Naqshbandiya Foundation for Islamic Education

The Naqshbandiya Foundation for Islamic Education (NFIE) is a non-profit, tax exempt, religious and educational organization dedicated to serve Islam with a special focus on Tasawwuf(Sufism),

Saturday, May 23, 2020

The Prophet Muhammad (saws) in Sufi Interpretations of the Light Verse ( Aya Nur 24:35 - Dr.Marcia Hermansen- Sufi Illuminations Journal

The Prophet Muhammad In Sufi Interpretations Of The Light Verse (Âya Nûr 24:35)[1]
Surat An Nur dan Terjemahan | Noble quran, Quran, Surat

Allâh is the Light of the heavens and the earth; the likeness of His Light is a niche within which there is a lamp--the lamp is in a glass, the glass as if it were a shining star--kindled from a Blessed Tree, an olive tree neither of the East nor of the West, whose oil would shine forth even if no fire touched it; Light upon Light.  Allah guides to his Light whomever He wills, and He coins similitudes for people, and He has knowledge of all things.”[2]
This study will point out some elements of mystical commentaries on the "Light Verse" over the centuries with particular reference to their interpretations of the role of the Prophet Muhammad within the teachings of Islam.
Let me make the introductory point that the phrase, "light upon light"--"nûr ‘alâ nûr", in this verse has been taken by some commentators to point to the Prophet's role of interpreting and embodying the teachings of the Qur'ân.  (5:15) "There has come to you from Allâh a light and a clear Book".[3]
            The science of tafsîr begins from the time of the Prophet (pbuh), since there are chapters in hadith collections such as Muslim and Bukhârî which collect the statements of Muhammad explaining various âyât of the Qur'ân.  Among the Companions of the Prophet there were Sahâba who focused on elements of the transmission and early sciences of the Qur'ân.  For example, the Huffâz and the Qussâs were Companions who dedicated themselves to memorizing the Qur'ân and to gathering any information that they could about its interpretation and the accounts of the earlier Prophets recounted in the scripture.  Companions especially noted for tafsîr of the Qur'ân are among the most prominent transmitters of ahâdîth as well, such as ‘Abd Allâh ibn Mas‘ûd, ‘Ikrima, and Ibn ‘Abbâs.
            Just as there developed regional schools of hadith and legal madhâhib, there developed transmissions of tafsîr focused around the cities and regions of Mecca, Medina, Iraq, and Khurasan.
Categories of interpretation
            The Qur'anic commentaries vary in scope with some commentators, including many Sufis, going through the entire Qur'ân verse by verse to write a "continuous" commentary.  Other studies may be done of only one or a few chapters, often the Fâtiha, or the shorter chapters at the end of the Qur'ân.  Still other interpretations involve only a few verses, interspersed within other discussions or cited to illuminate relevant points.
General discussions of tafsîr broadly categorize approaches under the divisions of:[4]
1) Tafsîr bi-l riwâya or bi l-ma'thûr.  That is, using the hadith of the Prophet and the reports of the Companions about certain verses, as well as comparisons to other Qur'ânic verses in order to shed light on certain terminology and topics.
2) Tafsîr bi-l dirâya or "bi'l ra'i" or "tafsîr using ijtihâd".  This is where a Companion or a later commentator used reason to judge among the existing reports or to derive interpretations of verses based on the text. 
3) Tafsîr bi-l ishâra, literally, the interpretation of the subtle allusions, which is also known as tafsîr faidî or kashfî, that which uses mystical experience or disclosure.  This approach is particularly found among the mystics or Sufis who draw on traditional sources but also used spiritual experiences.[5]
            There are a number of principles of tafsîr ishârî.  In addition to presenting exoteric aspects of the text's meanings, methods for exploring the further implications include the principle of "tarâduf" or "al-nazâ'ir", synonyms and parallels, that is, looking for the subtle meanings or aspects of meaning (wujûh)[6] by comparing appearances of the same term at various places in the text of the Qur'ân.  Muqâtil Ibn Sulaymân, for example, did this at an early period,[7] and then later was followed in this method by al-Hâkim al-Tirmidhî (c. 900).[8]
The History of Esoteric Qur'ân Commentary
            Within the interpretive tradition of the mystics there are further dimensions of tafsîr.  It is reported that Ja‘far al-Sâdiq said at the beginning of his tafsîr that the Qur'ân has been revealed at four levels of meaning:
The book of God contains four elements: in it there is expression (‘ibâra), then allusion (ishâra), then the subtle meanings (latâ'if), and then the realities (haqâ'iq).  ‘Ibâra is for the common person, allusion (ishâra) for the elect, the subtleties are for the saints, and the realities for the Prophets"[9]
            The concept of Ishâra (allusion) does not mean exclusively the symbolic or allegorical but also refers to the attempt to communicate some of the ineffable realities or dimensions of mystical insight. 
And thus it is, that by the very nature of the experience, the language of ishâra tends, on the one hand, to become an esoteric language not understood by the uninitiated or deliberately made incomprehensible to them, and on the other hand, tends to destroy itself as inadequate and as a veil between the Sufi and the object of his experience; God.  The novice, remarked Junayd, must find God at the same time as his allusion, but he who has attained the highest of mystical states (ahwâl) must find God in the abolition of the allusion.[10]
            The early Sufi commentator, Sahl al-Tustarî (860) cited a hadith "that every Qur'ân verse has four dimensions: Zâhir, bâtin, hadd, and muttala’, which he glossed as respectively: wording, meaning, regulation, and intuition of the true import of the verse."[11]
            The Light Verse has occasioned extensive mystical commentary and several treatises have been written on it alone, for example, Mishkât al-Anwâr[12] of al-Ghazâli and Tafsîr Âya Nûr[13] of Mullâ Sadr al-Dîn Shîrâzî.
            The Sufis would not see their commentaries as distinct from the basic science of tafsîr, or as diverging from it.  One of the earliest extant tafsîrs, that of Muqâtil (767) contains many of the interpretations found continued through the tradition of tafsîr, both ma'thûrî and ishârî, until today.[14]  Thus, the idea that Qur'ânic commentary of the Sufis is a later creation or innovation is patently false.
