One of the most beautiful and often recited verses in the Quran. This verse has filled many pages and volumes of exegesis and have led many Mystics to dabble like moths to reach the Light only to be extinguished when they came too near.  Al’Ghazzali’s Mishkat al’Anwar gives a very detailed interpretation of this verse as well.

“Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The Parable of His Light is as if there were a Niche and within it a Lamp: the Lamp enclosed in Glass: the glass as it were a brilliant star: Lit from a blessed Tree, an Olive, neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil is well-nigh luminous, though fire scarce touched it: Light upon Light! Allah doth guide whom He will to His Light: Allah doth set forth Parables for men: and Allah doth know all things.” (24:35)

Recently, before the start of Ramadan I heard an explanation of these verses from Sh. Suhaib Webb which I found very beneficial and inspiring. It also humanized the very transcendent nature of this verse into something practicle that we could not only experience but live in our lives.

“Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth.” – This means that Allah is the Guide to creation.

“The Parable of His Light is as if there were a Niche and within it a lamp: the Lamp enclosed in Glass: the glass as if it were a brilliant star” – Ubay Ibn Ka’ab reported here that there is something that is Mahdhouf (missing/hidden) here in this sentence and according to the Companions the explanation for this is that the example of Allah’s Light which is in the hearts of the believer’s is the meaning. 

The example of the Light, the Guidance, that Allah has put in the hearts of the believers is like this lamp that is surrounded by this glass that beams out light in every direction.  Some of the Scholars say that the Mishkat, the Niche, is the chest of the Believer, and the Misbah, the Lamp, is ‘La ilaha illa Allah,’ ‘There is no God but the One God.’ The Glass that surrounds the heart is ‘Eeman,’ or Faith.  Allah describes the heart as a glass because it is something fragile but also because it is pure and clean.

“the Glass as it were a brilliant star: Lit from a blessed Tree, an Olive, neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil is well-nigh luminous, though fire scarce touched it” – The Light of the believer is like a star, a powerful and bright star, Dariun means to push out, it beams light all over.  Allah then describes the mechanism which fuels and makes this light run, and that is Az’Zaytun, “A blessed oil, olive oil, neither of the East or the West.”

Some Scholars said this oil which lights the lamp is Ikhlas, or purity, while some others said that it is the believers knowledge of Quran and Sunna.  The more he or she increases in knowledge, the more He increases the light so it beams so expansively and undeniably that as the great Indian Muslim poet Allama Iqbal said even, “when the non-Muslims see him walking, working, etc., the only thing that their fitra will allow them to say in regard to him is “Fabiayyi alai Rabbikuma tukadhiban,” ‘And which of the Favors/Signs of your Lord will you deny.”  

The Believer became such a blessing for humanity that all of humanity when they see him bare witness, “which of the favors of your Lord will yo deny” because that believer became an asset, an unquanitifiable treasure to all of creation.  This is why the Prophet (pbuh) said even the fishes in the sea make dua,’ prayer, for the righteous knowledgable believer. That oil will cause the knowledgable Believer to treat even the creation with respect, thus the creation will make prayer for him.  

“The light will illuminate even though fire scarce touched it” The Believer can self-actualize, take the initiative, be assertive, and doesnt need as many reminders.

“Light upon Light” – Ibn Qayyim mentions in Madarij as’Salikeen, that the reason Allah said this was because the believer who increases in knowledge increases the light he was given when he or she was born or had previously. Fitra+Knowledge= Nur upon Nur.

Update: Imam Sa’dee (ra) tafseer:

“And the objective of this similitude set forth by Allah, and its application is pertaining to the condition of the believer, and the light of Allah in his heart, that fitra (good nature) upon which it was created is [compared] to the status of the pure olive oil, and so is its fitra [likewise] pure, it is prepared to recieve the divine instructions and the lawful deeds, and when knowledge and belief arrives to him that light which is in his heart increases in its burning, and this is like the position of that wick in the lamp that increases it’s burning, and it is a heart pure from evil intentions and evil thoughts about Allah, when Faith reaches it, it illuminates with a tremendous illumination because of its purity from al’kuduraat, and that is the position of the pure shining glass, and so the light of his fitra, and the light of his faith, and the light of his knowledge, and the light of Ma’rifa (gnosis) are combined [and that is] light upon light.”

“And indeed this light is from Allah the Most High and it does not hold true for everyone as He says “Allah Guides to His light whomever He wills”  (Tayseer al’Kareem Ar’Rahmaan fi Tafseer Kalaami’lMannaan)

Update II:

Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth.  He is the One who illuminates them by means of the sun and the moon.  The metaphor of His Light in the heart of the believer is that of a niche – an opening in a wall which is not a window, in which a lamp is placed – in which is a lamp, the lamp inside a glass, the glass and the light inside it – like a brilliant star (read as durriyyun, meaning that it drives away the darkness, or durriyan, meaning like pearls) – the lamp – lit (read as yuqadu and tawaqqada in the past tense, and also tuqadu) from the oil of a blessed tree, an olive, neither of the east nor of the west but between them, so there is no harm of heat or cold from it, its oil all but giving off light even if no fire touches it because of its purity. Light – by it – upon the Light of the fire. The light of Allah means that His guidance of the believer is a light on top of the light of faith. Allah guides to His Light – the din of Islam – whomever He wills, and Allah makes explanatory metaphors for mankind – to make it easier for them to understand, so that they may reflect and then believe; and Allah has knowledge of all things – including the making of metaphors. (Tafsir Al-Jalaalayn, Tr. Aisha Bewley)

Update III:

`Ali bin Abi Talhah reported that Ibn `Abbas said: (Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth.) means, the Guide of the inhabitants of the heavens and the earth. Ibn Jurayj said: “Mujahid and Ibn `Abbas said concerning the Ayah:  He is controlling their affairs and their stars and sun and moon.” As-Suddi said concerning the Ayah: by His Light the heavens and earth are illuminated. In the Two Sahihs, it is recorded that Ibn `Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him, said: “When the Messenger of Allah got up to pray at night, he would say: (O Allah, 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.”

(The parable of His Light) There are two views concerning the meaning of the pronoun (His). The first is that it refers to Allah, 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 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 Allah 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, Muhammad bin Ka`b and others said, “This refers to the position of the wick in the lamp.” This is well-known, and hence Allah 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 Allah of obedience towards Him. Allah 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, 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,) means, 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 Dal 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 Dal, or Dammah on the Dal, 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,) means, it is derived from olive oil, from a blessed tree.

(neither of the east nor of the west,) means, 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, nothing covers it, and this is best for its oil.” Mujahid commented on: 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:(an olive, neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil would almost glow forth (of itself)) “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.”

(Allah guides to His Light whom He wills.) means, Allah shows the way to the ones whom He chooses, as it says in the Hadith recorded by Imam Ahmad from `Abdullah bin `Amr, who said, “I heard the Messenger of Allah say:

(Allah 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 Allah, may He be glorified.)”

(And Allah sets forth parables for mankind, and Allah is All-Knower of everything.) Having mentioned this parable of the Light of His guidance in the heart of the believer, Allah ends this Ayah with the words: (And Allah sets forth parables for mankind, and Allah is All-Knower of everything.) meaning, He knows best who deserves to be guided and who deserves to be led astray. Imam Ahmad recorded that Abu Sa`id Al-Khudri said, “The Messenger of Allah 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.) Its chain of narrators is good (Jayyid) although they (Al-Bukhari and Muslim) did not record it. (Tafsir Ibn Kathir)

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