I’m going to be posting something interesting about the Qur’ān every day during Ramaḍān, the month the Qur’ān was revealed.
“Allāh (God) is the Nūr (Light) of the heavens and the Earth: The example of His Nūr is like that of a lustrous niche, in which is a lamp. The lamp is in a glass (globe). The glass is as if it were a glittering star. It is lit from a blessed tree – an olive – neither of the East nor of the West, whose oil would almost be ablaze, even though fire has not touched it.
Light upon Light!
Allāh Guides to His Light whomsoever He wills.
And Allāh sets forth parables to men, and Allāh knows all things full well.”
(Sūrah al-Nūr – The Light, 24:36)
The context behind the physical imagery is that Syrian and Lebanese monks would light such lamps within niches in their churches. Tamīm al-Dārī (may Allāh be pleased with him), being a former Christian, suggested to the Prophet (sa) that he light such lamps at Masjid al-Nabawī (the Prophet’s Mosque).
Regarding the meaning of the verse, it has many meanings, all of which cannot be written about in this short space.
In the verse, المصباح (the lamp) is the source of the light, الزجاجه (the glass globe) covers the lamp around it and magnifies its brightness, and the entire thing is within المشكات (the niche).
This may in fact be a prophecy of the lightbulb, in which electric wires are the source of the light, a glass bulb covers them, and a reflector spreads and diffuses the light and gives it direction.
Another explanation is that the niche refers to the human body, which contains the glass globe which is the human brain, and the lamp which is the soul. Modern Western philosophers believe that the brain is the source of all consciousness while Islamic philosophy reveals that it is in fact the soul. The light is sustained by the oil from a blessed tree, which represents the eternal truths which are not the exclusive possession of any people, neither of the East nor West, that are in the very nature of man.
Furthermore, in spiritual terminology, the lamp may refer to Divine Light, the glass globe that protects the lamp as the Prophets who protect the light and add to its brightness, and finally the niche as the Khulafā’ (Caliphs), who are the successors to the prophets.
The light may also refer to the Prophet Muhammad (sa) since he is elsewhere spoken of as ‘light’ in the Qur’ān (5:16), in which the lamp would be his nature, the glass globe would be Divine Light which strikes him through wahi (revelation), and the niche would be his soul.
When this phenomenon happens, the light of God would strike on the light of the Prophet, causing what is described as “light upon light!”
The light is also described as being “lit from a blessed tree – an olive – neither of the East nor West”, which would indicate the universal nature of the Prophet’s mission.
Finally, another explanation is that the light is the light of Islām, which is placed on a high pillar or minaret (which is another meaning of the Arabic word مشكات which is also translated as ‘niche’) to illuminate the whole world, under a glass globe which refers to the Promised Messiah of Islām and the Caliphate set up after him who are the protectors of the light of Islam, and that the light of Islam will illuminate the East and the West. This is supported by another verse of the Qur’ān which says:
“They desire to extinguish the light of Allāh with the breath of their mouths; but Allāh will perfect His light, however much disbelievers may dislike it” (61:9).