            Still, it would be accurate to say that there is a specific tradition of ishârî or mystical commentary of which the first representative may have been Ja‘far al-Sâdiq.  Fragments of a tafsîr attributed to him have been cited in the later works, in particular, that of al-Sulamî,[15] and he is also associated with the branch of mystical tafsîr specializing in the science of the single letters cited primarily at the opening of certain verses, the Muqatta‘ât. 
            In terms of extant continuous tafsîrs, that is, the ones which treat the entire text of the Qur'ân, the first one which we have is that of Sahl al-Tustarî 796-245/860.[16]  Bøwering observes that, "Despite its rigid framework as a running commentary, the Tafsîr fails to form a unified and neatly structured text.  As a whole, it rather conveys the image of patchwork and disjointedness."[17]  Following that, after some span of time over which Sufi thought became increasingly developed, is the tafsîr of Abû ‘Abd al-Rahmân al-Sulamî (d. 1021), entitled Haqâ'iq al-Tafsîr[18] which quotes heavily from the intervening masters of Sufism.
            In attempting to get some broad grasp of esoteric or ishârî commentaries, one can speak both of the broad historical periods of their composition as well as the incorporation of intellectual tendencies emerging within the articulation of the Islamic tradition over time.
            For example, an article by Abdurrahman Habil[19] speaks of an early phase represented by the tafsîrs cited above; then a phase corresponding to that of the Sufi manual writers such as al-Sarrâj (988), al-Kalâbâdhî (995), Abû Tâlib al-Makkî (996), and al-Qushayrî, or if you will, marked by a more sober "Junaydian" tendency.  This is succeeded by a more philosophical or "wujûdî" phase following Ibn Sînâ's philosophy and reflecting the increasing absorption of the concepts of Ibn ‘Arabî's system[20] of mystical thought.  al-Dhahabî describes a strain of "nazarî" or theoretical philosophical interpretation gradually incorporated by the mystics and philosophers in to their interpretive discourse.[21]
            One aspect not given special mention in Habil's framework is what may be termed the influence of ecstatic love and longing for union with God which is also reflected in Qur'ân commentaries.  The two brothers, Muhammad Ghazâlî and Ahmad Ghazâli, may be taken to portray these divergent trends in Sufi thought.  In the case of the former, a more sober and intellectual approach, and in the latter, the more ecstatic and poetic tone such as that taken by al-Hallâj, ‘Ayn al-Qudât Hamadânî, Rûzbehân Baqlî, etc.  In addition, one may speak of tafsîr as reflecting sectarian perspectives such as Mu’tazilî, Shi’î, or Ismâ’îlî.  Thus Dhahabî, in his work, al-tafsîr wa-l mufassirûn, (Qur'ân Commentary and the Commentators) uses broader categories such as nazarî/philosophical and ishârî/mystical, as well as the names of sectarian groups, in order to classify tafsîrs. 
            In later periods, the Naqshbandî Sufis made an especially great contribution to tafsîr in both South Asia and other parts of the Islamic world.  Among their representatives I may cite Shâh Walî Allâh (1762),[22] Thanâ'ullâh Panipatî (d. 1810),[23] and Mahmûd al-Alûsî (1854).[24]
            Many Chishtî tafsîrs are still in manuscript including those of Shaykh Muhammad Chishtî of Gujerat (1575) and the "tarjumat-al-Qur'ân" of Muhibbullâh Allâhabâdî (1648).[25]  In 1713 the Chishtî, Shâh Kalîmullâh Jahânabâdî, composed a brief Arabic tafsîr Qur'ân al-Qur'ân bi-l-Bayân in order to facilitate the understanding of the holy book.[26]
            In order to counter the idea that tafsîrs composed by mystics are solely esoteric in intent, it should be noted that Sufis such as Shâh Walî Allâh[27] in the eighteenth century and Khwâja Hasan Nizâmî Dihlavî (1957)[28] in recent decades, made efforts in the field of translating the Qur'ân into language comprehensible by the ordinary Muslim.
            While one often thinks of contemporary tendencies in tafsîr as being modernist or de-mythologizing, such as those of Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khân or the Manâr of Rashîd Ridâ in Egypt, the Sufi tradition continues as well.[29]
Main Ideas in Sufi Interpretations of the Light Verse (Âya Nûr)
            Having given this brief introduction to the subject, let me proceed by citing some examples of the Sufi interpretations of Âya Nûr.
            I have concluded, after studying quite a number of mystical approaches to the understanding of this verse, whether in continuous or partial tafsîrs, that one way to consider their themes is to present them under three aspects.
1) Sufi approaches to the individual symbols and allegories of this verse.
2) Sufi approaches to the structures organizing these symbols as explaining stages of spiritual development or existential understanding.
3) The practical consequences of the Sufi interpretation of this verse.
            An early example of mystical interpretation of this verse, is one attributed to Ja‛far al-Sadiq:[30]
            (Allâh is the light of the heavens and the earth)  There are different lights, the first is the light of protecting the heart, then the light of fear, then the light of hope, then the light of recollection (tadhakkur), then seeing with the light of knowledge, then the light of modesty, then the light of the sweetness of faith, then the light of Islam, then the light of ihsân, then the light of blessing, then the light of grace, then the light of favor, the light of munificence (âla'), then the light of generosity (karam), then the light of affection, then the light of the heart, then the light of comprehensiveness, then the light of awe (haiba), then the light of perplexity, then the light of life, then the light of intimacy, then the light of honesty, then the light of resignation, then the light of contentment, then the light of glory, then the light of majesty, then the light of power, then the light of divinity, then the light of oneness, then the light of uniqueness, then the light of pre-existence, then the light of eternity, then the light of continuity, then the light of the aftertime, then the light of subsistence (baqâ'), then the light of universality, then the light of divine selfhood (huwiyya).[31]
Every one of these lights has a people and a state and a location.  All of them are from God, which God mentions in his saying, "Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth."  Every one of his God-servants has a source of inspiration (mashrab) from one of these lights and perhaps he may have a share of two or three of them, but they shall not be completed except by Mustafâ (S), because he stands with Allah ⁄ by virtue of his correct servitude and love.  Thus he is light (nûr) and he comes from his Lord enlightened (‘alâ nûr) 
Ja‘far said, "He illuminated the heavens with the light of the stars and the sun and the moon; and he illuminated the two earths with the light of the plants, red, white yellow, and so on.  And He illuminated the heart of the believer with the light of faith and Islam, and He illuminated the paths (turuq) to Allâh with the light of Abû Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Uthmân and ‘Alî, may Allâh be pleased with them. . On account of this the Prophet said (S), "My companions are like the stars, whichever of them you follow, you will be rightly guided."[32]. . .
