Allah (SWT) says, “Behold. We have willed that all beauty on earth be a means by which we put men to a test. (Showing) which of them are best in conduct.” (918:7). How a Muslim lives is very significant, that will decide his fate on the Day of Judgment. Allah says: “Some faces will on that Day be bright with happiness looking up to their sustainer.” (75: 22-23).
Isn’t Islam a religion of beauty, a beautiful life, happiness and pleasure? Of course, it is. Islam is a religion of beauty, grace, elegance and good taste. Hamza Yousuf (An American Muslim Scholar, converted from Christianity) says that Islam is a religion of life not death. Allah says: “Answer the call of God and God’s messenger to what brings you to life” (8:24) (1).
= IMPORTANCE OF AESTHETIC VALUES FOR CHANGE IN SOCIETY
Aesthetics have great influence on the life of an individual and the life of a society. The focus on Qur’anic aesthetic values will change the minds of people in general and especially minds of youth by eradicating hardness and rigidity from their lives and bringing in tolerance. The Holy Quran lays emphasis on inward and outward beauty of human beings and the world.
= AESTHETICS IN THE HOLY QURAN
The Arabic term Jamaliya is used for aesthetics and ilm al-jamal means “science of beauty”. The Quran emphasizes beautiful deeds “al-aamal al-hasana” or the best and beautiful “ahsan” - used 35 times in the Quran. Arabic words Bahij (22:5) Jamal (16:7), and Zinat (16:8/7:31-32/10:24 etc.) are also used in the Qur’an for lovely and beauty.
i) The Beauty of Nature:
Nature portrays the affluence of the Universe, and does it lavishly. Allah created the Universe, flora and fauna full of colours, beauty and fragrance. There is also beauty in birds (16:79/21:79/24:41/27:16) and the bees (16: 68-69), mountains (88: 18) and valleys (13:17), hills and rivers ( 2:164/5:96 ), land (16:8), sea and animals (16: 14), the sweet and salty seas ((55:19), the plants and the trees and the colourful and fragrant flowers (13:3-4/ 16: 10-11 &13/ 22:5), the sun to give us heat and light, the moon to brighten the sky at night, the twinkling stars (16:12/37:6/41:12/50:6/67:5), are an invitation to sublime beauty.
ii) An invitation to contemplate natural beauty:
Nature is an open invitation to witness the beauty of the creator in all times and for all people. The more you witness the aesthetic dimensions of the Universe, the more you feel adn convinced of the infinite beauty of the Creator, Allah SWT. Let’s ponder over the following verses of the holy Qur’an:
a) “And indeed, we have set up in the heavens great constellations and endowed them with beauty for all to behold.” (15: 16)
b) “Behold. We have adorned the skies nearest to the earth with the beauty of stars”(37:6)
c) “Do they not look at the sky above them? How We have built it and made it beautiful and free of all faults?” (50:6)
iii) Elements of beauty in Animals:
a) “Do they not look at the Camels, how they are made? And the mountains, how they are set up? And the earth, how it is spread? Remind them, for you are just a reminder." (88:17-20)
b) “And (it is He who creates) horses and mules and asses for you to ride, as well as for (their) beauty” (16:8)
iv) Beauty in worshiping Allah:
Allah says: “O Children of Adam! Beautify yourselves for every act of worship, and eat and drink (freely), but do not waste: verily, He does not love the wasteful!”(7:31).
While explaining the beautiful phrase of the verse “take to your adornment (zeenah)” M. Asad says; “According to Raghib, the proper meaning of zeenah is “(beautifying) things that does not disgrace or render unseemly….either in the present world or in that which is to come”: thus, it signifies anything of beauty in both the physical and moral connotation of the word.” (2)
v) Beauty in life: Allah says:
“Say: “Who is there to forbid the beauty which God has brought forth for His creatures, and the good things from among the means of sustenance?” Say: They are (lawful) in the life of this world unto all who have attained to faith- to be theirs alone on Resurrection Day.”(7:32).
