By Fatima Ariadne
For very long time I’ve sought this verse’s explanation but only finding less than satisfactory interpretations. I even found interpretation by several preachers in literal manner such as ”guidance of Allah is as the lamp on the wall, when we put a lamp on the wall it spreads light everywhere throughout room”. Huh??
Here is the verse,
”Allah is the Light of heavens and earth. The likeness of His light is like a container within which is a lamp, the lamp is within glass, the glass as if it were a sparkling star lit from the blessed tree olive, neither of the east nor of the west, which oil would almost glow even if untouched by fire. Light upon light. Allah guides to His light whom He wills. And Allah presents examples for the humanity, and Allah is All-Knowing of all things.” (Quran 24:35)
But Quran is something we can take a spiritual wisdom from, multi-dimensionally. And I say about spiritual wisdom, not fiqh law — which the latter absolutely requires a very learned scholar. Just like Al-Ghazali in Ihya Ulumuddin pointed out, taking interpretation of Quran in literal and one-sided manner is no different than someone who takes a food and processing it in half manner, therefore depriving the people from taking its fullest nutritional benefit.
Rather than playing guessing game, I opted for among one of my favorite source to seek clarity from any confusion, which is tahajjud. I asked Allah for guidance as my heart yearns to know what the ”light upon light” verse actually intends.
Beneath the layer surface of literalism, I knew something deeper is stored and awaiting to shine, like a pearl buried deep in a mud. And the mud is ignorance and indifference.
The part of answer I got from my tahajjud prayer is,
”In any light of wisdom, search from the heart. And in the light of conscience you shall know how to judge the truth. That’s the true meaning of the verse. Look inside and you’ll see. Look outside and you’ll see as well.
Neither east nor west denotes transcendentality. Now write up the answer, Adna.”
And so here is the answer. But this is not absolute interpretation, because truth only belongs to Allah. But wisdom can come from many places and points of view.
”Allah is the Light of heavens and earth.”
Light can mean several things like Divine guidance, or transcendental mercy, just like in a hadith of Rasulullah,
”Allah created 100 parts of rahmah (mercy, blessings) on the Day He created the heavens and the earth. Each one of the part can contain all that is between the heaven and the earth. Among them, He put one part (of mercy) on earth, through which a mother has compassion for her children and animals and birds have compassion for one another. On the Day of Resurrection, He will perfect and make complete the (other 99 parts) use of His rahmah” (Riyadhus Saalihin)
Such as the immense mercy of Allah and His blessings, that out of 100 parts, 1 part already fulfill the beings of earth with mutual compassion toward each other.
Spiritually, there is nothing wrong to associate this mercy with light. But Prophet’s Companions are of interpretation that the light here in the verse means Divine guidance.
”Container within which is a lamp”.
The container is heart and and the lamp is voice of conscience. Truly travelers without compass is lost, and the light within our hearts is the voice of conscience. The heart without the light of conscience is truly heart which lost in the dark. In the darkness of its own evil, self-righteousness despite him imposing harm toward others, and any kind of spiritual blindness.
The heart is like a glass vessel and if we purify the vessel, we put in it a light, we can make a lantern to guide our journey in our path. But if the glass vessel is murky, and we put in it the light, no light can be transmitted through the dirty glass. And as result, there is no difference at all between bringing a lantern or not.
Only a pure and pristine heart can recognize and comprehend Allah’s signs and Divine guidance. A heart clear from short-sighted ego, a heart clear from worldly life desire that condones the self to be short-sighted.
”the lamp is within glass, the glass as if it were a sparkling star”.
Conscience is lit from Divine inspiration. The glass as if a sparkling star is that the heart is always connected to the Source as long as the conscience is clear.
Imagine a radio. When it is tuned in to the right channel, for example beautiful heart-expanding speech, then you can hear the speech very clearly. But when it’s not tuned in, you will hear static or buzz, muddy and jumbled mixed-up voice. Or when you tune in to the wrong channel, you will get very bad speech broadcast show or immoral lewd song.
So the heart in many aspect is like a radio. Whatever you choose to tune in, is what makes your radio channel. Are you tuned in to the low vibration channel of desire and short-sightedness, or tendency to commit immorality?
Or are you tuned in to the voice of Divine inspiration channel that tells you to expand your heart, be kind and compassionate, and to look up above to comprehend His magnificence?
