The Light of the Prophet
by Dr. Mostafa al-Badawi
“Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth . . . “[1. Qur’an (24:35).] The Light is one of the ninety-nine Beautiful Names of Allah. Light is that by which things become known. Things may exist in the dark, but they cannot be seen. Light may be physical, such as the light of the sun or the moon, or intelligible, like the light of the intellect. The latter is that which illuminates the darkness of ignorance with the light of knowledge. Total darkness is non-existence, thus light is that which brings created beings out of non-existence into existence. It is the creative act of Allah and this is one of the meanings of “Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth . . . ” The other meaning is that every light in the universe is but a reflection of His mercy, every knowledge a reflection of His knowledge and so on. “Allah created His creation in darkness,” said the Prophet, may Allah’s blessings and peace be upon him, “then He sprayed them with His light. Those whom this light reached became rightly guided, while those it did not went astray.” [2. Tirmidhi.] And he also said, as recorded by Muslim, “Allah, August and Majestic is He, wrote the destinies of creation fifty thousand years before He created the Heavens and the earth. His throne was on the water. Among what He wrote in the Remembrance, which is the Mother of the Book, was: Muhammad is the Seal of the Prophets.”
The Mother of the Book is the source of all knowledge, including the Divine Scriptures. It is the essential knowledge of Allah before He created creation. This is why it is said to have been written fifty thousand years before the creation of the cosmos, a symbolic number, since without stars and planets there cannot be days and years as we understand them. Allah conceived His creation in the darkness of non-existence, then with the light of His creative act brought them out into existence. Thus the First Light was created, a being appearing against the dark background of non-existence. “The first thing that Allah created was the Intellect,” [3. Tirmidhi.] said the Prophet, may Allah’s blessings and peace be upon him. He also said, “The first thing that Allah created was the Pen,” which amounts to the same thing, since the first intellect is the primordial light in its passive aspect as recipient of the knowledge of what is to be, while the Pen is the primordial light in its active aspect of writing this knowledge on the Guarded Tablet at Allah’s command. “The first thing that Allah created was the Pen and He said to it: Write! So it wrote what is to be forever.” [4. Tabarani and Abu Nu’aym.] From this First light all of creation, with all its varied forms and meanings till the end of time unfolds. This primordial light is what is called the Light of the Prophet, may Allah’s blessings and peace be upon him, since he is the created being who received the major share of it.
This light was also the origin of the lights of all other Divine Messengers, of the angels, then of all other beings. This is how the Prophet, may Allah’s blessings and peace be upon him, could say, “I was a Prophet when Adam was still between spirit and body.” [5. Tirmidhi, Ahmad, Hakim and Bukhari in Tarikh.] The power of this light made the Prophet’s radiation so powerful, once he appeared on earth, that Allah calls him in the Qur’ân “an illuminating lamp.” Allah describes the sun and the moon in the Qur’ân in like manner explaining what He means when He says that He made the Prophet “an illuminating lamp”. He says, Exalted is He: “Have you not seen how Allah created seven heavens, one upon another, and set the moon therein for a light and the sun for a lamp?” [6. Qur’an (71:16)] Here he calls the sun a lamp, since its light is self generating, but He calls the moon a light, since it but reflects the light of the sun. He also says: ” . . . and We appointed a blazing lamp . . . ” [7. Qur’an (78:13)] The sun’s light being extremely hot, and, “Blessed is He who has set in the sky constellations and has set among them a lamp and an illuminating moon,” [8. Qur’an (25:61)] emphasizing that the moon’s light is light with little heat. When He says to His Prophet: ” O Prophet! We have sent you as a witness, a bearer of good tidings and of warning, as a caller to Allah by His leave and as an illuminating lamp,” [9. Qur’an (33:45 – 46)] we are to understand that He made the Prophet’s light powerful like the sun’s, yet cool and gentle like the moon’s.
Some of the Prophet’s Companions were given to see this light as even brighter than both the sun and moon, for when they walked with him they noticed that he cast no shadow on the ground. [10. al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi] Those who saw him in the full moon noticed that his blessed face was brighter than the moon, [11. Tirmidhi] and one of his Companions, the Lady Rubayyi‘, when asked to describe him, said, “My son, had you seen him, you would have seen the sun shining.” [12. Tirmidhi]
The light of the Prophet shone at all levels, it filled the material, intermediary, and spiritual worlds, dispelled the darkness of ignorance and disbelief, and is destined to shine across the ages till the end of time.
