Nūr (Islam)

Nūr (Arabic: النور‎) may refer to the "Light of God" or the "Muhammadan Light" in Islam. The word "nūr'" means "light" in Arabic, Persian and Urdu. It is often used in the Quran, notably in a verse that states "God is the light of the heavens and the earth", which has been the subject of much discussion. Many classical commentators on the Quran considered that this should be taken metaphorically, as in the sense that God illuminates the world with understanding, rather than literally. The Andalusian scholar Abu Bakr ibn al-Arabi categorized nūr into different levels of understanding from the most profound to the most mundane. Shias consider that nūr in the sense of inner, esoteric understanding is inherited through the Imams, who in turn communicate it to the people.

The Sufis consider that light was created first, then all other beings and things were created from it. There is controversy over the doctrine of An-Nūr al-Muḥammadī, or the Muhammadan Light, in which Muhammad is thought to have existed before creation. Sufis in medieval Bengal developed the concept into detailed narratives of the way in which the world came into being from nūr. The Nur movement in modern Turkey, evolved from Sufi concepts, emphasizes inner understanding and control.


The word nūr comes from the same root as the Hebrew aor, the primal light described in the Book of Genesis that was created at the beginning.[1] The word nūr, or its derivatives, occurs forty-nine times in the Quran. It is used in reference to God, Muhammad, the Quran, the Book, the Torah, the moon and the faithful men and women. Al-nur is often used in combination with zulumat (darkness) in terms that describe movement from darkness into light, and from ignorance into faith.[2] The word nūr is also used in eight basic referential meanings:[3]

  1. The religion of Islam
  2. Faith
  3. God's commandments and moral laws in the Torah and the Gospels
  4. The light of day
  5. The guiding light that God will give to the faithful on the Day of Resurrection
  6. The commandments and injunctions of the Quran
  7. Justice
  8. The light of the moon

The mystical Sura 24 of the Quran contains the Ayat an-Nur, the Verse of Light (Q24:35), which reads, "God is the light of the heavens and the earth; the likeness of His light is as a niche wherein is a lamp (the lamp in a glass, the glass as it were a glittering star) kindled from a Blessed Tree, an olive that is neither of the East nor of the West whose oil well nigh would shine, even if no fire touched it; light upon light; (God guides to His light whom he will.)"[4] The phrase "light upon light" (nurun 'ala nur) in this sura is often used among Muslims to denote the infinite beauty, guidance and light of God.[5]

Classical commentaries

Most classical commentators other than Sufis took the statement "God is the light of the heavens and the earth" as a metaphor, and considered that God should not be literally equated with the natural phenomenon of light. Al-Tabari (839–923) in his Jami al-bayan says that the best interpretation is to substitute "guide" for "light", as "God is the guide of the heavens and the earth". Other interpretations make God the source of illumination rather than the light itself, as "God lights the heavens and the earth.[6] The Persian scholar Al-Zamakhshari (c. 1074 –1144) says that the phrase "God is the light" is like saying "Zayd is generous and munificent". This does not mean that Zayd is the properties of generosity and munificence, but that he has these properties. Al-Zamakhshari rejected the possibility of attributes separate from God, such as power or knowledge or light, which would be contrary to the unity of God.[6] He interpreted "God is the light of the heavens and the earth" as meaning,

He is the possessor of the light of the heavens and the owner of the light of the heavens. The light of the heavens and the earth is the truth (al-ḥaqq), which can be compared to light in its manifestation and clarification, just as he says, "God is the friend of those who believe; He brings them forth from the shadows to the light (2:257), i.e., from the false to the true (al-ḥaqq).[6]

al-nūr al-awwal) and the real light (al-nūr al-ḥaqq) since it is the only light that does not take its luminosity from some other source. God is light, the only light, the universal light, and he is hidden from mortals because he is pure light, although he is omnipresent. Using the term "light" for any other purpose is metaphor.[8]

Another passage of the Quran states "The earth will shine with the light of its Lord" (Q39:69). Mainstream exegetes take this statement literally. Exegetes of the rationalist Mu'tazila school of theology of the 8th–10th centuries interpreted the word nūr in this passage in the sense of "the truth, the Quran and the proof" rather than the commonplace meaning of "light".[9] Shia exegetes take it to mean "the land of the soul will shine with the Lord's light of justice and truth during the time of Imam al-Mahdi." Sufi exegetes take nūr in this case to mean "justice", or take the statement to mean "God will create a special light to shine on the Earth".[10]

Shia belief