In the Blessed Name of the Infinitely Merciful, Supremely Loving
Beauty…It bedazzles the eye, bewilders the mind, captivates, and, regardless of one’s beliefs, culture, or education, instantly raptures us to a world of its own. Beauty ravishes the heart, silences the mind, summons the soul itself into total surrender. It has always done so, throughout the ages, as if the shadow of Time. Like a magnetic force, Beauty subjects everything within its field to its effect, possessing faster than magic, waiving precautions and obstacles, erasing any and all resistance. Beauty commands, simply, without a word, through mere Presence, with a Majesty that eclipses that of the most powerful king.
To the question that imposes itself: “Why is Beauty to have such an overwhelming effect?” we propose the following answer: Beauty is Divine Articulation in the palpable realms, Divine Presence Manifested in Divine Language. Beauty is the Language of Divine Self Disclosure. Its words are tajalliyat, “unveilings” disseminated onto the mirror of the worlds; its intonation is Tajweed, uttered by the Pure Light of Meem (SAWS), everywhere Meem (SAWS) flows; its punctuation is the soul. Shining Its Own Light and projected through Light, Beauty infuses its meanings in us, requiring neither attention nor intellect, owning, through Light, not only the fields it reveals but the very vision that perceives them as well. The receptor for Beauty is the soul, the Eye of the individual (as opposed to his eye), and the reason for the overwhelming effect of Beauty is that the soul, having witnessed The Face of Divine Beauty in Qidam, recognizes The King in His relative phenomenal mirror image, and bows instantly and without reserve.
The Majesty and Beauty
As poetic as it might seem, this indeed is but a logical rationale of Beauty, one that imposes itself upon a throughout study of ahadiths, and of the huruf and abjad of “Jamal”, the word for “Beauty” in Arabic. We will below, Insha’AllaH, and to the extent that AllaH Wills, expound this.
“AllaHu Jamilun, Yuhibbu Al Jamal”, once said our Beloved Prophet (SAWS), (AllaH is Beautiful, and He Loves Beauty), confirming that Beauty is an Attribute of The Divine. In fact, in Islam, not only is Beauty a Divine Attribute, but it is a most prominent one, for a full category of Names fall under its heading. AllaH’s Attributes are traditionally classified into three main categories: the first category consists of the Essential Names, those Names that refer to the Singular Essence of AllaH, and belong only to Him, such as Al Ahad, Al Wahid, Al Samad, Al Nur,… The second category consists of the Names that reflect AllaH’s Majesty, His Jalal. And the third category includes the Names that reflect His Beauty, or Jamal.
The Attributes of Jalal (Majesty) and Jamal (Beauty) have always been heavily contrasted, for a priori they do appear quite antagonistic. Majesty is an “exclusive” Attribute, in that it belongs exclusively to AllaH, with no analogy in Creation. Transcendent, Majesty involves Sovereignty, Eternity and Infinity, and can never be witnessed by man, whose nature is transient and limited. Hence, when AllaH unveiled His Majesty to Prophet Musa or Moses, Moses (as) lost consciousness, and when He (SWT) unveiled His Majesty to the mountain, the latter crumbled and vanished.
“If I disclosed the splendors of My Majesty, I would burn up everything as far as My Eye can see.”
Majesty is an Attribute that exists only in Absolute, Divine Form, and can only be witnessed with Divine Eye. As such, it separates and distinguishes AllaH from His Creation. Shaykh Al Akbar (ra) actually pushed this idea even further by advancing that Majesty is such an alien concept to man that when one thinks of the Attribute of Majesty, it is in truth the Majesty of Beauty that one is evoking, for the Reality of Majesty can never be approached by the human mind. Beauty, on the other hand, is an Attribute that AllaH has generously disseminated in His Creation, through His Light That flows the worlds (SAWS). Beauty, thus, is an “inclusive” Attribute, one that is common to both Divine and human realms, one that helps us relate to God and witness Him. And yet, as remote as they initially appear, the Attributes of Majesty and Beauty can never be totally dissociated, they in fact complement rather than oppose one another: Beauty is The Face of Majesty, its Zahir, and Majesty is the inner reality (Batin) of Beauty. Hence Beauty has its own “majesty”, and Majesty unveils as Beauty.