He (Ja‘far) said about "neither of the East nor the West" "neither fear requiring despair nor hope engendering cheerfulness--so remain between fear and hope".
            In this example, which constitutes the fragment which we have of Ja‘far's tafsîr, we find the three themes of symbols, philosophy, and practice.
            Some of the ideas put forward include the stages of spiritual progress (maqâmât), the concept of a source of inspiration which varies from one person to another (mashrab), the practice of pure service/worship of Allâh, (‘ubûdiyya), and the concept of balance or polarities.
            Following this extended example, let us take briefer selections from other tafsîrs in order to illustrate the three dimensions, beginning with the symbolic or allegorical approach:
The Companion and early, Ibn ‘Abbâs, said, "the niche (mishkât) is the heart, the glass is the soul and the light of Muhammad is the lamp".[33]
            Sahl al-Tustarî 283/896, who was the author of the oldest continuous mystical commentary on the Qur'ân wrote:
(God is the light of the heavens and the earth) i. e., the one who beautifies the heavens and the earth by lights.  (like unto his light) can mean, "like unto the light of Muhammad (S)".[34]  Hasan al-Basrî said, "by this is meant the heart of the believer and not the light of Muhammad because the hearts of the Prophets (S) are more illuminated than can be described by the likeness of these lights," and he also said, "the light symbolizes the light of the Qur'ân, the lamp of lamps; and its lamp (sirâj) is gnosis (mar‘ifa) and its wicks (fatîla) are the acts of duty (farâ'id), and its oil is sincerity and its light is the light of attaining union.  Thus the more purified that sincerity (ikhlâs) becomes the more the lamps gives light, the more the duties increase in truth the more the lamp increases in light.[35]
            In terms of the interpretations of spiritual psychology, the commentary by Lâhîjî on Shabistarî's Gulshan-i Râz, indicates that,
"the lamp (misbâh) is the spirit, the niche (mishkât) is the body, the glass (zujâja) is the heart like a shining star, the blessed tree is the lower soul (nafs)."[36]
            The commentary of Khwâja ‘Abd Allâh Ansârî (1089) completed by Rashîd al-Dîn Maybûdî (1126), quotes Husayn ibn Mansûr (al-Hallâj) as saying:
"The light of inspiration (wahi) is in the head, the light of intimate prayers (manâjât) is between the eyes, the light of certainty is in the hearing, the light of elucidation (bayân) is in the tongue, the light of faith is in the breast, the light of the glorification of God is in the natural disposition.  If any one of these lights catches fire, it will become dominant over the rest and take precedence over them.  Then when this dies down, the power of that light will still remain more abundant and complete than it had been.  If all of them catch fire it will be a case of "light upon light."[37]
            ‘Ayn al-Qudât Hamadânî (1131), a Sufi who was executed, and the author of a number of mystical works, one of which was commented on by the Chishtî Sufi, Gîsû Darâz, cites Qur'ân 66:8.  "Our Lord, perfect our light for us,"[38] as well as a prayer attributed to the Prophet regarding light in order to enrich the resonances of understanding this verse.[39]
            The Prophet's prayer is:
"O Allah appoint for me a light in my heart and light in my tomb and light before me and light behind me; light on my right hand and light on my left; light above me and light below me; light in my sight and light in my perception; light in my countenance and light in my flesh; light in my blood and light in my bones.  Increase to me light, and give me light, and appoint for me light, and give me more light, give me more light, give me more light!'[40]
            In a nineteenth century tafsîr, the Baghdadi Sufi, al-Alûsî, summarizes allegories of the light as possibly representing the Qur'ân, guidance, faith or obedience. (hudâ, îmân, ta‘ât).[41]  If taken as God's light as in the phrase, "light upon light", it may refer to the Qur'ân, divine unity, the divine laws, or guidance (tauhîd, sharî‘a, or hudâ).[42]
            Three sources from which this light may emerge according to the commentaries are God, the Prophet, and the heart of the believer.
            The "Blessed Tree" is interpreted by some commentators as referring to the lineage of Prophet Abraham, for example, al-Ghazâlî[43] and al-Qushayrî, who said, "the light of Muhammad gnosis is kindled from the tree of Ibrâhîm."[44]  Ansârî notes that some of the interpreters say that the allegory is that the niche represents Ibrâhîm, the glass, Ismâ’îl, and the lamp, Muhammad.[45]
            The commentator, al-Alûsî, cites in this context the Qur'ânic verse. 14:24.
            "A good word is like a good tree, its roots are firm and its branches are in the sky."[46]  This is a particularly useful association since it is related to the idea of God coining symbols for humanity.[47] 
            Among the richest evocations of the tree symbolism are the interpretations found in the Tamhîdât of ‘Ayn al-Qudât Hamadânî.  Here the meaning of the "blessed olive tree' may be taken to refer to the spiritual experiences of the Prophet, or to the Prophet himself.
Once you see the tree of Tûbâ,[48] then you will know which one is the "the lote tree of the furthest reach" (sidrat al-muntahâ)[49] and in turn which one is the "olive tree".  It is, "I spent the night in the presence of my Lord."[50]  The basis of all of these is the same, they simply have different names.
Sometimes they may call it "a tree" sometimes they call it Mount Sinai (tûr sînâ) sometimes they may call it "the olive".  Read, "By the fig tree and the olive tree"[51] From the tree of, "[a voice] called out [from the right bank of the water course in the sacred hollow coming] from the tree, 'O Moses'"[52] these words should be listened to; and the tree that "grows out of Mount Sinai",[53] will lead you to the secret of the olive tree.
Do you know which of these is the mountain of Sinai, "But, look to the mountain"[54] it must be this mountain.  Ibn ‘Abbâs said. "this means 'look at the light of Muhammad, peace be upon him'".  They call the light of Muhammad a mountain since the source and the homeland totally come from his light.  "Qâf, by the noble Qur'ân"[55] also bears testimony to this mountain.[56]
            A verse mentioning the "tree" which may be related in interpretation is 36:80, "He knows all action, who has made for you fire out of the green tree, and from it you kindle."  Traditional tafsîrs comment on this âya as a proof of God's ability to create an afterlife.  The fire from the green tree, could, however, be taken as an allusion to the Prophet as in Yusuf Ali's commentary, "Thus a new life results from man's contact with the Perfect Man who God has sent, and this new life is the basis of life after death,"[57] which may lead to the further association with the idea that the fire of divine love may be kindled by love of the Prophet.
