Islam: Truth, Virtue & Beauty
By Dr. Ja`far Sheikh Idris
The principles of truth, virtue and beauty. What they mean to Islam and how they should be incorporated into our everyday life.
Indeed, Islam is the religion of ultimate truth, virtue and beauty. Other doctrines and philosophies of life may have aspects of each of these principles but never are they in as consistent harmony as they are in Islam.
In other teachings or writings, we may find beautiful expressions used to make false claims, undermine virtuous behavior or even encourage corruption. Not so in our religion. These three principles are in constant interaction to convey the message of Allah.
The religion of Islam invites us to worship Allah, the ultimate in truth, virtue and beauty, the Creator of all things. The Prophet Muhammad, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam, too was a manifestation of truth and virtue. In Surah al-Qalam, Verse 4, the Almighty tells the Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam, "And surely you are of great morality." His wife said of him: "The Qur'an was his moral principle.". Ahmad related that the Prophet of Allah was honest, trustworthy, loyal, generous, merciful, courageous, patient and committed to the truth, whatever hardship he had to endure in the process. He was handsome both in features and spirit and his speech was beautiful to the ears. He was a man whose qualities commanded respect.
The Noble book of Islam, sent by Allah through Muhammad, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam, is a book of truth. It commands virtue and does so in unmatched beauty of expression. The following verses clearly state that this is the purpose of the Qur'an:
-Surah al-Israa, Verse 105: "And we have revealed this with the truth, and in truth it was sent."
-Surah al-Baqarah, Verses 1-2: "Alif(A) Lam (L) Mim (M). There is no doubt about this book, a guidance to the pious."
-Surah Fussilat, Verse 42: "No falsehood can come to it, not from before it or from behind it. It is a revelation from the All-Wise, the One worthy of all praise."
-Surah al-Israa, Verse 9: "Indeed, this Qur'an guides to the way that is most right."
-Surah al-An'am, Verse 115: "And the revelations of your Lord have been perfected in truth and justice."
-Surah az-Zumar, Verse 23: "Allah has revealed the best of revelations, a book consistent with itself, repeating its teachings in various aspects. The skins of those who fear their Lord shiver at it, then their skins and hearts soften to the celebration of praising Allah."
The Qur'an is not like other books whose sources may be unknown and whose translations and meanings are doubtful. All three principles of truth, virtue and beauty are conveyed in the essence of the Almighty, His Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam, and through the Noble Book. Since this is the case, it becomes clear that these three principles should also be woven through the events of our everyday lives as they complement each other.
Truth, virtue and beauty are so closely related in Islam, that we often find in the Qur'an and the Sunnah that they are used to describe each other. For example, virtuous morals are described as beautiful as in Surah Yusuf, Verse 18: "But beautiful patience. Allah is my refuge from what you are describing." Also in Surah al-Ma'arij, Verse 5, "So endure patiently, with a graceful patience.” At other instances, words are described using derivatives of the word 'husn' which in Arabic means beauty. In the following verses, the faithful are advised to speak beautifully (meaning politely and pleasantly) to other people:
-Surah al- Mu'minoon, Verse 96: "Respond to evil by saying that which is best."
-Surah al-Baqarah, Verse 83: "Speak of good to the people."
-Surah an-Nahl, Verse 125: "Reason with them in a well-mannered way."
Islam also encourages people to appreciate beauty even in practical things which people make use of and usually don't consider to be items of beauty. For example, Surah an-Nahl, Verses 5-7 say, "Allah created cattle for you. In them you find warmth and benefit and from them you eat. In them there is beauty for you when you bring them home and when you take them out to the pasture. They bear your heavy loads to lands you could not have reached except with great effort. Surely, your Lord is Most Compassionate, Most Merciful."
Also Surah al-Baqarah, Verse 69 tells us: "They said, 'Pray to your Lord for us that He may make clear to us what its color should be.' He said, 'Allah said it should be a yellow cow, so deep and bright as to delight those who see it.'" And Surah an-NamI, Verse 60, "Or who created the heavens and the earth and sent down water from the sky and caused the growth of beautiful gardens whose trees you could never grow? Is there another god with Allah? No indeed. But they are a people who deviate."
