The Prophet of God and Beauty, Ihsan, Goodness(2)

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God Commands Beauty, Goodness, Ihsan in Everything

What does the Quran Say about Ihsan?

One of the measures related to aesthetics given by the Qur’an and Sunnah is to act with a consciousness of “ihsan” (doing good, beauty, excellence) towards everyone and everything. Within this framework, the Qur’an states, “Indeed, God enjoins justice and ihsan…” (Surah An-Nahl, 16:90), mentioning justice alongside ihsan (doing good, excellence). It emphasizes the complementary nature of these two concepts or actions. According to the approach of Raghib al-Isfahani, the principle of ihsan is connected to justice and is considered superior to it. This is evident as justice is mentioned before ihsan in the verse (See Surah An-Nahl, 16:90).

Justice involves giving someone or something their due right, while ihsan goes beyond justice by giving more than is required or taking less than is deserved—essentially, it means doing acts of kindness and behaving beautifully. Therefore, in the aesthetic understanding of Islam, beauty consists of both justice and the practice of material and spiritual goodness towards everyone. Without goodness and beauty in place, justice cannot be fully realized.

The word “ihsan” (ﺇﺣﺴﺎﻥ) mentioned in the verse signifies to perfect, do good, excel, show kindness to others, and behave beautifully. Its root, “husn” (ﺣﺴﻦ), denotes beauty, goodness, what is liked or admired, pleasing to the eye, or evoking admiration and approval in humans. The opposite of “husn” is “qubuh,” meaning ugliness, and “sayyi’a” (ﺳﻴﺌﺔ), meaning evil.

When the term “ihsan” is attributed to God, it encompasses the meanings of doing what is beautiful in the most perfect manner, showing kindness, forgiving, granting favors, and being generous and helpful. In technical terms, it involves worshipping God as if seeing Him and living with this consciousness.

When we consider “ihsan” in technical terms, it means to perform a task in a manner that is of such quality, solidity, and artistry that it would earn the approval and admiration of God, His Messenger, and even humanity/the believers. The Qur’an specifically admonishes believers to internalize this consciousness: “Say, ‘Do [good] always works that will please God. God, His Messenger, and the believers will see what you do. You will eventually be brought before God, who knows everything, whether it is hidden or apparent. He will inform you of what you have done.” (Surah At-Tawbah, 9:105) This consciousness leads one towards acts of benevolence, kindness, generosity, and beauty, as well as ensuring complete adherence to justice. It is a comprehensive principle that guides towards both excellence in conduct and the observance of justice in all matters.

God’s Messenger and the Principle of Ihsan

Ihsan ın Hadıth

God’s Messenger also commands that this aesthetic principle conveyed by the Qur’an should be lived and upheld in every aspect: ‘God has prescribed excellence in all things…’ (Muslim, Sayd 11/57 (1955); Abu Dawud, Adahi 12 (2815); Tirmidhi, Diyat 14 (1409); Nasai, Dahaya 22 (4405)). The verb ‘kataba’ in the hadith, meaning ‘prescribed’ or ‘enjoined,’ also conveys the meanings of ‘determined’ and ‘engraved.’ Accordingly, God (may His glory be exalted) has bestowed excellence upon everything He created, granting each creature and object unique qualities and adorning them with various forms of beauty.”

