The Meaning Of Colors In Scripture: Part 1
By Imam W. Deen Mohammed
The following article is from excerpts of a Jumu'ah Prayer lecture that was delivered by Emam W. D. Muhammad on June 17, 1977.
With the Name Allah (In the Name of God), The Gracious, The Compassionate.
We want our community to become a community so devoted to the message of the Quran and so devoted to living the upright life, as demonstrated by Prophet Muhammad, his close associates, and many righteous servants, that the outside world will not have to hear us give them a message. They will see a message and become believers in AI-Islam.
Dear beloved people, brothers and sisters, I would like to speak a few minutes on the meaning of colors in scripture, particularly in the Quran. When you read the Quran, you are subject to read the Quran with racist feelings or with racist influences moving in you or stirring in you. When you read in the Quran of those who have wronged themselves and who have committed great sins and who will be punished by Allah in the judgment, you read that their faces will be "blackened". When the Caucasian reads the Quran where it says the eyes of the deceitful one is "zurka", a word which is literally means bluish, he might think, "Oh, this is an attack upon me. My eyes are blue or my eyes are bluish."
In the context of the Quran, if we can select those verses that deal with colors and put them together, we come up with the right idea on the meaning of colors in the Quran. The Quran also tells us what is meant by blackened. It says that regret and painful shame will cover their faces.
Light And The Absence Of Light
What does "black" mean in the language of scripture? Black means the absence of light. Light means the guidance of God. As the worldly light guides us physically by opening the way so that we can see where we are going physically, the revealed light opens the way spiritually so that we can see where we are going. So light is just a symbolic term and white has been made a synonym for light. White means the moral light. So those faces that are white will be people that have the light of moral excellence in them and those that are black-faced will be the people who are void of that light. They are lacking the light of moral excellence.
Should I feel bad now because my skin is black and say, "Oh, my skin is black and black means the absence of moral excellence." Black also means death in some people's languages. In many languages, why have people used black to mean death? Because when you die, they figure that death is like sleep. When you are asleep everything is black unless you are dreaming. Then you have some pictures on the black or in the black. So they figure that death is going to be a "blackout." Since death is a blackout, then they say "black" for death.
God did not reveal to people that black means death. It was their language. God never came to the people and told them that white means light. It was the people who came up with these terms and God addressed them in the language that they understood.
Correcting Our Understanding
However, in speaking to them, God corrected their problems, God tells us that black doesn't mean the blackness of the skin. Allah says that their faces shall be dust-stained.
What is dust? Dust is earth that is lifeless. Allah uses it in many ways in the Quran to let us know that we don't mean black like you think—black skin. Dejection, the spirit of hopelessness, will cover or will be on their faces. Quran says that blackness will cover their faces and it also says that dust will cover their faces. So if my face is covered with dust, what is dust? There is no life in dust. It can't produce life. You put a seed in it and it produces no life.
So Allah has used in the Quran the same terms that the old world used, but He has used them in such a way that it corrects our understanding.
The "Blue-Eyed" Devil
In the Quran, the word that is usually translated as "blue-eyed" (in referring to the devil) doesn't mean physically blue. It means diseased. There is a disease that is called glaucoma. When you get that disease, it causes the color of the eye to go away. The color begins to get weak and as it gets weak it begins to look grayish or watery blue. In there terminal state, the final state of the disease glaucoma, it makes the eyes all grayish white.
So Why Has The Quran Used Such A Term?
It is because the people that the Quran was addressing, the Arab people and the people in that area, all knew the disease glaucoma by the name zurqa. They thought of glaucoma, not blue eyes.
We have diseases now that are named by colors. Black this, yellow that, red this, black that. In those days, the people that heard the term zurqa knew that it was talking about the disease of the eye, glaucoma.
The Absence Of Spiritual Vision
Even in the color is a message. The eye has a design. It is not so much that the color is gone, but the design is gone. When you look at an eye, you see a pupil, other colors, and white. When we look at the eve we see vision (that is, pupil or focus point) in the center and then we see white around it. But if it becomes all white, it retains no focus. It's confused without focus.
So if we use the disease of glaucoma to describe the absence of spiritual vision in the person, then we are applying it correctly. To a person who has no spiritual or moral focus, life is all just one thing or one big confusion. He doesn't discriminate between anything. He is not morally discriminate. He will have this woman, that woman with no license. He will go with this woman and go with that boy—no discrimination. He will go with this animal, that animal—no discrimination. He will eat anything that he can swallow—no discrimination. He will drink anything—no discrimination.
That's a person who has lost the pupil. It all has become blurred because he has confused everything. So the "blear-eyed" means that the person has not lost all focus. The disease hasn't taken him over to the extent that he is dead. It has just reached the midway point and that's the worst condition.
Neither Hot Nor Cold
The Bible says, "I wish that you were either hot or cold, but since you are lukewarm I will spew thee out of my mouth." In between is the worst. If you are hot, it can easily be observed. If you are cold, we know where you are.
It means that you are still showing the sign of religion and you are still identifying with God, but you are not really here or there. I think that is called "straddling the fence." That's what that "blear (blue) eyed" is. He is one whose disease is strong in the middle. He is not healthy and he is not dead. He is sick, sick, sick.
Thank you for honoring us with your time to read these few words.
Your brother in service to Allah, Wallace D. Muhammad