By Mufti Abdur Rahman ibn Yusuf
There is one very well-known verse of the holy Qur’an which, upon being studied, has led to much in-depth commentary on the meaning and messages contained within.
At the beginning of this verse, Allah Most High says: Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth (24:35).
Some scholars have said in their commentaries of the Qur’an that it means that Allah is the illuminator of the heavens and the earth. In other words, He is the provider of all physical light in the universe.
If we look at the world in which we live and the light within it, be it the natural light that comes from the Sun 93 million miles away or the artificial light which we use in the evenings, all of this light is provided by Allah. Looking further afield, in the heavens, Allah has created light there too, for the angels and other inhabitants of the superlunary worlds.
Without this physical light provided by Allah, we would not be able to see, and so, would be unable to do many of the things in our daily life that we take for granted. This light of Allah is provided to all, be it angels, humans, animals or any other creature He has created. Amongst humans, Allah makes no distinction between a believer and a non-believer; He provides light to all without discrimination.
However, beyond this physical light which He has made available to all, we must consider another light of Allah, a special light which Allah gives to those who make place for it in their hearts, rather than granting it to everyone indiscriminately as He does with the physical light. This special light is the light on which this article focuses.
Allah Most High says,
اللَّـهُ نُورُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ ۚ مَثَلُ نُورِهِ كَمِشْكَاةٍ فِيهَا مِصْبَاحٌ ۖالْمِصْبَاحُ فِي زُجَاجَةٍ ۖ الزُّجَاجَةُ كَأَنَّهَا كَوْكَبٌ دُرِّيٌّ يُوقَدُ مِن شَجَرَةٍ مُّبَارَكَةٍ زَيْتُونَةٍ لَّا شَرْقِيَّةٍ وَلَا غَرْبِيَّةٍ يَكَادُ زَيْتُهَا يُضِيءُ وَلَوْ لَمْ تَمْسَسْهُ نَارٌ ۚ نُّورٌ عَلَىٰ نُورٍ ۗ يَهْدِي اللَّـهُ لِنُورِهِ مَن يَشَاءُ ۚ وَيَضْرِبُ اللَّـهُ الْأَمْثَالَ لِلنَّاسِ ۗ وَاللَّـهُ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَلِيمٌ ﴿٣٥﴾
“Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The example of His light is that of a niche, in which there is a lamp; the lamp is in a glass – the glass looks like a brilliant star – it is lit by (the oil of) a blessed tree, the olive, which is neither eastern, nor western. Its oil is about to emit light even though the fire has not touched it – (it is) light upon light. Allah guides to His light whomsoever He wills; Allah describes examples for the people, and Allah knows everything well” (24:35).
After telling us that He is the nur of the heavens and the earth, He gives an example. To understand the example, one must remember that in the days before electricity, oil lamps were widely used to provide light during the absence of sunlight. To maximize the light from the oil lamps, they would be placed in such a way that the light would reach every corner of the room.
Allah likens His light to an oil lamp placed in a niche (a small recess or hole in the wall).
This lamp is within a glass, but the glass is no ordinary glass. It is glass which is like a brilliant, twinkling star or like crystal so that it is very clear and reflective. Placing this lamp inside this glass and then in a niche increases the light, and therefore increases the benefits which can be derived from this lamp.
He continues: it is the oil of olives but not the oil of such an olive tree that was nurtured on either side of a mountain (in the east or the west, whereby it would be shaded for half of the day). Rather, it is from a tree that was stood where the sun would be able to shine on it all day, so that the tree is nurtured and grown to perfection and its oil is of the highest quality.
Not only is the oil of the highest quality but, the olive oil has a special sparkling quality so it looks as if it is close to catching fire even though it has not been touched by a flame. So imagine the intensity of the light when a flame ignites the olive oil: He says, it is ‘light upon light’ i.e. very intense.
Allah says that he will guide whomever He wills towards His light and He has knowledge of all things.