Think of a glass pristine mirror that reflects the star. The mirror or glass doesn’t contain the whole star as the fullest star is so big and containing very powerful nuclear fusion that’s why it generates light. But by seeing at the mirror that reflects the star, people can imagine what a star looks like. By seeing the sincere Divine ambassador or acts of kindness, such vision inspires people to remember or think about Allah and His mercy.
A sparkling star guides traveler through the dark. This is among why Quran uses the sparkling star as parable. In the darkness, the stars can be the light. Reflection of sparkling star in the night reminds us of the beauty and lesson in duality, of light and dark, of guidance and lowliness.
One of Prophet Muhammad’s supplication in his night prayer :
”Place the light in my soul and make light abundant for me; make me light and grant me light.” (Sahih Muslim)
”Lit from the blessed tree olive”.
I asked personally on a prayer what’s the meaning behind expression of the blessed olive and got a kashf answer that, ”among elements of nature, olive tree devotes to Allah and praise Him the most than any non-sentient beings combined. And all beings possess consciousness to remember their Creator in a way only Allah knows, as per Quran revealed. No creature, even non-sentient creatures, possess no consciousness.” Allah knows best.
In Quran there is a verse;
”Can you not see that to Allah bow down in worship all things that are in the heavens and earth, the sun, the moon, the stars; the hills, the trees, the animals; and a great number among mankind?” (Quran 22:18)
”neither of the east nor of the west”.
This part of the verse denotes transcendentality. Divine guidance based wisdom is something that is timeless and trespass the boundary of differences between humanity such as race and culture. For humanity came from one Source who originated all that is, as part of humanity we share common things including what made our heart vibrates and moved. The conscience language is primordial and yet universal, and therefore ”neither of the east, nor of the west”.
”which oil would almost glow even if untouched by fire.”
The olive tree is the symbolic representation here in the verse for something that serves two directions of devotion. Devotion to Allah and devotion to mankind, since the olive tree can be utilized in various uses imaginable. And yet the tree is servant of God.
The olive oil is naturally glowing even if untouched by fire. But why oil and why olive? We have talked about ”why olive” before. But the oil is something that olive tree has innately, and you cannot separate the oil from olive just like you cannot separate a human from its leg. The oil is one-part with the olive.
So the olive oil here represents an innate treasure that a servant of Allah possessing within him, which can make him devotes to Allah and to help mankind both, in his best capacity.
The innate treasure can be spiritual gift, interpersonal relation gift to make peace between people, scientific gift, visionary gift, a gift of compassion and inner-knowing, etc.
”Light upon light.”
Finally, the first of concluding phrase before the next ones. Suffice to say that the guidance of Allah is beyond comparation, and therefore the mesmerizing phrase of this verse ”light upon light”. Transcendental beyond compare. Especially when the sincere Divine ambassadors upon His path are manifesting His light in the path of wisdom.
”Allah guides to His light whom He wills.”
Many misunderstanding comes why Quran uses a lot of expressions of ”Allah guides whom He wills”, ”Allah misguides whom He wills”. But know that it’s an Arabic linguistic-style that denotes the second effect. So the true meaning of this type of verses is that the servant is just receiving the fruit of his efforts, and the Creator responds to him in recompense according to how the servant treats Him.
There is an authentic hadith Qudsi where Allah revealed, ”I am as My servant thinks of Me.” So these types of verses that says Allah guides and misguides, are never meant that Allah is doing it first. It’s the servant first, and then Allah gives the fruit of his effort back to him.
So in the verse ”Allah guides to His light whom He wills”, it means the servant does his best to knock Allah’s door sincerely and serve Him, therefore Allah responds him by giving him the guidance. Therefore, the seeker gets what he sincerely and truly seeking.
I asked about this in prayer again and got more answer, ”this statement is true, but know that Allah the Most High never inspires evil to anyone, except they chose evil themselves. In the end, everyone goes with their choice and the fruit of their choice.” And Allah knows best!
”And Allah presents examples for the humanity, and Allah is All-Knowing of all things”.
That’s all and I hope you enjoy the spiritual tafseer of Light Upon Light verse. This verse is mesmerizing and beautiful, it deserves deeper spiritual interpretation than just seeing it in literal manner.