Monday, November 23, 2009

Concept of Hikayat Nur Muhammad (Light of Muhammad)

a) Understanding Light of Muhammad in the Qur’ān and Hadith

The Hikayat Nur Muhammad is generally renowned as an anecdote of the attributes and descriptions of the prophet’s personality; as the luminous veils of praise and commonly portrays him belonging to the sphere of light. In the Hikayat Nur Muhamad, the Prophet Muhammad is being portrayed as light:

“The story of the mystic light run as follows: The mystic light was before all things and of it all things were made. For fifty years it bowed to Allah. Then Allah said: “Light of Muhammad! I have ordained for men the creed, the five daily prayers, the fast, the giving of tithes, the pilgrimage.” And Allah made of the light a glorious bird (as described), and said: “Light, I give thee seven seas, the sea of knowledge, the sea of kindness, the sea of patience, the sea of intelligence, the sea of thought, the sea of mercy, the sea of light. Swim in each of those seas for 10,000 years”.

What bring forth these portrayal and luminous description of the Prophet Muhammad is because the Qur’ān and Hadith have refer several times, mentioning that the Prophet as the light. It is from these two main sources that prominent ulamas and scholars has expressed their thoughts and affections towards the beloved Prophet Muhammad, as the primordial light, through their Tafsir (exegesis), kitabs, writings and poetries.
Dr. Umar Hashim has delineated that Nur or Light has three descriptive forms. It is referred as
• The Prophet himself.
• As the Qur’ān and Revelation revealed to the Prophet Muhammad; Hadirh Qudsi or the Hadith Nabawi.
• As the comprehensiveness of Islam as the religion; that brought guidance hidayah, religion of Islam and light (nur) that illuminates our life’s journey.

Basically, there are three important verses in the Qur’ān that ulamas and exegesis hold to support their commentaries and viewpoint. The first is from the Surah al-Má‘idah verse 15: قَدْ جَاءكُم مِّنَ اللّهِ نُورٌ وَكِتَابٌ مُّبِينٌ “There has come to you from Allah a (new) light and a perspicuous Book”

Several commentaries made by classical exegetes had explained that the word light in the above verse refers as the Prophet Muhammad. From a study made by Nuh Ha Mim Keller, a prominent sufi-scholar, he has compiled several opinions and commentaries from ulamas and scholars regarding the verse, among others:
• (Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti:) "It is the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace)" (Tafsir al-Jalalayn, 139).
• (Ibn Jarir al-Tabari:) "By Light He means Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace), through whom Allah has illuminated the truth, manifested Islam, and obliterated polytheism; since he is a light for whoever seeks illumination from him, which makes plain the truth" (Jami‘ al-bayan, 6.161).
• (Fakhr al-Razi:) "There are various positions about it, the first being that the Light is Muhammad, and the Book is the Qur’an" (al-Tafsir al-kabir, 11:194).
Of particular note is the fact that the Mu`tazilis insisted that the Light in verse 5:15 referred only to the Qur'an and not to the Prophet. Meanwhile, al-Sayyid al-Alusi said in Ruh al-ma`ani (6:97): "I do not consider it far-fetched that what is meant by both the Light and the Manifest Book is the Prophet.

