Reading through the Layers of the Self

‘Rabbana Atmim Lana Noorana…’
Oh Lord, perfect for us our light.

This is a verse from the Quran, one of the prayer-verses that begin by addressing the Creator as ‘Rab’, which literally means The Nurturer. The one who loves you and nurtures you and cares for you.

I learnt this verse from a friend, who used to recite it in his prayers. His interpretation of the verse was ‘Oh Lord, complete for us our light’, and in accordance with that, he used to recite this verse as a prayer for finding his soul-mate, the one who would complete his light.

The moment I had heard this verse, it was pure love. It was one of the most beautiful phrases I had ever heard in my life and I wanted to incorporate it in my prayers. But I already had a partner who completed my life, so I was unsure about how to incorporate it.

But that was until I reflected deeply upon the complete verse and its various meanings.

The mystical traditions of faith say that the Quran has several ‘layers’ of meaning. The literal meaning is the visible uppermost layer, and is superficial. The deeper hidden meaning is understood only through reflection and introspection: it is understood through what is referred to as the ‘Qalb.’ The Qalb being the innermost centre of our existence – not the heart or the mind but the point at which all our senses and abilities, and our capacity to love, feel and reflect is centered. That point of convergence of the human existence is defined as the Qalb

The layers of the Quran are in fact a reflection of the entire Universe, which has been crafted in layers. We know that the earth, upon which we dwell, is not merely what it appears on the surface, but has layers beneath the surface. There is the crust, the mantle and the core. The sky, that appears boundless and undivided, is also created in layers: the stratosphere, the troposphere, the mesosphere and so on. So too, has the human being been created in layers: the body of flesh and bone being the outermost layer of existence—and the innermost being the Qalb. When we read through our outer self, we access a literal, superficial reading of the book.

But when we need to access the deeper layers of the Quran, we read through our deeper self, the qalb.

Prayers, like poetry, are an endless ocean of meaning. What one finds is dependent upon what one seeks.

Rabbana Atmim Lana Noorana
Oh Lord, perfect for us our light.

Is love the only light we need? There are other kinds of light, as well.

The light of knowledge. The light of goodness. The light of profound depth and the light of immense ability.

Funnily, my mind went back then, to four years ago when I had watched the movie X Men Apocalypse. I had seen how Jean, the one with the immense mental ability, struggled to harness her power, struggled to control it and regulate it so that she could command it without being overcome by it or destroyed by it. I remembered that scene where Jean finally unleashes the entire force of her superpower, which erupts out of her in a blinding flash of light.

It was the light that had captured my imagination then, and it was the light that came to my mind now, as I mulled over this verse about light.

I remembered further, how much I had identified with Jean, with her struggle, her rage, her frustration at the inability to control and command ‘her light.’ I had felt a current coursing through my veins when I saw the light burst out of her powerfully. I had ‘felt’ my own light, almost tingling beneath my skin, coursing through my veins, yearning to break free. And yet, I had not known how to harness it, to command it and not be destroyed by it.

Rabbana Atmim Lana Noorana.

And just as the memory surfaced, I knew which light I wanted to pray for.

Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado on Unsplash

Oh Lord, perfect for us our light.

I wanted to pray to that Divine Light, which we are all a part of, which is at once inside us and all around us. The Light is in us, and we are in the Light. Immanent and transcendent.

I wanted to pray that I may be able to grow ‘my light’, and let it burst forth from me. The light of knowledge, the light of goodness, the light of ability.

Three years ago, I had sat in a dark movie theatre, a 4DX experience complete with special effects, and imagined myself as a powerful superhero. Who could ever imagine having a spiritual experience inside a movie theatre? But the light is all around us, and can be felt anywhere.

But then I was clueless about my light. All I could feel was that it was somewhere inside, waiting to bloom.

And now, now when I recite this verse, I feel the power coursing again. I feel the light slowly emanating from me. I am able to locate it, modulate it and let it shine. Soft still, but identifiable. The beginning of a promise.

And funnily, what comes to mind is the childhood hymn we used to sing in our Missionary school:

This little guiding light of mine,
I’m going to let it shine!

Let it shine, let it shine
All the time let it shine!

It is a miracle how interconnected this Universe is, how seemingly unrelated events come together to form one beautiful whole. The light is everywhere for us to see.

All we need is vision.

Photo by Leonie on Unsplash
(Featured image on top by Abdullah Arif on Unsplash)

Published by Zehra Naqvi

Zehra Naqvi is an author, independent journalist and mother. She has been writing for over a decade on literature, gender and socio-political issues and her articles have been published in Indian Express, Reader’s Digest, The Hindu, The Wire, Outlook, The Quint, Financial Chronicle, Child Magazine, Women’s Web and others. Zehra has been featured in the RBTC list of 100 Most Inspiring Muslim Women from Uttar Pradesh. She has appeared on international radio as well as national and international television, speaking on gender justice. Zehra is a quadruple gold medalist in journalism from Aligarh Muslim University.

One thought on “Reading through the Layers of the Self

  1. Beneath the big dazzle rests the blue green dim light of this Universe. And from that sublime glow emanates the hum of the Universe. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

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