In the summer of 2010, my friends and I went camping during a full-moon in the famous White Desert. As the sun began to set, we made camp and had dinner under the stars. It wasn’t until later in the night that we really saw the full-moon. For all the full-moons we’ve seen, nothing compared to the one we were lying under—away from the city lights and unobstructed by skyscrapers. It was one of the few things in this world whose beauty can only truly be appreciated in complete darkness.
The moon, and specifically the full-moon, has a significance in our religion. Our calendar relies on the cycles of the moon. It is a Prophetic tradition to fast the three “white days”, or the full-moon days of every month. There even is an authentically narrated Prophetic supplication to be said upon seeing the new crescent.
That night, I noticed three specific facets of the moon:
Beauty: I have not seen anything more beautiful than the full-moon on that night. I do not mean ‘beauty’ in the standard sort of way. It was a uniquely mesmerizing, captivating, and soothing beauty…A kind of beauty that leaves you speechless.
It was at that point that I understood why companion after companion compared the Prophet’s ﷺ (peace be upon him) beauty to the full-moon.
Jabir radi Allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him) was with the Messenger of God ﷺ on a night of a full-moon. He had a moment of contemplation: which of these creations is more beautiful? So he looked to the full-moon, then he looked to the Prophet ﷺ , comparing them both. He said then and there, “I found that — for me — he was better than the moon.”1
Ka‘b (ra) as well compared him to the moon. He (ra) said, “When he was pleased, his face would shine so bright that you would believe it was a piece of the moon.”2
His grandson Hasan (ra) commented on his beauty by saying, “his blessed face shone like the full-moon.”3
His best friend Abu Bakr (ra) composed a few lines of poetry about him ﷺ : “He is faithful, chosen (by Allah), and calls to forgiveness. He shines like a full-moon when it is far from dark (clouds).”4
On one occasion, Umar (ra) was so captivated by the beauty of our Prophet ﷺ , he spoke some lines of poetry by a famous Arab poet, Zuhair: “Were you other than a human being, you would be the brightness on the night of a full-moon.”5
These Companions chose to compare the Prophet’s ﷺ countenance to the full-moon because it was the height of beauty as they knew it. When explaining these narrations, the scholars say that the Companions did not compare him ﷺ to the sun because, despite the sun’s beauty, the intense heat makes it painful to stare at. The beauty of the sun is a beauty based on its power and energy. Yet the moon’s beauty is in its serenity and illumination. By using the moon, the Companions highlighted another facet of the Messenger’s beauty: looking at him was enjoyable and would bring one calmness. This is why Abdullah b. Salam, a Jew in Madinah, said: “When the Holy Prophet ﷺ arrived in Madinah, the people lost no time in arriving in his presence. I was amongst the people who had arrived to see him. When I looked with thoughtfulness at the Holy Prophet’s ﷺ radiant face, I realized with certainty that this is no face of a liar.”6 Abdullah (ra) accepted Islam right then and there as he recognized the light and truth of the Prophethood on his face (saws).
The Prophet’s ﷺ beauty was unlike anything we have seen in this life. In the next life, the believers will have a share of this type of beauty. Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) says,
“[Some] faces, that Day, will be radiant.” (Qur’an 75:22)
Radiance implies beauty, so their faces will not only be joyous and smiling, but beautiful and glowing. Some Believers will be blessed with having the brightest of faces. The Prophet ﷺ said, “A group of my Ummah (community) consisting of seventy thousand persons would enter Paradise; their faces would be as bright as the brightness of the full moon.”7
Unobstructed: The moon was crystal clear that night. Nothing, not even clouds, obstructed our view.
On such a similar night many years ago, the Prophet ﷺ looked to the clear, full-moon and told his friends around him, “Undoubtedly, you will see your Lord just as you see this moon and you will have no difficulty seeing Him.”8
The Prophet ﷺ used the moon again in another narration, “Do you crowd one another in order to see the moon on the night of a full moon? Do you crowd one another in order to see the sun?” They said: “No.” He said: “Of a surety, you shall see your Lord as you see the moon on the night of a full moon, you shall not crowd one another to see Him.”9
The moon in the above narrations serves as a simile – you will see your Lord unobstructed just as you see the moon unobstructed. The Prophet ﷺ would draw comparisons and use imagery when teaching to make a clear point. The opportunity to see our Lord will be the greatest of gifts in the hereafter. This is why the Prophet ﷺ used to supplicate: My Lord, I ask You for the delight of gazing at Your Countenance and the eagerness of meeting You.
Illumination: the light radiating from the moon was unlike the rays of light from the sun. The full-moon gave off a light – so much so that we could see each other’s faces and read our books. The moon’s light was not like the intense brightness of the sun, rather it was like a glow. This distinction is captured in the Qur’an,
“Blessed is He who has placed in the sky great stars and placed therein a [burning] lamp and luminous moon.” (Qur’an 25:61)
Allah (swt) uses two descriptive words to highlight the inherent difference between these sources of light. He (swt) calls the sun siraj, or “lamp”, to draw a comparison. Just as a lamp needs fuel to burn bright, the sun is in need of fuel (hydrogen gas) to burn bright. “When any fuel is burned and reaches a certain level of heat, the flame becomes bright enough to produce a glowing light.”10
On the other hand, Allah (swt) describes the moon as muneer, meaning luminous and bright. Muneer, a derivative of the word “nur”, means a reflective light. The moon does not produce its own light, rather it reflects the light from another source: the sun.11
Knowing the contrast between the meanings of siraj and muneer shows us how profound it is when Allah (swt) distinguishes the Prophet ﷺ by naming him with both words:
“O Prophet, indeed We have sent you as a witness and a bringer of good tidings and a warner. And one who invites to Allah, by His permission, and an illuminating lamp.” (Qur’an 33:45-46)
He is an illuminating lamp. The Messenger ﷺ is siraj muneer, combining qualities from both the sun and moon. While this description is an honor for the Prophet ﷺ , we also learn that light comes from Al-Nur, The Light. The Prophet ﷺ is a lamp who shines bright with the fuel provided by God. He is reflecting a light whose source is God. The Prophet ﷺ is not the source of the light, rather he is the lamp that spreads the light of guidance and truth from the Source:
Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The example of His light is like a niche within which is a lamp, the lamp is within glass, the glass as if it were a pearly [white] star lit from [the oil of] a blessed olive tree, neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil would almost glow even if untouched by fire. Light upon light. Allah guides to His light whom He wills. And Allah presents examples for the people, and Allah is Knowing of all things. (Qur’an 24:35)
This was it. That night, in the middle of desert miles, away from home, the culmination of my reflections in understanding the beauty of the moon was a sign of The Beauty of the Creator and Source of such a beauty—He who is The Light, The Most Beautiful, The Absolutely Pure, The Unique in Oneness, The Greatest.