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Rediscovering Beauty in Ramadan

Beauty is truth,

Truth, beauty,   that is all

ye know on Earth

and all ye need to know,

Keats, 1819

The successful practice of faith relies on an intelligent balance on the part of the believer between the ‘outer’ and the ‘inner’, the ‘material’ and the ‘immaterial’. No other time of the year are these creative tensions more excitingly in conversation than in Ramaḍān. In the unlikely setting of an energetic Marakesh marketplace, I was to reflect on what earns Ramaḍān the high accolade of being a pathway to taqwa in and of itself.[1] In this piece, I share one reflection. I present that Ramaḍān offers a momentary rejection of the material world, and a deliberate refocus within, to the immaterial inner world. I suggest one reason this refocus takes place is that we rediscover ‘beauty’ as a spiritual category. I organise the discussion around the ḥadīth –

“Allāh is Beautiful and He loves beauty.”[2]

The picture above was taken early Ramaḍān last year, in the touristic heart of Marakesh, Morocco. Aḥmed, a dishevelled aged Moroccan beggar lay helplessly underneath graffiti that ironically read ‘beautiful’. The juxtaposition was striking. Aḥmed sat defiantly at the centre of a marketplace buzzing with tourists, all incidentally looking for very different definitions of ‘beauty’, promised to them by profiteering holidaymakers. But there Aḥmed lay, constructing his own stage of alternative beauty for anyone who cared to pay attention.

Intensely moved yet equally intrigued, I knelt down gradually getting closer to him. Tension mounted as he carefully clenched his garments closer to his fragile person, erecting his knees against me in suspicious defence.

“Salām ʿalaykum, my name is Ismael,’ I gently greeted him.

‘Do you understand the writing under which you sit?’

‘No,’ was his brusque reply. The facial expressions he offered me were cold, seated behind harsh crystallised wrinkles of a face that told infinite tales. I explained it to him, and slowly qualified why the moment captured me. His body started to loosen – his cryptic reply came…

‘All beauty belongs to Allāh, my son. And He distributes it as He wishes…’

I was unsure what he meant by that, whether to read it in an empowering or disempowering way. Yes, all beauty belongs to Allāh, fair, but what was Ahmed suggesting about how he fits into that story?

My friend called me. I had to go. I apologised to Aḥmed, got up, dusted my jeans, offered him a polite smile and began to advance further into the busy marketplace. I was unable to shake off his cryptic answer; it left me in a mental storm. Yes, all beauty belongs to Allāh I reconciled, but Aḥmed forced me to rethink the processes by which we see ‘divine beauty’ – suddenly not a trivial process. Our claim that ‘beauty’ is easily discernible to the human experience may be nothing short of arrogant. The ḥadīth attests that Allāh ‘loves beauty’; surely then the reflective believer would question how certain he is whether what he sees as ‘beautiful’ in this world, is what his Lord sees as ‘beautiful’?

Aḥmed’s intervention began to make sense. After all, I told myself, the Qur’ān is adorned with many beauties, which by its own admission, is accessible exclusively to those described as muttaqoon:[3]  an elite group of awliyaa.[4]. Flicking through the Qur’ān curiously in my mind’s eye, ‘beauty’ seemed a spiritual insight, a privilege – so much so that Allāh made the most glorious delight in the afterlife to gaze upon His beautiful Face (subḥānahu wa taʿālā). ‘Beauty’ suddenly represented a state to me, a journey – one that begins in this life and ends with the Face of Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā). It was no longer a shallow cultural construct. It became a spiritual question.

I took out my pen and paper with childish excitement, and scribbled collections of ḥadīth as they raced to my mind. ‘If Allāh is beautiful, as the ḥadīth confirms, then surely Islām is a celebration of that very beauty,’ I enquired. The responsibility of the believer, then, must be to celebrate that beauty both outwardly and inwardly, through all bodily functions. But how do we celebrate beauty?

