holy Quran explained that it is the guidance (Hidayah) of Almighty Allah (SWT), while others have said it refers to the Noor of the Holy Quran itself. Then there are commentators who also belief it refers to faith (Imaan) while others believe it to refer to our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) himself or the Ahlul Bait (a.s).
It does not matter whichever way we look at, as each of these has merit in reference to the Noor of Almighty Allah (SWT). The common theme and spirit in all these opinions is that this Noor refers to guidance. Basically, it is Noor of Hidayah.
Now, how this Noor of Hidayah fits in this example is very beautiful. Therefore, this example is one of the most spectacular and striking examples in the Holy Quran.
Noor of Hidayah which is in the heart of believers has four elements present in a lamp:
- The lamp itself (Misbah) – referring to the flames of Imaan (faith) in the hearts of believers and the rays of guidance emerging from those flames.
- The glass (Zujajah) – referring to the heart of the believer, which is organising the circulation of oxygen and holding the lamp ie. the flames of faith.
- The chest (Mishkaat) – referring to the personality of the believer, which is well aware and fully focussed. It is so strong, such that winds and storms do not impact on the flames burning in the lamp ie. they do not distract the faith of the believer.
- The blessed olive tree (Shajaratin Mubarakatin Zaytoona) – the lamp is getting its energy from the pure tree of olive oil. Our Imams of Ahlul Bait (a.s) have explained that this refers to the Divine Revelation.
So, the burning energy of this lamp is coming from revelation. The “juice” of this revelation (Wahi) in the form of the olive oil from the pure tree is feeding the hearts of the believers through the lamp of faith (Imaan) and guidance (Hidayah) continuously.
THE RIGHTLY GUIDED EXPERIENCE LIGHT UPON LIGHT FLOURISHING BRIGHT
The quality of this “Shajaratin Mubaraka” is “la sharqiyyun wala gharbiyyun” – it is neither Eastern nor Western. What does this mean? There are two possible explanations.
Firstly, it refers to an olive tree placed in a garden in the position where it receives balanced light from the sun. It receives an equivalent amount of light from the East side and the West side. There is maximum penetration from sunlight as a result of this balanced position in the garden and the fruit are the best, resulting in the olive oil being the best too, translating in the best energy for the burning flame.
It is not tilted in any way towards either side. If the position of the tree were to be hanging to either side, then the sun would not reach to the tree and its fruit completely from all directions. The result of this would be that the olives from such a tree would not be fully ready.
Another very important explanation is that this tree is not hanging due to deviation towards one side. This tree is a straight tree and does not have infiltration from right and left. Nobody can influence it.
This then leads to the next part of the verse which says “Noorun alaa Noor” (light upon light). Again, there are two possible interpretations here. The light from the lamp and then also the light exuded from the crystal clear, glittering glass is multiplied.
Another deeper understanding is that this lamp is burning from the oil of revelation (Wahi) as well as from the fuel of intellect (Akl). Therefore, it is “Noorun alaa Noor” (light upon light), because revelation is providing the fuel on the one side and human intellect is supporting this lamp to burn on the other side.
In fact, this is the Noor of Almighty Allah (SWT) which is enlightening the heavens and the earth, and when it comes more specifically in the centre of the heart of the believers, it enlightens in a manner that we see it as light upon light “Noorun alaa Noor”.
CONTINUED REWARD FROM THE DIVINE LIGHT REQUIRES PROTECTION FROM DEVIANT INCLINATIONS
This is one side of the story – the pure oil providing the best energy for the flame to create abundant light through crystal clear glass.
However, to retain this Divine Noor of guidance (hidayah) and faith (Imaan) there are many requirements. The heart has to be like the clean glass. The heart has to remain clean, requiring purification of the soul and noble character in order to benefit from this Noor of Allah (SWT) and protect it in our hearts.
This heart must be protected from deviant material inclinations from the West and East, so that it remains pure (Shajaratin Mubarakatin). It should be so pure that there is no need of the oil to touch the flame to set alight itself! This foundation of this lamp is neither deviant nor confused with different ideas. It is crystal clear.
Allah (SWT) then says that He will guide whomever He wants, through this Noor. This Noor of Almighty Allah (SWT) is in the niche of a Mu’min i.e. in the heart of the believer, covered with the glass shade, fed by this pure oil of intellect (akl) and revelation (wahi). This is the way that Almighty Allah (SWT) says that He gives guidance to the believers and whomever He pleases. He gives examples for people to understand, and of course, He knows everything.
