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اللَّهُ نُورُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ مَثَلُ نُورِهِ كَمِشْكَاةٍ فِيهَا مِصْبَاحٌ الْمِصْبَاحُ فِي زُجَاجَةٍ الزُّجَاجَةُ كَأَنَّهَا كَوْكَبٌ دُرِّيٌّ يُوقَدُ مِن شَجَرَةٍ مُّبَارَكَةٍ زَيْتُونِةٍ لَّا شَرْقِيَّةٍ وَلَا غَرْبِيَّةٍ يَكَادُ زَيْتُهَا يُضِيءُ وَلَوْ لَمْ تَمْسَسْهُ نَارٌ نُّورٌ عَلَى نُورٍ يَهْدِي اللَّهُ لِنُورِهِ مَن يَشَاءُ وَيَضْرِبُ اللَّهُ الْأَمْثَالَ لِلنَّاسِ وَاللَّهُ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَلِيمٌ
Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth; a likeness of His light is as a niche in which is a lamp, the lamp is in a glass, (and) the glass is as it were a brightly shining star, lit from a blessed olive-tree, neither eastern nor western, the oil whereof almost gives light though fire touch it not – light upon light – Allah guides to His light whom He pleases, and Allah sets forth parables for men, and Allah is Cognizant of all things. (al-Nur, 24/35)
Ayatollah Mujtaba Musavi Lari elucidates this incredible verse as follows;
Whenever there is a discussion about achieving a complete and comprehensive knowledge of God, the Sublime, we acknowledge that the human being will have to admit his incapacity and inadequacy to perceive that Exalted Reality, which is the only Reality in the realm of existence.
The limited reach of the human intellect is not powerful enough to make judgements in the Divine sphere, or to unravel God’s unfathomable secrets or to reach an understanding about such an Exalted Being, by study and deliberation. Even if man was to extend his imagination and thought to their limits or to use his formidable powers of reason – which are able to reveal the mysteries of the entire natural world – to deliberate and consult with his fellows, he still would not have the requisite tools to reach his objective. It is for this reason that even the most elaborate explanations fall well short of describing His Being, because whatever man can understand from nature and science is created by God in the first place, and is a product of His command and will.
Our limited intellects are likewise quite unable to acquire a sound understanding of the nature of His attributes for the reason that when assigned to the Source of existence, attributes are quite different from when they are ascribed to other beings. And above all, they are concepts imagined and concocted by human minds, which are themselves prisoners of material boundaries, because all that which can be considered in the realms of human thought is characterized by limitations, and the reach and judgement of the intellect is likewise constrained and man’s knowledge despite his many advances is quite inadequate, while God is Infinite and Absolute.
However, even as we acknowledge our inability and powerlessness to gain a perfect understanding and deep and expansive gnosis of the limitless Being, nevertheless we are able to achieve a degree of proximity and a relative understanding of His Exalted station and tawhid.
Even when man’s intellect and thought are not yet fully developed to his highest potential, he is still able to use his wondrous power of contemplation – which is a bounty derived from the command of that same limitless Source, which He has placed in our souls so that we might seek a way to Him and to try to understand Him – and to use logic and rational proofs and acquire some understanding of that Eternal Being, in proportion to the extent of our individual insight and intellect. In this way, we may fully realize the existence of that constant Reality, Whose will is mirrored throughout the breadth of existence and creation, behind everything that we observe.
One of the most intricate verses of the Qur’an is the verse of light (ayat al-nur), which exegetes, mystics and philosophers have all discussed, and about which they have offered opinions according to their respective inclinations.
Undoubtedly, the most satisfying method of explaining unfamiliar phenomena is by the use of allegory, metaphor and simile; in truth this style of introduction and familiarization with truths, comprises of two important and basic aspects: the first is that the beauty and subtlety latent in the metaphor makes the heart of the listener incline to the object being described, and second, the intricate secrets and mysteries of the object may become better known to the listener through the aid of the metaphor and allegory that is employed. The verse above also falls under the category of allegory, however, only to the extent of the reach of the intellective faculty of man, and the insignificant knowledge that he possesses and on the other hand, attempting to introduce the boundless and sacred existence of God.
اللَّهُ نُورُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ
Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth;
That Sublime Existence who encompasses all the stations of perfection at once; His sacred Light embraces the entirety of existence and illuminates the heavens and the earth. He is the all-Knowing Creator whose eternal radiance infuses life in the creation and bestows assistance to them. He controls, nurtures and completes them through His power; the Light of His existence shines forth and is clearly manifest across the expanse of existence.
No corner of the cosmos can be conceived which the Light of His sacred Essence does not illuminate; however, each being prospers from this light according to its capacity and ability, ranging from the basic capacities to the vast benefits that man gathers for his own betterment and to reach the peaks of human perfection, which is the main objective of the Divine care.
To prepare the minds of the listeners so that they understand the issue better, God explains His light with the following simile:
مَثَلُ نُورِهِ كَمِشْكَاةٍ فِيهَا مِصْبَاحٌ الْمِصْبَاحُ فِي زُجَاجَةٍ الزُّجَاجَةُ كَأَنَّهَا كَوْكَبٌ دُرِّيٌّ
A likeness of His light is as a niche in which is a lamp, the lamp is in a glass, (and) the glass is as it were a brightly shining star,
The Qur’an which is the most fundamental source for acquiring the cognition of God and for deriving clear guidance about the path that humanity must traverse in order to reach the Originator of existence, compares the Divine light to the simplest object that guides man and illuminates his path in the depths of darkness: a lamp. The first question that arises here is that, why did God not compare His light to the most brilliant and luminous object in the world, that is, the sun, which besides its grandeur and radiance, produces many effects and benefits for the inhabitants of the earth? Why has the Light of God been compared to a man-made lamp instead?
It must be stated in reply that:
Firstly, the sun, with all its illumination, benefits and effects on living beings is still only one of the creations of God in the system of the universe; it is merely carrying out the task it was designed for. If God compared His light with that of the sun, it would indicate a diminution from the state of the Creator to the level of the created, and this is contrary to the exalted nature of God, whose Power extends over all His creation; an ordinary believer when walking through nature and pondering over these same celestial phenomena and the objective behind their creation will be able to acknowledge and infer His existence.
Secondly, a believer, an unbeliever and every human being, irrespective of his beliefs and convictions, seeks and receives the same benefit from the sun, while the brilliant Light of God only illuminates the pages of the hearts of the believers, and His eternal radiance polishes the minds and beings of the people of cognition and bestows upon them hope and mercy, which are the sources of contentment for the soul; He does not extend the same bounty to the hearts of the unbelievers, who are imprisoned by their veils of darkness.
Now why has the Light of God been compared to a lamp, despite it being an object designed by man, and moreover, its light can only illuminate a very limited area – while the light of the sun illuminates and shines over a large expanse of the earth?
The reply is as follows: All the characteristics of the lamp that have been mentioned in the verse have neither been manufactured by God so that it is a creation of the Creator, nor do they quite resemble a similar man-made device, because the brightness of this radiant lamp and its unique qualities which cannot be found in the expanse of existence, has been taken as the basis of the similitude.
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