We will recall that when AllaH desired to be known, AllaH Manifested from His Most Mysterious State, Ghayb Al Ghayb Al Mutlaq bila Ta’ayun, symbolized by the Arabic Letter Alif, as a Light, and That Light He SWT called The Praised Light, Blessed Nur Muhammad (SAWS). “I created Muhammad from the Light of My Countenance”, says the hadith, or, in another version, “from the Light of My Beauty”. Taken literally, these words infer that AllaH’s Beauty and Countenance are one and the same, and that His Beauty has a Light of Its Own, a Light That Was even before AllaH Manifested Himself as Light. The Quran describes this Light as “a Niche in Which there is a Lamp” (24:35), the Niche of Ahadiyya from Which Flows the Light of Nur MuHaMMaD (SAWS). Beauty thus existed long before the worlds came into existence. It existed as the Inherent Radiance of The Essence. With the onset of Creation, The Divine Presence became perceived by the “outside”, and became The Face of Divine Countenance. Regardless, Beauty always indicates Divine Presence, both in manifested and un-manifested realms.
|Arabic Letter "Meem"|
Sufis have always realized that The Prophet (SAWS) is The Only One to have been in Direct (Divine) Presence, and the Only One to have Witnessed AllaH directly, or, as they say, The Only One in “Direct Presence and Witnessing”. But, to be in “Direct Presence and Witnessing”, to see AllaH without any veil, as indeed The Prophet (SAWS) reported He (SAWS) did during His Mi’raj, involves, by common sense, witnessing both AllaH’s Beauty and His Majesty, and bestows on The Prophet (SAWS) a Divine Eye most deny Him (SAWS) today.
Given the widespread presence of Beauty in the Universe and its heading of a full group of Attributes, one would expect the Name “Al Jamil” (The Beautiful) to hold its place in the usual compilation of the “99 Names” of AllaH. But instead, and quite surprisingly, one finds that it is not included in the list. This compilation was given to us by The Beloved of AllaH (SAWS), and, while it does not claim to include all of Allah’s Names, the omission of “Al Jamil” is nonetheless baffling, especially that “Al Jalil” (The Majestic), the Name that heads the Attributes of Majesty, is well present in the list. Only a deep understanding of the Reality of Beauty can explain such an absence.
|Wheresoever you turn in pure, undisturbed nature, you will encounter the Face of Beauty|
Beauty is the Language of Divine Self Disclosure
Truth is, as the hadith above hinted to, Beauty is not only an Attribute, but rather, it is the Face of Divine Countenance, the Countenance through Which AllaH discloses Himself, Essence and Attributes, to us. Beauty is thus the Language of Divine Self Disclosure. Being Divine Language, Beauty does not use words as its verbiage, for words are human, they can only relay relative human meanings, but fail to encompass Absolute Divine meanings. Hence, in the phenomenal worlds, Beauty expresses itself through “signs” or “ayats”, and, at the level of Essences, it expresses itself through the substrates of the Divine Names, the “A’yan”. Therefore Beauty needs not be individually spelled out as a Name by itself, for, being the very language in which all Names are expressed, it is an Attribute latent in all Names. Indeed, all of AllaH’s Attributes are Beautiful, all of His Names exhibit Beauty within (asma ul husna). Consequently, the Attribute “Al Jamil” is implied in all Names, not only the Names of Jamal and Jalal, but Names of the Essence as well. The fact that it is latent in the Names of Majesty clarifies how, when one thinks of Majesty, it is in fact the Beauty of Majesty that one is evoking. The fact that it is latent in all the Essential Names infers that Beauty is the Countenance of The Divine Essence.