In terms of further allegories, mystical commentaries on the phrase, "Light upon Light" make associations to the Prophet and Qur'ân, or to the combination of the believer's efforts to reach God with Allâh's grace drawing him or her nearer.
            Ecstatic Sufis have interpreted this "light upon light" as the lover of Allâh being extinguished in the divine realization like the moth consumed in the flame, the well known image in the Persianate poetic tradition.[58]
            The Light Verse in addition to representing "light" as the principle sustaining all existence, contains elements which indicate spiritual principles of contrast and balance.  These are embodied in the symbols of "neither of the East nor of the West". (lâ sharqiyya wa lâ gharbiyya)
            In this context Sufi tafsîrs mention the contrasts of:
jamâl and jalâl[59]                       (beauty and majesty)
lutf and qahr[60]             (gentleness and forcefulness)
the white and the black light[61]
wujûd and shuhûd       being and witnessing
The East and West may represent "pre-eternity" (azal) and "post-temporal infinity" (abad), or "this world" (dunyâ) and "the next world" (âkhira).[62]  In Lâhîjî, the East is said to represent the spirits and the West, the bodies.[63]
            The concept of a balance between contrasting elements is put forth by al-Qushayrî who interprets the phrase "light upon light" (nûr ‘alâ nûr) as referring to lights acquired by effort (iktisâb) combined with those acquired by divine grace (fadl).[64]
            Qushayrî continues that, "neither of the East nor of the West" means that fear is not isolated from hope, rather there should be a balance.[65]
            This is then developed in terms of the Sufi theories of "states and stages" and the necessity of maintaining a balance between them.  Examples of these stages are:
haiba/uns                     awe and intimacy
qabd/bast         contraction and expansion
mahv/ sahv      effacement and sobriety
fanâ/baqâ         annihilation and subsistence[66]
For (lâ sharqiyya wa lâ gharbiyya), Qushayrî cites the hadith:
"The truth transcends all attachment".  This is the attribute of the strangers.  In other words truth overcomes all attachment as light overcomes darkness.  For, "Islam began as a stranger and will return as a stranger".[67]
Qushayrî illustrates the concept of progress toward spiritual realization when he describes levels of the light as representing the lights of ‘aql, fahm, ‘ilm, yaqîn, tawhîd, ma‘rifa--that is, ways of understanding or illumination through reason, understanding, certainty, unity, and gnosis.[68]
            Near the conclusion of his Mishkât al-Anwâr, al-Ghazâlî unfolds a complex allegorical system in which the five main symbols of the verse are taken to be an allegory for five levels of the spirit.[69]
            The sensory spirit is the niche
            the imaginative spirit is the glass
            the intelligent spirit is the light giving lamp
            the ratiocinative/discursive spirit is the tree
            the transcendent prophetic spirit is the oil.[70]
Ghazâlî explains that
"Light is the form behind all color". Those endowed with insight never see any object except that they see Allah along with it.
Some only see objects through Allah, while others see Allah in and through those objects.
The first call is, "Does it not suffice that you Lord sees all," 41:53, and the second in the words,
" We shall show them our signs on the horizons and in themselves." 41:53
The first have the direct intuition of Allah while the second infer Him from His works.
The first are the saints (auliyâ'), the second are the learned who are "those firmly established in knowledge."[71]
            The Persian commentary on the Gulshan-e Râz, using the symbols of the Light Verse, reflects the transmission of the philosophy of Ibn ‘Arabî into poetic expression.
man va tû ‘ârid-i dhât-i wujûdîm
mushabbakhâ'-i mishkât-i wujûdîm
hameh yek nûrdân ashbâh va arvâh
gah az âînah paidah, gah-z misbâh[72] 
These are but temporary forms of the one being, yours and mine
Lattice grills through which the lights of existence can shine
Bodies and spirits, into one container for this light are bound
Which sometimes in the mirror and sometimes in the lamp itself, is found.
This commentary further notes that,
Pure being (wujûd mutlaq) is the lamp (misbâh) and the world is the niche (mishkât) in which the lamp is concealed.
            The connection and flowing of the spirit in the body and the flowing and manifesting of absolute being of the Real in all separate and material existences is described in the "Light verse".[73]
            Najmuddîn Dâyâ portrays the human being as being the bridge or balance between the world of spirits and the world of animality.  In a tafsîr of the Light Verse he speaks of the primordial human, Âdam, containing or uniting in himself spiritual centers, or latâ'if, which correspond to the symbols of the verse.  Thus, the human heart is the glass, the niche is the body, the lamp is the "mystery" (sirr), the oil is the spirit (rûh) taken from the blessed tree "of my spirit",[74] and the wick is the "arcane" (khafî).[75]
Practice (A’mâl Qur'âniyya)
            The idea of using (a‘mal) or reciting certain phrases from the Qur'ân as a spiritual practice for purification of the self or for invoking blessing is a sunna established by many sound hadith.
            The mystery of the universe is coded in the chapters of the Qur'ân according to Shabistarî, since "every world (‘âlam) is like a particular chapter of the Holy Book".
az-û har ‘âlami chûn sûra-i khâs
yeki zi-û Fâtiha v-un dîgar Ikhlâs
            According to these verses and Lâhîjî's commentary, these descending spheres of existence are located between the world of the first chapter (al-Fâtiha) and that of Ikhlâs (#112).  The Bismillâh of the Fâtiha represents the World of the Universal Intellect (‘aql-i kull),[76] and the level of Absolute Oneness (ahadiyya).
            The Light Verse, (âya nûr) represents the universal soul (nafs-i kull) which is like the lamp (misbâh) of unity (wâhidiyya) illuminating the world of existent things.
            The Throne verse[77] (âya ‘arsh), represents the third level which is the outer sphere.
