By Zaynab Dawood
Some non-Muslims are curious about the names of Allah and perhaps overwhelmed by the sheer number of Names and Attributes, especially when these ninety-names are juxtaposed with the complete and coherent monotheism that underpins Islam. But this is true Tauheed, the Oneness belongs to Him as well as the Most Beautiful of names:
“To Him belong the best Names…” (59:24)
During dawah I have found that those familiar with the well-known names such as Most Gracious and Most Merciful tend to assume that these are the primary or maybe essential names that Muslims are concerned with, so when the other names of Allah are mentioned, especially The Light, there is a sudden radiance that emerges from their inquisitive faces, and this can make the discerning enquirer quite bashful or the haughty debater temporarily subdued. And this is just with the mention of Al Noor…what do we suppose it does for the Muslims who yearn for His Light and offer gratitude for the countless blessings His Light envelops us in?
All of Allah’s Names and Attributes are necessary for our spiritual, emotional and physical well-being but the Name Al Noor resonates so acutely and intensely that it encases the heart and expands the mind in a profound and almost surreal manner. This is due to the semantic significance we place on “light” and this is true for those who claim they are agnostic or atheist too. Regardless of our proficiency in Arabic, the translation of Al Noor as The Light provides us with a semantic field which is both empowering and humbling and we all comprehend its general nuance easily because we are all, at times, surrounded by darkness. Perhaps it stems from our infantile fear of darkness for which the light is an immediate relief from being engulfed by swathes of blackness. These swathes become more resolute in our adulthood as the darkness takes on deeper forms and mutate into a kaleidoscope of fears that can only be soothed by His Light.
Darkness or darknesses?
Even those individuals with basic literacy competency can understand the metaphorical interpretation here: how anything negative, unpleasant, harsh, painful or tragic, can be considered individually as darkness and collectively as darknesses. We are entrenched in so many forms of darknesses: from the faintest anxiety that may cloud a person’s contentment to the massive and extreme brutality experienced in horrific wars. A famous linguist once said that “the limit of my language is the limit of my world” and this is so pertinent here as though the English language boasts a vast and wonderful lexicon, it does not readily recognise the noun “darknesses” but amends the apparent spelling error as “darkness”. However, this concept is delivered to us by the One who created all languages:
“By which Allah guides those who pursue His pleasure to the ways of peace and brings them out from darknesses into the light, by His permission, and guides them to a straight path” (5:16)
The word “light” in the holy Quran always appears singular and its opposite as plural “darknesses”. Though the word “light” may refer to different concepts such as the light of guidance, the light of truth, the light of faith: its source is always one as the light comes from Allah’s Light, He is Al Noor. Allah says:
“It is He who sends down upon His Servant [Muhammad] verses of clear evidence that He may bring you out from darknesses into the light…” (57:9)
Its antonym, darkness, splinters and fractures into many forms of “darknesses” but despite its number, the darknesses are always seized, soothed and dispersed with the Light of Allah.
We know that the One, in its entirety, unity and coherence is more powerful than anything else however numerically amplified. This question was also posed to the great scholar Ibn Qayyim Al Jawjiyyah, as to why light always appears as singular but darkness as plural. His eloquent reply was:
“This is one of the wonders of the Quran, and the reason is that there is only one path of truth, while numerous paths of falsehood.”
Allah is the Light of the Heavens and Earth…
Allah has given us His Names by which He calls Himself so that we can, in as much as is humanly possible, try to know Him. Allah reminds us of His Light in the phrase: “Allah is the Light of the Heavens and the Earth”, a phrase which is repeated throughout the Quran: a phrase that can be likened to the glinting of the scattered stars across the sapphire sky. Not only is Allah reminding us that He is the Light but that He is the ONLY Light in our universe.
It is a mercy from Him that He has given us the light, which is the source of all goodness, both physically and spiritually, which takes the shape of revelation, guidance and faith. His Light is not only the Real and True Light, it is also the Eternal and Infinite Light that can never be extinguished. Yet in this earthly life, though imbued with the power of His Light, we are surrounded by all forms of darknesses and though the faithless are trying with all their collective might to remove and sever the connections between the natural world and its Creator, they can never extinguish Allah’s Light. Our faith is an undying testimony to His Eternal Light:
“They desire to extinguish Allah’s Light with their mouths but Allah will perfect His Light…” (61:8)
How does Allah describe the believers’ light?
The verse of Light is one of the most amazing, exquisite, reflective, in fact I cannot find the words to describe it, and for those of you who have read it, absorbed it, been touched by it, been moved by its beauty and power, will know how difficult it is to articulate how a believer may respond, in any way, that is befitting to this verse, yet Allah is the One Who chooses parables and examples for us to try to understand: “And Allah presents examples for the people…” (24:35).
The verse begins with the reminder that “Allah is the Light of the heavens and earth”, placing us at the altar of submission so we know exactly how insignificant we are and utterly dependant we are upon Him. Then Allah draws us into the metaphor:
“The example of His light is like a niche within which is a lamp, the lamp is within glass, the glass as if it were a pearly [white] star lit from [the oil of] a blessed olive tree, neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil would almost glow even if untouched by fire. Light upon light. Allah guides to His light whom He wills. And Allah presents examples for the people, and Allah is Knowing of all things.” (24:35)
Allah is Al Noor yet He chooses His believer to be a vessel of light that is fuelled by faith (purest oil), glowing in a pristine chamber which is the human heart (the glass lamp) and which is implanted securely and safely in the person’s chest (niche). This is the light of faith which Allah gives to us and when it is nurtured by His Revelation then our faith radiates “light upon light”.
Allah’s Light descends upon everyone in this world, regardless of their commitment and as such our light should emanate from us so those around us are touched by the light of our faith. True light can never be hidden or dulled.
Seeking His Light…
Spiritual light is connected to life, to truly live as human beings that fully experience all the faculties endowed to us. Allah says:
“And is the one who was dead and We gave him life and made for him light by which to walk among the people like one who is in darkness, never to emerge therefrom?” (6:122)
It was this belief that made our blessed Prophet (saw) yearn with the following prayer:
“O Allah, place light in my heart…”
This belief in Allah as Al Noor has magnanimous consequences on the believer: the believers know that Allah’s Light will reach them wherever they are, even if they are in some desolate crevice anywhere on earth, or even, metaphorically speaking, jilted into a forgotten blackhole somewhere beyond. The effects of affirming that Allah is the Light empowers Muslims with an unbreakable strength that fuels them with a durable faith that sustains them throughout their lives and indeed, transforms into a guiding lantern in the afterlife, when our faith and good deeds will be beautiful beacons, guiding us to His paradise:
“On the Day you see the believing men and believing women, their light proceeding before them and on their right…That is what is the great attainment.” (57:12)
The Light is not distant from us and neither is the light of His Love. The following prayer from the Quran will help us seek it:
“Our Lord, perfect for us our light and forgive us. Indeed, You have Power over all things.” (66:8)
About the author:
I’m Zaynab Dawood from Lancashire, England. I’m a busy mum of four, a teacher and author. For me there are three delights in life: ibadah, spending time with family and friends, and reading good literature!