As the physical light surrounding us is light from which we can all benefit, this light which Allah describes as being a guide only for those He chooses, has therefore, to be a special light, and one which penetrates the hearts of those whom He has guided. This is the nur which has been given by Allah to certain people. Allah is knowledgeable of everything. He knows exactly who to give His nur to and who not to give His nur to.
As Muslims, we should ask ourselves how we are going to obtain this nur. There is a hadith of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) in which he said that whenever a person commits a sin, it results in a black dot upon the sinner’s heart. How many sins have we committed, how many black dots have appeared on our hearts and how much of our hearts been covered by these black dots? But there are those who have kept a clean place in their hearts and who have not coated their entire hearts with the sins which are so easy to commit, especially in this day and age. The special nur of Allah Most High finds its way into these hearts which are not entirely blackened.
How do we make space in our heart if we have committed so many sins? The way to do this is by repenting for our sins, by crying in front of Allah and seeking His forgiveness, by a constant repetition of dhikr and remembrance of Allah. This is the way we can make space in our heart for this special nur of Allah, insha Allah.
So what is the benefit of this nur? It is like the example that Allah mentions about His light, about the niche, the lamp, and the glass. Let’s look at this example in a form of a human being, those people who are pious and have remained on fitra (the natural disposition on which Allah created us all but from which many stray). Alhamdulillah, we have such people amongst us who have been recipients of the nur of Allah and because of this, they are blessed with firasa or perception/insight. There is a hadith in which our beloved Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said “Fear the firasa of a believer because he sees with the nur of Allah”.
This insight becomes apparent in our approach to our daily lives. When a big decision is upon us (e.g. someone wants to venture into a new business or enter into marriage), after doing normal research and due diligence, what many of us do is to approach our ulama (scholars) and ask for their opinion on the matter. Why do we this? It is because they have a deeper insight. Our ‘insight’ is sometimes superficial, just an observation. When we look at something, we only see the outside, the façade; we do not have access to the inner, unless we do a lot of mujahada (effort), so instead we go to the scholars. The scholars have gained this understanding and insight because Allah has filled their hearts with nur so not only are they seeing with their eyes but they now their hearts are seeing too.
In this context, there are two methods of seeing. Firstly, we have basar which is what we normally understand as sight, i.e. seeing with our eyes, which is common to everyone. The second type is granted by Allah to the few amongst us, the great scholars whose hearts are pure and have a place for His nur which gives them baseerah, a higher level of understanding and comprehending things. Allah Most High guides them and shows them the right path because he has made them His friends.
To benefit from this special nur, we need to get close to our scholars and the pious people amongst us, those who have more love for the hereafter than for this world, those whose mere existence is beneficial to us whether we realise it or not. We only have to look around the world at those places where there are not many such people and we can see how these places suffer from a lack of spirituality. This is the nur of Allah which we can all gain from as long as we make a place for it in our hearts.
Now that we understand this, we have to ask ourselves, what hinders us and creates an obstacle in our path to Allah? Allah answers this Himself indirectly in the Qur’an. It is that we are trying to assimilate into this world beyond a reasonable level. We feel that the bright lights and attractions of the world we live in is where the beauty lies, without realising that this is all superficial and that the nur is with Allah only.
Allah has spoken about the deeds of kufr (disbelief) which tempt us and which are harām (forbidden) and which we should abstain from, and here are two examples of this.
He says: As for those who disbelieve, their deeds are like a mirage in a desert plain, which a thirsty person deems to be water, until when he comes to it, he finds it is nothing, and finds (the decree of) Allah with him, so He pays him his account in full. Allah is swift at reckoning (24:39).
This example is of a thirsty person traveling in the desert. He sees in front of him what appears to be water, be it a large lake or a small pool, but as he draws closer, it disappears. The ‘water’ is nothing but an optical illusion known as a mirage. A mirage is not real – you think it is there and you are seeing it but the reality is that it is not there at all.
