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Beauty versus Ugliness

Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) established the doctrines that Allah is beautiful and loves beauty (Sahih Muslim, Hadith No. 131), that He is good and accepts only that which is good (Sahih Muslim, Hadith No. 1686), and that He loves to see the effects of His blessings and favors on people (Jami’ al-Tirmidhi, Hadith No. 2963).

This implies that since Almighty Allah loves beauty, He created everything perfect and beautiful. Moreover, He also wants His servants to do so, that is, to love beauty, be beautiful and generate beauty through words, deeds, character, garments, general outward appearance, and the cultural and civilizational creations of theirs.

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In doing so, however, people must subscribe to and apply only the highest heavenly standards of goodness and beauty, without contaminating them with the effects of their intrinsic inadequacies, myopia and whims.

It is on account of this that Islam abhors ugliness with all its physical and metaphysical dimensions and features. It does so, for example, as much in evil speech, disposition and conduct, as in ungodly elements of culture, art and architecture.

Through the infinite realm of aesthetics, Muslims are bidden to maintain the established supreme standards of beauty on earth. Islamic aesthetics in behavior, manners, thought, culture, art and architecture is only an extension of the created and revealed heavenly artistic order, deriving therefrom its strength and identity.

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External beauty is the theophany of inner beauty, just as external ugliness is a manifestation of inner defects and ugliness. Beauty lies at the heart of existence. It is not simply a subjective state existing only “in the eye of the beholder”.

Beauty is meant to be universal and ever-present. The Arabic most common word for beauty is “jamal”. However, related to the same word are the words “ijmal”, “jumlah” and “jamala”, which mean, respectively, “generalization, totality, and to gather or accumulate to excess”.

Islam establishes that beauty is a human right and life’s standard thing. It is a necessity for the soul as the air we breathe and the food and water we consume are for the body.

Beauty is the rule and, at the same time, symbol and quintessence of goodness. Ugliness, on the other hand, is an anomaly and exception. It is equivalent to evil. In Arabic, the word “qubh” means both ugliness and evil.

Beauty is additionally associated with reality and its undeniable existence, and ugliness with unreality and nonexistence. Indeed, the ugliest thing is the mere absence and perversion of Truth, and the imposition of the invented and deceitful substitutes.

It is only man who can create ugliness. He does so when he turns his back on Heaven and its guidance, and becomes unable to find the correct course forward.

Another word in Arabic for beauty is “husn” (“hasan” is beautiful and “hasuna” to be beautiful). The word’s various derivatives attest to the above-mentioned point of beauty’s righteousness, absoluteness and totality.

Some of the most important concepts derived therefrom are goodness and excellence (hasan), virtue and good deed (hasanah), kindness and good outcome (husna), benevolence and merit (ihsan), to do good and excel (ahsana), benefactor and doer of good (muhsin).

It goes without saying that beauty, goodness and Truth are indivisible in Islam. According to Seyyed Hossein Nasr, the Qur’anic term “al-muhsinun”, which is normally translated as “the doers of good”, can also be translated as “those enmeshed in beauty”.

Hence, such Qur’anic idioms as “Allah is with the doers of good (al-muhsinin)” (al-‘Ankabut, 69), and “Allah loves the doers of good (al-muhsinin)” (al-Baqarah, 195), could likewise be understood and translated as “Allah is with those enmeshed in beauty” and “Allah loves those enmeshed in beauty”, respectively.

Beauty originates from the highest plane of the transcendent Presence, descending upon and engulfing the hearts of its devotees and servants. It targets the heart because the heart is not only the seat of emotions and piety, but also of intelligent faculties.

With the heart, people understand and intelligently appreciate things and experiences, including beauty. As an essentially spiritual thing, beauty is most attuned to the dispositions and competences of the human heart and soul.

The eyes signify no more than a lower level in the hierarchy of means and capacities for knowledge as well as Truth acquisition and appreciation. Thus, in connection with comprehending and following Truth, the Qur’an says that it is people’s hearts by which they reason and learn wisdom, on the basis of the inputs of their ears by which they hear – and by extension, their eyes by which they see.

Then the Quran affirms what the root cause of inappropriate visions and the lack of wisdom is:

For indeed, it is not the eyes that are blinded, but blinded are the hearts which are within the breasts (22:46).

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said:

Verily, Allah does not look at your appearance or wealth, but rather he looks at your hearts and actions (Sahih Muslim, Hadith No. 2564).

Read the full article here.

About Dr. Spahic Omer
Dr. Spahic Omer, an award-winning author, is an Associate Professor at the Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences, International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM). He studied in Bosnia, Egypt and Malaysia. In the year 2000, he obtained his PhD from the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur in the field of Islamic history and civilization. His research interests cover Islamic history, culture and civilization, as well as the history and theory of Islamic built environment. He can be reached at: [email protected].