God is Light

From The Teachings of Muhyiddīn Ibn 'Arabi

Exposition by W.C. Chittick1 and edited by OmarKN

1. Intro

God is Light, He is even the  Light, as the Quran proves:


{ Allah is the light of the heavens and the earths. } (24-35)

2. Finding Light

"We come to find ( wjd ) God through listening to His Speech in the form of revelation. Finding and existence are two aspects of the same reality ( wujūd ), which at root is God's own Finding of Himself, His Necessary Being. All goes back to Him and His Names.”2

3. Light And The Absence oF Light3

"God is Light, as confirmed by the Holy Qur'an:


"Like so many other Muslim thinkers,4 Ibn al-'Arabi identifies Light with Being and employs the symbolism5 of visible light to explain the relationship between Being6 and nonexistence. God is Light and nothing but Light, while the things are so many rays reflected from Light's substance. In one respect they are Light, since nothing else can be found7; in another respect they are darkness, since they are not identical with Light itself.

But darkness has no positive reality of its own, since its defining characteristic is the absence of Light. In the same way the defining characteristic of each existent thing is its absence of Being. Though it reflects Being in one respect, it is nonexistent in another. He/not He.”8

"Being or Light is that which by its very nature finds itself, though it cannot be perceived - i.e., embraced, encompassed, and understood - by "others.”


because there is nothing other than Light that might do the perceiving. There is only Light, which perceives itself.


because if we accept that certain things "exist," or that there are rays of light shining in an area which we can call the Void, these things or rays can only perceive themselves or their likes, not something infinitely greater than themselves of which they are but dim reflections. The shadow cannot perceive the sunlight, and the sunlight cannot embrace the sun. Only the sun knows the sun. "None knows God but God."”9

Related question: "How does manyness arise from Oneness?”10

4. The Light oF Islam

Either the breast ( saḍr ) of man is filled with the darkness of unbelief, hypocrisy and association ( shirk ) regarding the Unity of God, or - for the faithful - it is the abode of light of Islam ( nūr al-islám ), Islam which has both an outward aspect ( ẓáhir ) and an inward aspect ( báṭin ).11

5. Tafsīr Sahl al-Tustarī

His words, Exalted is He:


{ God is the light of the heavens and the earth… } 24-35

"That is, the One who has adorned the heavens and earth with lights.12

{ The likeness of his light } means the likeness of the light of Muhammad ( sallAllahu `aleihi wa sallam ).”

"Hasan al-Basrī said, He intended by this the heart of the believer and the luminescence ( ḍiyá` ) of professing the divine oneness ( tawḥīd ), for the hearts of the prophets (a.s.) are far too brilliant in their light to be described in terms the likeness of these lights. ”

"He [Sahl al-Tustarī] said, 'The similitude of the light of the Qur'an is a lamp ( miṣbáh ), a lamp whose candle ( siráj ) is gnosis ( ma`rifa ), whose wick ( fatīl ) is the religious obligations ( fará`iḍ )), whose oil ( duhn ) is sincerity ( ikhlás ) and whose light ( nūr ) is the light of [spiritual] attainment ( ittiṣál ). Whenever the sincerity increases in purity, the lamp increases in brightness ( ḍiyá` ); and whenever the religious obligations increase in [inner] realisation ( ḥaqīqa ) the lamp increases in light ( nūr ).”


2016-11-17 vs.2.4; from 2013-12-08
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  1. SPK: The Sufi Path Of Knowledge; Ibn al-'Arabi's Metaphysics of Imagination; William C. Chittick, SUNY Press, 1989

  2. SPK212

  3. "The being of man (his humanity) is the sum of good charactertraits, whereas the earth is the place, which is trotten by the feet of Shaytán ( rajīm ) and therefore inherent in man is some darkness, a darkness which is kneaded into the clay of the human being. From it proceeds those bad qualities and evil charactertraits” … Therefore the use of water at ritual cleaning which is a light. (‘Awárif al-ma`árif; As-Suhrawardī; Die Gaben der Erkenntnis des 'Umar as-Suhrawardī, übersetzt von Richard Gramlich; Wiebaden 1978)

  4. at least from the time of al-Ghazálī

  5. On the use of symbolism, see this page Khayál - Creative Imagination as reference.

  6. God is sheer Being, utter plenitude, pure Consciousness. Any given entity in the cosmos is at best a dim reflection of some of these qualities. Ibn al-Arabi commonly employs the term "existent” ( mawjūd ) to refer to the existing things, a term which, through its derivative grammatical form, suggests the derivative nature of the existence that is ascribed to the things. As will become clear when we discuss the "immutable entities” ( al- a`yán al-thábita ), this ascription of existence to the things is in any case a mode of speaking more than a strict description of the actual situation. In fact, existence is but the reflected brilliance of Being, and there is only a single Being, God Himself. SPK7L

  7. exist: wujud

  8. SPK7L

  9. SPK7R

  10. "How does manyness arise from Oneness? Being is Oneness, while nothingness as such does not exist in any respect. But we already know about Being that It is Light, so It radiates and gives of Itself. Hence we have three “things”: Light, radiance, and darkness; or Being, existence, nonexistence. The second category - radiance or existence - is our particular concern, since it defines our “location” for all practical purposes. Its most obvious characteristic is its ambiguous situation, half-way between Being and nonexistence, Light and darkness, He and Not He. Ibn al-‘Arabi sometimes calls it existence, and sometimes nonexistence, since each attribute applies to it. “Nonexistence” can thus be seen to be of two basic kinds: Absolute nonexistence ( al-`adam al-mutlaq ), which is nothingness pure and simple, and relative nonexistence ( al-`adam al-iḍáfī ), which is the state of the things considered as Not He.” SPK7R

  11. 3EST, Three Early Sufi Texts (H. Tirmidhi, Sulami; p.17

  12. This whole passage is from Tafsīr al-Tustarī, Sahl b. `Abd Allah al-Tustarī, trnsl. Annabel and Ali Keeler; Fons Vitae, Amman, Jordan; 2011 (TT138)