Tafsir of Ayatul Kursi

Baytihi at-tayyibin at-tahirin. [Allahuma salli 'ala Muhammad wa aali Muhammad]. Salaamun alaykum. [Wa alaykum salaam wa rahmat Ullahi wa barakatuh]. I would like to begin by thanking Mwalim Muhammad Raza Janmuhammad for having not only given me this opportunity, but actually insisted that I conduct the session this morning. I do know that you have a regular tafsir class and I apologize for interrupting that, but I thought InshaAllah, we could still do some tafsir as well.

And what I would like to do, InshaAllah, is just to speak on a verse that we are all very familiar with, which is part of the end of Ayatul Kursi, or after we recite Ayatul Kursi the last passage in it, in which we say: "Allahu waliyyu alladheena amanu yukhrijuhum min adh-dhulumati ila an-noor. Wa alladheena kafaru awliya'uhumu at-taghutu yukhrijunahum min an-noori ila adh-dhulumat. Ula'ika as-haabu an-nar, hum fiha khaalidoon"(2:257). And in discussing this verse I wish to demonstrate two things.

One is that the most perfect way to conduct Tafsir, is the style that was heavily used by Allama Tabataba'i in Tafsir Al-Mizan, which is you let the Qur'an speak for itself and you do Tafsir al-Qur'an bi 'l-Qur'an. So any thing that you argue that this is what the Qur'an is saying, you demonstrate its proof using other verses of the Qur'an foundationally. And then, of course, you bring other evidence through Hadith and logic and so on and so forth.

The second thing I wish to demonstrate, InshaAllah, is that sometimes we read a verse in passing and we don't see much depth to it, but there are so many, you know, salient points that we can extract from the simplest or apparently to us the simplest of verses. And these points that I will share are actually not even all of it, there is a lot more to this verse, but just to give you an idea of how much you can extract from a verse and the kind of questions we should be asking when we read a verse.

So: "Allahu waliyyu alladheena amanu", Allah is the guardian of those who have faith and further on it says, after "yukhrijuhum min adh-dhulumati ila an-noor", "wa alladheena kafaru", as for those who are faithless, "awliya'uhumu at-taaghut", awliya' is the plural of Wali, the same term is being used, that Allah is the guardian of the faithful and the patron of the faithless are the devils, and there are other meanings for taghut, but we will go with the meaning of devils for now. Wali, suggests a closeness. The moment you use the word Wali, you suggest close proximity, and that is why it is used as well for someone who you love or someone who loves you dearly and supports you, because this love and support is expressed by coming close or coming near.

So someone who does not abandon you is your Wali. And that is why in Arabic, Wali, Wali', is also used for a leader because a leader manages the affairs of the community through administration and by commanding and prohibiting things. Now, the word Mawla as well takes the same root as Wali', but it has a slightly finer point. We would translate Wali', as someone who supports you or is a guardian or is close to you, and then Mawla would actually be a stronger term as a master or someone who you look up to as your master. You will see also that the word Wilayah has many meanings, one of which again, is this expression of closeness or love.

When we talk of our allegiance to the Ahlul Bayt, alayhum as-salam, for example, we talk of Tawalla and Tabbara. This Tawalla as well comes from the same idea of Wilayah, or we speak of the Wilayah of Amir Al-Mu'minin, alayhi as-salam, it is the same root. So as an example of why I am distinguishing between Wali' and Mawla is in this verse, we are told. That, just as Allah, is the guardian of the faithful, "Allahu waliyyu alladheena amanu", the faithless " wa alladheena kafaru ", their Wali' or awliyah' are the taghut, so they have a Wali', but it is the devils.

In another verse of Qur'an, which is chapter 41, sorry, chapter 47, Surah Muhammad, verse 11, it says: "Dhalika bi anna Allaha mawla alladheena amanu, wa anna al-kafirina la mawla lahum"(47:11). And that is because Allah is the Mawla of those who have faith. And as for the faithless, they have no Mawla. So it is important to distinguish this meaning of Wali' and Mawla, because otherwise the question would arise: why is it that in this verse it says that the to the faithless they are awliya' of the taghut? But in chapter 47 it says: "wa anna al-kafirina la mawla lahum". The kafirin have no Mawla at all, right?