Beauty, present within each Name, impacts its shade on all Names: in other words, Beauty partially veils each Name with its own radiance. Of course, the veil it impacts to each Name differs according to the specific Name. In some instances, this veil helps give coherence to an Attribute that by itself would not be accessible to the human mind, as with the Attribute of Majesty. By being the common foreground of all Names, Beauty also helps categorize AllaH’s Infinite Oneness into a number of Attributes that make His Infinite Oneness humanly conceivable. In reverse direction, it helps weave back all Attributes together into Divine Oneness. But always, regardless of its specific action, Beauty acts as a Veil: it is not only a partial veil for each Name, it is a Veil for Divine Oneness as a whole. It is a Veil of Oneness, or Tawhid. It is also a Veil of Wholeness, that of “Huwa AllaH”. Beauty is the Veil of Ahadiyya.
The Sura of Beauty
Another subtle meaning of this Sura is thus: “AllaH’s Majesty is beyond expression and can never be directly witnessed by humans; but it can be witnessed through “Qul”, the direct Shuhud of Meem, as The One Source of all levels of Existence. This Source has no “lineage”, for to AllaH (Alone) belongs Al Wujud Al Dhati, but It Radiates a Light That Encompasses all manifestations, the Light of Wahdat Al Wujud (the Unity of Being). Hence Surat Al Tawhid ends with “And there is none else with His Oneness”. AllaH’s Presence begets everything in existence, infusing plurality with the Reality of Unity, granting everything life and meaning.
AllaH Encompasses everything, but can never be envisioned. This constitutional, total inability of all “created” beings, even Prophets, to directly envision the “Non Created” is symbolized in the Arabic language by the Letter “Lam”, a letter which, by itself, constitutes an absolute negation. Together, “Alif Lam” point to the Realm of Ahadiyya, Hahut and Lahut, that no human being ever can access.
Alif and Lam are also two letters often used as Muqatta’at. The Muqatta’at are those letters that appear at the beginning of a few suras of the Quran. For centuries, ulemas have wondered and disagreed about their meaning. The Muqatta’at involve 14 letters of the total 28 letters of the Arabic alphabet, and constitutes the “Divine Alphabet”. Some in fact consider “Alif Lam” as a letter by itself, a 29th letter for the Arabic Alphabet, and, incidentally, the Muqatta’at open 29 of the Quran chapters. Since these letters are Divine, they express both Divine and created, and multiple meanings are possible for their combinations, with the best meanings, always, being those disclosed by knowledge infusion in The Light of The Prophet (SAWS).
|an Arabic Calligraphy Expressing Alif Lam Meem|
In the context of our present discussion on Beauty, we would like to consider a potential relative meaning for one of the Muqatta’at, specifically the combination “Alif Lam Meem”, which opens six different suras of the Quran. While “Alif Lam Meem”, in its Absolute meaning, refers to the fact that only “Lam” (nothingness) separates Alif from Meem, it also emphasizes, just as it sounds, that the Divine can never be witnessed directly (Alif Lam), that It can only be witnessed through Meem, both in the Dzat of Meem (Meem) and through the Creation (Waw) Meem shines into Existence.
How then is It witnessed? Although there are many ways to witness AllaH, AllaH is spontaneously, instantly, involuntarily, irremediably and so naturally witnessed in any instance of Beauty, for Beauty is Divine Tajalli, all veils that veil us from AllaH Divinely removed, except for the Light of Meem, as the letters of the word “Jamal” indicates. Indeed, “Jamal” spells with 4 letters: Jeem-Meem-Alif-Lam.
