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Sunday, November 29, 2009

"God is Light of Heaven and Earth " Part 3 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 ( )


TRANSCRIPT: Part 3 of 3

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".[1]

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.[2]
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.[3]
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.[4]

Ghazâlî explains that

"Light is the form behind all colour". 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 are, "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."[5]

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[6]

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".[7]

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",[8] and the wick is the "arcane" (khafî).[9]

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),[10] 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[11] (âya ‘arsh), represents the third level which is the outer sphere.
The verse of the Footstool (Âyat al-kursî)[12] represents the eighth sphere, while the seven heavens correspond to the seven readings (sabî mathânî), of the Qur'ân.[13]
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."[14]

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",[15] or according to another version, "the polish of the heart is the remembrance of God".[16]

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,[17] 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.[18]

"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.[19]

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."[20]

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".[21]

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,"[22] comes from realizing God, the Unseen and the visible, the outer and the inner, become as one.[23]

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).[24]
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."[25]
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.[26]

The poet, Muhammad Iqbâl, referring to this light, wrote,

"One is either shining with the light of Prophet Muhammad,
or still searching for him."[27]

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".[28]

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[29] 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"[30] 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."[31]

[1]Ibid, 285.
[3]al-Ghazâlî, Mishkât al-Anwâr, Gairdner trans. p. 150ff.
[4]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-Ma‘ânî XVIII, 171-2.
[5] This interpretation is similar to one found in Najmuddîn Kubrâ.
[6]Shabistarî, Gulshan-i Râz, 188.
[7]Ibid, Lâhîjî's commentary, 188.
[8]Qur'ân 15:29.
[9]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.
[10]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.
[11]Âyat al-’arsh ( al-Rahmân ‘alâ al-’arsh istawâ).
[12]Qur'ân 2:255.
[13]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"
[14]Ibid, Tamhîdât, 261.
[15]Cited in al-Baghawî, Mishkât al-Masâbih. Trans. James Robson (Lahore: Ashraf, 1963), p. 482. Baihaqî transmitted it. Not in the six collections.
[16]Cited in Mirsâd al-’Ibâd, Hamid Algar translation, p. 294.
[17]A reference to a hadith, "Be careful of the insight (firâsa) of the believer for he sees with the light of God".
[18]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).
[19]Najmuddîn Kubrâ, Manuscript of "‘Ayn al-Hayât ". Princeton Yahûda 2587.
[20]Translated by Corbin, The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism, 72. This can also be related to the experience of the Mir’âj.
[21]Mirsâd al-‛Ibâd, 299. This is the definition of "ihsân" given in the hadith of Jibrâ'îl.
[22]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.
[23]Mirsâd al-’Ibâd, 305.
[24]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.
[25]Alûsî, 170.
[26]Bøwering, 149.
[27]From Muhammad Iqbâl, "Javîd Nâmah" Kulliyât-i ash’âr-i fârsî Maulânâ Iqbâl Lâhûîri (Tehran: Kutubkhâneh-i Sanâ'î 1964), 341.
[28]Paul Nywia, 97. The glass (zujâja) as the "Light of Muhammad" is a common allegory in Sufi tafsîr.
[29]Note that Tâ Sîn is one of the names of the Prophet and according to some commentators could stand for "Tûr-i Sînâ".
[31]Selection from "The Tâ Sîn of the Sirâj". al-Hallâj, Kitâb al-Tawâsîn ed. Louis Massignon (Paris: Paul Geuthner, 1913), 9-12.


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