Ramadan is a month that allows Muslims to reconnect with the Qurʾān and take a breather from their worldly activities to focus on their relationship with Allāh. It is basically like hitting the “pause” button on our life, which is an action-packed adventure, in order to take a relaxing, spiritual hiatus. This “break” allows us to relax and reflect, especially during the day, when there are no coffee, snack or lunch breaks to distract us. The empty stomach, contrary to popular belief, causes our minds and memories to become a tad sharper, facilitating more devoted worship and remembrance of Allāh (dhikr).
There are some verses of the Qurʾān in which Allāh explains things to us using deep, meaningful parables that invite us to use all our pondering abilities in order to understand them fully. I have selected one such verse – a personal favorite – to write this post about, in order to invite readers to reflect upon its meaning.
Surah Al-Nur usually brings to mind the verses of hijab for Muslim women. The reason this surah is named ”Al-Nur” however, is because of this verse, in which Allāh describes the heart of a believer and the faith that resides in it using the analogy of light:
“Allāh is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The parable of His light is as if it were a niche containing a lamp; the lamp is [enclosed] in glass, the glass [shining] like a radiant star: [a lamp] lit from a blessed tree – an olive-tree that is neither of the east nor of the west, the oil whereof [is so bright that it] would well-nigh give light [of itself] even though fire had not touched it: light upon light! Allāh guides unto His light him that wills [to be guided]; and [to this end] Allāh propounds parables unto men, since Allāh [alone] has full knowledge of all things.” [24:35]
We can guage the depth of this verse of the Qurʾān just by taking a look at the number of things Allāh that has mentioned in it:
- Radiant star
- Blessed olive tree
- East and the West (directions)
`Ali bin Abi Talhah reported that Ibn `Abbas said, “Allāh is the Light of the heavens and the earth” means that Allāh is 'the Guide' of the inhabitants of the heavens and the earth.
Ibn Jurayj said: “Mujahid and Ibn `Abbas said concerning this verse, “Allāh is the Light of the heavens and the earth“, that He is controlling their affairs and their stars and sun and moon.”
As-Suddi said concerning it, “Allāh is the Light of the heavens and the earth“, by His (Allāh's) Light, the heavens and earth are illuminated.
In the two sahihs (Bukhāri and Muslim), it is recorded that Ibn `Abbas, (may Allāh be pleased with him), said, “When the Messenger of Allāh got up to pray at night, he would say:
“O Allāh, to You be praise, You are the Sustainer of heaven and earth and whoever is in them. To You be praise, You are the Light of the heavens and the earth and whoever is in them.”
It was narrated that Ibn Mas`ud said, “There is no night or day with your Lord; the Light of the Throne comes from the Light of His Face.”
Tafsir Maududi expounds, “Light is something which makes things visible; which is itself manifest and helps make other things manifest. The human mind conceives light in this very sense. Absence of light is termed darkness, invisibility and obscurity. On the other hand, when there is visibility and things become exposed to view, man says there is light. Allāh has been called `Light' in this basic sense, and not in the sense of a beam of light which travels at the speed of 186,000 miles per second and stimulates the optic nerve through the retina. This conception of light has nothing to do with the reality of the meaning for which human mind has coined this word.”
“The parable of 'his' Light” - there are two views concerning the meaning of the pronoun (his):
- The first is that it refers to Allāh, may He be glorified and exalted, meaning that the parable of His guidance in the heart of the believer is “..as a niche“. This was the view of Ibn `Abbas.
- The second view is that the pronoun “his” in “his light” refers to the believer, which is indicated by the context of the words and implies that the parable of the light in the heart of the believer is as a niche. So the heart of the believer and what he is naturally inclined to, of guidance and what he learns of the Qur'an, which is in accordance with his natural inclinations are, as Allāh says:
“Can they who rely on a clear proof from their Lord, and whom a witness from Him recites it (can they be equal with the disbelievers“: [11:17]. The heart of the believer in its purity and clarity is likened to a lamp in transparent and jewel-like glass, and the Qur'an and shari'ah by which it is guided are likened to good, pure, shining oil in which there is no impurity or deviation.
“…as (if there were) a niche…” Ibn `Abbas, Mujahid, Muḥammad bin Ka`b and others said, “This refers to the position of the wick in the lamp.” This is well-known, and hence Allāh then says:
“…and within it a lamp” - this is the flame that burns brightly. Or it was said that the niche is a niche in the house. This is the parable given by Allāh of obedience towards Him. Allāh calls obedience to Him as light, then He calls it by other numerous names as well. Ubayy bin Ka`b said, “The lamp is the light (Al-Nur) and this refers to the Qur'an and the faith that is in his heart.” As-Suddi said, “It is the lamp.”
