The great diversity of colours
While referring to the infinite diversity of colours and shades of various objects and events in nature – in inanimate, animate and human world, the Quran insistently calls us to observe the beauty and depth of this diversity (e.g. And all that He has multiplied for you in the Earth of diverse colours; verily there is a message in this for a people who recollect. 16:13; cf. 16:69. 35:27, 35:28, 39:21).
The multifaceted Quranic references to colours range from the varied colours of honey, produced by the bees ‘instinctively feeding from all fruits’ (16:69), to the endless nuance of various colours and shades in rocks, plants, flowers, crops, fruits, animals and humans (35:27-28). And from the great diversity in outer and inner traits of the evolving man (30:22, 5:48, 11:118, 16:93, 35:27-28, 42:8, 49:13) to the never-ending ‘colours’ of countless minds (35:19-28, 16:13, 2:136-139, 30:9-24).
Please note that the word ‘colours’ in the Quran is attached with profound meaning and intent. On one hand, it refers to the persistent emphasis on the concepts of pluralism and multidimensionality of the Truth: One LIGHT (‘the Truth’) is split into many COLOURS (‘a truth’s’). On the other hand, it implies that, while there is only one universal principle of ‘islam’, there are infinite paths (‘PLURAL PATHS of peace’, subul as-salaam, 5:16) to achieve that principle: The Quran promotes religious pluralism
The full spectrum of colours
This appears in the famous ‘Colour Verses’:
See you not that God sent down water from the Heaven? With it We then bring out produces of various colours. And in the mountains are streaks of whites and reds, of various colours, and intense blacks. 35:27
And so amongst men and animals and livestock, are they of various colours. As such, only the knowledgeable among His servants stand in awe of God: surely God is Mighty, Forgiving. 35:28
Please observe how the above precisely portrays the full spectrum of all very different colours (‘of whites and reds, of various colours, and intense blacks. 35:27’).
After mentioning the full colour WHITE, which contains all the colours of light’s visible spectrum, and then the primary colour RED, which is the most distinct colour and is at the outermost end of the visible spectrum, it descends through ‘OTHER COLOURS’ (‘various colours’) of the range towards the inner end – i.e. orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet – and approaches the pure BLACK (‘and intense blacks’), which, being without colour and at the other end of the continuum, is the complete opposite of white.
This tremendous diversity of colours and hues in nature (16:13) includes not only the full range of visible colours (35:27-28), or ‘invisible colours’ as various radiations of electromagnetic spectrum (35:19-21), but also the infinite nuances of human minds, along with all the ‘spiritual colours’ (35:19-28): We are called to observe the colours
Below we will try to go through the various colours specifically mentioned in the Quran.
Colours mentioned in the Quran
All the three primary colours of light – red, yellow and blue, wherefrom all other colours can be obtained by mixing – appear in the Quran, each with its precise, idiosyncratic meaning/s and intent.
RED occurs in the Quran only once, in the ‘Colour Verses’ quoted above (35:27-28; ‘of whites and reds, of various colours, and intense blacks.’). Here red gets special importance as chosen out of all the colours of the rainbow, apparently as the first and the most distinct colour of the visible spectrum. Notably, the words whites, reds and blacks appear here in plural, indicating that there is not just one white or one red or one black, but there are countless intermediate shades and grades of each of them.
This Quranic categorisation of all colours into whites (layers of consciousness, 24:35), reds (and ‘various colours’, layers in-between, 35:27) and blacks (layers of ignorance, 24:40), with their spiritual connotations, is comparable to sattva, rajas and tamas of Bhagabadgita.
YELLOW, in all forms, occurs total five times in the Quran (2:69, 30:51, 39:21, 57:20, 77:33). Yellow, when golden bright, is a very attractive colour that tempts greed and materialistic pursuits (2:69). But when it is a colour of fiery flame, it is a terrifying reminder of the nature’s law of recompense (77:33).
