Dr. Abou El Fadl reminds that in the age of information, when we live in a frenzy of data, and claims and counterclaims, the anchor of one’s life is one’s relationship with God. It is often difficult to navigate through the seismic activities of data that come like endless floods. If one’s relationship with God is built on sound foundations, then one has the ability to stand strong in the face of trends, fashions and intellectual pretenses that human beings are prone to engage in. If one’s relationship with God is flawed, then the impact of the opinions and whimsies of human beings falls upon you in a very different way.
In this khutbah, Dr. Abou El Fadl focuses on Surah Al Nur (The Light), one of the chapters in the Quran that deserves to be studied and reflected upon. The surah has a very interesting structure. It starts out addressing social challenges around an incident in which there were rumors about the Prophet's wife, Aisha. From there it addresses slander, the punishment for slander, and adultery or fornication (zina) in the Quranic discourse. It then goes on to talk about specific social and cultural challenges that confronted the Muslim community at the time of the Prophet. From there, it moves to the topic of light and the truth of what God is. It ends by taking its audience back to following the example of the Prophet.
Dr. Abou El Fadl goes on to discuss the verse in Surah al Nur that occupied and inspired generations of Muslims, verse 24:35: “God is the light of the heavens and the earth. The similitude (or the parable) of God's light is as if there were a niche wherein is a luminary. The luminary is in a glass. The glass is as if it were a planet glittering like a pearl lit from a blessed olive tree, neither of the east nor of the west whose oil is almost luminous although no fire touched it. Light upon light. God guides to God's light whomever God pleases, and God sets similitudes for people, and God is all knowing of all things.”
One can read endless volumes about Surah al Nur and Ayat al Nur in particular. Dr. Abou El Fadl relates that his own journey with understanding these verses did not come from an understanding of the countless texts he read on these verses over the years, but rather from developing his own relationship with God. He counsels that one does not get a sense of what “Allah is light upon light” means until one worships Allah and pleads with Allah for Allah's love, meaning that one should ask God for love with all sincerity and with all of one’s heart. He references Ibn Arabi’s writings on this surah and discusses Ibn Arabi’s point that everything that comes to its true divine nature becomes true light. And as it travels away from its divine nature, as it distances itself from its divine nature, it becomes something other than light.
Dr. Abou El Fadl shares his own understanding (tafsir) of the structure and verses in this surah, and why the surah begins with regulations and laws that arose from specific problems, which is then immediately followed by an extremely nuanced and sophisticated lesson about where and what God is. It is as if to say that one can study the laws of God, but that is not God nor the path to enlightenment. The path to God is not through laws. Similarly, the path to God is not through a detailed understanding of history, as many modern Muslims seem to believe. Laws and history, like reality, are often a construct.
The path to God is through light. The surah ends by bringing the reader back to the example of the Prophet, which is the path to light, enlightenment and God. One can best understand the example of the Prophet through understanding his love for God through his dhikr (remembrance of God); his salat (prayer and supplications); and his intimate relationship with Allah. Dr. Abou El Fadl gives examples of those who have God as an anchor and those who do not. He provides tangible actions to take for developing one’s relationship with God, and seeking light upon light with God. Delivered 6 September 2019.