However, if we consider Alif Lam as the 29th letter of the Arabic Alphabet, “Jamal” then consists of only three letters: Jeem – Meem – and Alif Lam. Should we contemplate the sequence of letters, we find that, read conventionally from right to left, in the “human” perspective, this sequence is “Jeem”, then “Meem”, then “Alif Lam”. But, read in the opposite direction, (as if before the mirrors of words), the sequence of letters becomes instead Alif Lam – Meem - Jeem. It then becomes obvious that the first two letters together, “Alif Lam - Meem”, echo one of the famed Muqatta’at of the Quran. Of course, coming from AllaH SWT, Who “taught Adam (as) all the names”, this is not a coincidence, but rather a Divine reminder that “Alif Lam” can never be witnessed directly, that, in spite of the overwhelming effect Beauty has on us, it is not AllaH’s Absolute Beauty that we are witnessing in any encounter with Beauty, but only a relative aspect of His Beauty projected by the Light of Meem onto the mirror of the worlds, and captured by “Jeem”, the last letter in the word “Jamal”.
The Reality of Vision is thus quite different from the one traditionally taught in Medical School. Visual receptors, optic nerve, occipital and cerebral cortex are but physical milestones in the visual mechanism. The Reality of Vision, however, is a matter of Light that starts and completes in the heart, the seat of the soul, as Quranic Aya 22:46 explicitly clarifies: “For indeed, it is not the eyes that are blinded, but blinded are the hearts which are within the breasts”. Moreover, vision is veiled or unveiled, at Divine Will, by the Light of Meem (SAWS). As The One RuH from Wujud AllaH That Fathers all souls, at all times Meem (SAWS) has full power and priority over souls, and grants each soul the power to grasp what its physical receptors are perceiving, or veils it from grasping the meaning of its vision. This indeed is made explicit by another Quranic Aya, 33:6: “Al Nabi Awla bil mu’mineen min anfusihum”: The Prophet has priority over the souls of the believers).
Such a deep reality of vision happens to be the only mechanism that can explain how two persons with exactly the same physical “visual pathway” and the same “visual power” don’t automatically perceive the same beauty within one and the same object, as each perceives a Beauty specific and proportional to the light granted to their soul. This mechanism is also the only one to explain how the same one person does not always perceive the same Beauty within the same object, as “perception” is a matter of Light, and the Light of the soul can vary from day to day.
|Arabic Letter "Waw"|
As often happens with language, the complex reality of Beauty is expressed in English within a simple popular adage: “Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder”. The Beholder is AllaH, Who beholds both our souls and their vision in His Gaze. The “Eye” is the soul, the “Jeem” of “Jamal”, the ray of Light from The Divine that enables us to “see”, according to the amount and shades of Light it is allowed to behold. AllaH being the Beholder, we see only through AllaH’s Light and Will. “Fear the sight of the Believer, says the hadith, for he sees with the Light of AllaH”. A believer sees not with his eyes, but with “Basirah”, the “Ba” of “Sirah”, the transparent soul purified from the clouds of the nafs and enabled to see through Light.
That the Soul is the Eye of the human being is best rendered in Arabic, the language AllaH chose to descend the Quran in, for in Arabic the word “eye” is “Ayn”, but “Ayn” is also the word for “Essence”, and is one of the fourteen letters of the Divine Alphabet.`
Will the Abjad of “Jamal” prove or refute what the study of the word Jamal have hinted to?
Jeem-Meem-Alif-Lam adds up to 3 + 40 +1 + 30 = 74, a number which can be reduced to 11. And what is 11? It is 1-1, the “mirror” number by excellence, where the Source (the first 1) is reflected in the mirror (the second 1). SubhanAllaH! “Jamal”, the word for “Beauty” in Arabic, read before the mirror of worlds, consists of the Muqatta’t “Alif Lam Meem” followed by the letter “Jeem”, and has an Abjad value of 11, the mirror number, secretly conveying that in the phenomenal world Beauty is the Mirror of Alif Lam, as projected by the Light of Meem and captured by “Jeem”. AllaH’s Signs hum their own tajwid, so humbling when perceived.
