By Umarrah Javed Al-Hadi
یَـٰۤأَیُّهَا ٱلنَّاسُ قَدۡ جَاۤءَكُم بُرۡهَـٰنࣱ مِّن رَّبِّكُمۡ وَأَنزَلۡنَاۤ إِلَیۡكُمۡ نُورࣰا مُّبِینࣰا
O mankind, there has come to you a conclusive proof from your Lord, and We have sent down to you a clear light. [An-Nisa’, 4:174]
In Islamic and Qur’ānic context, the word ‘Noor’ (Arabic: نور) takes on profound spiritual and symbolic significance. It is frequently mentioned in the Qur’ān to describe the divine light of Allāh, often symbolizing knowledge, guidance, and illumination. Here are a few notable references to ‘Noor’ in the Qur’ān:
- Verse of Light: One of the most famous references is in Surah An-Nur (The Light), particularly in Ayat an-Nur (the Verse of Light), which is in Chapter 24. This verse describes God as the “light of the heavens and the earth” and illustrates the idea of divine illumination.
- Guidance and Knowledge: ‘Noor’ is also used in the Qur’ān to signify guidance and knowledge. Believers are often described as those who have received the light of faith and guidance.
- Enlightenment: The concept of ‘Noor’ is associated with spiritual enlightenment and the removal of darkness from the heart and soul. It represents the path towards righteousness and truth.
- Metaphor for the Prophet ﷺ: In Islamic tradition, the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ is sometimes referred to as the ‘Noor’ due to his role as the bearer of divine guidance and the Qur’ān.
‘Noor’ emphasizes the removal of ignorance and darkness, replacing them with the brilliance of faith and understanding. In this article we will delve deeper into the word ‘noor’ and its literal and metaphorical meanings.
The Verse of Light
A powerful mention of ‘noor’ is in the Ayat an-Nur which is found in the 24th chapter of the Qur’ān, Surah An-Nur. The verse reads as follows:
ٱللَّهُ نُورُ ٱلسَّمَـٰوَ ٰتِ وَٱلۡأَرۡضِۚ مَثَلُ نُورِهِۦ كَمِشۡكَوٰةࣲ فِیهَا مِصۡبَاحٌۖ ٱلۡمِصۡبَاحُ فِی زُجَاجَةٍۖ ٱلزُّجَاجَةُ كَأَنَّهَا كَوۡكَبࣱ دُرِّیࣱّ یُوقَدُ مِن شَجَرَةࣲ مُّبَـٰرَكَةࣲ زَیۡتُونَةࣲ لَّا شَرۡقِیَّةࣲ وَلَا غَرۡبِیَّةࣲ یَكَادُ زَیۡتُهَا یُضِیۤءُ وَلَوۡ لَمۡ تَمۡسَسۡهُ نَارࣱۚ نُّورٌ عَلَىٰ نُورࣲۚ یَهۡدِی ٱللَّهُ لِنُورِهِۦ مَن یَشَاۤءُۚ وَیَضۡرِبُ ٱللَّهُ ٱلۡأَمۡثَـٰلَ لِلنَّاسِۗ وَٱللَّهُ بِكُلِّ شَیۡءٍ عَلِیمࣱ
Allāh is the Light of the heavens and the earth. 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. Allāh guides to His light whom He wills. And Allāh presents examples for the people, and Allāh is Knowing of all things. [An-Nur, 24:35]
In his Tafsir (exegesis) of this verse, Ibn Kathir delves into a profound explanation of its meaning:
“Allāh is the Light of the heavens and the earth.”
Ibn Kathir emphasizes that this verse serves as a powerful statement about the nature of Allāh. He is described as the Light of both the heavens and the earth, signifying that He is the ultimate source of all light and guidance in the entire universe. This includes physical light, such as the light of the sun, and also spiritual and intellectual light, symbolizing knowledge, wisdom, and guidance. The concept of Allāh as the Light is meant to instill in believers a deep understanding of His role as the illuminator and the source of all that is pure and good.
“The example of His light is like a niche within which is a lamp.”
Ibn Kathir explains that this verse provides a similitude or analogy to help human minds grasp the concept of Allāh’s light. The niche is like a recess in a wall, while the lamp is the source of light within it. This imagery suggests that the heart of a believer can be likened to this niche, and the lamp inside represents the divine guidance that resides within their heart. The light from the lamp represents the knowledge, understanding, and faith that Allāh provides to illuminate one’s path.
“The lamp is within glass, the glass as if it were a pearly [white] star lit from [the oil of] a blessed olive tree.”
Here, Ibn Kathir explains that the lamp within the niche is protected by a glass casing. This glass is described as being as clear and pure as a pearly star. This image emphasizes the transparency and purity of divine guidance. It is free from impurities and distortions, providing a crystal-clear source of enlightenment. The reference to the blessed olive tree suggests that the oil used for fueling the lamp is of the highest quality, further symbolizing the purity and excellence of the divine light.
“Light upon light.”