Secondly, is the verse from Surah An-Nur (Light) verse 35. The Holy Quran says:
اللَّهُ نُورُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ مَثَلُ نُورِهِ كَمِشْكَاةٍ فِيهَا مِصْبَاحٌ الْمِصْبَاحُ فِي زُجَاجَةٍ الزُّجَاجَةُ كَأَنَّهَا كَوْكَبٌ دُرِّيٌّ يُوقَدُ مِن شَجَرَةٍ مُّبَارَكَةٍ زَيْتُونِةٍ لَّا شَرْقِيَّةٍ وَلَا غَرْبِيَّةٍ يَكَادُ زَيْتُهَا يُضِيءُ وَلَوْ لَمْ تَمْسَسْهُ نَارٌ نُّورٌ عَلَى نُورٍ يَهْدِي اللَّهُ لِنُورِهِ مَن يَشَاء وَيَضْرِبُ اللَّهُ الْأَمْثَالَ لِلنَّاسِ وَاللَّهُ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَلِيمٌ {35}
“Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The Parable of His Light is as if there were a Niche and within it a Lamp: the Lamp enclosed in Glass: the glass as it were a brilliant star: Lit from a blessed Tree, an Olive, neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil is well-nigh luminous, though fire scarce touched it: Light upon Light! Allah doth guide whom He will to His Light: Allah doth set forth Parables for men: and Allah doth know all things.”
This verse is presumably the focal point for the development of Muhammad mysticism which actually refers back to the eight century. It was when theologian Muqatil idealized Prophet Muhammad in his work and he seems to have been the first to interpret the Light verse of the Qur’ān as referring to the Prophet. It is the lamp, misbah, that Muqatil sees as a fitting symbol for Muhammad. Through him the Divine Light could shine in the world, and through him mankind was guided to the origin of this Light. The formula “neither of the East nor the West” was then taken as a reference to Muhammad’s comprehensive nature, which is not restricted to one specific people or race and which surpasses the boundaries of time and space. To our day, one of the most common epithets of the Prophet is nur al-huda, the Light of the Right Guidance.
In addition, GF Haddad has quoted several ulamas commenting on the verse, among them are:
Suyuti said in al-Riyad al-aniqa: Ibn Jubayr and Ka`b al- Ahbar said: "What is meant by the second light is the Prophet because he is the Messenger and the Expositor and the Conveyor from Allah of what is enlightening and manifest." Ibn Kathir comments on this verse in his Tafsir by citing the report through Ibn `Atiyya whereby Ka`b al-Ahbar explained Allah's words: يَكَادُ زَيْتُهَا يُضِيءُ وَلَوْ لَمْ تَمْسَسْهُ نَارٌ as meaning: "Muhammad is nearly manifest as a Prophet to people, even if he did not declare it”.
Among those who said that the meaning of mathalu nurihi -- the likeness of His Light -- is the Prophet Muhammad, upon him blessings and peace: Ibn Jarir al-Tabari in his Tafsir (18:95), Qadi `Iyad in al-Shifa', al-Baghawi in Ma`alim al-Tanzil (5:63) in the margin of al-Khazin, from Sa`id ibn Hubayr and al-Dahhak, al- Khazin in his Tafsir (5:63) Suyuti in al-Durr al-manthur (5:49), Zarqani in Sharh al-mawahib (3:171), al-Khafaji in Nasim al-riyad (1:110, 2:449).

As for the third verse, it is from Surah al-Ahzab verse 46. Allah Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala said: وَدَاعِيًا إِلَى اللَّهِ بِإِذْنِهِ وَسِرَاجًا مُّنِيرًا “And as one who invites to Allah's (grace) by His leave, and as a lamp spreading light.”
Indeed, the Qur’ān itself (Surah 33:46), as we saw, calls the Prophet sirajun munir, “a shining lamp”, an expression taken over by Hasan ibn Thabit, who once described Muhammad as the one who brought light and truth in the darkness ( as in Surah 5:15): “There came to you from God a light and clear book!
Ibn Kathir states in his Tafsir: "His saying: and a light- giving lamp, that is: your status shows in the truth you have brought just as the sun shows in its rising and illuminating, which none denies except the obdurate." Meanwhile, commenting on the above verse [33:45], Dr. Mostafa al-Badawi said, “we are to understand that He (Allah) made the Prophet’s light powerful like the sun’s, yet cool and gentle like the moon.”