|nature mirroring itself|
There is no wonder then that Beauty has such a compelling effect on human beings, since, when faced with Beauty, they are witnessing Divine Countenance in Its phenomenal Mirror. Even in its relative, scaled to human perception image in the “mirror”, beauty still hints to the Absolute Divine Beauty the soul once witnessed in Qidam, and totally overwhelms us. By its nature of “Tajalli” (unveiling), all veils Divinely removed, Beauty is a vertical vector that dissolves all boundaries and transport us into Divine Presence. Beauty instantly lifts us from our phenomenal realm to the Realm of “Wahdat Al Wujud”, that of Light, and Light needs no word or understanding, Light simply penetrates, infuses, colors, shapes, owns, Light accomplishes by the power of “Kun” (Kaf-Nun). Although Light itself is one of the most potent veils of Majesty, the soul, itself made of Light, grasps The Majesty behind the “Light”, and unconditionally bows, whether one thinks he is a believer or not. Nothing proclaims AllaH’s Majesty as uniformly and unconditionally as Beauty, wherein believers and non believers alike equally bow to The One King, much like poor and rich come side to side in prayer in Islam. Beauty is the Tajwid of “Qul Huwa AllaH AHaD” without words: it declares AllaH’s Oneness beyond belief.
Nowhere is the overwhelming nature of Beauty as powerfully illustrated as in the story of Prophet Yusuf (Joseph) (ra). Yusuf’s Beauty was such that it inspired his father to love him more than his siblings, incited jealousy and revenge from his brethren, and lead women who came in his presence to lose all self control. Envious, his brothers dumped him alive in a well, and he ended as Zulaikha’s, the Egyptian vizir wife’s slave. Zulaikha became so magnetized by Yusuf’s Beauty that she offered herself to him, but AllaH Loved Joseph and protected him from sin by bringing Himself to Joseph’s Eye at that specific moment. When Joseph resisted, Zuleikha cut his shirt from the back, and became the rumor of town for trying to have an affair with her slave. Yet, Zulaikha was an intelligent woman, she well perceived the Divinely compelling nature of Joseph’s beauty. Hence, she invited her backbiting friends, gave them each a knife, and summoned Joseph in their presence. At his vision, all the women, without exception, lost control and cut their hands with their knives, exhibiting the exact same reaction they had mocked Zulaikha for, confirming thereby the Divine power of Beauty to override human will.
Who indeed was Yusuf? He (as) was a young man whose stunning beauty Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) described in a hadith as follows: “When I met Yusuf (as), I saw that Allah had blessed him with half of the beauty of the whole world, while the other half was spread over the rest of it” (Muslim). Yusuf had received his “shirt” from his father, himself a Prophet (as), and had dreamt that “the sun, the moon, and eleven stars prostrated to him”. In his “story”, Yusuf (as) was a man who suffered deep, continued injustice, first at the hand of his brothers who could not understand his merit, then at the hand of Zulaikha who could not understand his beauty, but who forgave and honored both anyway. In his “symbolism”, Yusuf illustrates the beautiful soul who, pursued by evil, does not fall into evil, but, through Divine Light, answers evil with goodness, and in doing so diffuses evil. It is not the beauty of his body, but the Beauty (Light) of his soul radiating through his body, that magnetized Zulaikha and made all her friends uncontrollably cut their hands. We will recall that Yusuf (as) is the prophet Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) encountered during His Mi’raj at the third level of Heaven, after meeting Adam (as) at the first level, and Jesus (as) at the second level. He thus illustrates man (Adam) after his encounter with Spirit (Jesus), and human transformation through Divine Light from a mere being to a Wali, a Friend of God that AllaH SWT elects, protects, and grants special knowledge to. As Yusuf’s story illustrates, Light controls and is able to swerve hearts in any direction AllaH Wills. Light can be blinding, and act as a veil, as it did with Yusuf’s brothers and Zulaikha; and Light can lead to Wisdom, as it did with Yusuf (as). Light can both veil and unveil. Its only compass is AllaH’s Mercy. Often, Light is best revealed within the abyss (of injustice), when all else crumbles and one is left alone in the darkness of the “cave”. In the phenomenal world, Light often condenses as Beauty.
