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Decoration As an Instrument of Deception

There are two types of decoration: decoration as an instrument of deception, and decoration which enhances the real and original qualities of a thing.

There are many Quranic verses and Hadiths of the Prophet that refer to the subject of decoration as an instrument of deception. Such decoration can be found in all aspects of life, including the built environment, outward human appearance, human interactions, and even religious ceremonies.

Accordingly, this type of decoration, decorative themes and media stand between an entity and a beholder, revealing to the latter not what the entity actually is, but rather what it is not.

Someone or something targeted by such decoration is either completely disfigured, or its ungodly aspects are made falsely alluring, grossly exaggerating their false ‘attractiveness’ so that the genuinely positive aspects are overshadowed.

In other words, the good aspects of an entity are kept hidden. In trying to beautify and decorate using illusory media, specific evil elements are made up and attributed to the same entity, which in fact, disfigure it and conceal its positive aspects, hence, making the good entity repulsive and unattractive.

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Moreover, this process obscures the evil entity or the evil aspects of an entity and may even make it appear nice-looking or wholesome.

How much decoration is needed to camouflage the original entity and present it in a different light depends on the extent of the entity’s inherent goodness or evil.

With this type of decoration and beautification, the real character of an entity is hardly perceptible by a casual observer or by one who lacks the desire, sense of purpose, wisdom or the cerebral and spiritual means and capacity to break through the phony garb of an entity and reveal its true moral fiber.

Thus, to see things in their real light is to grasp the real meaning of life and its multifaceted realities to which the Quran often alludes to by applying such terms as guidance, wisdom, knowledge and comprehension.

On the contrary, to see things in a different way is to be blinded by their false ‘attractiveness’ to the extent that one fails to penetrate their actual substance and remains bogged down with the demands of human and animalistic lusts and desires, thus failing to perceive a higher order of existence.

The Quran refers to such a state as deviation, going astray, ignorance and negligence.

Some of the many verses in the Quran that refer to the subject of decoration or embellishment as an instrument of deception are as follows:

And thus We have made for every prophet an enemy – devils from humankind and jinn, inspiring to one another decorative speech in delusion. But if your Lord had willed, they would not have done it, so leave them and that which they invent. (6:112)

In the above verse it is mentioned that the devils from humankind and jinn use decoration to make their speech deceptive. In the subsequent verses, the Quran talks about decoration being nothing but enjoyment for this life.

Even sinful acts and evil deeds are made ‘alluring’, thus indicating that decoration is used to deceive humankind by hiding an entity’s true nature.

And if it were not that the people would become one community [of disbelievers], We would have made for those who disbelieve in the most Merciful – for their houses – ceilings and stairways of silver upon which to mount ۞ And for their houses – doors and couches [of silver] upon which to recline ۞ And gold ornament. But all that is not but the enjoyment of worldly life. And the hereafter with your Lord is for the righteous. (43:33-35)

Then why, when Our punishment came to them, did they not humble themselves? But their hearts became hardened, and Satan made attractive to them that which they were doing. (6:43)

And likewise, to many of the polytheists their partners have made [to seem] pleasing the killing of their children in order to bring about their destruction and to cover them with confusion in their religion. And if Allah had willed, they would not have done so. So leave them and that which they invent. (6:137)

[Satan] said: My Lord, because You have put me in error, I will surely make [disobedience] attractive to them on earth, and I will mislead them all ۞ Except, among them, Your chosen servants. (15:39-40)

Beautified for those who disbelieve is the life of this world, and they ridicule those who believe. But those who fear Allah are above them on the Day of Resurrection. And Allah gives provision to whom He wills without account. (2: 212)

Then is one to whom the evil of his deed has been made attractive so he considers it good [like one rightly guided]? For indeed, Allah sends astray whom He wills and guides whom He wills. So do not let yourself perish over them in regret. Indeed, Allah is Knowing of what they do. (35: 8)

On many occasions and under varying circumstances, Prophet Muhammad also censured and warned against those acts of decoration and embellishment which served as means for advancing delusions.

There are many hadiths of the Prophet indicative of the fact that the built environment is a fertile ground for this negative mode of decoration to establish itself and thrive.

The Prophet said:

No sooner does the performance of a people deteriorate than they embark upon decorating their mosques.

The hadith means that people start paying more attention to the form that mosques take rather than their function as centers for communities, fervently believing that they are right in what they do.

However symbolically, by means of decorating the mosques, the same people succeed in masking the corrosion in their faith, as well as blinding their cognitive senses, thus fortifying and prolonging their appalling state.

On another occasion, the Prophet divulged:

One of the signs that the Day of Judgment is imminent would be that people would start vying against one another in mosques.

Certainly, this statement covers planning, constructing and decorating mosques, as well as anything else that can be related thereto, directly or indirectly.

Generally, competition among people to erect buildings of any kind is one of the signs of the Day of Judgment’s imminence.

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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].