            The verse of the Footstool (Âyat al-kursî)[78] represents the eighth sphere, while the seven heavens correspond to the seven readings (sabî mathânî), of the Qur'ân.[79]
            The symbols of the Light Verse have at times been read as indicating the practices farâ'id, nawâfil, dhikr, and ‘ubûdiyya, i. e., the obligatory acts of worship, the extra (supererogatory ones), the remembrance of Allâh, and the highest state of servitude.
            In his discussion of ‘ubûdiyya, ‘Ayn al-Qudât quotes Uvays Qarnî as saying,
"When servitude is perfected the servants' pleasure becomes like the pleasure of God".
People asked, "What is servitude?"
Uvays replied, "When you become free while you are a servant."[80]
            In the Light Verse in particular, we have indications of the practice of dhikr and the recitation of the Qur'ân as a source of increasing the light of the soul through polishing the mirror of the heart.  This is indicated by the hadith, "Every thing has a polish and the polish for the heart is the recitation of the Qur'ân",[81] or according to another version, "the polish of the heart is the remembrance of God".[82]
Najmuddîn Kubrâ wrote,
As for the share of the elect in witnessing the lights of the Divine attributes and His essence by being shown the Truth in themselves, it is because Almighty (ta’alla) God created the human soul as a mirror capable of witnessing (shuhûd) His essence and bringing together His attributes, if it is pure from two hindrances (sadâ); despicable (dhamîma) qualities and vile characteristics.  Its polish is the kalima, "There is no God other than Allâh."
            Denial by the negation, "Lâ ilâha" "there is no God", closes off all which is other than Allâh, while affirming with the affirmation (illâ Allâh)"except Allâh" has within it the light of the Divine beauty and majesty, so that we see with the light of God,[83] the body, to be like the niche; the heart, to be like the glass; the sirr to be like the lamp, and the glass like unto a shining star kindled from a blessed olive tree.  This is the tree of spirituality (rûhâniyya) neither of the East, i. e., not of the eternal pre-existent (qadîma azaliyya), nor of the West, i.e., not transitory (fâniyya), setting in the sky of existence in the non-existence of the essence (‘ayn) of non-existence.[84]
"Its oil would almost," this is the human spirit would "burn forth" with the light of the intellect "even if fire scarcely touched it."  This is the fire of the Divine light, the greatness of the Divine majesty and the glory of His might.  That is, you perceive through the intelligences branded with the imprint of temporal origination (hudûth) until the light of non-existence theophanizes to the light of the intellect outside of non-existence, as He said, "light upon light".
"Allah guides whoever He wills to His light",
That is, by the light of the lamp of the Mystery (sirr) of the one whom He wants, by the light of the timeless and the light of the heart becoming illuminated, as well as the niche of the body--and their rays combine so that the senses and the human earth shines with light so that the earth becomes illuminated (ashraqat) by the light of its Lord at the station of, "I become for him his hearing, and his sight and his tongue" and "through Me he hears and through Me he sees and through Me he speaks".  In this there in a indication that the intellect is a particularly human characteristic and that there is no way for it to become united with the light of Allâh, for this is particularized for the Divine guidance as a grace and a favor.  The servants are not capable acquiring this by their own efforts, this is a grace of Allâh which he bestows on whom He wills.[85]
            In another of his writings, Fawâ'ih al Jamâl, Kubrâ explains:
"There are lights which ascend and lights which descend.  The ascending lights are the lights of the heart; the descending lights are those of the Throne.  Creatural being (wujûd) is the veil between the Throne and the heart.  When the veil is rent and a door to the Throne opens on the heart, like springs toward like.  Light rises toward light and light comes down upon light, "and it is light upon light."[86]
            In the Mirsâd al-’Ibâd of Kubrâ's disciple, Najmuddîn Dâyâ, also known as Râzî, further descriptions of the light of the dhikr may be found.
Dâyâ writes, "In Explanation of Witnessing the Lights and their Levels" that:
God Almighty said, "The heart did not lie about what it saw, will you the dispute with him about what he saw, for indeed he saw Him descending at a second descent" (53:13)
The Prophet (S) said, "Righteousness (Ihsân) is that you worship Allah as if you see Him".[87]
When the mirror of the heart gradually becomes polished by using the polish of "la ilâha illâ Allâh", and the rust of the instinctual nature and the darkness of the human attributes are erased from it, it may become receptive to the lights of the unseen world, at first like a lamp, candle, torch and fire.  After that, the higher lights will manifest, at first in the form of stars, small and large, and then later in the form of the moon and then in the form of the sun.  Finally lights free of any position will appear.
Know that the origin of these lights varies--the spirituality of the seeker, the saintliness of the shaykh, the prophethood of our master, (S), the spirits of the prophets, the saints, the shaykhs, the Mighty Presence, and the dhikr, "la illâh illâ Allâh", and other forms of dhikr, the Qur'ân, Islam, îmân, and the various types of worship and obedience.  Each one has a different light, and from every source a certain light arises according to that source, and each light has its own taste and colour.
As for those lights seen in the form of a lamp, candle, and so on, these are lights derived from the saintship of the shaykh or from the Prophethood of Muhammad (S) who is the illuminating lamp (sirâj munîr), or from sciences derived from the light of the Qur'ân, or the light of faith.  This lamp or candle is in reality the heart. . . .
The higher ones are derived from the light of spirituality (rûhâniyya) that manifests in the sky of the heart in proportion to its being polished.  When the mirror of the heart becomes as pure as a star, the light of the spirit becomes manifest to the amount of a star. . . .
Take the case of Abraham.  Did he see the sun, moon and stars in the interior world or in the external world?  The answer is, that it makes no difference.  Once the mirror of the heart becomes pure, sometimes the person will see the vision in the Unseen World coming from the world of the heart by means of the imagination (khayâl).  Sometimes it may happen that he or she will see it by witnessing in the external world by mean of the senses.   A thing which has a connection to and is a locus of manifestation for the lights of God becomes like the sun, the moon, and the stars which receive the reflection of the lights of God since, "Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth".  In reality it is the heart which perceives the light and the Mighty Presence which displays it.  Once the experience of, "This is my Lord,"[88] comes from realizing God, the Unseen and the visible, the outer and the inner, become as one.[89]
The Role of the Prophet in this Symbolism
Finally I would like to review some themes which emerge from tafsîrs of the Light Verse with specific reference to the role of the Prophet Muhammad.
