Allah strikes the following parable in part of surah al-An’aam:
أَوَمَن كَانَ مَيْتًا فَأَحْيَيْنَاهُ وَجَعَلْنَا لَهُ نُورًا يَمْشِي بِهِ فِي النَّاسِ كَمَن مَّثَلُهُ فِي الظُّلُمَاتِ لَيْسَ بِخَارِجٍ مِّنْهَا ۚ كَذَٰلِكَ زُيِّنَ لِلْكَافِرِينَ مَا كَانُوا يَعْمَلُونَ
And is one who was dead and We gave him life and made a light for him by which to walk among the people like one who is in darknesses, never to emerge from them? Thus what they have been doing has been made pleasing to the disbelievers. [6:122]
In part of his explanation of this ayah, al-haafidh ibn Kathir wrote:
هذا مثل ضربه الله تعالى للمؤمن الذي كان ميتا ، أي : في الضلالة ، هالكا حائرا ، فأحياه الله ، أي : أحيا قلبه بالإيمان ، وهداه له ووفقه لاتباع رسله . ( وجعلنا له نورا يمشي به في الناس ) أي : يهتدي به كيف يسلك ، وكيف يتصرف به . والنور هو : القرآن ، كما رواه العوفي وابن أبي طلحة ، عن ابن عباس . وقال السدي : الإسلام . والكل صحيح . ـ
This is a parable that Allah struck regarding a believer who had been dead – that is, in a state of misguidance, lost and confused – and then Allah gave him life – that is, gave life to his heart through eemaan and guided him and enabled him to follow His messengers.
وَجَعَلْنَا لَهُ نُورًا يَمْشِي بِهِ فِي النَّاسِ
… and made a light for him by which to walk among the people …
i.e. that he is guided by it in terms of how he should act and conduct himself.
The “light” here is the Qur’an, as has been transmitted from ibn ‘Abbaas by way of al-‘Awfi and ibn Abi Talhah, while al-Suddi says it refers to Islam. And both of these explanations are correct.
ـ ( كمن مثله في الظلمات ) أي : الجهالات والأهواء والضلالات المتفرقة ، ( ليس بخارج منها ) أي : لا يهتدي إلى منفذ ، ولا مخلص مما هو فيه ـ
كَمَن مَّثَلُهُ فِي الظُّلُمَاتِ
… like one who is in darknesses …
i.e. the various levels and types of ignorance, base desires, and misguided paths
لَيْسَ بِخَارِجٍ مِّنْهَا
… never to emerge from it?
i.e. there is no getting out of the situation they are in.
[Tafsir ibn Kathir 3/330]
In part of a larger discussion, ibn al-Qayyim mentioned this very ayah and then said:
فصاحب السنّة حيّ القلب مستنيره، وصاحب البدعة ميت القلب مظلمه
So the person adhering to the Sunnah has a living heart full of light, while the person practicing innovations has a dead and darkened heart.
[Ijtima’ al-Juyoosh al-Islamiyyah pg 11]
Note: The explanations presented here were those selected in the short book al-Wajeez fee Tafsir Amthal al-Kitab al-‘Aziz, which makes us the basis for our Parables of the Qur’an series