Apart from the Qur’ānic verses, several hadith has been quoted by Muslim scholars in supportive that the light of Prophet shone at all level, physically or spiritually. Dr Mostafa al-Badawi has bring forth some hadith to support this viewpoint:
• Some of the Prophet’s Companions were given to see this light as even brighter than both the sun and moon, for when they walked with him they noticed that he cast no shadow on the ground.[al-Hakim, al-Tirmidhi].
• Those who saw him in the full moon noticed that his blessed face was brighter than the moon,[al-Tirmidhi] and one of his Companions, the Lady Rubayyi‘, when asked to describe him, said, "My son, had you seen him, you would have seen the sun shining."[al-Tirmidhi]
• The Lady ‘A‘isha related how she saw the whole room fill with light one night, then it disappeared, while the Prophet continued to call upon his Lord. Then the room was filled with a more powerful light which disappeared after a while. She asked, "What is this light I saw?" he said, "Did you see it. O ‘A‘isha?" "Yes!" she replied. He said, "I asked my Lord to grant me my nation, so He gave me one third of them, so I praised and thanked Him. Then I asked him for the rest, so He gave me the second third, so I praised and thanked Him. Then I asked Him for the third third, so He gave it to me, so I praised and thanked Him." She said that had she wished to pick up mustard seeds from the floor by this light she could have.[Abu Nuáym in Hilia]
• Ibn ‘Abbas described how he saw light shining from between his front teeth.[al-Tirmidhi in Shama’il, Darimi, Bayhaqi, Tabaran and Ibn Asakir]
Although several of the hadith he had quoted contains weaker chains of transmission, he insisted that even the chain considered weakest by Muslim traditionists, is quite acceptable as historical proof to any professional historian on this planet, being far stronger and better authenticated than other ancient sources he works with. It is also well known that weak traditions strengthen each other so as to become acceptable. This is why those we have quoted here have been accepted by leading scholars such as Ibn Kathir, Suyutiī, Qadi ‘Iyad, Bayhaqi, and others.

“Furthermore, in the description of the battle of Badr, Hassan claims that the Prophet’s face shone like the full moon, badr, and his threnody for the venerated Prophet he mentions also radiant light that shone at Muhammad’s birth, a topic repeated time and again in literature: “And he who is guided to the blessed light, is well guided.”

b) Its Symbolism as Bird

We have mentioned earlier, that the tales in Hikayat Nur Muhammad had a great influence in the Malay Literature particularly in the understanding of Sufism. It deserves mentioning that in the Hikayat Nur Muhammad, the Light is represented as a ‘Glorious Bird’:
“And Allah made of the light a glorious bird (as described), and said: “Light, I give thee seven seas, the sea of knowledge, the sea of kindness, the sea of patience, the sea of intelligence, the sea of thought, the sea of mercy, the sea of light. Swim in each of those seas for 10,000 years”
; or as the ‘Sublime and most beautiful Bird’:
“After that from the Light of Muhammad, Allah created a ‘sublime and most beautiful bird’. Ali ibn Abi Talib was its head, Hassan and Hussain were its eyes, Fatimah Az-Zuhra was its neck, Abu Bakar and Umar were its arms (?), Hamzah ibn Abd al-Mutalib was its tail. Abbas its back, Khadijah al-Kubra its feet. Allah ordered the Light that acquired the form of the bird, to swim in ‘the seas forming seven tiers (tujuh petala laut)’, namely the Sea of Knowledge, the Sea of Subtlety, the Sea of Patience, the Sea of Intellect, the Sea of Thought, the Sea of Mercy and the Sea of Light.”

Amongst the classical Malay Literature works that adapted and influences by the symbolism of Prophet Muhammad’s Light as Bird contained in the Hikayat Nur Muhammad was Bustan as-salatin and Syair Burung Pingai.