            The lamp symbol of this Âya naturally evokes the name of the Prophet, (sirâj munîr) 33:46.  al-Ghazâlî refers to the "Sirâj Munîr" as the Prophetic spirit which is the source of the kindling of the light (of faith or enlightenment).[90] 
            As a living example, the experience of the opening and cleansing of the heart of the Prophet (sharh al-sadr) is clearly related to the idea of the spark which causes light to shine forth.  In fact, some commentators have mentioned the correspondence of the Niche to the Prophet's breast (sadr) as in the âya, "the one whose breast Allâh has opened to Islam is illuminated (‘alâ nûr) from His Lord."[91]
            The phrase, "Light upon light", as already mentioned, reminds us of the Prophet's role as the light of guidance "nûr al-hudâ", as in the verse, "a light and a Book manifest." 5:15
            The "nûr muhammadî" (Muhammadan Light) concept is an early one in Islam.  Abû ‘Abd al-Rahmân Sulamî in "Haqâ'iq al-tafsîr" wrote:
When God willed to create Muhammad, He made appear a light from His light.  When it reached the veil of the majesty it bowed in prostration before God.  God created from its prostration a mighty column (amûd) like crystal glass (zujâj) of light that is outwardly and inwardly translucent.[92]
The poet, Muhammad Iqbâl, referring to this light, wrote,
"One is either shining with the light of Prophet Muhammad,
or still searching for him."[93]
yâ zi nûr-i mustafâ ou râ bahâ ast
yâ hanûz andar talâsh-i mustafâ ast.
A Christian scholar, Paul Nywia, who had deeply studied mystical tafsîr, commented that there is no extreme gap between early Qur'anic interpretations and those of the later Sufi tradition.  The difference is that later Sufis gradually incorporated their personal experience of the Prophet as a spiritual example of the living Qur'ân into their interpretations.
"It is clear that the symbolic interpretation of the verse in terms of Muhammad marks an important step on the path towards his idealization at the same time as it confirms the existence of allegorical and spiritual exegesis in the early tradition.  From Muqâtil to Kharrâz there is neither rupture nor innovation, simply for Muqâtil the setting remains outside of consciousness, its exemplary nature was not yet lived, but rather "imagined".[94]
            I would like to conclude with some verses excerpted from the Kitâb al-Tawâsîn of al-Hallâj which could be taken as a tafsîr of the Light Verse.
The Tâ Sîn[95] of the Sirâj
sirâjun min nûr al-ghaibi
wa bâda wa ‘âda
wa jâwaz as-sirâju wa sâda
qamarun tajallâ min bayna-l-aqmâr
burjuhu fî falak-il-asrâr 
A lamp from the light of the Unseen
appeared and came near
The lamp excelled and prevailed
a Moon shining forth among the Moons
a constellation in the secret sphere. 
God called him "unlettered"
Because of the focus of his vocation,
and "sacred" due to his great blessedness,
and "Makkan", due to his constant "nearness"[96] to God, in location. 
Allâh expanded his breast and raised his stations
He made his command obeyed, and his moon to shine forth among the nations,
There is no light more luminous or bright, more ancient than pre-eternity
except the numinous light of the Master of nobility.
kalâmuhu nabavî, îlmuhu ‘alavî
îbâratuhu ‘arabî, qabîlatuhu lâ mashriqî wa lâ maghribî
His speech is prophetic, his knowledge the best
His mode of expression Arabic, his tribe is "neither of the East nor of the West."[97]

[1] A version of this paper, "Sufi Interpretations of the Light Verse (Qur'an 24:35)"  was published in Islamic Quarterly, 1998  pt. 1, (XL11 #2), 144-155, pt. 2  (XL11#3), 218-227.
[2] Qur’an. 24:35.
[3]Interpretation of "Light upon Light," Alûsî, Rûh al-Maânî XVIII (Cairo: Idâra al-tabâ‘a al-munîriyya, 1927), 169.  "qad ja'akum min Allâhi nûr wa kitâb mubîn".
[4]This terminology is presented, for example, in Badmas 'Lanre Yusuf, "Evolution and Development of Tafsîr", Islamic Quarterly XXXVIII (1, 1994):34-47, pp. 36-38.
[5]In al-Futûhât al-Makkiyya Ibn ‘Arabî discusses the methodology of tafsîr ishârî.   Cited in Muhammad Husayn Dhahabî, al-tafsîr wa-l mufassirûn II (Cairo: Dâr al-kutub al-hadîtha, 1976), 372 ff.  Dhahabî also refers to this method as "tafsîr faidî", 352 ff.
[6]Paul Nwyia, Exegese Coranique et Langage Mystique: Nouvel Essai sur le Lexique Technique des Mystiques Musulmans (Beirut: Dar al-Machreq, 1991), 117-56.
[7]Muqâtil's work, al-asbâh wa-l-nazâ'ir fî-l Qur'ân al-karîm (Cairo: al-hai'a al-misriyya al-‘âma l-il-kitâb, 1975) treats many Qur'ânic concepts by tracing their aspects (wujûh) in various citations. "Nûr" is one of the terms which he researched, finding ten different implications of its use. pp. 303-305.
[8]See Nwyia, 117 ff.
[9]Sulamî at the beginning of "Haqâ'iq al-tafsîr". Cited in Paul Nwyia, 167, 175.
[10]Paul Nwyia, "Ishâra" Encyclopedia of Islam IV, 114.  The Junayd citation is from al-Sarrâj, Kitâb al-Luma' 224.
[11]John Burton, "Quranic Exegesis" in Religion, Learning, and Science in the Abbasid Period: The Cambridge History of Arabic Literature III (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 52, citing al-Dhahabî, II, 380 ff.
[12]al-Ghazâlî, Mishkât al-Anwâr ed. ‘Abd al-’Alâ Afîfî (Cairo: Dâr al-Qaumiyya, 1964).  English translation W. H. T. Gairdner, The Niche for Lights (Lahore: Muhammad Ashraf, 1952).
[13]Mullâ Sadrâ Shîrâzî, Tafsîr Âya Mubâraka Nûr, ed. Muhammad Khwâjuavî (Tehran: Intishârât Maulâ, 1983).
[14]On Muqâtil's somewhat controversial reputation see Claude Gilliot, "Muqâtil, Grand Exégète,Traditionaliste, et Thèologien Maudit" Journal Asiatique CCLXXIX (1991):39-92.
