Allaah SWT is infinite in His being and in all of His attributes. This means that no finite being, such as human beings, can see, perceive, imagine or understand His constitution, form, shape or appearance. Whatever we imagine will be in finite terms that we have experienced in this finite world with our finite abilities -- and that will never be a correct view about Infinite Allaah SWT. Hence, we should never try to describe Him in our words or vocabulary, except mentioning Him through His attributive names that He has used for Himself in the Qur-aan.
Based on verse 35 of Soorah An-Noor, which is translated as Allaah is the Light of the universe, some people think that Allaah SWT is constituted of “Noor” or “Light”. However, this interpretation is not the correct meaning of this verse.
First of all, the physical nature or constitution of Allaah is not the subject matter of this verse. Wherever the being of Allaah SWT is mentioned, it is mentioned in a manner that indicates His infinite nature, such as “Eyes cannot see Him”, “There is nothing similar or His likeness”, etc (1).
Secondly, the light described here and verse 39:69 is not physical light made of photons travelling in the form of electromagnetic waves. The subject matter is actually the light of Allaah’s guidance and faith in Him..
1 These points presented in this article are fully supported by the great mufassireen of the past such as Ibn ‘Abbaas , Mujahid, Aŧ-Ŧabari (Jaami’ul-bayaan), Az-Zamakhshari (Al-Kashshaaf), Jalaalain, etc and mufassireen of this century such as Amin Ahsan Islahi.
Before proceeding to explain these points, it is pertinent to reflect upon the use of the word “Noor” in the Qur-aan. When we refer to the Qur-aan for this purpose, we observe that it has been used:
At 12 places, for Allaah’s guidance (the Qur-aan and Islam) that lights the way: 4:174, 5:15, 5:44, 5:46, 6:91, 6:122, 7:157, 9:32, 39:22, 57:28, 61:8, 64:8.
At 11 places, to describe the shift from darkness of Kufr (disbelief) to light of Eemaan (Belief): 2:17, 2:257, 5:16, 13:16, 14:1, 14:5, 33:43, 35:20, 42:52, 57:9, 65:11.
At three places, for the light to be bestowed to the believers on the Day of Judgment to guide them in the Darkness of that Day: 57:12-13, 57:19, 66:8.
For light in general: 6:1.
For Moon, two places: 10:5, 71:16.
Thus, other than the few places where the context clearly shows it to be the physical light, everywhere else (23 places) it has been used for the guidance of Allaah SWT in the form of the Qur-aan, Eeman and Islam. Being consistent with this meaning, the set of verses containing this verse of light compares the people who are blessed with the light of Allaah’s guidance with those who have deprived themselves of this light due to their disbelief.
To understand this comparison we need to have a clear concept about the nature of light and darkness in physical terms.
Darkness is absence of light. Had Allaah not created light and illuminated stars, the universe would have been in complete and total darkness. Had Allaah not created the sun, there would have been only night. The only reason we know day from night is because Allaah created the sun to remove the darkness and to enable us to see.
What is true for the physical universe is also true in terms of Allaah’s guidance and the absence of it. Thus, Allaah is the Light of the universe – the most superb kind of soft light that shines through the most luminous of the chandeliers brightening and illuminating every nook and corner, without blinding with brightness or being hazy with dimness. The lives of those who believe in Him and remain conscious of His presence are so well illuminated that they clearly see the path to ultimate success without being distracted or confused by the alleys and detours that may lead them astray. They are the people who can clearly see the role of the Creator, the purpose of creation and the need for ultimate accountability to the Creator and the need to please Him by living according to His guidance. Acceptance of Allaah SWT as the Creator and Master of the Universe shows them the clear answers to all questions which disbelieving philosophers and scientists fail to understand and resolve. They are internally at peace and thus are able to establish peace and justice in the world and spread excellence therein.
On the other hand, those who do not believe in Allaah have chosen to stay in darkness without letting Allaah’s light show them the way or brighten their lives. Even their keen philosophers, erudite scholars and celebrated scientists fail to find clear answers to puzzling questions about the creation of the universe and human beings or its purpose and destiny. Their views and hypotheses remain confused and inconsistent. They cannot come up with the definitions of right and wrong, good and bad or human rights and abuses that can withstand the test of time and changing circumstances. They fail to come up with any model of human society that will result in justice, balance, peace and excellence. Rather, whatever they come up with creates imbalance, injustice, chaos, disorder and strife in one way or the other. In fact, the absence of any faith in Allaah leaves a person in multiple layers of darkness – resulting in darkness so complete, dense and thick that one cannot even see one’s own hand. In the absence of the overriding desire for seeking Allaah’s pleasure, they are driven by the darkness of the urge to maximize worldly gains, self interest and greed (for wealth, prominence and/or power) while being given to other kinds of darkness such as jealousy, hate, prejudice, superiority complex and exploitation of others. Thus they can never establish peace or justice in the world but instead spread mischief and corruption in the land.