That this light was physical as well as spiritual was borne witness to most amply by those who saw him. The Lady ‘A‘isha related how she saw the whole room fill with light one night, then it disappeared, while the Prophet continued to call upon his Lord. Then the room was filled with a more powerful light which disappeared after a while. She asked, “What is this light I saw?” he said, “Did you see it. O ‘A‘isha?” “Yes!” she replied. He said, “I asked my Lord to grant me my nation, so He gave me one third of them, so I praised and thanked Him. Then I asked him for the rest, so He gave me the second third, so I praised and thanked Him. Then I asked Him for the third third, so He gave it to me, so I praised and thanked Him.” She said that had she wished to pick up mustard seeds from the floor by this light she could have. [13. Abu Nu’aym in Hilia.] In the famous description of Hind ibn Abi Hala, the Prophet’s stepson from the Lady Khadija, “He was dignified and awe inspiring, radiant like the radiance of the moon on the night it is full…” [14. Tirmidhi in Shama’il, Bayhaqi, Tabarani, and ibn Sa’d.] Ibn ‘Abbas described how he saw light shining from between his front teeth. [15. Tirmidhi in Shama’il, Darimi, Bayhaqi, Tabarani, and ibn Asakir.] Abu Qursafa, as a boy, went to swear allegiance to the Prophet, together with his mother and her sister. When they returned home they told him, ” My son, we have never seen the like of this man, nor anyone better looking, cleaner dressed, or gentler in his speech; and we saw as if light came out of his mouth.” [16. Tabarani.]
The Companion, Anas ibn Malik, may Allah be pleased with him, described how, when the Prophet, may Allah’s blessings and peace be upon him, first entered Madina, everything in Madina became illuminated, then how, when he died and was buried in ‘A’isha’s house, the light disappeared. The phenomenon was so sudden that the Companions were taken aback and began to doubt whether they had really seen it at all. [17. Ahmad and ibn Majah.] This was only the light that radiated from his blessed body, for Madina itself remained the city of Light. Abû Hurayra related how they were once praying the night prayer of ‘isha’ with the Prophet, may Allah’s blessings and peace be upon him, and how the Prophet’s two grandsons, Hasan and Husayn climbed onto his back when he went into prostration. When he was done, he placed one of them on his right and the other on his left. Abu Hurayra asked him, “Shall I take them to their mother?” he replied, “No”. Then a flashing light appeared from the sky, at which he said, “go to your mother.” The light remained until they reached their house.[18. Ahmad, Hakim, and Bazar.] On another occasion, Anas said that, he accompanied the Prophet, may Allah’s blessings and peace be upon him, into the mosque where they saw a group of people with their hands raised, calling upon Allah. “Do you see in their hands what I see?” the Prophet asked. “What is in their hands?” Anas replied. “There is light in their hands,” replied the Prophet. “Ask Allah the Exalted to show it to me,” said Anas. At the Prophet’s request, Allah showed it to him. [19. Bukhari in Tarikh, Bayhaqi and Abu Nu’aym.] Another Companion, ‘Amr al-Aslami, said that once they were with the Messenger of Allah, may Allah’s blessings and peace be upon him, on a very dark night and lost sight of each other. Suddenly ‘Amr’s fingers shone forth with light so that they were able to round up their mounts and gather again. The light did not subside until they had finished gathering.[20. Bukhari in Tarikh, Bayhaqi and Tabarani.]
As for Abu ‘Abs, he used to pray all the ritual prayers with the Prophet, then walk back to his dwelling, at Bani Haritha, a few miles from the mosque. One dark rainy night, as he left the mosque, his staff was made to shine forth with light, so that he was able to walk safely back home. [21. Bayhaqi.] On another occasion, two of the Prophet’s well known Companions, Usayd ibn Hudayr and ‘Abbad ibn Bishr, left the Prophet’s house late on a dark night. The tip of the staff of one of them lit up like a lamp and they were able to walk. When they came to the place where they usually separated, the tip of the other staff lit up as well. [22. Bukhari] Another Companion, al-Tufayl ibn ‘Amr al-Dawsi, related how, after his first visit to the Prophet, when he accepted Islam and was about to return to his tribe, he asked the Prophet for a sign to show to his tribesmen, at which a light shone forth from his forehead. He exclaimed, “Not here, O Messenger of Allah, they will think it a curse!” So the Prophet moved the light to the tip of al- Tufayl’s whip. He returned to his tribe with this sign and most of them accepted Islam. [23. Ibn Hisham.]
Ka‘b ibn Zuhayr was a man from Muzayna, a highly talented poet who used his talent against the Prophet and his companions. Once Macca had been conquered, Ka`b became a fugitive, aware that the Prophet had ordered him executed. His brother, Bujayr, was a Muslim. He sent Ka`b a message that he could only save his life if he came to the Prophet repentant. Eventually Ka‘b agreed to this and came to Madina. The Prophet forgave him, accepted his allegiance, and gave him permission to recite the poem Ka`b had composed in his praise. When he came to the passage,
The Messenger is a light that illuminates
An Indian blade, a sword of Allah, drawn
the Prophet took his mantle, his burda, off his shoulders and put it on Ka‘b’s, signalling his approval. The best swords of the time were Indian and the connection between the sword and light is that the Arabs signalled the way by standing on a rise and brandishing their swords in the sun so that they flashed like mirrors. [24. Ibn Ishaq.]
