Our Perception of Beauty
We live in a culture that exaggerates physical beauty above and beyond where its true status lies. The media and culture have indirectly pushed people’s minds to treat beauty as one of the determinants of self-worth, especially in young girls and women. It becomes crucial for everyone of us to examine what beauty really is, and what role physical beauty has to play in our lives.
Is beauty limited to physical characteristics or is there a higher dimension to it? Is beauty an independent trait or does it shine in people with good personalities? Although the answers to these questions are very subjective, the Islamic view of beauty helps us to shape our opinions in the best manner possible.
All Creation Is Beautiful
Although the eyes may not perceive every creation around us as beauty, the Qur’anic verse (32:7) tells us that all creation is beautiful. This verse is clearly talking about beauty on a higher level than the mere physical dimension that our eyes try to find in what they perceive. This verse urges us to appreciate beauty in all creation and to see the beauty in Allah’s universe through observing how interconnected and orderly it is!
The Perception of Beauty
How does Islam view human beauty? Is physical beauty always looked upon as a positive trait? Needless to say, physical beauty is indeed a blessing – but according to Islamic teachings, beauty is just like any other material and perishable trait such as wealth, rank, and occupation. Physical beauty by itself has little worth and is given no significance in Islam if it does not accompany inner beauty (piety and good moral traits). Real beauty is what we carry with us in our journey to the hereafter: our good deeds. In the Holy Qur’an (3:106) we are reminded of Judgment Day when people’s deeds will determine their physical appearance: “On the day when (some) faces shall turn white and (some) faces shall turn black; then as to those whose faces turn black: Did you disbelieve after your believing? Taste therefore the chastisement because you disbelieved.”
In our everyday lives we often come across people who may be good-looking but something about their character repels us from them; the reverse is also true for people who may not be so good-looking but appear beautiful to us because of their positive qualities. A recent article by plastic surgeon Dr. Robert Tornambe, published by the Huffington Post, presents an interesting conclusion about how the mind judges beauty. The article “What Makes a Person Ugly?” focuses on certain positive personality traits that serve to enhance and sometimes even determine how we perceive physical beauty. Some characteristics that are mentioned are self-confidence, cheerfulness, altruism, and optimism. When it comes to judging between physical beauty and personality, our mind inclines towards appreciating people who possess such positive traits and brighter souls.
Actions that Enhance Beauty
Proximity to Allah and obeying His commands surely enhance one’s beauty, both inner as well as physical beauty. The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) said, “Beauty is in the tongue (wording)”. Good moral conduct is one basis of judging what qualifies as beauty. Ayatollah Hussain Madhahiri writes in his book Islamic Family-Life Ethics, “Sometimes speech is like the beauty spot on the face which enhances the beauty of the person.” A person with good morals is truly beautiful inside out and wins peoples’ hearts.
In addition, some recommended actions enhance inner and outer beauty. One of them is the highly recommended Night Prayer (Salat al-Layl) that, when performed on a regular basis, enhances one’s physical beauty. Allama Majlisi writes in his book on Salat al-Layl: “Salat al-Layl makes one’s face beautiful; beautifies one’s etiquette; gives a pleasant smell to one’s body and increases one’s daily sustenance. It also removes sorrow and grief and gives strength to the eyes.”
Hence, closeness to Allah creates both inner as well as outer beauty! In conclusion, below is a historic couplet that refers to the beauty of Prophet Yusuf (peace be upon him), whose beauty is a symbol of Allah’s most beautiful creation:
“No one has ever seen beauty like Yusuf’s,
But He who created Yusuf has the true beauty.”
Let us try to reflect true eternal beauty from within ourselves!