[15]There are some indications that these citations are partial.  It is said that the portion used by Sulamî was transmitted by Ibn ‘Atâ (921), and some other fragments are cited by Khargûshî, Tadhîb al-asrâr, and Rûzbehân Baqlî in ‘Arâ'is al-Bayân.  Nywia, Exégèse, 158.
[16]Tafsîr al-Qur'ân al-Azîm (Cairo; al-Bâbî al-Halabî, 1911).  Tustarî and his commentary have been studied by Gerhard Bøwering, The Mystical Vision of Existence in Classical Islam: The Qur'anic Hermeneutics of the Sufi Sahl al-Tustarî (d. 283/896).  (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1980).
[17]Bøwering, Mystical Vision, 128.
[18]The Minor Qur'ân Commentary of Abû ‘Abd al-Rahmân al-Sulamî ed. Bøwering (Beirut; Dâr al-Mashriq, 1995).  Bøwering is preparing an edition and study of the full tafsîr.
[19]Abdurrahman Habil, "Esoteric Qur'ân Commentary" in Islamic Spirituality: Foundations I ed. Seyyed Hossein Nasr (Crossroad, 1987), 24-47.
[20]Ibn ‘Arabî, Tafsîr al-shaykh al-akbar (Cairo: Mustafâ al-Bâbî al-Halabî, 1899).  Probably the work of Kâshânî (1330).
[21]Muhammad Husayn Dhahabî, al-tafsîr wa-l mufassirûn II (Cairo: Dâr al-kutub al-hadîtha, 1976), 340.
[22]al-Fauz al-Kabîr fî-Usûl al-Tafsîr, (Karachi Qu'rân Mahal, 1964).  Urdu translation by Maulânâ Rashîd Ahmad Ansarî (Lahore: Maktaba Burhân, 1963).  English translation by G. N. Jalbani, The Principles of Qu'rân Commentary, (Islamabad: National Hijra Council, 1985).  He provides a brief commentary on Âya Nûr specifically in al-Tafhîmât al-Ilâhiyya II (Hyderabad: Shâh Walî Allâh Academy, 1957), 63-65. 
[23]Tafsîr-e Mazharî (Delhi: Nadwat al-musannifîn, 1971).
[24]Rûh al-Ma’ânî.  On his methodology see, Mahmûd al-Sa’îd al-Tantâwî, Minhâj al-Alûsî fî Rûh al-Ma’ânî (Cairo: Majlis al-a’lâ li-l-shu'ûn al-islâmiyya, 1989).
[25]Ibid, 269.
[26]Khalîq Ahmad Nizâmî, Ta'rîkh-i Mashâ'ikh-i Chisht V (Delhi: Idâra-yi Adabiyyât-i Dillî, 1980), 100-102.
[27]Fath al-Rahmân (Karachi: Tâj Company, n. d.)
[28]Qu'rân-i Majîd ke tarjuma aur tafsîr (Delhi: Khwâja Aulâd Kutub Ghar, 1962-3).
[29]A contemporary English Sufi partial commentary including reflections of the Light Verse is Abu Bakr Siraj Ed-Din (Martin Lings) The Book of Certainty (New York: Samuel Weiser, 1970).
[30]al-tafsîr al-Sûfî l-il-Qur'ân ‘inda as-Sâdiq ( Cairo: Dâr al-Andalûs, 1979) edited by ‘Alî Zai’ûr. 175-6. Also edited by Paul Nwyia "Le tafsîr mystique attribué a Ja’far al-Sâdiq" in Mélanges de l'Université Saint Joseph Beirut XLVIII Beirut: 1968, 211-212.  al-Sâdiq is partially cited in Baqlî, Arâ'is al-Bayân (Lucknow: Nawal Kishore, 18--), 84.
[31]Discussed in Nwyia, Exégèse Coranique, 172-174.
[32]Ja‘far also offered interpretations about the lights of the angels, and the four caliphs.
[33]Quoted in ‘Ayn al-Qudât, Tamhîdât (Tehran: University of Tehran, 1963).
[34]On "the Light of Muhammad" specifically, see Annemarie Schimmel, And Muhammad is His Messenger: The Veneration of the Prophet in Islamic Piety (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1985), 123-143.
[35]Tustarî, Tafsîr Qur'ân al-Azîm, 8.
[36]Muhammad Lâhîjî, Mafâtih al-i’jâz fî sharh gulshan-i râz, ed. Kaiwân Sami’î (Tehran, 1958), 189.
[37]Maybûdî, Kashf al-asrâr (Tafsîr Khwâja ‘Abd Allâh Ansârî) VI (Tehran: Intishârât-i dâneshgâh-i Tehran, 1952), 546-7.
[38]"rabbunâ atmam lanâ nûranâ".
[39]Tamhîdât, 323.
[40]Translated in Constance Padwick, Muslim Devotions (London: S. P. C. K., 1969), 212.
[41]Alûsî, Rûh al-Ma’ânî, XVIII, 164-166.
[42]Ibid, 169.
[43]Mishkât al-Anwâr, 127.
[44]al-Qushayrî, Latâ'if al-ishâra, vol. 4 (Cairo: Dâr al-kâtib al-‛arabî, 19  ).
[45]Kashf al-Asrâr, 534.
[46]"kalima taiyyiba ka shajaratin tayyibatin asluhâ thâbit wa far‘uhâ fî--l-samâ"
[47]"yudribu al-amthala li n-nâsi."  Alûsî also notes that some say it is the tree of inspiration (wahi) p. 170.
[48]A tree found in Paradise.  See also Mullâ Sadrâ, Tafsîr, 68.  "The shoot (nihâl) of the tree of ˇûbâ is the World of Possibility".
[49]Qur'ân 53:14, 16.
[50]"Ubaytu ‘inda rabbî" The hadith about why the Prophet could fast continuously, since his Lord, "fed me and gave me things to drink". Bukhârî Saum.
[51]Qur'ân 95:1.  A variant manuscript has, "Know the fruit of this tree, 'by the fig and the olive' i. e. know love and affection."
[52]Qur'ân 28:30.  The verse continues , "I am Allâh, the Lord of the Worlds".  Commenting on this Qur'ânic verse Shabistarî said, "ravâ bâshad anâ Allâh az darakhtî, cherâ nabûd ravâ az nîkbakhtî".  "It was accepted that a tree said, 'I am Allâh', why wasn't it permitted for a good person to say it", a reference to Mansûr al-Hallâj.  Gulshan-i râz, 316.