So the first thing was the meaning of Wali', the second is that we distinguish between Wali' and Mawla. The third question that we should ask from this question from this verse is that when Allah says that: 'as for those who are faithless, their awliya' are the taghut'. Who is it that appoints the devils? As the awliya' of the fateless, who gives them this authority, and this position that you are going to be the guardians and the patrons of those who are faithless? The answer to that is that it is not that Allah willfully says, I'm going to make the devils your Wali', because then we would ask: Allah is willfully causing misguidance? Rather Allah has a system in place so that if one does not accept Allah as his Mawla, then automatically that vacuum is filled by a devil.

Allah has created the world in such a manner that his affairs run everything through the agency of his angels, but His being your master is something that He does not impose on you. He allows you the free will to choose whether you want to surrender to Him and come to Him as a slave and say, you are my master and I submit myself to you or you refuse that. When you refuse that, then the system is such that automatically when Allah is not my master, then the devils become my master.

Now, the proof of this is shown to us in Chapter 43, verse 36. This is Surah Az-Zukhruf, when Allah says: "wa min ya'shu 'an dhikri Ar-Rahman, nuqayyidh lahu shaytanan, fahuwa lahu qarin" (43:36), 'whoever turns away from a law, whoever turns away from the remembrance of the Merciful Lord, then automatically we appoint a devil for him and he becomes his companion'. There is another verse of Qur'an, I don't have the reference here that says: "Idha qara'tahum al-Qur'ana ja'alna baynakum wa bayna alladheena kafaru hijaban mastura" (17:45), that "when you recite the Qur'an, we set up a veil between you and those who are faithless".

So the Qur'an, again, is seen here as a form of Dhikr of Allah. So when we are constantly conscious of Allah, when we are constantly in His remembrance, when we adopt Taqwa so that we are awake in all our actions throughout the day, then Allah is constantly our guardian. It is impossible to be conscious of God as your master and at the same time commit a sin. When we commit a sin, we fall asleep, we become heedless, God is forgotten, and the devil then takes that place of being a lord and a master.

The fourth point here from this verse is that, even though Allah uses the words light and darkness, Allah is the guardian of the faithful: "yukhrijuhum min adh-dhulumati ila an-noor", He takes them from darkness into light, and those who are faithless, their guardians or patrons are the devils: "yukhrijunahum min an-noori ila adh-dhulumat", they take [He takes] them from light into darkness.

All the mufassirun, the exegets of the Qur'an are unanimous, that light represents guidance and darkness represents misguidance. And what they tell us is that when a human being is trapped by his egoic self, and when he fails to know his true self, in a sense, he falls asleep. He comes to a state of heedlessness or slumber, which in Arabic is called Ghafla, as opposed to Yaqdha, which is to be awake. And this state of being in slumber is what we refer to as this darkness or misguidance, or dhulumat, and the state of being wakeful conscious in Taqua being guided is what we call or refer to here as the light.

One of the proofs of this is a Hadith from Imam Ali Ibn Abi Talib, salawat Allahi wa as-salamu alayh [Allahumma Salli 'ala Muhammad wa aali Muhammad], he says "al-yaqdat un-Noor", wakefulness is light. And from this we clearly take the meaning, therefore, that "He takes them from darkness into light" means he takes them from a state of being in slumber and heedless into a state of wakefulness and active consciousness of God.

But our point is to prove this from the Qur'an, as we said. So we have one verse in the Qur'an where Allah says: "ya ayyuha alladheena amanu, istajibu li 'l-Lahi wa li 'l-Rasul idha da'akum li ma yuhyyikum" (8:24), 'oh you who have faith! Respond to Allah and His Hessenger when they call you to that which will give you life'.

Now, in our understanding, if Allah is referring to us as those who have faith, then we are already awake. We are already people of faith. Why is it that Allah is addressing those who have Iman and then He is saying you have Iman in Allah and the Prophet but respond to Allah and His Messenger when they call you to that, which will give you life? Meaning in Allah's opinion, you think you are alive, but you are simply only physically alive, otherwise you are in a state of slumber. They are summoning you and calling you to that which is true wakefulness, which will make you realize that what is the difference between truly being alive versus just being physically alive, but in a state of slumber in your day to day going about in life?