Then yellow, when appears in the parable of fading plants, is also a colour of decline and degeneration (incl. spiritual degeneration: Then He grows therewith produce of various colours: then it withers; you see it grow yellow … 39:21; 30:51, 39:18-22, 57:20), thereby signifying the transitory nature of everything in this universal flux (27:88, 28:88, 39:21, 55:26-27, 57:20, 84:16-20).
BLUE is used once in the Quran, in an allegory about the hereafter to denote ‘blurred (blue) vision’ (The day the horn is blown, and We gather the offenders on that day blue. 20:102; cf. 20:124, 17:71-72). Here blue, as the least distinct in the visible spectrum, represents blurriness or relative blindness, spiritual blindness in this occasion. It may also imply ‘blueness’ (cyanosis) related to the panic felt by a convict in the face of divine judgment.
Apart from the primary colours, the Quran also specifically mentions the following mixed colours, as well as black, the non-colour:
GREEN recurrently appears throughout the Quran as a delightful colour that symbolises life (6:99, 12:43, 12:46, 18:31, 22:63, 36:80, 55:76, 76:21). This is evidently because ‘green’, by turning light energy into life energy and converting inorganic (dead) into organic (living) matter, represents the ultimate source of all life on Earth (22:63-66; cf. 18:32, 26:148).
The Quran describes the natural phenomenon of storage of solar energy in the form of fuel, via ‘green’, and then its rebirth into activated life-forces and flames through kindling of fire, as a proof and reminder of God’s ability to resurrect the dead: Every kindling of fire is a reminder!
Also, while identifying ‘green’ as the fountain of an endless range of harvests of all colours (6:99), the Quran asks us to ponder on this unity in diversity as an evidence of God’s oneness and greatness and His infinite creative and re-creative power (17:44, 57:1, 36:77-82; cf. 16:10-13): One ‘green’ with many products
A shower of divine rain provides our insight with perception of ‘green’, where ‘green’ functions as a metaphor for spiritual life (22:63).
PINK appears in the Quran to denote the alarming colour of a disintegrated sky (55:37).
Here is a way we can rationalize it. The sky is primarily black, unless secondarily illuminated by light-emitting objects (79:29). However, due to the particles in our atmosphere, the sky appears to us blue during the day and red at sunrise and sunset. The day sky appears blue because molecules in the air scatter sunlight’s blue (short waves) more than they scatter red (long waves), leaving the blue to prevail. The sky is red at sunrise and sunset because, as the light then comes through the atmosphere at an angle, the blue light gets filtered or scattered out in its long journey, leaving the red to prevail. Also, an evening sky often looks red because of air pollution, since dust, vapour, and other floating particles in the air act as a filter on the sunlight.
Thus, while the apparent blueness of the sky is due to the integrity of the atmosphere, a worsening environmental pollution with increasing global warming and ozone hole expansion is likely to shatter this integrity, making the blue sky appearing ‘red’ instead (Then, when the Heaven is split asunder, and it turns rosy like murky oil. 55:37). Is this verse, with mention of ‘murky oil’, somehow warning us about the environmental dangers from the misconsumption of fossil fuels in our time?
DARK GREEN occurs in the Quran only once (55:64). As the colour of dense foliage, it allegorically portrays the thriving life of eternal garden.
WHITE appears in the Quran mainly to describe states of minds reflecting light of spiritual awareness (2:187, 7:108, 20:22, 26:33, 27:12, 28:32, 35:27, 37:46, 37:49; 3:106, 3:107, 12:84) .
BLACK, on the other hand, occurs mainly to describe states of minds lacking light of spiritual awareness (2:187, 16:58, 35:27, 39:60, 43:17, 3:106, 3:106).
Even when allegedly related to human appearance, these words, white and black, bear no more than a purely mental or spiritual connotation, with no reference to physical colour. See Black and White in the Quran
In brief, while ‘white’ in the Quran represents the mental state of enlightenment, i.e. the awareness of God’s oneness, and ‘black’ does the opposite, the word ‘colours’ describes the states in-between: Meaning of ‘colours’ in the Quran