Monday, July 1, 2013

God is Light: A profound convergence of Biblical and Qur'anic thought

I have been 'sitting on' this post for a few months now, being a bit reticent to publish it; but recent events have now compelled me to do so. I suspect that it will be a bit controversial for a number of my readers, but I sincerely hope that those who take the time to read it, will do so with as much objectivity as they can muster. Here goes...

In the Bible we read: "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all." (1 John 1:5b - ASV)

And from the Qur'an: "God is the light of the heavens and the earth." (Surah 24:35a - Maulana Wahiduddin Khan)

This attribution of the term "light"—in both the Bible and the Qur'an—to the One, Supreme, True God, is a reference to His very being/essence. Note the following scholarly references which support this important motif (I have selected only a few from a list of dozens):

"God is light." John formulates short statements that describe God's nature. In other places he says, "God is spirit" (John 4:24) and "God is love" (1 John 4:16). Here, in verse 5, he reveals God's essence in a short statement of three words: "God is light." (Simon J. Kistemaker, James and I-III John, 1986, p. 242.)

The very being of God is absolute light. (R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of I and II Epistles of Peter, the three Epistles of John and the Epistle of Jude, 1966, p. 384.)

God is light, i.e., God's nature is light = absolute holiness and truth (comp. iv. 8; Gospel of John iv. 24). (J.E. Huther, Meyer's Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the General Epistles of James, Peter, John and Jude, 1980 reprint, pp. 480, 481.)

In the inanimate world, light is the most common and the most theologically important image of God. John virtually defines God when he says, "God is light; in him there is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). (John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God, 2002, p. 376.)

The physical light is but a reflection of the true Light in the world of Reality, and that true Light is Allah. (Abdullah Ysuf Ali, The Meaning of the Holy Qur'an, 1993, p. 876.)

Al-Nur—Lightis the visible one by whom everything is made visible, for what is visible in itself and makes other things visible is called light'. In the measure that existence is opposed to non-existence, what is visible cannot but be linked to existence, for no darkness is darker than non-existence. What is free from the darkness of non-existence, and even from the possibility of non-existence, who draws everything from the darkness of non-existence to the manifestation of existence, is worthy of being named light. Existence is a light streaming to all things from the light of His essence, for He is the light of the heavens and the earth. And as there is not an atom of the light of the sun which does not by itself lead one to the existence of the sun which illuminates it, so there is not a single atom from the existents of the heavens and the earth and what lies between them which does not lead one by the very possibility of its existence to the necessary existence who brings them into being. (Al-Ghazali, The Ninety-Nine Beautiful Names of God, trans. David B. Burrell and Naih Daher, 1992, 1997, p. 145.)

"God is the light of the Heavens and of the Earth . . ." (XXIV, 35). For, to those who have understood the true meaning, light is being, and darkness is non-being. The Light, which is God, therefore is the constitutive being of the Heavens and of the Earth. (Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Hamid Dabashi, Seyyed Vali Reza Nasr, Shi'ism - Doctrines, Thought, and Spirituality, 1988, p, 197.)

Having established that "the light" is a reference to the very being of God, I would now like to explore the issue of etiology—i.e. causation, origination—more specifically, the first causation by/from God.

In Christian thought, it is God's Logos/Son/Wisdom/Word which was the 'first causation' from God. Before time, God begets (i.e. causes) His Logos/Son/Wisdom/Word, from His being/essence/Light (Proverbs 8:22-30; John 5:26; Rev. 3:14). God's Logos/Son/Wisdom/Word is 'Light from Light'.

In Islamic thought, we have a virtual parallel concept concerning the 'first causation' from God. Note the following Hadith:

The hadith that is related by Jābir in the Musannaf of al-Hāfiz Abū Bakr ‘Abd al-Razzāq b. Hammām al-San’ānī and considered sound by recent scholarship indicates that the very first of God’s creation was the light of the Prophet. According to the hadith, Jābir b, ‘Abd Allāh asked the Prophet, ‘What is the first thing that God created?’ To this, the Prophet replied, ‘O Jābir! The first thing God, the Sublime and Exalted, created was the light of your Prophet from His light, and that light remained in the midst of His power for as long as He wished, and there was not at that time a Tablet or a Pen or a Paradise or a Fire or an angel or a heaven or an earth. (Hamza Yusaf, The Creed of Imam al-Tahāwī, 2007, p. 117.)

Before time (or anything else), God brings forth (i.e. causes/creates) "the light of the Prophet...from His light". This concept is known as the 'Muhammadan Light' (an-Nur al-Muhammadiyyah), also called the 'Muhammadan Reality' (al-haqiqah al-Muhammadiyyah). Note the following from Cyril Glassé:

Much emphasis is placed on this idea by the Shī'ites, who find this light eminently manifest in their Imāms, but the term is also encountered, mainly in the context of mysticism, among the Sunnīs, as a doctrine not unlike that of the logos. (The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam, 1989, p. 304 - bold emphasis mine.)

This "Muhammadan Light", or Light of Muhammad, is mentioned in Qur'an:

People of the Book! Our Messenger has come to make clear to you much of what you have hidden of the Scriptures and to forgive you much. A light has now come to you from God and a clear Book, whereby God guides to the ways of peace all who seek His good pleasure, bringing them from darkness to the light, by His will, and guiding them to a straight path. (Surah 5:15 - Maulana Wahiduddin Khan)

For more information on the "Muhammadan Light", or Light of Muhammad, see the following online articles:

Now, I suspect that many will notice that on the Christian side of the issue of God's 'first causation', an emphasis is placed on begetting, while on the Muslim side, it is creating. At first glance, it would appear that we have two different concepts being presented; however, one must keep in mind that in the Bible and early Church, the Hebrew and Greek terms used for beget and create were often interchangeable. As such, one needs look beyond the verbal action (causation)—both sides acknowledge this first cause—to the ontological aspects of this action/cause. The ontology of God's first cause is this: the One, Supreme, Uncaused God from His Essence/Light begets/creates another being, and this, before the creation of anything else, including time.

Another difference is that for Christians, it is Jesus Christ's pre-existent being/nature that is presented, while for Muslims, it is Muhammad's. But, once again, the divide may not be as wide as most would perceive it—especially from a Muslim perspective. In the Qur'an we read:

The Messenger believes in what has been sent down to him from his Lord, and [so do] believers. They all believe in God and His angels, His scriptures, and His messengers. They say, We do not differentiate between any of His messengers. We hear and obey. Grant us Your forgiveness, Lord, to You we shall all return! (Surah 2.284 - Maulana Wahiduddin Khan)

It sure seems to me that if one is going to be faithful to the above concept, one needs to affirm that Muhammad's pre-existent 'light' is Jesus' pre-existent 'light'.

There is much more to share on this topic, but I want to limit the size of this opening post. With that said, I shall be looking forward to the contributions of others...

Grace and peace,


P.S. I am heading out of town tomorrow for a 4 day vacation. Don't know if I will be able to access my blog, so do not be surprised if I am unable to respond to any comments before Saturday.