Originally published June 2012
Reconstructing Beauty Series: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI
In an enlightening hadith (prophetic narration), the Prophet ﷺ tells us that no one with an ounce of arrogance in his heart will enter Paradise. In seeking to understand what arrogance means, the companions asked “O Prophet of Allah, what if a person likes to dress well?” The Prophet ﷺ responded, “Allah is beautiful and loves beauty. Arrogance is rejecting truth and looking down on people” [Muslim]
Allah is Beautiful
Let us first think about Allah’s Beauty. None of us have seen Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He), so how can we even begin to contemplate His magnificence?
Allah (swt) gives us clues. He calls the sun, the moon, the stars, the skies, and the mountains ‘signs’. And what is a sign except something that leads us to something greater—to a logical conclusion, to the source of that sign?
Instead of writing, I want to just post some breathtaking pictures and videos of the universe. I can describe their beauty all I want, but there is nothing like experiencing something for yourself. If you are able to take a few moments to reflect in nature, please do.
Ibn Al-Qayyim said, “And it is enough to realize Allah’s Beauty when we know that every internal and external beauty in this life and the next are created by Him, so what of the beauty of their Creator?”
Our faith in Allah’s beauty should strengthen our connection with our Lord. It increases our love for Him and our longing to return to Him—to be able to see just a glimpse of Him. The Prophet ﷺ made the following du`a’ (supplication): “I ask of You the joy of looking on Your noble countenance and of my longing to be with You.” [Nisa’i]
Another aspect of Allah’s Beauty is in His actions. Allah is Beautiful in His Mercy, and His Mercy is manifested in the mercy He has bestowed upon people in terms of what he has proved for them, but also in the mercy that His creation show to each other. Look at a mother’s ability to forget the pains of childbirth as soon as she holds her newborn in her arms. A father’s patient answering of the same question his child asks for the 60th time. A stranger who helps an elderly person cross the street.
This is all part of Allah’s Beauty – so how can we not long to meet Him on the Day of Judgment?
He loves Beauty
The One who is the Most-Beautiful, and who is the source of all Beauty, surely knows what true beauty is. So what is the beauty that Allah (swt) loves? Ibn Al-Qayyim said that it pertains to two things: Firstly beautifying ourselves outwardly, and secondly beautifying ourselves inwardly.
Contrary to what some might think, outward beauty is important in Islam. At the very basic level is cleanliness. We are told “Cleanliness is half of faith” [Muslim]. Moreover, people are discouraged from attending the mosque if they have eaten garlic or onion because the odor may bother other people.
At the aesthetic level, we are encouraged to be well-dressed and presentable. As the hadith showed us, dressing well is not considered showing off, unless it is done for that purpose or to show that one is better than others. But dressing well is a sign of dignity. The Prophet ﷺ said “Allah loves to see the affects of His grace upon His servant.” [Tirmidhi] All of this pertains to outward beauty. We all incline towards that kind of beauty, in one way or another.
But if what we consider beautiful is touched by what doesn’t please Allah (swt), it ceases to be beautiful. It is just hawa (our own whims) which are affected by the messages that bombard us everyday in advertisements, magazines and movies. Allah tells us about the hypocrites “And when you see them, their forms please you, and if they speak, you listen to their speech.” [Qur’an, 63:4] They looked a certain way that was pleasing to other people, and they were charismatic when they spoke—but they were hypocrites. Their outward form did not make up for what was missing in their hearts. The Prophet ﷺ also says “Allah does not look at your appearance or your possessions; but He looks at your heart and your deeds.” [Muslim] So beautifying ourselves outwardly, while commendable and can take different forms in different cultures, is tempered by what is beautiful to Allah. No matter how elegant a shirt is, if it does not cover our ‘awra (parts of the body that must be covered), it is not beautiful to Allah (swt). Once a companion was wearing a gold ring, presumably because he did not know that it was prohibited for men. When he heard the Prophet ﷺ say it is forbidden, he immediately removed it and threw it away. It may have been a beautiful ring, it may have been an expensive ring, but in his eyes it was nothing because it was not beautiful to the Creator of beauty.
The real beauty that is evident to anyone is inner beauty. If the inside is beautiful, it beautifies what is outside. How many of us have met people whose inner light shines through? The Prophet ﷺ describes a “seemingly disheveled, dusty, negligible person, but if he would swear to God, He would respond to him,” (Tirmidhi). These are the people of true beauty to Allah (swt) because of the beauty in their hearts. They are a people who love to spend time with Allah, and if they are with people, they are in their service.
Look at the inner beauty of the Prophet ﷺ. There was an old woman who detested the Prophet ﷺ even though she had never met him. One day the Prophet ﷺ saw that she needed help and he proceeded to help her. So she thought she would give him advice, and the ‘advice’ was to warn him against the Prophet ﷺ. He simply smiled and listened to what she said. She later found out that he was the Prophet ﷺ. You cannot help but love someone with that kind of inner light.
And if Allah loves your inner beauty, what happens? Allah tells us in a hadith Qudsi:
“When I love him I am his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes and his foot with which he walks. Were he to ask [something] of Me, I would surely give it to him, and were he to ask Me for refuge, I would surely grant him it.” [Bukhari]
So let us beautify ourselves outwardly for His sake by being clean and presentable ambassadors of His religion, and let us beautify ourselves inwardly by adorning ourselves with God-consciousness and good manners.
Jazakalah khair for this beautiful post! I feel that nowadays more and more people are focusing too much on their outer appearance rather than their inner beauty but this post does a great job of describing the impotance of both and the superiority of inner beauty!
Jazakullah Khayr for the thoughtful & well-written article! Can you help make a distinction between ‘beautifying ourselves outwardly’ and vanity?
As a woman, I sometimes struggle with how much effort I should or should not put into my appearance, i.e. when it is dignified vs when it is just ‘keeping up with Joneses’ or trying to mimic the unrealistic & harmful “beauty” standards of modern society. I know Islam prescribes moderation, but I still find it difficult to find a healthy & noble balance.
I’m sure that one part of this is intention. If you dress to appease others, then it’s vanity. If you dress to appease Allah (whether it by by dressing in nice clothes or not), then it is not vanity.
Salaam AM 🙂
I think the next posts will address the issue in more detail. However, as a starter, I would say the following principles are important:
1) Intention: Is my intention to impress people? Or to look decent?
2) Balance: Allah tells us in the Qur’an to eat and drink but to not be wasteful. How much time and money am I spending to look ‘nice’?
3) Rules: Is what I am wearing pleasing to Allah, or simply pleasing to creation?
Hope this helps 🙂
Love this sooooo much. 🙂
Jazakallahu Khayr! I was patiently waiting for the first post and the article is absolutely beautiful! I’m looking forward to the rest…
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MashaALLAH! What a great publication… JazakALLAH….
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Thank you, Sister. JAK
GOD BLESS U.