The strength of the mystical contents of the Holy Qur'an, nourishing the inner aspects of our being, has been the aspiration for the ripening of sufism and mysticism over the centuries. This part of the Glorious Qur'an is responsible for the illumination of many great men and women, who have achieved unimaginable levels of insight and knowledge. One of the examples of such a reflection is the following ayah:
"Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The parable of His Light is as if there were a Niche and within it a Lamp, which is enclosed in Glass. The Glass as it were a brilliant star, lit from a blessed tree, an olive, neither of the east, nor of the west, whose oil is wellâ€‘nigh luminous, though fire hardly touched it. Light on Light! Allah guides to His Light whoever He will. Allah sets forth Parables for Men, and Allah Knoweth all things." XXIV:35
Volumes and volumes have been written to explore the sublime meaning of this magnificent ayah. Yusuf ‘Ali, the distinguished translator of the Noble Qur'an, says no notes (comments) can do adequate justice to the full mean ing of this ayah, but here follows his attempt:
"Physical light is but a reflection of the true Light in the world of Reality, and that true Light is Allah. We can only think of Allah in terms of our phenomenal experience, and in the phenomenal world, light is the purest thing we know, but physical light has drawbacks incidental to its physical nature: e.g. (1) it is dependent upon some source external to itself; (2) it is a passing phenomenon; if we take it to be a form of motion or energy it is unstable, like all physical phe nomena; (3) it is dependent on space and time: its speed is 186,000 miles per second, and there are stars whose light takes thousands of years before it reaches the earth. The perfect Light of Allah is free from any such defects. The first three points in the parable centre around the symbols of the Niche, the Lamp, and the Glass, as follows:
"1. The niche (mishkah) is the little shallow recess in the wall of an Eastern house, fairly high from the ground, in which a light used to be placed, before the era of electricity. Its height enabled it to diffuse the light in the room and minimised the shadows. The background of the wall and the sides of the niche helped to throw the light well into the room, and if the wall was whiteâ€‘washed, it also acted as a reflector. The opening in front made the way for the light. So with the spiritual Light, it is placed high, above worldly things; it has a niche or habita tion of its own, in Revelation and other Signs (ayat) of Allah; its access to men is by a special Way, open to all, yet closed to those who refuse its rays.
"2. The Lamp is the core of the spiritual Truth, which is the real illumination; the niche is nothing without it. The niche is actually made for it.
"3. The Glass is the transparent medium through which the Light passes. On the one hand, it protects the light from moths and other forms of low life (lower motives in man) and from gusts of wind (passions), and on the other, it transmits the light through a medium which is made up of and akin to the grosser substances of the earth (such as sand, soda, potash, etc.), so arranged as to admit the subtle to the gross by its transparency. So the spiritual Truth has to be filtered through human language or human intelligence to make it intelligible to mankind."
In the same way that this Glass needs constant cleaning in order for the light to pass through, mankind should also maintain such transmissibility by regular prayer (salat), the zakdh, and other purification means. Salat purifies the soul in the same way that bathing cleanses the body.
"The glass by itself does not shine. But when the light comes into it, it shines like a brilliant star. So men of Allah who preach Allah's Truth, are themselves illuminated by Allah's Light and become the illuminating media through which that Light spreads and permeates human life."
This is a good example of how a lowâ€‘level matter, such as glass, takes on a higher level quality, illumination, when it is in proximity with the main source (of Light). Another example is a piece of black, solid carbon which takes on the glowing, warm and radiant qualities of fire, if placed next to a raging fire. This demonstrates how blissful we shall feel if we constantly choose to associate ourselves with the radiant and blessed people, and to follow their path.
"The Olive tree is not a very impressive tree in its outward appear ance. Its leaves have a dull greenishâ€‘brown colour, and in size it is inconspicuous. But its oil is used in sacred ceremonies and forms a wholesome ingredient of food. The fruit has a specially fine flavour. This Olive is not localised. It is neither of the East nor of the West. It is universal, for such is Allah's Light. It shines in all directions beyond time and space limitations."
... whose Oil is wellâ€‘nigh luminous, though fire hardly touched it ...
"Pure olive oil is beautiful in colour, consistency, and illuminating power. The world has tried all kinds of illuminants, and for economic reasons or convenience, one replaces another. But for coolness, comfort to the eyes, and steadiness, vegetable oils are superior to electricity, mineral oils, and animal oils. And among vegetable oils, olive oil takes a high place and deserves its sacred associations. Its purity is almost like light itself; you may suppose it to be almost light before it is lit."
This is why the expression "light on light" is used in this ayah.
"So with spiritual Truth: it illuminates the mind and understanding imperceptibly, almost before the human mind and heart have been consciously touched by it."
... Light on light! Allah does guide, whom He will, to His Light ...
"Glorious, illimitable Light, which cannot be described or measured. And there are grades and grades of it, passing transcendently into regions of spiritual height, which man's imagination can scarcely conceive of. The topmost pinnacle is the true prototypal Light, the real Light, of which all others were reflections, the Light of A11ah."
This beautiful ayah is one of the examples for the mystic elements of the Glorious Qur'an.