The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) affirms the body contains a morsel (the heart).[5] If this morsel is pure, everything is consequently pure. Here we locate the inner seat of divine beauty and perfection in a believer, I convinced myself. Allāh’s divine Gaze does not rest on our physiques, but upon our hearts.[6] It was making sense, and its pertinence to Ramaḍān central. One of the glories of Ramaḍān is it is the month in which Allāh ‘beautifies the Heavenly Gardens’ for us.[7] He does so, the ḥadīth teaches, because His ‘servants have [momentarily] denounced the beauties of the material world… and are thus drawing closer to [Him]’.[8]  Interesting… The further away we are from the elusive beauties of this world, the more we are drawn to ‘true beauty’ – that is Allāh and the Hereafter. It made perfect sense. I clenched the loose papers together and paused, sinking deeper into my chair.

Organising the chain of prophetic sayings around the principle of Allāh being Beautiful, loving beauty, and its centrality to Ramaḍān was not only empowering, but spiritually instructive. Ramaḍān offers us a unique opportunity to address this inner beauty by momentarily distracting us from the aggressions of the material world. It allows the believer to unlock the inward miracles of faith uninterrupted. If the logic of Ramaḍān is to attain taqwa – I ask what is taqwa other than an urgent search for this inner beauty? It is no wonder the Prophet taught us the reality of taqwa is ‘right here’… pointing to his sacred chest three times. [9]

Aḥmed’s encounter inspired me to reflect on whether we as humans can recognise the higher dimensions of beauty without Allāh. Allāh says in the ḥadīth qudsi that – ‘My servant keeps drawing nearer to Me with voluntary works until I love him. And when I love him, I am his hearing with which he hears, his sight with which he sees…’.[10] It is at this point of the sinuous journey when Allāh fits our senses with His divine lens, that we are guided to appreciate what is truly beautiful in this world – and what is not; doing so before that cannot be possible. Aḥmed was right. Beauty is only understood as part of a successful journey to Allāh. Ramaḍān does not suggest works to frustrate our bodily limits, but presents an opportunity to unlock a spiritual imagination – one that rediscovers an inner beauty we are all capable of. Understanding this is central to a believer in constructing her/his religious imagination.

The Prophet would supplicate Allāh to ‘beautify’ his inner as He has beautified his outer.[11] We therefore understand the architecture of beauty to rest on both visible and invisible components.  Ahmed, neatly juxtaposing an advert of popular beauty, represented the invisible inner kingdom that I needed to rediscover. What if he was the dusty, outwardly unimpressive, yet beautiful soul, celebrated in prophetic tradition[12]… that were he to raise his hands, Allāh would surely notice him?

Ramaḍān gloriously magnifies the focus on this inner beauty. At no other time of the year is this discovery more available. Once we find the beauty of Allāh within ourselves, we will not be entertained by any other beauty – is the divine promise.

Source: www.islam21c.com

Notes:

[1] God consciousness

[2] Saḥīḥ Muslim

[3] God conscious people

[4] Friends of Allāh

[5] ‘There lies within the body a piece of flesh. If it is pure, the whole body is pure; and if it is corrupted, the whole body is corrupted. Verily this piece is the heart.’ {Bukhāri and Muslim]‘

[6] Allah does not look at your figures, nor at your attire but He looks at your hearts’ [Muslim]

[7] Imaam Ahmed

[8] Ibid.

[9] Muslim

[10] Bukhari

[11] Imaam Ahmed

[12] Muslim

About Ismael Abdela

Ismael Abdela is an Anthropology graduate from the London School of Economics. He spent some years studying Islamic Sciences in Qaseem, Saudi Arabia. He is now a keen social entrepreneur. Ismael likes to write about spiritual reflections, social commentary and tafsīr. He is particularly interested in putting religion in conversation with the social sciences.

5 comments

  1. Beautiful !

  2. I want to experience this inner beauty in sha Allah

  3. Such an amazing and emotional read mashallah

  4. Great read!

  5. Beautiful writing. Ma sha Allah.

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