The light of the Prophet, may Allah’s blessings and peace be upon him, manifested itself in his parents before and during his birth. His biographers have recorded that his father’s forehead shone with a light that a certain women from Quraysh noticed. She knew that the appearance of the Prophet of the End of Time was imminent and felt that ‘Abdallah’s forehead signalled his being the father. She offered herself to him, but he refused. Soon `Abdallah married Amina and, once she became pregnant with the Prophet, the light vanished from his forehead. He met the same woman again and, noticing she no longer wanted him, asked her why. She replied that he no longer carried that light on his forehead. [25. Ibn Hisham.] As for the Lady Amina, when she became pregnant, she saw in a dream-vision that a light came out of her that lit the land as far north as Syria. [26. Hakim, Ahmad, Bazzar, Tabarani, Bayhaqi and Abu Nu’aym.] She was also told in her dream that she was pregnant with the master of this nation and the sign of that would be that when she gave birth to him she would see a light coming out with him that would shine over Bosra in Syria. “When this happens”, she was told, “call him Muhammad!” [27. Ibn Ishaq.] “I conceived him, ” she said, “and suffered no pain until delivery. When he came out of me, a light came out with him that illuminated everything from East to West…” [28. Ibn Sa’d, Tabarani, Bayhaqi, Abu Nu’aym, Abu Ya’la, Ibn Ishaq.] She also said, “I saw the night I gave birth to him a light that illuminated the palaces of Syria so that I saw them.” [29. Abu Nu’aym.] The Prophet later confirmed this, saying, “My mother saw, when she gave birth to me, a light that illuminated the palaces of Bosra.” [30. Ibn Sa’d, Ahmad, Bazzar, Tabarani, Abu Nu’aym, and ibn Asakir.] This event is also a very clear indication of the spiritual rank of the Lady Amina, for to see the palaces of Bosra in Syria from Macca demands the spiritual vision of sanctity. [31. Hakim and Tabarani.] Later, the Prophet’s uncle, ‘Abbas, praised him with a poem, on his return from the Tabuk expedition, saying:
You, when you were born, the earth was lit
And with your light so was the sky
When his wet-nurse, Halima al-Sa‘dia, first saw him, she laid her hand on him and he smiled. “When he smiled,” she said, “a light appeared from his mouth that rose to the sky.” [32. Bayhaqi, Abu Nu’aym, ibn Ishaq and Abu Ya’la.]
Some of the hadiths we have quoted here have strong chains of transmission, others have weaker ones. However, we must remember that even the chain considered weakest by Muslim traditionists, is quite acceptable as historical proof to any professional historian on this planet, being far stronger and better authenticated than other ancient sources he works with. It is also well known that weak traditions strengthen each other so as to become acceptable. This is why those we have quoted here have been accepted by leading scholars such as Ibn Kathir, Suyutiî, Qadi ‘Iyad, Bayhaqi, and others.
Commenting on the verse of Qur’an,”There has come to you a light from Allah and a clear Book,” [33. Qur’an (5:15)] the well-known scholar al-Alusi says that the light in question is no other than the Prophet, may Allah’s blessings and peace be upon him. He quotes the Follower, Qatada, as an authoritative source for this opinion, as well as other well known scholars, pointing out that this is the most logical interpretation of the construction of the verse, Then he also quotes those whose opinion differs from his in that they believe that both the light and the Book refer to the Qur’an. This he does because real Muslim scholars, as opposed to pretenders and impostors, always quote, along with their own opinions, the contrary opinions of other reputable scholars, so weighing both in the most objective manner. Qadi ‘Iyad, the famous author of al-Shifa’, is of the same opinion as al-Alusi, an opinion, an opinion shared by other famous commentators such as Tabari and Qurtubi.
Although the Prophet’s light is the most powerful in the universe, since he is the nearest created being to Allah, it is not the only one. Angels are made of light, the Qur’an is light, the spirits of human beings are light, faith is light, knowledge is light, the sun, the moon, and the stars are also lights. The light of each human being depends upon his faith, knowledge, and virtue. Thus the most powerful lights are those of Divine Messengers, then those of Prophets, saints, virtuous believers, and finally those of sinful believers. This is the hierarchy of human beings. Both the first and the last are human, all have lights, and all are slaves of Allah, but the distance between the top of the pyramid and its bottom is so great that those at the bottom, in Paradise, will see those at the top as distant as, in this world, we see the stars at night.[34. Tirmidhi.]