There is another verse as well that says: "Nasu Allaha fa ansahum anfusahum", they forgot Allah "la takunu kalladheena nasu Allaha, fa ansahum anfusahum" (59:19), "Do not be like those who forgot Allah, so He made them forget their own selves". You see how beautiful this is? Allah does not say they forgot Allah, so Allah forgot them. What is the result of forgetting Allah? You forget your own self, meaning you forget your true identity. You forget being true conscious, and being awake. You fall into a state of slumber, into darkness, into Dhulumat. And when you remain conscious of Allah, when you are engaged in His remembrance, and not forgetful of Him, then you are in a state of light or a state of guidance.And we have other verses that say: "we give him a light that guides him thereby" the Prophet Musa, alayhi as-salam, as well is told in Chapter 14, verse five: "wa laqad arsalna Musa" (14:5), that "indeed we sent Musa", to the children of Israel, "an akhrij qawmaka min adh-dhulumati ila an-Noor" (14:5), that "take your people out of darkness into light", meaning take them out of misguidance towards guidance. I have only eight points, so it's going to be quick inshaAllah.

The fifth point is that this light or darkness that we speak about in this world as guidance versus misguidance, in the Hereafter or after death on the Day of Judgment, it takes on a real physical form as real light versus real darkness. And this is a vast subject which in Islam is referred to as Tajassum Al-Amal that anything you do in this world, good or bad, is not tangible, but it has an existence of its own. And, a metamorphosis occurs so that in the Hereafter, in the world, that is more real, it takes a physical form. The punishments that an individual suffers in the fire of Hell. We hear of, you know, molten lava and scorpions and serpents and so on. They are nothing but 'amalukum taraddu ilaykum, your own actions being given back to you. And there is ample of evidence of this from Qur'an and Hadith. You know, we hear of a rabid dog that accompanies a person's body as is being taken to the cemetery and enters the grave with him and this and that. We hear of angelic beings that come with us into the grave, who guide us on the day of judgment, the pleasures of paradise, even the pleasures of paradise are actually your good deeds, the take on an eternal form, and they come back to you.

So everything takes a physical form, including this light and darkness that, when you adopt faith and guidance and remembrance of Allah, it appears to you as if it's just words: Subhana Allah, wa al-Hamdulil-Lah, wa la ilaha illa Allah, you recite salawat, you recite Dhikr of Allah, you do Istighfar, these actually take a physical form in the Hereafter. Now the proof of this is plenty. If you look at the Qur'an, you see that when it talks about light and darkness in this world, it refers to it as guidance and misguidance. It talks about taking them out of darkness, into light. It talks of the Qur'an being Noor, which is guidance.

But when it refers to darkness and light in the Hereafter, it refers to it in the literal sense. Take, for example, Surat ul-Hadeed, which is Chapter 57, of the Qur'an. First, verse nine says: "Huwa alladhee yunazzilu ala 'abidihi ayat bayyanat, li yukhrijakum min adh-dhulumati ila an-noor" (57:9), 'He Allah it is who sent down to his servant verses that are very clear that he may take out his servants from darkness into light'. Here now it is referring to guidance and misguidance because He sends down the book here. That same Surah, a few verses down when you come to chapter fifty seven, verse 12, now Allah is talking of the Day of Judgment: "yawma tara al-mu'minina wa al-mu'minat yas'a noorun bayna aydihim wa bu aimanihim" (57:12), on the day when you shall see the faithful men and the faithful women, rushing or walking hurriedly, while their light is before them and on their right side. "Bushrakumu al-yawm jannatun tajri min tahtiha al-anhar" (57:12), being told by the Angels: Glad tidings to you and good news to you this day for their awaits for you gardens beneath which rivers flow, "khalidina fiha" (57:12), you shall now abide in them for all eternity, "dhalika huwa al-fauzu al-Adheem" (57:12), that indeed is a mighty achievement that you have achieved.

Now here we are being told that as they are hurrying towards Paradise, their light is running before them. And then the verse continues the next verse now: "Yawma yaqulu al-munafiqoona wa al-munaafiqat, lilladheena amanu undhurna naqtabis min noorikum" (57:13), 'on that day you shall see that the hypocrites among the men and the hypocrites among the women will be running after these faithful and saying to them, hold on and wait for us so that we may take some of your light'. "qeela irji'oo wara'akum faltamisoo nooran" (57:13), they shall be told: get back, do not come close to those who have faith, and go find your own light or go back and find your own light, which in some commentators opinion is they are being told to go back to the world, if you can, and get your own light.

