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‘Light’ Explained From the Points Of View of the Quran and the Upanishads

By S. Arshad, New Age Islam

30 March 2019

Philosophers and scholars have tried to understand the nature of God’s existence. For this, the philosophers have presented their ideas based on their independent thinking and perception. Religious scriptures have also dealt with the subject and given some clues about the nature of God. Since the objective of the scriptures was to tell people how they should lead their lives, they did not elaborate much on the topic of God’s nature.  However, they gave some hint about it. As for the Quran, God is described as Lateef, subtle, intangible and transparent. Another attribute of God is light both in the Quran and the Upanishads.

 The Quran says ‘God is the light of the Heaven and Earth’. (Surah Nur).  Misunderstanding the verse, some scholars interpreted that God has been described in the Quran as light.  The verse does not say ‘God is light’ but says ‘God is the light of the Heaven and Earth’. The two statements are not similar but have different meanings.  Expressing his views on the verse, renowned philosopher and poet Muhammad Iqbal wrote in a letter to Nazir Niyazi:

“………. But this verse should be seen from historical point of view. Verses containing this idea are present in almost all the divine scriptures. The verse does not suggest that God is light in physical sense. (Light dealt with in physical sense). Light is merely a metaphor which was used in ancient scriptures from pantheistic purposes. In other words, it was used to express the pervasiveness of the Supreme Being. In my view, Quran has used this  ancient metaphor  to suggest to the absoluteness of the Supreme Being because according to the latest research, light is the only thing  which is relatively absolute in the material world.

However, the verse does not imply that God is light. It says God is the light of the Heaven and Earth (all the material world). God is not mere light but it is the source of the light. For example, the sun is the source of the sunlight. If we say that God is light, we shall confine God to a material interpretation. The real meaning of the verse would be that God is the source of light due to which everything in the universe shines or becomes effulgent. Another verse in the Quran says that on the Day of Judgment, when the Sun, the Moon and the stars will be dissolved, the Earth will be illuminated by the light of God:

“’And the Earth shines with the light of its God. (Az Zumar: 69)

On the Day of Judgment, the Earth will be illuminated with light emanating from an unknown or invisible source. The bright light on earth and on the human beings will tell them about the presence of God.

 The Upanishads also deal with the nature of God from similar point of view.  It says that the Supreme Being, Brahman  is the source of the light  which  has caused the material world to appear. The Bible famously says,

‘Let there be light and there was light’.

Here light is described as the effect of the cause called Brahman (God), not the source or origin. Elaborating on the subject, Veda scholar K.P. Aleaz writes:

 “The Supreme Lord is the self-effulgent Self (sarvamjyotiratmayva) and self-effulgence means ‘being’ --- Pure Consciousness (Swayamjyotistvam Nama Chaitanyamasvwa Bhavata). The manifestation in the case of all the names, forms, actions and results (Namarupakriyakarakphala Jatasya) is caused by the existence of the light of Brahman (Brahmajyotisattanimitta). The light of Brahman is implied (avagamyate) by the light seen in things born from it. Through the various kind of effulgence in the effects, it is known that luminosity is intrinsic to Brahman. Whatever things shine ------ the sun, moon, stars, lightning, fire etc ----- shine because the Supreme Lord shines (Parameshvaram Dipya Manam Sarvam Anudipyate).

Mundakopanishad calls Him ‘sukshmataram vivati (subtle and self-effulgent). He is subtler than the subtlest and self-effulgent. Explaining this aspect of God, Swami Bhuteshanand writes in his commentary of Mundakopanishad:

“Only Brahma is self-effulgent and all the rest are illuminated through Him.  If we imagine something illuminating Him, then Brahma has to be non-effulgent first. But he is never non-effulgent. Again, this self effulgence is not his attribute because an attribute sometimes may not exist. Therefore, self effulgence is his nature, his being.”

On the light of God, the Quran says:

“Fain would they extinguish Allah's light with their mouths, but Allah will not allow but that His light should be perfected, even though the Unbelievers may detest (it).(Tauba: 32-33)

The believers are said to be carrying God’s light within them.  Upanishads mention the existence of God in the heart of believers. Therefore, the heart of the believer is illuminated with the light of God.

“And Those who believe in Allah and His Messengers, they are the sincere believers and the witnesses with their Lord; they shall have their reward and their light.”(Al Hadid: 19)

Therefore, light in divine scriptures has been used to describe the self-effulgent nature of God which illumines the universe and also the inner world of believers. God is not light in the material sense but as an all pervading Supreme Being.

S. Arshad is a regular columnist for