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The Islamic perspective on beauty

Dec 21, 2012, 9:11 AM

The Beauty of Faith

Numerous verses of the Quran and reports in the corpus of Tradition are concerned with defining faith and articulating its advantageous results and benefits. One of the very important results of faith is the state of beauty and purity that the heart achieves on account of sincerely embracing it. In Surah Hujurat, God says, but God has endeared faith to you and beautified it in your heart and God has made unfaith, transgression, and disobedience reprehensible to you. The “beautification” of faith signifies that God has endowed it with such beauty as attracts towards itself the hearts of the faithful, thus drawing them away from disobedience, unfaith, and iniquity, which constitute the antithesis of faith.

God possesses infinite wisdom, and it is His will to lead humankind to perfection. Thus, He has prepared the Preliminary grounds for the realization of this perfection. That is why He has endeared faith, which is the principal means of perfection, to our hearts. He kindles in the heart the passion for seeking the truth and in this way nurtures the heart in the instructions of Islam.

As such, the human being’s desire for beauty compels him to embrace the beautiful traits and perform the beautiful deeds. To conceive God and His instructions in the light of truth will lead every person whose heart is yet unblemished by worldly negligence to seek Him. On the other hand, to have a correct conception of the nature of iniquity and sin, which are at odds with the human being’s divine nature, elicits in one a sense of repulsion.

The Beauty of Forgiveness

A number of ethical ideals and human values have been specifically underscored in the Noble Quran. As regard the virtue of forgiveness it states, The Hour is bound to come, so forgive-a beautiful forgiveness. The verse commends the Prophet-peace be upon him and his house-to show lenience and love in the face of obstinacy and opposition from the people and to forgive them. Forgiveness is “beautiful” when it is not accompanied by reproach and is therefore a pure expression of compassion. In elaborating what is meant by a “beautiful forgiveness, “Imam Rida is reported as having said, “It is forgiveness without rebuke.”

The Beauty of Patience

The Noble Quran enjoins patience in these words: So be patient-a beautiful patience. Patience is “beautiful” when we refrain from taking our grievances to other than God and thus prevent others from learning of our hardships. Another interpretation defines “beautiful patience” as the patience that one exercise in the face significant and prolonged hardship without losing hope, complaining lamenting, or whining. Aallamah Muhannad Taqi Jafari offers the following explanation regarding “beautiful patience”:

Although the beauty of patience and forbearance does not have a pictorial, verbal, or physical representation, it is nevertheless of the same beauty that gives meaning and substance to any manifestation of beauty. The patient and forbearing believer is blessed with serenity and insight. He becomes immune to the flux and change that have an adverse effect on the visible manifestations of beauty. It is in this state [i.e., when one is possessed of serenity and insight] that one enjoys the manifestations of beauty in their most supreme form.

To recapitulate the above descriptions, we can claim to be possessed of “beautiful patience” when we are no longer afraid of encountering the adversities of life, when we can withstand the hardships we face without complaining, without whining, and without uttering blasphemous words in despair. The adversities and hardships of life are opportunities for progress and perfection if we are equipped with “beautiful patience.

Beautiful Separation

When we reach a point in our efforts to guide others that we realize that a person is so corrupt that we cannot change him for the better, we must disown our relationship with him and keep away from him. But in doing so, we must be careful not to deviate from the purpose and “beautiful” manner, thus adding to our own and the corrupt person’s problems. We must bear in mind that we are severing our ties for the purpose of enlightening that person and maintaining our own spiritual equilibrium. To be heedful of this point endows our soul with beauty-the beauty of keeping within the bounds of human virtue even when we dislike someone and wish to dissociate form him. God thus orders His Prophet: And bear with patience what they utter and disown them beautifully.

What we said in the above concerning the beauty of separation relates to the general rule posited above, the Quran specifies particular instances of “beautiful separation”. For instance, where a marriage has reached a point at which the husband abuses his authority and oppressed his wife, the Quran commands that he should either treat his wife appropriately or should divorce her respectfully. In verse 49, SurahAhzab, God affirms the following injunction on how to divorce: and release them beautifully.

To release “beautifully” is to divorce one’s wife with love and respect and without violence, harassment, or disrespect. That is, when the spouses reach the conclusion that they cannot maintain a successful relationship and therefore decide on divorce, they do not have the right to resort to cruelty, harassment, foul language, or violence, which would make their divorce ugly.” Just as the relationship must be in peace and with love, the separation must be based on mutual understanding and respect and thus “beautiful.”

One of the results of such a “beautiful” separation that is executed with mutual respect is that it allows for the possibility of the two sides’ coming back together. For, the husband and wife may in the future consider reinstating their marital life. But if they terminate their marriage in a spirit of animosity and disrespect, they would have in effect precluded their chances of reunion, and if they do succeed in their reunion, the emotional and mental conditions would not be as favourable as if they had divorced peace and with respect.

The Beauty of the “Divine Colour”

The Quran invite the adherents of all religions to embrace Islam so that all humankind would unite under its banner, thus accepting one colour only-the “colour of God”: the colour of God, and who is better than God in colour?And it is He whom we worship. This verse exhorts all people to renounce the colour of race and the blind loyalties to kinfolk, which entail discord, and to instead take up the “colour of God”

Quran exegetes report that the above verse’s occasion of revelation was the practice of some Christians who baptized their infants using water they made yellow by adding a certain dye. They were of the conviction that this yellow water purged their children of the Original Sin they inherited from Adam. Addressing this belief, the Quran affirms that instead of seeking the colours of the physical world, which can only beget discord, we should pursue the “colour of God.” That is, the factor that can genuinely cleanse and beautify our souls is to hearken to God and to follow His instructions.

3. Islam and the Injunction to Take Advantage of Worldly Adornments

Islam offers the most perfect body of instructions for humankind in leading is life. Thus, it strongly encourages Muslims to be cognizant of their outward as well as inward beauty. Muslims are prohibited from being indifferent vis-a-vis the manifestations of beauty that pervade the world and the means of beauty and appeal that they offer. They must heed the beauty-seeking impulse of their divine nature, employing it by way of spiritual perfection. The outcome of adhering to this outlook is the renunciation of monasticism, which is a way of life that eschews the manifestation beauty in the material world.

As opposed to Christian monasticism, Islam rather than rejecting humankind’s use of ornaments puts it in the right direction and given it the appropriate purpose, thus rendering it as a means for the spiritual elevation of the human soul. The Quran’s position on this matter is firm: say [O Prophet], “who has forbidden the adornment of God, which He has brought forth for His slave, and the savoury things of His provision? “ We may conclude, then, that studying God’s injunctions in Islam regarding the issue of benefitting from worldly ornaments leads us to the realization that not only does Islam approve of taking advantage of worldly ornaments, it stipulates its injunctions such as to conform to the human being’s beauty-seeking impulse, for God like to see His slaves benefitting from His blessings.