Thus, the Qur-aan states:
Allaah is the Light of the universe. A likeness of His light is as a niche wherein there is a lamp; the lamp is within glass, and the glass is as if it were a pearly star. The lamp is kindled from the oil of a blessed olive tree, neither eastern nor western, whose oil will almost glow even though no fire touched it. Thus, it is light upon light. Allaah guides to His light whom He pleases. And Allaah uses parables for people and Allaah is Knower of everything. The niches are in the houses about which Allaah has approved that they be built and therein His name be recited; and wherein glorify Him day and night the people whom neither business nor shopping distracts from Allaah’s remembrance, establishment of Ŝalaah and payment of Zakaah – fearing the Day when hearts and eyes will be fearfully upset – so that Allaah rewards them according to the best of what they did and gives them even more out of His bounty. And Allaah provides for anyone He wishes beyond eligibility, without counting. (An-Noor, 24:35-38)
In the example used in these verses, the niches are minds of people that are illuminated with faith in Allaah SWT. The glass that protects the flame is their clear understanding of the Truth and the resulting firm commitment that protects their faith throughout the good and bad circumstances they live through. The perfect transparency of the glass is the excellence of their sincerity and conviction. The attribute of olive tree neither being eastern nor western identifies a tree that is from the centre of the garden, shielded from the ravages of weather, and thus bearing the best fruit. This indicates that the people who accept the Truth about Allaah SWT are those who have a balanced attitude, not influenced by any kind of extremism, prejudice, bias or preconceived notions. They are honest, pure and rational in their approach, which is already suggesting to them that there has to be an Infinite Entity as the Creator and Master of the universe including the human beings. Therefore, a tactful invitation or a friendly nudge is all that is needed to light up their faith and bring them to Islam.
The remaining verses indicate the thrust, focus and preoccupation of those who are blessed with this light of faith.
In comparison, the next section describes those who have deprived themselves of the light of faith in Allaah SWT.
As for those who disbelieve, their deeds are like the mirage in a desert, which the thirsty man deems to be water; until when he comes to it he finds it to be nothing, and there he finds Allaah, so He pays back to him his reckoning in full; and Allaah is quick in reckoning. Or [the other example of a disbelievers’ state] is like the darknesses of a fathomless sea which is covered by wave above which is another wave above which are clouds, layers of darkness, one above another. If he puts out his hand, he can scarcely see it. And to whomsoever Allaah does not give light, he has no light. (An-Noor, 24:39 - 40)
In case of believers, the light of faith was mentioned first, then was the effect this light has on their personality and behaviour, then at the end, the generous reward they will be receiving in the Hereafter. This arrangement is not only in the logical sequence but also puts the focus on the light which illuminates everything and provides the benefits mentioned afterwards. In contrast, in the case of the disbelievers, their miserable end in the Hereafter has been mentioned first; i.e., they spend their lives thinking that they are doing marvellous things, but when they will reach the Hereafter they will realize that they have been chasing a mirage and they are utter losers. Their end has been mentioned before mentioning their groping in the pitch black darkness they are living under so that their end can be immediately contrasted with the success the believers will be enjoying. Also, the impact of this strong statement of their failure may force them to rethink where they stand. Thus, the focus here is on the eternal failure they will be facing in order to encourage them to get out of the darkness they are surrounded by and embrace the light that is so easily available.
To imagine the extent of darkness described herein, keep in mind the existence of internal waves (in addition to surface waves) in oceans that occur on density interfaces between layers of water of different densities. These waves are invisible to human eyes. Also remember the complete absence of light (absolute darkness) below 1000 meters and the presence of only blue light below 200 meters. Now just imagine the darkness at the depth where light cannot reach especially when it is covered by internal waves which, in turn, are under surface waves which are covered by thick clouds that are already blocking the moonlight/starlight at night! This is the example that has been given here for the utter darkness surrounding those who disbelieve in Allaah SWT. The disbelief in Allaah SWT is in itself night like darkness, and ignorance of the facts that come from the revelations of Allaah is another cause of darkness. Other layers of darkness include their urge to maximize worldly gains, self interest and greed (for wealth, prominence and/or power), and their being given to sentiments such as jealousy, hate, prejudice, superiority complex and exploitation of others.
To understand the last verse, remember that clear vision is the natural result of sincere faith in Allaah while darkness is the natural result of disbelief. A person uses his freedom to make the choice to opt for belief or disbelief, but the results of his choice are predetermined. The consequences cannot be changed without changing the choice.
The opportunity to change the choice may become harder to come by, if it is not availed as it presents itself. The more a person insists on his choice of disbelief, the farther away the opportunity to make the right choice moves. The more a person tries to justify his disbelief, the harder it becomes for him to opt for faith. One has the option to open his mind to belief when faith is presented to him, but if he rejects the opportunity in favour of the status quo, the sealing of his heart and closing of his mind is a predetermined natural result of such insistence. And as explained earlier, Allaah SWT attributes natural results of actions to Himself because it is Him who predetermined the natural consequence of all actions.