There are those amongst the disbelievers who think what they are doing is right. There is a story about a Muslim scholar who once met up with a priest. During their meeting, the priest explained his religion in detail to the scholar. Having listened to the priest passionately speaking of his religion, the Muslim scholar began to cry. The priest, who was happy at thinking that the Muslim scholar was touched by his explanation, asked why he was crying. The scholar replied ‘I can see your zeal for your knowledge, your sincerity in your belief and your deep insight in your religion, but this is all like a mirage and you will find your actions are nothing in the hereafter when Allah will take your hisaab (account). If only your actions and your endeavours were for the sake of Allah Most High.’ This demonstrates to us that ikhlas (sincere intention) alone is not sufficient for a person in the hereafter. Fuḍhayl ibn ‘lyāḍ mentions that there must be two things: correctness and ikhlas (sincerity).
The second example that Allah gives is of those disbelievers who have nothing to guide them, no basis for their actions except their own desires and what they are attracted to. Allah likens them to a person in a boat at sea, caught in a storm so intense and blinded by such darkness that he can barely see his own hand in front him.
Or their deeds are like layers of darkness in a vast deep sea overwhelmed by a wave, above which there is another wave, above which there are clouds – layers of darkness, one above the other. When one puts forth his hand, he can hardly see it; and the one to whom Allah does not give light can have no light at all [24:40].
Allah Most High gives his nur to whoever he wishes. When we look around at our friends and companions, those who want to do harām things which seem so attractive, let us remember that these actions are based on kufr, on the two examples that Allah has just given.
We don’t want our hereafter to be as it will be for the people Allah has just talked about in these two verses. We want to be ranked among those who will be with the nabiyyin (the prophets of Allah), the siddiqeen (the truthful ones), the shuhadā (martyrs) and the sāliheen (the righteous). And this is the du’ā (supplication to Allah) which we all need to make. Du’ā is what will help, along with repentance for our sins.
Allah, in His mercy, doesn’t leave us out in the cold. He doesn’t just tell us about His nur and the dark deeds of kufr. In between, he tells us where His nur can be found. He says:
(The guided people worship Allah) in the houses that Allah has permitted to be raised, and where His name is recounted and His purity is pronounced, in the morning and in the evening, by the men whom no trade or sale makes neglectful of the remembrance of Allah, nor from establishing Salat and paying Zakāt ; they are fearful of a day in which the hearts and the eyes will be over-turned (24:36-37).
Allah is describing the guided people, those whom He guides, as the place where His nur is found. What distinguishes them is that they have a constant fear of the Day of Judgment in their minds and they have paradise in their sights as their destination. The problem afflicting many of us is that we only look at our lives until the point of our death. We need to extend our sights and so that we look beyond our death to the hereafter. Death can come at any time; it is not something which is in our control, so we need to be prepared now.
We must keep a clear vision of paradise and hell before us and think about how we avoid the easy route to hell and accomplish the task of reaching paradise. Imam Ghazali mentions in his Minhaj al-‘Abideen that paradise is uphill and hell is downhill. One action and it is easy to roll downhill and into hell, but the route to paradise is a slow climb and that is why the fruits of paradise are so sweet.
Let us repent for our sins and attend the masajid as these are the things which will bear witness to our iman (faith).There are so many distractions elsewhere but the masajid are the houses of Allah without these distractions, so we must strive to frequent the masajid, to remain close to our scholars and the ulama in your area, to call on our pious people to take some of the nur of Allah from them, so that we, too, are guided on the right path.
When we have a decision to make, it needs to be made according to pure and sound knowledge, and it needs to be made with the insight that Allah has granted to his chosen servants, if we are to avoid getting ourselves into trouble. We must keep ourselves focussed on reaching jannah and avoiding jahannam. Say to yourselves that paradise is where I want to go, and every action of mine must have the conditions that are needed to be able to obtain paradise. In this way, insha Allah, we will also be able to benefit from this special light of Allah and be guided on the right path.
May Allah make space in all of our hearts for his nur so that we can all benefit from it and obtain paradise.
Transcribed by Rabiah Nargis
Edited by Ahmed Limbada