Surah al-An'am, Verse 99 asks us to appreciate the beauty and value of fruit and growth: "Look at their fruit, when they bear it and their ripening. Surely in that there are signs for people who believe." Here we have been asked to see the signs of Allah in the beauty of creation, and in its usefulness to man. Verse 141 of the same Surah reminds us to look at fruits, appreciate their beauty and pay our dues for them: "Eat of their fruits when they bear fruit, and pay due alms (for) them on the day of harvest."
Our religion has also asked of man to look for both beauty and virtue in the selection of a wife. "If he looks at her, he is pleased. If he commands her, she obeys and if he is away, she is loyal in taking care of herself and his money." (Ibn Majah.)
In Islam truth, virtue and beauty are not only used to describe each other, they are used to complement and support one another at all times. Virtue can only be built on truth and must be done in a way that people find acceptable (beautiful). Stories from the Qur'an are not only exceptional in content and style but also tell of real life people and events. The morals and wisdom taught through them thus become all the more pertinent for they are not fictional. "We narrate to you the best of narratives." Surah Yusuf, Verse 3: "Most certainly, in their narratives is a lesson for those who possess minds. It is not an invented story but a confirmation to that before it and an explanation of all things, a guidance and mercy to people who believe."
If people are going to listen to the call of Islam for virtue and truth, it can only be through good expression and words which will warm people's hearts and appeal to their ears. "Speak of good to the people." Surah Al Baqarah, Verse 83. "Call mankind to the way of your Lord with wisdom and sound advice. Reason with them in a well-mannered way." [16:125]
Despite this, some people, may Allah forgive them, have adopted extremely unpleasant, harsh and blunt ways of spreading the truth and virtue of Allah and his Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam.
As a result, people are driven away from Islam instead of being drawn to it. Have these people not thought about the words of Allah to his Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam, in Surah ali-Imran, Verse 159 "It was by Allah's mercy that you were kind to them. Had you been harsh and hard of heart, they would have dispersed from around you. So pardon them and pray for forgiveness for them and consult them in the matter...”
It is as though the Almighty is telling the Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam, that even if he were virtuous and calling for the truth, if he did it harshly and without being sensitive, those around him would be driven away. Why would they do that? Because they were kind and respectable people. They would not accept violation of their dignity, even by a person like the Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam.
Of course, not all people are like that. Some people only respond to humiliation and disrespect, such as the people of the Pharaoh, of whom we are told in Surah Az-Zukhruf, Verse 54: "Thus did he take his people for fools, and they obeyed him, indeed they were a wicked people."
Only the first kind of people are the ones that will respond to the call for truth and virtue. Only they will believe, and do it with strength and courage. Let those people be our target in dawah and let us address them in the manner that they deserve so that they will hear us. As for those who have no good in their hearts, they will not respond to respectful ways and we should not waste time with them.
Some people use kind and sensitive words to draw people to evil and corruption, but Allah will only be with those who are calling for truth and he is truly fortunate who calls for the truth in the manner that Allah has described.
Beauty is therefore a quality which we must desire and strive for. It is as important as virtue and truth. We should take every opportunity to enjoy beauty except if this activity is going to lead to corruption and undermine our morals and principles. In this case, beauty should be avoided.
We are prohibited from looking at certain pictures which may be beautiful and listening to certain beautiful voices. This is because this kind of beauty leads to betrayal of ethical behavior. For this reason, the beauty of a woman is reserved for her husband and certain relatives and family members. This way, it will not lead to dishonorable behavior. Husbands are allowed and encouraged to enjoy the beauty of their wives, as this is not a prohibited behavior, and may even prevent corruption.
Beautiful voices, depending on what they are saying, may provoke certain unethical behavior. Sometimes men are aroused by the voices of soft-spoken women. Thus even the wives of the Prophet of Allah were addressed in Surah al-Ahzab, Verse 32, "O wives of the Prophet You are not like any other women. If you fear Allah, speak not in an affected tone so that he in whose heart is a disease may yearn. But speak in honorable words."
The same applies for certain kinds of music and song. In Surah Luqman, Verse 6, we are told, "And there are among people some who use vain talk to lead astray from Allah's way without knowledge and to make mockery of it. For such there is a humiliating punishment." Ibn Masoud referring to the talk described in this Verse said, "It is -by Allah- singing."
We are thankful that Allah has guided us to the truth and paved for us the ways to virtue and explained to us the significance of beauty of words, deeds and meanings.