Ibn Kathir interprets this phrase as an affirmation of the abundance and perpetuity of Allāh’s guidance. It signifies that Allāh’s guidance is boundless, continuously shining upon His believers. This expression conveys the idea that as long as one remains receptive to Allāh’s guidance and continues to seek it, they will receive an ever-increasing abundance of knowledge, wisdom, and spiritual insight.
“Allāh guides to His light whom He wills.”
Ibn Kathir emphasizes that the gift of guidance is in Allāh’s hands. He bestows it upon those whom He chooses. This underlines the importance of humility in recognizing that the ability to receive and follow divine guidance is ultimately determined by Allāh’s decree. It also serves as a reminder that believers should be grateful for this divine gift and should continually seek it through prayer, worship, and righteous deeds.
“And Allāh presents examples for the people, and Allāh is Knowing of all things.”
In this final part of the verse, Ibn Kathir mentions that Allāh provides parables and examples in the Qur’ān to help people comprehend His guidance and message. He points out that Allāh’s knowledge is comprehensive and that He knows all things. This includes the needs and capabilities of each individual, allowing Him to provide guidance that is suited to their unique circumstances and abilities.
Ibn Kathir’s tafsir of this verse is a profound reflection on the nature of Allāh as the ultimate source of light, wisdom, and guidance. It underscores the importance of understanding that Allāh’s guidance is pure and clear, and it is continuously available to those who seek it with sincerity and humility. This verse is a reminder of the transformative power of divine guidance and the importance of recognizing Allāh as the Light in our lives.
Guidance and Knowledge
Allāh tells us in His Book regarding the purpose of His Book. Our Creator informs us that for those that fulfil the prerequisite of being certain in their belief:
هَـٰذَا بَصَـٰۤىِٕرُ لِلنَّاسِ وَهُدࣰى وَرَحۡمَةࣱ لِّقَوۡمࣲ یُوقِنُونَ
This [Qur’an] is enlightenment for mankind and guidance and mercy for a people who are certain [in faith]. [Al-Jathiya, 45:20]
Guidance: ‘Noor’ is often used metaphorically to represent divine guidance.
Provided for Muslims through the Qur’ān and Islamic tradition, ‘Noor’ symbolizes the guidance that helps individuals navigate the complexities of life, make moral and ethical choices, and follow the path of righteousness in order to gain closeness to Him.
It’s a metaphorical light that dispels darkness and confusion, leading believers on the right path. When people are described as having received ‘Noor’ in their hearts, it signifies that they have embraced divine guidance and are on the path of faith and righteousness.
Knowledge: ‘Noor’ is also associated with knowledge and understanding.
In Islamic thought, the light of knowledge is seen as a means of intellectual and spiritual enlightenment. It refers to the acquisition of wisdom, understanding of religious texts, and the ability to discern right from wrong. The Qur’ān itself is often referred to as ‘Noor’ because it provides guidance and knowledge to believers.
By seeking knowledge, individuals can better comprehend their faith, make informed decisions, and deepen their understanding of God’s guidance. The pursuit of knowledge is seen as a way to bring the light of understanding into one’s life.
‘Noor’ is intrinsically connected to guidance and knowledge in Islam. It signifies the divine light that leads believers on the right path, offers clarity in matters of faith and morality, and represents the spiritual and intellectual enlightenment that comes from following God’s guidance and seeking knowledge in one’s life.
Closely linked with concepts of ‘knowledge’ and ‘guidance’ is the association of noor as enlightenment. In this context, ‘Noor’ is often used to symbolize spiritual enlightenment, and it is linked to the idea of gaining deeper understanding, wisdom, and insight. Here’s how ‘Noor’ is associated with enlightenment:
- Spiritual Enlightenment: ‘Noor’ represents the divine light of Allāh, which brings spiritual enlightenment to believers. This enlightenment involves a deeper connection with God, an understanding of the divine message, and an increased awareness of one’s faith. It leads to a sense of inner peace, contentment, and a higher level of consciousness. It is a state of mind and heart where one gains insights into the purpose of life, moral values, and the hereafter.
- Moral and Ethical Enlightenment: ‘Noor’ is often linked to moral and ethical enlightenment. It provides the guidance needed to make virtuous choices and to live a life in accordance with Islamic ethics and values. Believers are encouraged to follow the light of ‘Noor’ in their decision-making processes, which leads them to behave justly, compassionately, and with integrity.
- Intellectual Enlightenment: ‘Noor’ can also be associated with intellectual enlightenment. Seeking knowledge and understanding, especially within the framework of Islamic teachings, is seen as a means of gaining a deeper awareness of the world, science, and spirituality. The pursuit of knowledge is considered an essential aspect of spiritual growth, and it is believed to lead to a greater level of intellectual enlightenment.