For one, ALLaH Himself is Veiled, and only those pure enough are allowed to witness His Face. The Veil renders woman “haram” to look at, just like the Ka’aba, in its Kiswa, is “Al Masjid Al Haram”, but the veil itself in no other way limits what a woman can or cannot do. Further, and as the Quran explicitly clarifies, the veil is never just a piece of cloth enjoined as a dress to woman, but rather it is a “curtain” of interaction (Quran 33:53), a matter of “lowering one’s gaze and guarding one’s modesty”, enjoined to BOTH men and women (Quran 24: 30-31). Indeed, since woman embodies Beauty in the physical world, she can, by her Zahir, become a veil of Beauty to man, veil him from the highest pursuit in life, that of God, beside falling herself mistaken for only her Zahir, a pretty face and long legs, as often happens today. Hence her physical appearance should be veiled. Not only is woman created from the man, and thus part of “his own” that is impossible for him to resist, but man will also find in her, in addition to Beauty, satiation, clothing, companionship, and everything his nafs longs for, enticing him to search no further. Moreover, woman also symbolizes the veil of Love for man, a veil even more difficult to overcome. It is in this symbolism, and never in the purpose of her oppression, that woman is veiled in Islam.
For those who have ever experienced Divine Ishq, there is a flaunting analogy between Ishq and Beauty, if only by their common compelling magnetism that waves all resistance and induces instant, total surrender. It is that Ishq and Beauty relate to the two different phases of the famed hadith Qudsi: “I was a Hidden Treasure, and I Longed to be Known, so I made Creation in order to be Known”. Ishq relates to the first part of the hadith “I was a Hidden Treasure, and I Longed to be Known”, for Ishq requires no “vision”, no senses, no knowledge, no Macrocosm whatsoever, its realm is the Microcosm, the heart, “that part of the servant that alone can contain God”, and that expands with unrestrained and overwhelming Love in response to Divine Unveiling. Hence, before the mirror of words, Ishq spells Qaf-Sheen-Ayn, meaning: to stand (Qaf) in Shuhud (Sheen) of the Essence (Ayn). Beauty, on the contrary, is a “visible” Sign from The Divine, uttered in Divine Language and echoed in the manifest worlds. Its Source is The Face of Divine Beauty, and its mirror is the Macrocosm. Beauty thus relates to the second part of the hadith: “So I made Creation to be Known”.
Love & Beauty in Cosmogenesis
As Shaykh Al Akbar (ra) emphasized, Love and Beauty hold very important roles in cosmogenesis. AllaH Created the worlds through Love, and Mirrored His Beauty through them. This Love is foremost Love for Himself, and the whole worlds exist only as a place to express and consume this Love, they are but “wedding beds” for The Divine. If AllaH did not infuse them with His Presence, if He did not maintain them in His Gaze, they neither would exist nor would have any meaning. Indeed, Beauty often leads to Love, often unveils the Love it mirrors, and yet, there comes a stage on the path where both Beauty and Love dissolve, where form, feeling and thought all evanesce into The One Source, where nothing Is but AllaH, where Essence outshines even Presence. Then Unity transcends plurality, and everywhere the eye pauses there is Beauty. AllaH’s Presence indeed Is everywhere, but each individual Eye perceives Beauty only according to its own content of Light and its own characteristics, according to the Names it reflects most. To AllaH belong the Beauty of the worlds and the Heavens, and the Intrinsic Beauty of Ahadiyya, all stunningly projected through Meem (SAWS). Beyond Beauty and Love, each so vast, beyond Presence and Uns (Intimacy), is the Oneness of The Pure Essence, grasped uniquely in Union.
We humbly dedicate this poor writing to Meem (SAWS), AllaH’s Beloved and The Most Stunning Expression of Divine Beauty and Love. Salawat wa Salam AllaH ‘ala Imam Al Haqiqati Al Mubin, MuHaMMaD RasulAllaH (SAWS), wa ‘ala Alihi wa Ashabihi Ajma’in.
by Hala Agha, may Allah reward the author and benefit us from this transmission
Ramadan 1435 / July 2014