The hadith mentions that the verb “k-t-b” signifies not only “to write” but also “to prescribe” or “to command,” implying that the hadith can be translated as “God has enjoined treating everyone and everything with kindness/goodness…” This translation aligns with Islam’s ethical and communicative principles, which are founded upon the concept of “beautiful conduct.” The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) exemplified and promoted exemplary conduct at its peak. In fact, in continuation of this hadith, he provides several examples of good conduct: “… Even in times of war – when compelled to kill in combat – do so in a beautiful manner. When sacrificing an animal, do so beautifully. Therefore, let the butcher sharpen his knife well and put the animal at ease.” Accordingly, a Muslim should not mutilate the body of an enemy slain in battle, by cutting off their limbs or gouging out their eyes, as they should not engage in any inhumane or unethical treatment under any circumstances. This is why the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) advised every group sent on a military expedition with the following instructions: “Go in the name of God and for the sake of God. Fight those who show hostility to Islam, but do not betray those with whom you have agreements. Do not harm their lives or possessions as long as they do not violate their agreements. Ensure the safety of public property and refrain from misappropriating spoils of war. Do not mutilate those who die on the enemy side, and do not harm their women, children, or elderly.” (Tabarani, Mu’jam al-Awsat, 4/262; For a similar hadith, see Muslim, Jihad 2/3 (1731))

It is a reflection of Islam’s principle of ihsan that even in cases of qisas (retaliation), one cannot exceed the limits and engage in ill treatment towards the person who has been killed. Similarly, when sacrificing an animal, it is impermissible to inflict pain on it by using a dull knife, which would essentially be torturing the animal. Therefore, prior to the sacrifice, it is necessary to tie the animal properly, lay it down in a manner that causes no distress, not slaughter it in front of other animals, sharpen the knife discreetly, avoid displaying it to the animal, and invoke the name of God (saying Bismillah) during the slaughter. These practices are essential aspects of treating sacrificial animals with kindness. From this perspective, Islam’s aesthetic understanding primarily emphasizes establishing beauty in every aspect of life. Without incorporating beauty into every stage of life, one cannot attain true beauty and discover and practice genuine art.

Perform Your Work Well and Soundly!

One dimension of aesthetics is closely linked to the love of God. In other words, a secret that beautifies the work is its inclusion of divine love. Indeed, the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said, ‘Verily, God loves that when one of you does something, he does it well and soundly.’ (Tabarani, Mu’jam al-Awsat, 1/275; Bayhaqi, Shu’ab al-Iman, 4/1867), linking the aesthetic understanding to the love of God. He enjoined the pursuit of beauty in every task, exemplifying this principle himself. When his son Ibrahim passed away at a young age, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was deeply saddened, shedding tears during the burial. While enduring this trial with patience, he also smoothed the grave. When his companions asked if this action benefited the deceased, he replied, ‘It does not bring any benefit or harm to the dead, but it makes the living look more pleasant to the eye, comforting and pleasing them. When any of you does something, do it well and soundly. For indeed, God loves that a person performs their work well and soundly.’ (Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat, 1/101, 103; Samhudi, Wafa al-Wafa, 3/80). Thus, he conveyed the message that even in simple and seemingly insignificant tasks, doing them well and soundly can lead to acquiring divine love, emphasizing that seeking God’s love in all our endeavors beautifies both ourselves and our works.”

One of the examples the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) gave regarding the concept of “ihsan” relates to the care and attention that should be shown even in the shrouding of a deceased person: “When one of you performs the funeral prayer for a deceased brother, let him do so with sincerity and good preparation.” (Muslim, Janaiz 15/49 (943)) Following his advice, when a Muslim passes away, they are first washed, given ablution, perfumed with pleasant scents,

then shrouded beautifully, prayed over, carried on shoulders or hands, and gently placed into the grave. Afterwards, Qur’anic recitation and prayers are offered beautifully to fulfill the final duties. While the tangible benefits of these acts for the deceased are not fully known, they provide significant comfort to those left behind and serve as a profound encouragement to pursue beauty in every endeavor.