The Prophet ﷺ
رَّسُولࣰا یَتۡلُوا۟ عَلَیۡكُمۡ ءَایَـٰتِ ٱللَّهِ مُبَیِّنَـٰتࣲ لِّیُخۡرِجَ ٱلَّذِینَ ءَامَنُوا۟ وَعَمِلُوا۟ ٱلصَّـٰلِحَـٰتِ مِنَ ٱلظُّلُمَـٰتِ إِلَى ٱلنُّورِۚ وَمَن یُؤۡمِنۢ بِٱللَّهِ وَیَعۡمَلۡ صَـٰلِحࣰا یُدۡخِلۡهُ جَنَّـٰتࣲ تَجۡرِی مِن تَحۡتِهَا ٱلۡأَنۡهَـٰرُ خَـٰلِدِینَ فِیهَاۤ أَبَدࣰاۖ قَدۡ أَحۡسَنَ ٱللَّهُ لَهُۥ رِزۡقًا
[He sent] a Messenger [Muhammad] reciting to you the distinct verses of Allāh that He may bring out those who believe and do righteous deeds from darknesses into the light. And whoever believes in Allāh and does righteousness – He will admit him into gardens beneath which rivers flow to abide therein forever. Allāh will have perfected for him a provision. [At-Talaq, 65:11]
The Prophet ﷺ was sent to the people of Arabia at a time when they had been enveloped by darkness. He was sent by Allāh with signs and verses that illuminated their existences and enabled them to reach higher levels of self-actualization.
Due to his noble mission, the purity of his knowledge, the compassion of his character and the consistency of the beauty he shared with the world, the Prophet ﷺ carried light with him wherever he went and he also projected that light to the people around him in order to dispel their darknesses. Rather than a physical darkness, this darkness comprised the internal void that comes about from a lack of purpose, lack of belief in an afterlife and a lack of comprehension regarding what is ‘good’ and what is ‘evil’ in this world.
Allāh chose the best of creation to deliver the best of messages and thus the light moved from the heavens to earth and illuminated the world that we know and reside in.
Abu Huraira reported: I have not seen anyone more graceful than the Messenger of Allāh, peace and blessings be upon him, as if the sunlight emanated from his face. I have not seen anyone quicker in his walking than the Prophet, as if the earth was folded for him. We would exert ourselves, while he would not endure any difficulty. [Source: Sunan al-Tirmidhī 3648]
As part of the teachings shared by the Prophet ﷺ, we learn about how he described two Surahs as ‘illuminated chapters’.
Buraydah reported: The Messenger of Allāh, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Learn Surat al-Baqarah, for adhering to it is blessed, leaving it is sorrow, and the sorcerers cannot defeat it. Learn al-Baqarah and Ali ‘Imran, for they are both the brightly illuminated chapters coming on the Day of Resurrection as if they were two clouds, or two canopies of shade, or as If they are a decisive wall of birds in ranks, arguing on behalf of their reciters.” [Musnad Aḥmad 22975]
Once people would observe, meet or engage with the Prophet ﷺ, they would gain inspiration and understand how to live the verses of the Qur’ān:
أَفَمَن شَرَحَ ٱللَّهُ صَدۡرَهُۥ لِلۡإِسۡلَـٰمِ فَهُوَ عَلَىٰ نُورࣲ مِّن رَّبِّهِۦۚ فَوَیۡلࣱ لِّلۡقَـٰسِیَةِ قُلُوبُهُم مِّن ذِكۡرِ ٱللَّهِۚ أُو۟لَـٰۤىِٕكَ فِی ضَلَـٰلࣲ مُّبِینٍ
So is one whose breast Allāh has expanded to [accept] Islam and he is upon a light from his Lord [like one whose heart rejects it]? Then woe to those whose hearts are hardened against the remembrance of Allāh. Those are in manifest error. [Az-Zumar, 39:22]
A key concept that we understand through this verse in particular is that it is a blessing to have Islam glow in our hearts. We are unable to acquire the light alone, although we may adopt means, the overarching truth of ‘noor’ is that it is bestowed upon people by the choice of Allāh. The heart that engages in remembrance, creates an environment (inside themselves) to receive the light. Through internal light, a person can absorb knowledge, make high quality decisions, cleanse themselves and recognise the signs within.
Allāh also bestows humans with external light through the sun, moon and stars that illuminate the world around us and allow us to see the signs around us. All of this is from the kindness and mercy of Allāh so that we can recognise Him.
Du’a for Noor
Noor is something that we should pray for regularly. We should pray for it in order to gain higher levels of consciousness, closeness to Allāh and so that we can dispel falsehood from truth (darkness from enlightenment) in this reality.
Ibn Abbas reported: He spent the night with the Messenger of Allāh, peace and blessings be upon him, and he woke up. The Prophet cleansed his teeth, performed ablution, the call to prayer was announced, and he went out for the prayer while he was saying,
“O Allāh, place light in my heart and light on my tongue. Place light in my hearing and light in my seeing. Place light behind me and light in front of me. Place light above me and light below me. O Allāh, grant me light!” [Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 6316, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 763]
May Allāh make us among the people of light, in this life and in the Hereafter.
What do you think? Share your reflections below!
- The Holy Qur’ān
- Sahih al-Bukhari
- Sahih Muslim
- Musnad Aḥmad
- Tafsir of the Qur’ān by Ibn Kathir