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The Islamic Perspective on Beauty

Dec 14, 2012, 9:20 AM

(2) The Manifestation 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.

Stellar and Celestial Beauty

In a number of verses, the Quran affirms the beauty of the heavens and their being adorned by the stars. God gives the credit for this act of adornment directly to Himself and, by eloquently conveying the relation between the firmament and the stars and offering analogies, urges humankind to behold this beauty and take heed there from:

Indeed We have embellished the lowest heaven with the adornment of the stars;

And We have adorned the lowest heaven with lamps and guarded it. That is the ordainment of the Omnipotent, the Omniscient;

And verily we set mansions in the firmament and adorned them for the beholders;

Have they not behold the firmament above them-how We have constructed it and adorned it and how there are no rifts therein.

In the above-quoted verse, God, the Exalted, goads humankind to reflect on the beauty of the sky, especially when the stars are shining like bright lamps. The creation of sky-unblemished by refit and adorned with stars-is obviously for the purpose of protection and the other benefits that it yields. But that is not the exclusive purpose in this creation: another purpose, as alluded to by the above-quoted verse, is to evoke in the human being who beholds the sky a sense of pleasure that derives from perceiving the inherent beauty in it, thus compelling him to contemplate its creation, its being “adorned” with  “mansions” and “lamps”, which will ultimately guide to the realization of Creator.

The Beauty in the Creation of the Human Being

In Surah Tin, God, after swearing four times (“By the fig and the olive by Mount Sinai; by this secure town”), proclaims, We certainly created man in the best constitution. “The best constitution” encompasses a broad scope of concepts and therefore denotes that God created the human being in a balanced and appropriated fashion. The two principal aspects of the human existence-body and soul-have been forged into a beautiful and balanced creation. The magnificence of this awesome marriage between the physical and the spiritual is so wonderful that no scientist or scholar has to date claimed to have offered an exhaustive study of the infinite array of the human being’s mental activities and psychological complexities.

Elsewhere God affirms, and He gave you form and perfected your form. Whether we compare the human form to that of other animals or reflect on the perfection of the human form and the conformity there exists between its various parts, we will realize that God has bestowed on humankind the most beautiful form. If we observe the human nature with a clear sight, we will unambiguously perceive its perfection and overall beauty.

Depicting the Beauty in the Movement of Animals

The Noble Quran offers a comprehensive picture of the benefits that the animals provide us with: They provide us with the fabric for our clothes; they give us meat for nourishment; the carry our burdens, and there are many other benefits that we derive from them. But the Quran does not stop at the material gains we derive from animals.

Portraying the beauty in their movements, it states, There is beauty in them for you, when you bring them home to rest and drive them forth to pasture. The beauty we perceive in seeing a flock of sheep going to their pasture and returning to their place of rest as described by this verse is indicative of a psychological state that takes shape in our souls as we watch the sheep move to and fro.

In a following verse God thus reiterates the same point: and [God created] horses and mules and asses for you to ride them and for adornment, and He creates what you know not. This verse depicts the beauty in these animals when we ride them. This mode of beauty finds manifestation in the social life, for the movement from one place to another on the back of a beast of burden is more exciting and is at the same time a more dignified manner of travel. The verse ends with a subtle allusion to the beauty of the means of transportation that did not exist at the time of the Prophet and would be created in the future: and He creates what you know not.

The Master of the Faithful in a sermon reported in Nahj al-Balaghah portrays the beauty of the peacock and describes how it is one of the most wonderful birds in creation: ....” if you liken it to the vegetation the earth produces, you should say it is a bouquet of flowers collected from fresh spring blossoms.....”

The Earth and Its Beauty

In numerous verses of the Quran, mention is made of the beautiful sceneries that the earth reveals. God draws our attention to this beauty, stimulating us to reflect and contemplate.

[He] sends down for you water from the sky, whereby We [God] grow delightful gardens. In this verse God attributes to himself the manifestations of the natural beauty of the earth as exhibited in the flowers, the forests, the plateaus, and the divers florae that cover the earth and that instil vivacity and gaiety in the hearts of humankind.

Another similar verse reads, Have you not observed how God sends down water from sky, whereupon the earth turns green? Indeed God is All-Attentive, All-Aware.  The verse describes the sending down of rain and the consequent verdure of the plants as divine acts of grace.

The Master of the Faithfull in an eloquent speech thus portrays the adornments of the earth: “... and the earth exults in the adornment of its gardens and flaunts the floral cape it has donned and the ornament that has been hung round her form the lush blossoms....”

He Quran also considers another form of earthly beauty: the castes and mansions people have made and the houses they have hewed in the mountains. These verses are in effect asserting that people are allowed to create the items considered to be adornments and embellishments. Verse 74, Surah A’raf, however, stipulates a qualification for this permission: humankind must remember God’s blessings and avoid perpetrating unrighteous and wicked deeds, for this would defile the beauty of what they have created.

The Beauty of the Seas

To behold the sea and the beauties the depths of the oceans display compels the beholder to admire them. Islam takes such beauty into accounts and allows enjoying it: it is He who subjugated the sea that you may eat from it fresh meat and obtain from it ornaments that you wear. The verse offers two reasons for the subjugation of the sea to human will: eating from the fish and exploiting the material in it that can be used for ornamental purpose. Observing the colossal ships drifting over the sea, while a beautiful scene, humbles us in awe before the infinite power of God. The above verse refers to these benefits as the purpose for which God created the seas and oceans and subjugated them to the will of humankind.

Describing Certain Deeds and States of Mind as Beautiful

The Quran and the Tradition describe certain deeds and states of mind as beautiful, thereby encouraging the human being to advance beyond the outward manifestation of beauty and opening his eyes to the beauties of the life of the intellect that he may endeavour to embrace such beauties his progress toward perfection.

To be continued