WHO ARE THE MISHKAAT ACCORDING TO THE AHLUL BAIT (A.S)?
In the narrations of the Ahlul Bait (a.s), these elements mentioned in this verse are referred to different personalities, but in the same sense. For example, there are Hadith recorded from the Ahlul Bait (a.s) which indicate that Rasulullah (SAWA) is the Mishkaat, while there are also other Hadith narrations indicating that Mishkaat refers to Lady Fatima Zahra (s.a). Then, there is also Hadith from Imam Ridha (a.s), the 8th Imam of Ahlul Bait (a.s), where he says that they, the Imams of Ahlul Bait (a.s) are the Mishkaat.
If Lady Fatima Zahra (s.a) is the Mishkaat, then the lamp would be the flourishing light of the 12 Imams of Ahlul Bait (a.s). Noorun alaa Noor would then be the light of Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) and Imam Ali (a.s) etc. However, this all has the common context and understanding, that this is Noor of Hidayah from Almighty Allah (SWT) in the form of a lamp protected by the Mishkaat expanded by the glass shade and fuelled by pure olive oil, without any deviation towards right or left. This is how this Divine Noor enlightens.
The next verse, being verse 36 is also most beautiful. Where is this niche? Where is this mishkaat? Verse 36 of Surah Noor explains:
فِي بُيُوتٍ أَذِنَ اللَّهُ أَنْ تُرْفَعَ وَيُذْكَرَ فِيهَا اسْمُهُ يُسَبِّحُ لَهُ فِيهَا بِالْغُدُوِّ وَالْآصَالِ
“In houses which Allah has permitted to be exalted and that His Name may be remembered in them; they glorify Him therein in the mornings and the evenings.”
This niche, lamp, glass, light and “Noorun alaa Noor” is happening in houses which Allah (SWT) has allowed to be elevated. The quality of such houses is that the name of Almighty Allah (SWT) is celebrated. He is glorified in such homes, in the morning and evening.
To conclude, the mishkaat being Rasulullah (SAWA) or Lady Fatima (s.a), with the lamp being the Ahlul Bait (a.s) and the light being the guidance to the believers.
HOUSE OF FATIMA (S.A) AND ALI (A.S) ARE THE BEST EXAMPLES OF HOUSES BLESSED WITH DIVINE LIGHT
Saalabi is a Sunni commentator of the Holy Quran. He narrates that one day, our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) was busy reciting these verses from Surah Noor. In between, the first Caliph Abu Bakr asked Rasulullah (SAWA) whether the house of Lady Fatima (s.a) and Imam Ali (a.s) is the implication of the houses noted in verse 36 above?
Saalabi says that Rasulullah (SAWA) replied in the affirmative to the first Caliph, stating that the house of Fatima (s.a) and Ali (a.s) are the best examples as stated in this verse.
Who lives in these houses is explained in verse 37:
رِجَالٌ لَا تُلْهِيهِمْ تِجَارَةٌ وَلَا بَيْعٌ عَنْ ذِكْرِ اللَّهِ وَإِقَامِ الصَّلَاةِ وَإِيتَاءِ الزَّكَاةِ ۙ يَخَافُونَ يَوْمًا تَتَقَلَّبُ فِيهِ الْقُلُوبُ وَالْأَبْصَارُ
“By men whom neither traffic nor merchandise can divert from the Remembrance of Allah, nor from regular Prayer, nor from the practice of regular Charity: Their (only) fear is for the Day when hearts and eyes will be transformed (in a world wholly new).”
These houses are occupied by exemplary personalities for whom neither trade nor bargaining distracts them from remembrance of Almighty Allah (SWT). They establish and maintain prayer, giving regular charity, and they fear the day when hearts will be transformed.
With this humble respect to our guiding masters, the Ahlul Bait (a.s), we conclude our discussion about the Divine light in the Holy Quran, which is Almighty Allah (SWT). The reflection of this Divine light is Hidayah (guidance), Imaan (faith), Haqeeqate Muhammadea (Muhammadean truth and reality), the existence of Lady Fatima (s.a) and the Imams of Ahlul Bait (a.s).