M. Asad says: “By declaring that all good and beautiful things of life –i.e., those which are not expressly prohibited- are lawful to the believers, the Qur’an condemns, by implication, all forms of life –denying asceticism, world-renunciation and self-mortification. While in the life of this world, those good things are shares by believers and unbelievers alike, they will be denied to the latter in the hereafter.”(3).
vi) The Beauty of the Names of Allah:
When a person declares his belief in the Creator's attributes of beauty, a feeling of beauty is created in the mind which persuades him to worship that Creator. All beauty is subjective and belongs to the Creator, Almighty Allah. The attributes of beauty have been called “al-Asma-ul-Husna” (17:110), the beautiful names of Allah. These names of the Creator themselves have elements of beauty and attraction.
vii) The Beauty in the recitation of the Holy Qur’an:
Man’s feeling of beauty is awakened, develops and grows stronger through beautiful recitation of the Holy Qur’an. It produces a tranquil effect on one’s soul, heart and entire body. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) said:
a).“Beautify recitation of the holy Quran through your melodious voices.”(4)
b). “Anyone who does not recite the Quran with a chanting voice is not from us.” (5)
viii) Beauty in the stories of the Quran:
Valerie Gonzalez in his book, “ Solomon’s Trap: The Thought of Art in the Quran” says that his thesis is based on “ A study of the aesthetics to be found in sura al-Naml (Quran 27:15-44) which describes the story of the visit of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon, the prophet-King. In the final episode of the story, Solomon invites the Queen to enter his palace, the floor of which is made of glass or crystal. Mistaking it for water, the Queen lifts up her skirts as she approaches to avoid getting them wet. Solomon corrects her mistake, declaring that the palace is made of glass. Therefore, she realizes that she is wrong and submits to Solomon’s God” (6)
x) Beauty in the style of the Quran:
Clement Huart writes: “The sermons, which opened during the Meccan period with the formula “O men!” now begin “O ye who believe!” or, when the preacher speaks to his enemies, “O Jews!” or even “O hypocrites!” The general style is heavy and diffuse; the verses are very long. The chapters are made up of fragmentary harangues and detached sentences; yet from time to time passages of a truly wonderful beauty and nobility of thought and expression occur”(7)
= BENEFITS FOR AESTHETIC AWAKENING
Some benefits of aesthetics are:
i) Inculcation of aesthetic sense in surroundings like watching birds, loving animals, cleaning and tiding of houses, buildings and roads can bring positive changes and effects on mood and give mental relaxation.
ii) Aesthetic activities will persuade people to work on removing pollution from the atmosphere so that they may have direct connection with nature to see the sky and the stars.
iii) The negative activities which lead people especially youth to social and moral chaos can be channelized by creative aesthetic activities. The change cannot be brought about abruptly but subtly through inculcation of aesthetics.
iv) When the energies are channelized in a constructive way there will be no surplus energy left for destructive thoughts and activities.
= CONCLUDING REMARKS
The feeling of beauty should be expressed in all daily acts and deeds which are only possible if the love of Allah enters the heart. Aesthetics can uplift moral and spiritual values. It can inculcate flexibility rather than rigidity, tolerance rather than intolerance and acceptance of new things which will lead to pluralism; it will minimize sectarianism to a great extent. Moral and social improvements can take place in the world. Islam on the whole with its norms, practices, values, culture and civilization is loaded with aesthetic dimensions. The people, who question the validity of aesthetics in Islam, should keep in mind that Islam is not dull but is deliciously flavoured with aesthetic sense but with limitations. Even with limitations there is more than enough aesthetics to be desired; a lot of beauty which can be inculcated in our lives.
By: Dr. Farooq Hassan,
Assistant Professor, NED University of Engineering & Technology Karachi Pakistan
Posted on: December 9, 2011
1. http://www.sandalaproduction.com/Blog/15-islam-of-life-not death.aspx. Retrieved October 27,2010.
2. Muhammad Asad (1997).The Message of the Qur’an (p. 207) Gibraltar: Dar Al- Andalus
4. Abu Abdullah, Muhammad bin Yazid, Al Qazwaini. (1999). Sunnan ibn Maja (p.190. Hadith no1342)
5. Ibid (p.189 Hadith 1337)
6. Valerie Gonzalez. (2001). Beauty and Islam. (p. 26). London: I.B. Tauris Publishers
7. Clement Huart. (2001)A History of Arabic Literature. (p. 39). New Delhi: Goodword Books.