When the Prophet Muhammad’s (peace and blessings be upon him) daughter Zeyneb passed away, he advised those who would wash and prepare her for burial to do so with utmost care and beauty. He instructed: “Wash her three times or five times, and if you think it necessary, even more. In the last wash, add some camphor.” (Bukhari, Funerals 8 (1253-1262); Muslim, Janaiz 12/36 (939)) Additionally, one of those present during the washing, Umm Atiyya, mentioned that they carefully combed her hair and made three braids. (Bukhari, Funerals 9, 13, 14 (1254, 1259, 1260)) Furthermore, in line with his emphasis on beauty and aesthetics, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) recommended that the deceased be wrapped in a white cloth, symbolizing purity and cleanliness. (See Abu Dawud, Attire 14 (4061); Tirmidhi, Etiquette 46 (2810))

Therefore, the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) encouraged his companions on every occasion to seek beauty, advising them to incorporate this principle into every aspect of life and to preserve it. He taught them to uphold quality and beauty in every task, emphasizing the importance of artistry. He demonstrated practically that this principle should not be neglected even when bidding farewell to the deceased, both in this worldly life and in preparing them for the hereafter.

Which of you will do Better Deeds?

When we look at the entirety of the Qur’an, it becomes clear that alongside seeking sincerity and divine approval in our actions and behaviors, striving to find and accomplish what is most beautiful is also a divine command and an important tradition. The verse in Surah Al-Mulk states, ““He who holds limitless sovereignty over the entire universe, the source of all goodness, blessing, beauty, and kindness is God, the All-High, and His power encompasses all things. He is the One who created death and life to test you [as to] which of you is best in deed.” (Qur’an, 67:2). This verse clearly articulates this objective. Accordingly, the test of human beings on the stage called worldly life is whether they perform their deeds and actions in a beautiful and robust manner, and whether they consider and uphold what is beautiful, good, and of high quality in their dealings with God and people. Therefore, seeking and preserving beauty, goodness, and quality in every endeavor is both a dimension of servitude and a righteous deed that endears creatures to God.

This verse concludes with “… He is the Mighty, the Oft-Forgiving,” indicating that all beauties are manifestations of His infinite power. He exercises His power and makes His arrangements through the laws He has established in the world of causes. Through this, He teaches mankind the lesson of adhering to His universal laws. Only in this way can life become beautiful, transform into art, and produce stunning works in the professional world.

The name “He is the Oft-Forgiving,” signifies that even when a person fails to follow these beauties in the micro and macro worlds and acts contrary to this harmony, the door of repentance remains open. His forgiveness and mercy are vast for those who abandon evil and turn towards goodness, who distance themselves from ugliness and seek beauty. He protects those who turn to Him with sincere repentance and resolve always to perform righteous, good deeds.

Is There Any Deficiency in the Universe?

While God (may His Majesty be exalted) showcases the beauty and uniqueness of His artistry, He also highlights the perfection in the universe. In fact, the Qur’an challenges mankind on this matter: “He Who has created seven heavens in harmony. You do not see any fault or incongruity in the creation of the All-Merciful. Look yet again: can you see any rifts? hen look again and yet again (and however often you do so, with whatever instruments to aid your looking), your sight will fall back to you dazzled (by the splendor of God’s creation), and awed and weakened (being unable to discern any flaw to support any excuse for claiming that there could be any sharing in the dominion of the universe).” (Surah Al-Mulk, 67:3-4).

God has created the entire cosmos and all that it contains—large and small, visible and invisible—with magnificent harmony and perfect beauty. There is no deficiency, error, or flaw in it. The flawless and perfect creation of the worlds is a testament to the superiority and magnificence of the Creator’s artistry. By declaring this perfect creation, He also assigns mankind the responsibility to seek and achieve perfection in their own works and actions.

Conclusion

God always commands justice and goodness/beauty, and He executes every deed in the best and most perfect manner. His artistry is not only beautiful but also flawless. Through His divine actions and the laws He has established, He teaches mankind that every task should be performed impeccably, without faults, and with great artistry. Furthermore, the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) assures us that this pursuit of aesthetics brings one closer to God and makes one beloved of Him. In this sense, art is emphasized as a means that nurtures the love of God within a person and connects the artist with the Creator. The quest for beauty in every task is highlighted as a crucial dynamic that leads a person toward perfection. This underscores the truth that beauty appeals not only to the eye but also to the essence of a person.

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