Bustan as-salatin (the ‘Garden of sultans’) is among the corpus works done by Sheikh Nuruddin ar-Raniri and written in the Malay Jawi script. As to the content Bustan as-salatin, Book (Bab) 1 of the work, discussed the creation of the heavens and the earth, it also described the creation of the Prophetic Light of Muhammad (Nur Muhammad), the source of all that exists; the Preserved Tablet (lauh al-mahfuz), on which the destinies of all creations of Allah are inscribed; the Lofty Reed-Pen (qalam al-‘ala), the Throne (arasy) and the Footstool (kursi) of God; angels, the Praised Banner of the Prophet Muhammad (liwa al-hamd), jinn and Iblis; the Lote Tree of the Uttermost End (sidrat al-muntaha), and seven celestial spheres.

In this same work, Nuruddin has also quoted a story telling of how Allah created created the Light of Muhammad ‘in the form of a peacock and placed it on the top of a tree with four branches that He called Syajarat al-Yakin – the Tree of Certainty. The peacock uttered the formula of tasbih (Subhan Allah – ‘Glory be to God!’) for 70,000 years it saw itself ‘in the veil [covering God] which was similar to a mirror’. As the peacock’s reflection was ‘unspeakably beautiful’, it, full of gratitude, prostrated itself five times before Allah. After that five daily prostrations become obligatory (fardu) for every Muslim (Wilkinson 1990, I: 8).

Another typical writing that was subjected to that similar symbolism was the number of syair written by Hamzah Fansuri – sometimes were regarded, in the Malay tradtion as a single work, entitled Syair Burung Pingai (the ‘Poem of the Pure Bird’). Although several literatis opted that his works were obviously inspired by ‘Attar’s poems. The description of Burung Pingai as the Light of Muhammad forms the core of Hamzah Fansuri’s bird syair:
Its broad wings are called the Scripture,
The Holy Qur’ān is inscribed on its body,
Its legs are God’s Mercy and Bounty,
It always perches on the hand of the Merciful,
The Spirit of God is also its spirit,
The Secret of God is this bird’s body,
The Light of God is its eyes and seeing,
The Light of Muhammad is with it forever.
Its speech is none other than the voice of God,
Its heart is the Merciful and the Compassionate,
It worships the Lord in completely purity (Drewes and Brakel 1986: 120).

Burung Pingai sprang from the Light of God, it worships God ceaselessly, it ‘forever disports under thé Footstool of the Creator’, it is always full of love for Him, constantly inebriated with the wine if His Unity and Gnosis (ma’rifat) and always abides in mystical Union (wasal) with Him (Drewes and Brakel 1986:114,118,120).
Moreover, since Burung Pngai symbolizes the Light of Muhammad, it is little wonder that alongside Mantiq at-tayr, a certain version of the tale about the mystical Light of the Prophet also served as source of inspiration for Hamzah.

c) Creation begins

Referring back to both translated version Hikayat Nur Muhammad that we had mentioned earlier in sub-chapter ‘Manuscript and Origin’, it is understood, that the role of Prophet Muhammad; the primordial Logos (Haqiqat, or Nur, Muhammad), is as the mediator in the act of creation, who links the incomprehensible Creator with the human being. It is thru the Light of Muhammad, whom Divine Knowledge was fully revealed to the outer world for the first time. “Like the trunk of a tree that supports its branches, he is the foundation of all subsequent creation. The process of creation consists of two phases: receptive (the perception of inspiration) and agentive (the creation of things-literary texts). While a relatively passive roe is accorded to the author in the process of perceiving inspiration, in the act of fixation of images he emerges as the creator in his own right.”
One thoughtful significance and conception adapted with the tales of creation in the Hikayat Nur Muhammmad is ‘Parallelism of the creative process in macrocosm and microcosm’, that is, the parallelism of traditional Muslim ontology and psychology. A sufficiently complete description of both processes has been provided by by Áziz al-Dīn NAsafi (the thirteenth century), the Persian Sufi, treatise Zubdat al-haqa’iq (the ‘Cream of truths’).

