The theme of this chapter is outlined by its opening verse: (This is) a chapter which We have revealed and made obligatory and in which We have revealed clear communications so that you may be mindful (24:1). It states certain obligatory rules, followed by some relevant religious teachings that help the believers become heedful of them.
This is certainly a Medinite chapter, as testified by its content. A key verse in this chapter is the Verse of Light from which the chapter gets its name:
- Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth; the likeness of His light is as a niche in which is a lamp, the lamp is in a glass, (and) the glass is as it were a brightly shining star, lit from a blessed olive-tree, neither eastern nor western, the oil whereof almost gives light though fire touch it not—light upon light—Allah guides to His light whom He will, and Allah sets forth parables for the people, and Allah is Knower of all things (24:35).
Verses 35-46 present a distinction between true believers and disbelievers. The believers are led by their righteous deeds to a light from their Lord, which results in their knowledge of God, and leads them to the best of rewards and graces from God on the day when veils will be lifted from their hearts and eyes. The disbelievers, on the contrary, have actions that only lead them to a mirage that has no reality. They are in layers of darkness, one above another. God has not given them light, and thus they have no light.
God explains this distinction by talking about two kinds of light that He has. He has a universal light with which the heavens and the earth are lit. It is with His light that all things appear in the realm of existence, without which they would have been invisible [that is, non-existent]. Evidently, if something (call it A) were to make another thing (call it B) to appear and manifest, then A must itself be apparent and manifest to begin with. This is exactly the definition of “light”: it is something that is manifest itself, and also brings other things to manifestation. Hence, God is a “Light,” because through His illumination the heavens and the earth [that is, the entire world of creation] appear and come to manifestation. In this sense, the divine light is like physical light, which makes dark objects visible to the senses by shining upon them. The difference is that in the case of divine light, making things appear is the same as making them exist; but in the case of physical light, the manifestation of dark objects is not the same as their existence [that is, they exist nonetheless, whether they are shined upon or not].
Besides His universal light, God also has a special light that benefits the believers in particular. They attain this light through their righteous deeds. This is the light of maʿrifah (gnosis, knowledge of God) that illuminates their hearts and eyes on a day when “the hearts and the eyes shall turn about” (24:37). This light will lead them to eternal bliss and felicity, and with this light they will witness, with the eye of insight, what was hidden from them in this world. God has compared this light to a lamp that is in a glass in a niche, kindled by an oil that is at the utmost degree of clarity. The glass also shines as if it were a glittering star, adding light upon light. This lamp is placed in houses of worship, where God is glorified by certain men among the believers who are not distracted from the remembrance of their Lord and His service by any trade or sale.
This is the description of the light of divine knowledge, with which God honors the believers, and which leads to eternal salvation. He has forbidden this light to the disbelievers and leaves them in layers of darkness where they cannot see [the truth]. God exclusively bestows such light from Himself upon one who engages in His service and turns away from the frail and passing goods of worldly life. Indeed, God does as He wills; to Him belongs the sovereignty [over the entire world of existence], and toward Him is the end of all affairs [24:42]. He rules as He wants; He sends down rain and hail from the same cloud [24:43]; He turns over the night and the day [24:44]; and He makes some animals walk on their belly, some on two feet, and some on four, while He has created them all from water [24:45].