Jun 26, 2012, 12:34 PM
It is am accepted truth among scholars that certain traits are inherent to human nature. One such inherent trait is that human being’s inclination to seek beauty. And since Islam, as the most perfect faith that caters to human being’s theoretic as well as practical capacities, puts forth an ideology that accommodates and accords with human nature and the basic human emotions, it is important to examine Islam’s point of view on beauty. The presence article will-after offering a definition of beauty-consider the manifestations of beauty in existence through the prism of the Quran and the Tradition: Divine beauty, the beauty of the sky and the starts, the beauty in the creation of the earth and the living creatures inhabiting it, and the beauty of the seas, which are all pristine manifestations of beauty. Furthermore, certain deeds and behaviours have been identified as beautiful by the Quran and the Tradition, the Quran defines as faith as the beauty of the heart. Islam identifies the beauty in patience and even in separation and urges humankind to seek such beauty. Islam lays great stress on the necessity of attending to the human being’s outward and inward beauty. It encourages Muslims to take advantages of the beautiful phenomena of the world by way of ethical and spiritual perfection. Thus, Islam requires that one should worship God wearing one’s best clothes. This requirement is in line with the general Islamic perspective, which views the beauty inherent in existence, in human conduct, in the esoteric as well as the exoteric aspects of truth in light of the purpose of creation-that is, obedience to God..
For those with only a cursory understanding of Islam’s profound tenets, the beauties of the world are things to stay away from. There is an insurmountable rift between Islam and beauty, and it is in view of this rift that, in their view, Islam commands Muslims to disown the world and all its manifestation of beauty and wonder. On the extreme, there are those who, citing the human being’s innate desire for beauty, exceed the boundaries of moderation and, with the excuse of there not being any in consistency between Islam and beauty, indulge in all the worldly luxuries and pleasures, thus granting themselves the discretion to enjoy God’s worldly bounties promiscuously. These two mutually exclusive approaches are evident when one studies the attitudes of Muslims towards the world.
So the question we are faced with is this: is the approach of the first group, which in the spirit of asceticism shuns all the beauties of the world, correct? Or is the second approach the proper one to take? Or must we reject both approaches to arrive at a realistic perspective? To answer these questions, we must examine Islam’s position vis-a-vis the beautiful aspects and phenomena of life.
The present study aims to offer a reliable analysis of the Islamic perspective regarding the beauties of creation and their connection with the human being in the hope of dispelling the erroneous views that some Muslims have adopted and that have led to a false monasticism on one extreme and to a libertine indulgence in the pleasures and comforts of the world on the other extreme. The Muslim youth need not disown appealing clothing and a presentable look in the name of faith, and so those who care about their appearance should not be ostracized as weak in faith. It is these concerns that have compelled this author to examine Islam’s perspective on beauty, the limits it sets on taking advantage of the manifestations of beauty in the world, true and illusory beauty, and the right intentions for availing oneself of objects of beauty.
THE DEFINITION OF BEAUTY
The scholars lexicon define beauty as “the order and harmony in an object that are enriched by grandeur and purity and that affect the human being’s imagination, intellect, and his more exalted inclinations, creating in him a sense of pleasure and vivacity.” Or according to another definition, “beauty consists in the splendour and appeal that attach to images and concepts.” In short, it is the state present in a beautiful person or thing.
The philosophers define beauty as the characteristic that when present in an object elicits that mental state of satisfaction and gaiety in the human being. Avicenna, the world-renowned Muslim philosopher who flourished ten centuries ago, is of the opinion that beauty and splendour in a thing consist in its being as it should be. Muhammad Taqi Ja’fari, the late Muslim philosopher and polymath, describes beauty as the vivid and appealing manifestation of perfection that results when an object is possessed of the necessary and appropriate traits.
From these definitions we may deduce that beauty is an objective characteristic and state that obtains in the ontic world and that is grasped by the human being through the senses of sight and touch and that create in him the sense of pleasure and gaiety. This resultant state of mind, which is a relational state connected to the mind on the hand and the beautiful object on the other hand, obtains in the human being by virtue of his perfection-seeking nature.
BEAUTY AS DEPICTED IN THE ISLAMIC RELIGIOUS CORPUS
The beauties that the mind perceives in the external world are of two types: those that are present in nature independently of human agency and those that come about by way of human activity. At this point we will examine beauty, of both types, from the standpoint of Islam and then we will try to make out the purpose that Islam defined for its aesthetic outlook. It is import to affirm from the start that Islam attaches great importance to the variety of beauty’s manifestations, the wisdom in its existence, the benefits that it yields, and its effect on human edification.
1. The Existential Manifestations of Beauty
On examining the ahadith and the supplications reported from the infallible imams (peace be upon them) for a description of God’s attributes, we repeatedly come across this phrase: “Verily God is beautiful and loves beauty and loves to see the effects of His blessings on His slave.”
In one supplication reported from the imams, we address God in these words: “Glorified is He Who dons splendour and beauty.” In another phrase in this supplication, we are taught to call on God in this manner: “You are Splendid in Your Beauty.” “O Magnificent, O Beautiful,” is yet another phraseology we have been taught for calling on God.
In another reported supplication, the slave describes himself as being in love with his Lord’s beauty: “O God, I have come to Your Court on account to my desire for Your benevolence; I have ventured into Your Presence seeking to lay eyes on Your Beauty.”
In the per-dawn supplication of the month of Ramadhan we celebrate among others the following attributes of God: “O my God, I beseech You, invoking the most splendid of Your Splendour, while Your Splendour is all splendid... O my God I beseech You, invoking the most beautiful of Your Beauty, while Your Beauty is all beautiful”
As God has created all the beautiful phenomena of the world, human understanding grasps that His Beauty necessarily transcends and excels all the sensible and intelligible manifestations of beauty that are perceivable in the macrocosm and the microcosm.
The Manifestations of Beauty in the Cosmos
The phenomena that we perceive in the cosmos can be pleasant and savoury-in which case the pleasure that we experience leads us to wish to repeat that perception-or they can prove unsavoury and hurtful to our emotions and sensibilities-in which case we try to avoid the repetition of such perceptions. The Noble Quran repeatedly recounts the beauties inherent in the cosmos, depicting thereby a vivid and telling picture of them, and states the purpose that we must seek in beholding the beautiful phenomena.
To be continued