As for the influence of such concept in the Malay literature, “a scheme of creation in macrocosm analogous” to the above is found, “with insignificant variations, in Malay Sufi texts, particularly, in works by Hamzah Fansuri. “Not only the identification of the parts and features of the Pure Bird with cosmological and ontological concepts in Hamzah Fansuri’s syair may be traced back to the tale of mystical Light, these syair tells of the creation of the Light before all elements of Being:
The Bird of Light sprang from the Radiance
To abide constantly at the Lofty Pedestal,
From its Light derived the rich and the poor,
The lord and the slave – every human being [….]
(Drewes and Brakel 1986:122-4).”

Elucidating on this doctrine, the Malaysian scholar Syed Muhammad Naguib al-Attas has discerns the following four levels in it (the scheme of creation):
- First (identical with Throne). On this plane, created things exist in Divine Knowledge, synthetically, as general ideas, unitary and inseparable from one another (the usual metaphor of synthetic existence is ink in an ink-pot containing all letters of the future text in indiscriminate potentiality).
- Second (identical with the Footstool). On this plane, ideas of individual things ‘come forth’ or ‘step out’, as it were, from the indiscriminate potentiality of general ideas; the creation exists as potential ‘external essences’ (ayan khariji) which are ready to obtain actual, external existence.
- Third. On this level the Supreme Pen (qalam al-‘ala) records forms of created things on the Guarded Tablet (lauh al-mahfuz), and, obedient to the Creative Word ‘Be!’, ideas (or spirits) of things descend from Divine Knowledge into the material world – the creation is separated from the Creator.
Fourth – On this level the materialization od ideal forms in the material world takes place.
Thus, the first two levels correspond to the internal aspect of the creation of things appearing first in indiscriminate unity of ideas, and then as individual ideas of particular things. The third and fourth levels correspond to creative activity proper, to the implementation of an individual idea of a thing as the thing itself in its actual form.”

Apart from the identification of the creation scheme of all elements of beings from the Light of Muhammad, the hikayat also gives tales of the transference of It (Light) from the Prophet Adam to other prophets up to Muhammad:
“After the Light had swum for ten thousand years in each of these seas, it was ordered to go ashore and shake itself (bergerak dirinya). From drops of water that fell from its body 124,000 prophets and thirteen messengers were created; [……….]. Later this Light was granted to the Prophet Adam, from whom it came to the Prophet Sis (Seth), then to the Prophet Ayub (Job) and then to Prophet Musa (Moses). After the creation of the four elements Allah sent the Light of Muhammad to them, and all the elements became Allah’s faithful servants. […..]

Bowering on his interpretation of Tustari’s doctrine based on Muqatil’s exegesis said: “Then, when creation began, God “created Adam from the light of Muhammad.”
The light of the prophets is from his, Muhammad’s light and the light of the heavenly kingdom, malakut, is from his light, and the light of this world and of the world to come is from his light.”
Bowering continues with his interpretation of Tustari’s doctrine:
Finally, when the emanation was completed, Muhammad was shaped in the body, in his temporal and terrestrial form, from the clay of Adam, which however had been taken from the pre-eternal column of nur Muhammad. Thus the pre-eternal creation of light was perfected: the primal man was moulded from the crystallized light of Muhammad and took the corporate personality of Adam.
It has also been narrated in Ahadith by al-Tirmidhi, Ahmad, Hakim and Bukhari in Tarikh that “This light was also the origin of the lights of all other Divine Messengers, of the angels, then of all other beings. This is how the Prophet, may Allah’s blessings and peace be upon him, could say, "I was a Prophet when Adam was still between spirit and body." In addition, Hamzah Fansuri’s poem has also adapted and was clearly influenced by such scheme in his syair:
It is namely Ahmad, the first of the prophets,
Who sprang from the Light of the God most pure,
All the world radiated from his Light prophetic –
The earth took shape and also heaven [….]
After the Universe had been manifested,
The bird appeared in the form of Adam,
Then it came as the messenger, as the Seal of Prophets,
So that his community would not perish. (Drewes and Brakel 1986:122-4).”

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