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  • The Lamp of Mysteries: A Commentary on the Light Verse of the Quran
  • Oliver Leaman
The Lamp of Mysteries: A Commentary on the Light Verse of the Quran. By Ismāʿīl Anqarawī. Translated and edited by Bilal Kuşpınar. Oxford: Anqa, 2011. Pp. 102 (English) + 39 (Arabic). Paper £13.95, ISBN 978-1-905937-42-4.

We owe a debt of gratitude to Bilal Kuṣpınar for his pioneering work on Ismāʿīl Anqarawī, this being the second book he has written on this important seventeenth-century Ottoman thinker. Anqarawī was very much within the Islamic mystical tradition and incorporated within his thought some interesting aspects of both mashshāʿī [End Page 99] (Peripatetic) and ishraqi (Illuminationist) thought. This is an edition and translation of the Misbah al-Asrar, a commentary on the Light Verse in the Qurʾān that has so often been commented on, especially by those within the more mystical Islamic traditions, since its references to light are full of suggestive information for those who see light as a crucial philosophical notion. The thing about light is that it generally comes from somewhere outside us and makes what exists visible, and without light things cannot be seen. Light is, then, a condition of knowledge, and this applies not only to knowledge of matters of fact but also to higher forms of knowledge, which can also be said to be illuminated from outside. Here the illumination is not on our senses but on our intellect, and again the idea of something bringing out what already exists is suggestive, especially for mystics, since for them how the world really is can be appreciated through a variation in our cogitative orientation, as though the world suddenly looks to have a particular character, rather like seeing things in a room when the light is turned on.

What makes the discussion so complex, in a sense, is the mixture of philosophical methodologies used by Anqarawī, including those of Rūmī, Ibn ʿArabī, and al-Suhrawardi, not to mention al-Ghazzālī, all of whom saw the issue from a different perspective, but they are not difficult to bring into agreement with each other either. God wants to be known, and so is equivalent to the lamp, but he is so far beyond us that this knowledge is really not possible except by indirect and subtle means. Still, God and his final prophet Muhammad can be linked with the source of light, the lamp, while we are the niche that is lit up, if we merit it and if we prepare ourselves appropriately to receive the light. It might be thought that light is a poor analogy, since it shines where it will and illuminates its object regardless of whether the object is prepared to receive it, but actually it is a useful metaphor since really unless its object is capable of receiving light it will not, and it is not difficult to move from this idea to that of the human soul being prepared to receive what is available to it. Of course, it is for God to decide whether to send the light; it is not an automatic process, as it is for the Peripatetic thinkers who see the active intellect as the conduit of knowledge and something that quite automatically connects with the higher forms of reasoning that are available to it. For Anqarawī that is certainly not the case, since God is far more directly the cause of light and personally decides who should receive it or otherwise, and his basis for choice is no doubt linked with the deserts, moral as well as intellectual, of the searcher after knowledge.

Anqarawī's methodology is synthetic rather than analytic. He uses a mixture of philosophical techniques in combination with verses from the Qurʿān and the prophetic traditions to throw light—as I cannot help writing—on the topic. This short book is a sustained investigation of those scriptural passages and prophetic sayings that enter into a dialogue with the philosophical ideas marshalled by the author. It is an impressive product, concise on the one hand yet concentrated, and nicely argued throughout. Although Anqarawī is not averse...