"Faduriba bainahum bisoorin lahoo baabun, baatinuhoo feehi rahmah, wa dhaahiruhoo min qibalihi al-'adhaab" (57:13), 'and then a wall will be set between them as a separation, a wall in which on its inside shall be blessings and mercy and on its outside shall be the wrath of Allah'. Here we are being told very clearly that there is this light that guides the faithful towards paradise. So the impression we get when we combine this with Hadith is that on the Day of Judgment it isn't that there is light everywhere, there is actually darkness everywhere. And even in the fire of Hell, there is no light, it is absolutely dark. And until one gets to paradise, one needs a light that guides him.

Now, when we look at Hadith, there are some very interesting ideas behind this. One hadith says that the extent of light will depend on the faith of an individual, because it is what you take from this world that manifests physically there. For some, the light will be so intense and bright it will be like from one city to another. For some, now, in the language of the Arabs, the light will be the length of a palm tree. For some, the light will be just the extent of their toes so that they can only see right in front of them, but they can't see beyond that as to what awaits them. And they have to journey from the place they are resurrected to the gates of Paradise in that.

For some, according to Thahlabi, is that there will be great anxiety, because their light will be flickering and at times it will shine brightly and at times it will fade. And every time it begins to fade, they will panic and experience some anxiety, because they still have issues that are unresolved in their souls. Why? Because whilst they were in this world, at times they obey Allah, and at times they disobeyed. So their faith was ambivalent. It was not consistent, and so their light as well is ambivalent and it is inconsistent.

You begin to see that what you are and what you become in the Hereafter is actually what you make of yourself in this world. And then as the faithful are running towards Paradise, they are constantly praying to Allah to increase this light for them.

So we see in chapter sixty-six, verse eight: "yawma la yukhzi Allaahu an-Nabi' wa alladheena amano ma'ahu"(66:8), 'on the day when Allah will not cause any humiliation for His Messenger and those who have faith with him', "nooruhum yas'aa baina aydihim wa bi aymanihim" (66:8), 'their lights will be running before them and on the right side', "yaquluna Rabbana atmimlana noorana" (66:8), 'they will be calling out to Allah and saying Our Lord complete for us our light', "wa aghfirlana, innaka 'alaa kulli shai'in qadeer" (66:8), 'and show mercy and forgiveness to us. Indeed, you have power over all things'. So we see that guidance and faith in this light takes a real form in the Hereafter.

The sixth point is that in this verse you notice that Allah uses singulars and He uses plurals. When He talks about light, He uses singular. When He talks about darkness, He uses plural. Allah is the Wali of those who have faith, "yukhrijuhum min adh-dhulumati ila an-noor" (2:257), dhulumat is the plural of dhulma, dhulma is darkness, dhulumat is many darknesses, Noor is singular, Anwar is the plural. So He says: Allah is the guardian of the faithful. He takes them from multiple levels of darknesses to one light. As for those who are faithless, their patrons are the devils, they take them from one light, "min an-noor ila adh-dhulumat" (2:257), to multiple darknesses. As well, Allah is one, but taghut is a plural. It is not one devil but devils.

And the explanation that we are given here is because the truth is always one, whereas misguidance has multiple perspectives, and we might search for this truth, but everyone acknowledges we are all searching for one truth. So whereas misguidance relies on multiplicity and numerous diverging, confusing paths, and roads, guidance relies on one path. And because Allah is All-powerful and All-sufficient, therefore He is one. And because the devils are weak and ineffective, therefore they are multiples. And that is why you will find that polytheists never worship one idol, they worship multiple idols, because they rely on numbers on gods that are not real or ineffective.

I'm almost done here. The seventh thing you will notice about this verse is the order of the statements are reversed. And this is very beautiful. It's very subtle, but it's very beautiful. First, Allah says: "Allahu waliyyu alladheena amanu" (2:257), Allah is the guardian of those who have faith. Now, in language and in grammar, the next statement should have followed the same pattern and said if it said Allah is the guardian of those who have faith, the next statement should have said the devils are the guardians of those who are faithless. But the second statement is reversed, it says, and the faithless, their guardians are the devils.