[53]Qur'ân 23:20. 
[54]Qur'ân 7:143. "Oh my Lord, show me that I may behold You."  He said, "You shall not see Me but look to the mountain."
[55]Qur'ân 50:1.
[56]‘Ayn al-Qudât, Tamhîdât, 263-4.  Mullâ Sadrâ repeats some of this commentary, p. 57.
[57]Yusuf Ali, Quran. n. 2098a, p. 850.  On the equivalence of the tree and the Perfect Man see Gulshan-i Râz, 51.
[58]‘Ayn al-Qudât, Tamhîdât, 260.
[59]There is a brief discussion of this polarity in understanding the Divine in Ignaz Goldziher, Die Richtungen der islamischen Koranauslegung (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1952), 211-213.
[60]Najmuddîn Râzî, Mirsâd al-Ibâd, ed. Muhammad Amîn Rîâhî (Tehran, 1973), 308-9.  Translation by Hamid Algar, The Path of God's Bondsmen from Origin to Return (Delmar, NY: Caravan Books, 1982).
[61]Especially ‘Ayn al-Qudât and Najmuddîn Kubrâ.
[62]‘Ayn al-Qudât, Tamhîdât, 264 and others.
[63]Gulshan-i Râz, 189.
[64]Qushayrî, 284.
[65]Ibid.  Note the continuity with Ja‘far al-Sâdiq's interpretation.
[66]Qushayrî, 284.
[67]Ibid, 285.
[69]al-Ghazâlî, Mishkât al-Anwâr, Gairdner trans. p. 150ff.
[70]Alûsî cites the philosophical tendencies in interpretation including Ibn Sînâ's tafsîr which is remarkably similar to al-Ghazâli in its interpretation of the symbols as allegories for levels of the intellect in acquiring, representing, and using knowledge. Rûh al-Maânî XVIII, 171-2.
[71] This interpretation is similar to one found in Najmuddîn Kubrâ.
[72]Shabistarî, Gulshan-i Râz, 188.
[73]Ibid, Lâhîjî's commentary, 188.
[74]Qur'ân 15:29.
[75]Dâyâ, Mirsâd al-Ibâd Hamid Algar translation, 143-144.  On the Sufi theory of the latâ'if see Marcia K, Hermansen, "Shâh Walî Allâh's Theory of the Subtle Spiritual Centers" A Sufi Theory of Personhood and Self-Transformation." Journal of Near Eastern Studies (1, January 1988), 1-25.
[76]As confirmed in the hadith, "Awwal mâ khalaqa al-’aql."  Ibn Athîr, Jâmi’ al-Usûl fî Ahâdîth al-Rasûl, IV, (Beirut: Dâr al-Fikr, 1970), #1992, 18.
[77]Âyat al-’arsh ( al-Rahmân ‘alâ al-’arsh istawâ).
[78]Qur'ân 2:255.
[79]Gulshan-e Râz, 140-1.  The rest of Shabistarî's verse is
"duvvum nafs-i kull âmad âya-i nûr
keh chûn misbâh shud dar ghâyat-i nûr
seyyum âyat dar û shud ‘arsh-i rahmân
chahârum âyat-i kursî hami khwân
pas az veh jarmhâ-i  âsmânî-st
keh dar veh sûrah-i sab’ ul-mathânî-st"
[80]Ibid, Tamhîdât, 261.
[81]Cited in al-Baghawî, Mishkât al-MasâbihTrans. James Robson (Lahore: Ashraf, 1963), p. 482. Baihaqî transmitted it.  Not in the six collections.
[82]Cited in Mirsâd al-’Ibâd, Hamid Algar translation, p. 294.
[83]A reference to a hadith, "Be careful of the insight (firâsa) of the believer for he sees with the light of God".
[84]Henry Corbin, commenting on this passage, writes, "In the Sufism of Najm Kobrâ, the reiteration of the negative part of the shahâda (nullus Deus) is designed to be a weapon against all the powers of the nafs ammâra (the lower ego); it consists in denying and rejecting all pretensions to divine prerogatives, all claims inspired in the soul by the instincts of possessiveness and domination.  In the positive part of the shahâda (nisi Deus) on the other hand the exclusive nature and powers of the One and Only One are affirmed."  The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism (Boulder: Shambhala, 1978).
[85]Najmuddîn Kubrâ, Manuscript of "‘Ayn al-Hayât ".  Princeton Yahûda 2587.
[86]Translated by Corbin, The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism, 72.  This can also be related to the experience of the Mir’âj.
[87]Mirsâd al-‛Ibâd, 299.  This is the definition of "ihsân" given in the hadith of Jibrâ'îl.
[88]Qur'ân 6:76, 6:77, 6:78.  This and other tafsîrs recall the story of Abraham who turns from worshipping the heavenly bodies to the worship of the One God.
[89]Mirsâd al-’Ibâd, 305.
[90]al-Ghazâlî, Mishkât, Of the transcendental spirit of prophecy it is written that, "Its oil would shine forth although fire had not touched it" but it becomes "light upon light" when touched by that fire". 97.
[91]Alûsî, 170.
[92]Bøwering, 149.
[93]From Muhammad Iqbâl, "Javîd Nâmah" Kulliyât-i ash’âr-i fârsî Maulânâ Iqbâl Lâhûîri (Tehran: Kutubkhâneh-i Sanâ'î 1964), 341.
[94]Paul Nywia, 97.  The glass (zujâja) as the "Light of Muhammad" is a common allegory in Sufi tafsîr.
[95]Note that Tâ Sîn is one of the names of the Prophet and according to some commentators could stand for "Tûr-i Sînâ".
[97]Selection from "The Tâ Sîn of the Sirâj".  al-Hallâj, Kitâb al-Tawâsîn ed. Louis Massignon (Paris: Paul Geuthner, 1913), 9-12.

God is Light of Heaven and Earth Quran 24:35,A Sufi Commentary. A lecture by Dr.Marcia Hermansen,Professor of Theology,Director World Islamic Studies Program,Loyola University,delivered at International Mawlid un Nabi Conference 1997,UIC, Chicago,Sponsored by Naqshbandiya Foundation for Islamic Education ( )
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