Light is Diwali’s central symbol, and Muslims can therefore open new channels of interfaith dialogue by examining the importance of light within Islam.
In Islam light can be a mark of God’s presence. One of Allah’s 99 Beautiful Names is An-Nur, meaning “The Light,” and many prophets such as Musa (PBUH) and Muhammad (PBUH) reported seeing blinding lights while communicating with Allah. Light also symbolizes goodness; the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) reported that the angels, wholly good beings created by God for a multitude of purposes (including cataloging mankind’s deeds and asking Allah to bless the virtuous, among others) are made from light. Finally, light represents Allah’s gifts of divine guidance and human intellect to all people, not just Muslims. Indeed, the Quran specifically mentions that the Jewish and Christian scriptures were each “a light and guidance” unto the people (Quran 5:44-46), and that every community in world history received messengers who provided “clear [guiding] light” and “convincing proof” encouraging them to serve God and forbid evil (Quran 4:174 and 16:36).
Islam’s conceptions of light are by no means unique; many other religions have similar constructions of light representing God’s presence, goodness, or Divine revelation. So how is Diwali relevant to Muslim spiritual growth? The answer lies in one of the most enigmatic mentions of light in the Quran which involves a surprising parallel to Diwali practices.
Diwali comes from the Sanskrit word deepavali, which means “row of lamps,” and one of the festival’s signature events involves the lighting of many small lamps to signify the triumph of good (represented by light) over evil (represented by darkness). The mystical Quranic verse known as Ayat-an-Nur (the verse of light) explains the light of God through an extended metaphor about the lighting of a lamp. The verse can be translated as:
“Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The parable of His Light is a niche wherein is a lamp — the lamp is in a glass, the glass as it were a glittering star — lit from a blessed olive tree, neither eastern nor western, whose oil almost lights up, though fire should not touch it. Light upon light! Allah guides to His Light whomever He wishes. Allah draws parables for mankind, and Allah has knowledge of all things.” (Quran 24:35)
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