So in the first statement, the guardian is mentioned first, Allah is the Wali of those who have Iman. In the second statement, the recipients are mentioned first: "wa alladheena kafaru awliya'uhumu at-taghutu "(2:257), why? It is because Allah is mentioned first, because He is exalted, and He is more deserving that He be mentioned first as an honor to that term before the faithful. But the second statement is reversed to highlight and show the significance, the insignificance of their guardians, to trivialize these gods that they look up to, that they mean that might be egoic, but to trivialize and minimize and show they are insignificant, it is reversed. And the kafirin are mentioned first, and then their guardians or their patrons.

And the last point here we ask is that if the faithless are already in darkness, when we say someone is kafir, that means he is already in darkness in the understanding of the Qur'an, meaning he is misguided, then why does Allah have to take them from light into darkness? I mean, why do the devils have to take them from light into darkness? And if the faithful are already guided, and they already have Iman, then why does Allah have to take them from darkness into light?

"Yukhrijuhum min adh-dhulumati ila an-noor". And again, there are many explanations for this, but one of the common meanings here is that, the reason why the faithful, I mean, the reason why the faithless need to be taken from light or are taken from light into darkness is because the natural state of a human being is to be guided, to be in light. "Kullu mawlidin yuladu ala fitrat al-Islam, in a hadith of Rasul Allah, sallal-lahu alayhi wa alihi wa sallam, he says: every human soul that is born, is born on the natural instinct to believe in a higher power and to worship God. It is experiences in life that then make a person follow a different creed or deny God.

So now what the verse is saying is that the movement from light and darkness, first of all, may be gradual, and the second is that, because they have adopted faithlessness, every time they come towards some form of light or guidance, because their Wali is not Allah, and the devils take that place, they are therefore taken from light into darkness. So they are constantly being led into misguidance, because of their core or fundamental beliefs that take them, give them the wrong patterns.

For the faithful, the reason why Allah takes them from darkness into light, even though they already have faith, is because faith or Iman is not a static and constant quality. And again, there is no time for this. But when you look at the Qur'an and if you were to take the word Iman and look at where it occurs throughout the Qur'an, you will see that Iman is dynamic.

First of all, it is cyclical, meaning there is Islam and then there is a higher level of Iman, and then there is a higher level of Islam, which is higher than Iman. And then there is Iman, which is higher than that Islam. And then there is Islam, which is higher than that Iman, and it goes on and on and on. And that is why when you read where Ibrahim, alayhi as-salam, says to Allah, Make me a Muslim, after all the trials he goes through and having been a prophet, that Islam he is asking for is not the Islam of the newly initiated Muslim.

So it is of many different levels. And it is also dynamic, it increases, it shrinks. And again, you will see this in the Qur'an that when people flee from the battlefield, it is because their Iman has shrunk. When Allah blesses a person, he says: "yasdadu Imanan ma'a Imanihim" that He increase his Iman in addition to the Iman he already has.

So "Allahu waliyyu alladheena amanu yukhrijuhum min adh-dhulumati ila an-noor"(2:257), is that in comparison to the current state of Iman, when He brings them to a higher level of Iman, that also is a movement from darkness into light. The higher our consciousness of God, the more our Ma'arifa or our realization of God, the higher level of light we possess within us.

And that is why some of the mufassirun as well, say that that light on the Day of Judgment is in proportion to our Ma'arifa of Allah Subhana wa Ta'ala and how much we understand of God.

So I will leave it at this, InshaAllah, and just to again, reiterate and summarize, the what I tried to show here is take a verse that we read commonly and just see how in a verse that appears to us as being very simple, there are so many points we can extract, there are so many questions we can ask.

The relationship of darkness to light the sequence of the words, how they occur, the singular versus the plural, the same word, what it means in this world versus what it means in eschatology in regards to the Hereafter and so on. And the other point I tried to demonstrate is that when you read a verse and are trying to understand it, it also needs to make reference to many other verses to show consistency that your understanding of this theme or idea in Qur'an, whatever it is you might talk about, you might talk of the word Ummah, the word Kitab, Women in Islam, Iman, Taqwa, Kufr, Nifaq. Any concept you discuss in the Qur'an, you have to look at all the verses and have a holistic view to say, what does the Qur'an really say about this? If we take only one verse, then we might have an understanding, but we will soon find it now contradicts when we now take a different verse discussing the same theme.

Al-hamdulil-Lahi Rabbi 'l-Alameen, wa salla Allahu 'ala Sayyidina Muhammad, wa 'ala Ahli Baytihi, at-tayyibin, at-tahirin [Allahumma Salli 'ala Muhammad wa aali Muhammad].