“…the lamp is in a glass” - this means that this light is shining in a clear glass. Ubayy bin Ka`b and others said, “This is the likeness of the heart of the believer.”
“.…the glass as it were a star durriyyun” - some authorities recite the word durriyyun with a dammah on the daal and without a hamzah, which means pearls, i.e., as if it were a star made of pearls (durr). Others recite it as dirri'un or durri'un, with a kasrah on the daal, or dammah on the daal, and with a hamzah at the end, which means reflection (dir'), because if something is shone on the star, it becomes brighter than at any other time. The Arabs call the stars they do not know darari. Ubayy bin Ka`b said, “A shining star”. Qatadah said: “Huge, bright and clear.”
“…..lit from a blessed tree” – this means, it is derived from olive oil, from a blessed tree.
“...an olive” - this refers to the blessed tree mentioned previously.
“..…neither of the east nor of the west” – this means that it is not in the eastern part of the land so that it does not get any sun in the first part of the day, nor is it in the western part of the land so that it is shaded from the sun before sunset, but it is in a central position where it gets sun from the beginning of the day until the end, so its oil is good and pure and shining. Ibn Abi Hatim recorded that Ibn `Abbas commented on:
“……..an olive, neither of the east nor of the west” - this is a tree in the desert, which is not shaded by any other tree or mountain or cave, i.e. nothing covers it, and this is best for its oil.” Mujahid commented on:
by saying; “It is not in the east, where it will get no sun when the sun sets, nor is it in the west where it will get no sun when the sun rises, but it is in a position where it will get sun both at sunrise and sunset.” Sa`id bin Jubayr commented on:
..by saying, “This is the best kind of oil. When the sun rises it reaches the tree from the east and when it sets it reaches it from the west, so the sun reaches it morning and evening, so it is not counted as being in the east or in the west.”
“…..whose oil would almost glow forth (of itself), though no fire touched it.” `Abdur-Rahman bin Zayd bin Aslam said, “(this means) because the oil itself is shining”.
“..Light upon Light!” - Al-`Awfi narrated from Ibn `Abbas that this meant the faith and deeds of a person. As-Suddi said: “…Light upon Light!”: “Light of the fire and the light of the oil. When they are combined, they give light, and neither of them can give light without the other”. Similarly the light of the Qur'an and the light of faith give light when they are combined, and neither can do so without the other.”
“....Allāh guides to His Light whom He wills“: this means that Allāh shows the way to the ones whom He chooses, as it says in the hadith recorded by imām Ahmad from `Abdullah bin `Amr, who said, “I heard the Messenger of Allāh [صلى الله عليه وسلم] say:
“…Allāh created His creation in darkness, then on the same day He sent His Light upon them. Whoever was touched by His Light on that day will be guided and whoever was missed will be led astray. Hence I say: the pens have dried in accordance with the knowledge of Allāh, may He be glorified.”
“…And Allāh sets forth parables for mankind, and Allāh is All-Knower of everything”: Having mentioned this parable of the Light of His guidance in the heart of the believer, Allāh ends this verse with these words, which mean that He knows best who deserves to be guided and who deserves to be led astray.
Imām Ahmad recorded with a jayyid chain of narrators that Abu Sa`id Al-Khudri said, “The Messenger of Allāh [صلى الله عليه وسلم] said:
“Hearts are of four kinds:
- The heart that is clear like a shining lamp;
- The heart that is covered and tied up;
- The heart that is upside-down; and
- The heart that is clad in armor.
As for the clear heart, it is the heart of the believer in which is a lamp filled with light. As for the covered heart, this is the heart of the disbeliever. As for the upside-down heart, this is the heart of the hypocrite, who recognizes then denies. As for the armor-clad heart, this is the heart in which there is both faith and hypocrisy. The parable of the faith in it is that of legume, a sprout that is irrigated with good water, and the likeness of the hypocrisy in it is that of sores that are fed by blood and pus. Whichever of the two prevails is the characteristic that will dominate.”[Taken and grammatically modified from Tafsir Ibn Kathir]
The heart is, therefore, the hotbed of our belief and the basis of our actions. Moreover, Allāh alone knows what is inside our hearts. We might outwardly appear to be a certain way, and our tongues might confirm our appearance to the world, but we cannot hide the reality of our beliefs and faith from Allāh. In this blessed month, we should not just focus on cleansing our hearts from spiritual disease and the black spots on them caused by our accumulated sins, but should also ask Allāh in earnest supplication to make our hearts like the one mentioned in this verse – the clear heart that is like a shining lamp. A heart that is filled with the light of faith and the light of the Qurʾān. A heart that is alive with love and remembrance of Allāh. A heart that stays firm on its faith no matter where, or in which trying situation, a believer finds himself.