AESTHETICS of the Quran/Islam is a vast subject of study. Traditional studies have focused largely on the beauty of the Quran in terms of its language and eloquence.
However, let us focus on the ‘beauty’ in human transactions and communications that the Quran emphasises. The Quran approaches beauty from multiple angles. First of all, it regards God as the Most Beautiful Creator (Ahsan al-khaliqeen). It says, “The most beautiful names belong to Allah: so call on Him by them. …” (7: 180). One could also translate Ahsan al-khaliqeen as God that creates the most beautiful beings, referring to His innumerable creations culminating in human beings as his exalted creation. The Quran says, “We have indeed created man in the best of moulds” (95:4). The notion of beauty also can be seen in the very name of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), which means the “most praised”. What is praised is always beautiful.
At the third level, the Quran takes this beauty to a moral level. It requires believers to keep beauty in mind while lending something to a needy person.
In many of its verses, the Quran refers to the beauty in human relations.
One among many such verses says, “For those who give in charity, men and women, and loan to Allah a beautiful loan, it shall be increased manifold (to their credit) and they shall have (besides) a liberal reward” (57:18).
What could be seen as beauty in this sense? It could mean multiple things, but two things are certain: one is to be kind to the other person; and second, to respect the dignity of the person who is being favoured. It would also mean not making a big show of it in front of others, and keep it secret so that the beneficiaries’ dignity and honour could be safeguarded.
Yet another level of this beauty talked about in the Quran is that of invitation to the way of God (fisabilillah) with beauty, not ugliness.
The Quran advises, “Invite [O Prophet] to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious. … (jadil hum billati hia ahsan” 16:125). Some of the ways in which this beauty could be interpreted is again dignity and respect for the intellect and moral judgment of the person invited.
The invitation has to take place within ethical parameters among which the most important is free will. The invitee must be negotiated with, not coerced, counselled, not compelled, to accept the faith.
In one of the verses, God even addresses His Prophet not to be too anxious to commit people to accepting faith (without their volition). It says, “[O Prophet] if it had been thy Lord’s will they [human beings] would all on earth have believed [in God]! Wilt thou then compel mankind against their will to believe?” (10:99). The tone and mood of the verse emphatically advises the Prophet not to feel this way, and informs him, “No soul can believe except by the will of Allah and He will place uncleanness (rijs) on those who will not understand [this]” (10:99-100).
These verses amply demonstrate the nature of God’s power and people’s capacity to recognise Him. This is an important way to look at the Quranic emphasis on religious freedom or pluralism in terms of personal freedom of one’s choice to believe or not to believe.
If God wanted He would have made all human beings submit without difficulty, but He has not adopted that way, as the Quran clearly shows.
The Quran also refers to the beauty in human relations. There are many verses that advise believers to communicate in the most beautiful manner. It advises the faithful “…to speak to the people in the (most) beautiful manner. …” (2:83).
Disapproving of those who speak with loud voices and no proper manners, the Quran says, “And be moderate in thy pace and lower thy voice; for the harshest of sounds without doubt is braying of the ass” (31:19). We can easily see God’s disapproval of those who have a habit of forcing their views on others by shouting and yelling. A harshly speaking mouth is as bad today as it was in seventh-century Arabia.
What these messages mean is that those who deal with faith matters, especially teachers, preachers, writers, religious leaders, and social workers — indeed all of us — should make their/our communications and transactions as ‘beautiful’ as possible to uphold the basic norms of civilised human behaviour as well as to win the hearts and minds of others.
In a violence-ridden society like ours, where shouting and yelling in the name of religion, at the highest pitch and through loudspeakers, has become the norm, such Quranic advice badly needs to be heeded.
The writer is an educationist with an interest in Quranic studies.
Published in Dawn, March 13th, 2015