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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),

Sunday, November 29, 2009

"God is Light of Heaven and Earth" Part 2 of 3-Dr. Marcia Hermansen

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 ( )

VIDEO LECTURE: Part 2 of 3

TRANSCRIPT: Part 2 of 3

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."[1]. . .

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".[2]
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)".[3] 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.[4]

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)."[5]

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."[6]

‘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,"[7] as well as a prayer attributed to the Prophet regarding light in order to enrich the resonances of understanding this verse.[8]
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!'[9]

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).[10] 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).[11]
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[12] and al-Qushayrî, who said, "the light of Muhammad gnosis is kindled from the tree of Ibrâhîm."[13] 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.[14]
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."[15] This is a particularly useful association since it is related to the idea of God coining symbols for humanity.[16]
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,[17] then you will know which one is the "the lote tree of the furthest reach" (sidrat al-muntahâ)[18] and in turn which one is the "olive tree". It is, "I spent the night in the presence of my Lord."[19] 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"[20] 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'"[21] these words should be listened to; and the tree that "grows out of Mount Sinai",[22] 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"[23] 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"[24] also bears testimony to this mountain.[25]

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,"[26] 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.[27]

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[28] (beauty and majesty)
lutf and qahr[29] (gentleness and forcefulness)
the white and the black light[30]
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).[31] In Lâhîjî, the East is said to represent the spirits and the West, the bodies.[32]
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).[33]
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.[34]
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[35]
[1]Ja‘far also offered interpretations about the lights of the angels, and the four caliphs.
[2]Quoted in ‘Ayn al-Qudât, Tamhîdât (Tehran: University of Tehran, 1963).
[3]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.
[4]Tustarî, Tafsîr Qur'ân al-‘Azîm, 8.
[5]Muhammad Lâhîjî, Mafâtih al-i’jâz fî sharh gulshan-i râz, ed. Kaiwân Sami’î (Tehran, 1958), 189.
[6]Maybûdî, Kashf al-asrâr (Tafsîr Khwâja ‘Abd Allâh Ansârî) VI (Tehran: Intishârât-i dâneshgâh-i Tehran, 1952), 546-7.
[7]"rabbunâ atmam lanâ nûranâ".
[8]Tamhîdât, 323.
[9]Translated in Constance Padwick, Muslim Devotions (London: S. P. C. K., 1969), 212.
[10]Alûsî, Rûh al-Ma’ânî, XVIII, 164-166.
[11]Ibid, 169.
[12]Mishkât al-Anwâr, 127.
[13]al-Qushayrî, Latâ'if al-ishâra, vol. 4 (Cairo: Dâr al-kâtib al-‛arabî, 19 ).
[14]Kashf al-Asrâr, 534.
[15]"kalima taiyyiba ka shajaratin tayyibatin asluhâ thâbit wa far‘uhâ fî--l-samâ"
[16]"yudribu al-amthala li n-nâsi." Alûsî also notes that some say it is the tree of inspiration (wahi) p. 170.
[17]A tree found in Paradise. See also Mullâ Sadrâ, Tafsîr, 68. "The shoot (nihâl) of the tree of ˇûbâ is the World of Possibility".
[18]Qur'ân 53:14, 16.
[19]"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.
[20]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."
[21]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.
[22]Qur'ân 23:20.
[23]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."
[24]Qur'ân 50:1.
[25]‘Ayn al-Qudât, Tamhîdât, 263-4. Mullâ Sadrâ repeats some of this commentary, p. 57.
[26]Yusuf Ali, Quran. n. 2098a, p. 850. On the equivalence of the tree and the Perfect Man see Gulshan-i Râz, 51.
[27]‘Ayn al-Qudât, Tamhîdât, 260.
[28]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.
[29]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).
[30]Especially ‘Ayn al-Qudât and Najmuddîn Kubrâ.
[31]‘Ayn al-Qudât, Tamhîdât, 264 and others.
[32]Gulshan-i Râz, 189.
[33]Qushayrî, 284.
[34]Ibid. Note the continuity with Ja‘far al-Sâdiq's interpretation.
[35]Qushayrî, 284.


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