A few years back, when mind was not as much ripe, I had a chance to get hold of Imam Gazzali’s work, Mishkat Al Anwar. It was too ‘heretical’ for me then to accept the deeply mystical ideas expounded in it. And years after… attending a Tafsir gathering, I realized new meanings for the 1400 years plus revealed verses.
The verse of light has baffled both Ulama and Sufis since its revelation. At some point, after lengthy discussions, the thinkers become reluctant to go any further for the fear of their readers’ faith. Although the verse has its apparent meaning, there is enough room for individuals to delve further without divulging their private thoughts with others.
While at a first glance of reading this verse, we would normally hurry to conclude the similarities between light and the Creator, it would be rather wise to understand the differences between both.
Light is a Creation
The first and foremost point to note is that light is among the creations of Allah. Therefore it is incorrect to say that the being of Allah is made of the light we see around us. The Creator cannot be same as His creation. While the literal meaning of the verse’s first part “Allah is the light of earth and heavens”, it would be more apt to understand it as “Allah’s is the light of earth and heavens”
Light is Sensible, perceivable
Light is a thing which has color and also an amount of heat. Its speed is measurable in terms of time and space. Our senses of touch and sight perceive the nature of light in whatever little way possible. But Creator is free from all such limits of perceptions.
Light had a beginning
Since light is a creation, it had a beginning in time. Be it millions or zillions of years, but it did have a beginning. Unlike Allah who has been there before anything and everything ever began. And it also implies that since light had a start, it would have an end also. Again, this is impossible in the case of the Creator.
For the above reasons and more, light is not like Allah. But it is also to be noted that light is the fastest among the creations of Allah. Any instrument to measure the weight of light is also unheard of, at least until the moment of writing this piece. Also noteworthy is that fact that in all major world religions, light is a symbol of good and of virtue. It is always mentioned in reference to matters of man’s faith and emotions. For instance, light of guidance or light on someone’s face.
According to some scholars, the light mentioned can be the light of Allah’s guidance for man. Mishkat or the niche, where the lamp is kept, can be compared to his senses. The lamp and the tree are his intellectual and discursive faculties respectively. Oil is the spiritual faculty which is self-lit before it is kindled.
While all other faculties are the provision for rest of humanity, the spiritual faculty is the asset of believers alone whom he guides to ‘His Light”. The sensual , intellectual and discursive faculties may help to enhance the convictions gained through the spiritual faculty, but not create it all together. In this context, without the oil, the niche, lamp and the olive tree are useless when it comes to the faith of man. To understand this better, take the case of countless thinkers and scientists who in their thoughts and observations spent years, but could not identify the Creator or his Merciful Messenger? Faith is not a result of imagination or observation. “Allah guides to His Light whomever He wishes”.
What then is the light? What is the path of guidance?
It was only at the end of the Tafsir that I got (or so did it seem) the secret of the verse. From philosophy and theology, it became more personal and poetical. A lover praises his beloved in terms which confuse others as to who is the subject of his talk? Was Lord talking about Him or His Beloved? The source of guidance to Allah is none but His Beloved. Allah showed His Mercy through him and guided humanity through him. The message brought by His Beloved was His. The Light was referring to His Beloved. And why not? The Lord Himself called His beloved elsewhere in the Holy Book as Sirajul muneer, the Lamp spreading light.
It all began in love. And it ended too in the same.