'O God, carry us in the ships of Thy deliverance, give us to enjoy the pleasure of whispered prayer to Thee, make us drink at the pools of Thy love, let us taste the sweetness of Thy affection and nearness, allow us to struggle in Thee, preoccupy us with obeying Thee, and purify our intentions in devoting works to Thee, for we exist through Thee and belong to Thee, and we have no one to mediate with Thee but Thee!' Imam Sajjad ('A); Sahifa al-Sajjadiyya

Friday, 1 February 2013

Divine Attributes: Restoring a lost Equilibrium

Reza Shah-Kazemi
An important aspect of divine nature is expressed in the following definitive statement by the Prophet about the nature of God, 'Truly God is beautiful and He loves beauty.' The word used for equity here is Jamaal, one of the divine names being al-Jameel'the Beautiful.' 
It should be noted that the divine names, traditionally 99 in number, are collectively referred to the in the Qur'an as 'the most beautiful names'al-asmaa al-husnaa, the word for beautiful here coming from another root, that of hasuna, to be fine, good and beautiful. This description of the divine names comes in an important passage in the Qur'an in which several such names are mentioned:

He is Allah besides Whom there is no god; the Knower of the unseen and the seen; He is the Beneficent, the Merciful. He is Allah, besides Whom there is no god; the King, the Holy, the Giver of peace, the Granter of security, Guardian over all, the Mighty, the Supreme, the Possessor of every greatness Glory be to Allah from what they set up (with Him). He is Allah the Creator, the Maker, the Fashioner; His are the most excellent names; whatever is in the heavens and the earth declares His glory; and He is the Mighty, the Wise. [59:22-24]

Even though some of the divine names refer to the wrathful side of God, nonetheless, as a whole, they are given the epithet of 'beautiful,' and this fact in itself is full of significance. Even those qualities that, on the surface, appear not to be beautiful, those that refer to God as 'the Avenger' (al-Muntaqim) or 'the Slayer' (al-Mumeet), are in fact integrated within the framework defined by beauty. 

All these apparently 'negative' attributes are manifested in order to restore a lost equilibrium and this bring about harmony, and harmony is inseparable from beauty. In this way, all the divine qualities are described collectively as'beautiful': the totality of the acts of the attributes of God cannot be described as anything other than beautiful insofar as they are complementary, integrated, harmonious and therefore 'beautiful.' Beauty is not just one among a range of qualities and attributes; rather this quality paves the way to something absolutely fundamental and irreducible about the divine nature.

In addition, all of the 114 chapters of the Qur'an bar one begin with the basmala, the consecration: 'In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful' (bismi'Llaah al-Rahmaan al-Rahim). This likewise indicates the ontological precedence of beauty over other qualities, for the names of mercy refer to the gentle and, as it were, 'maternal' aspect of God (the root of the word for mercy, rahma is connected to the word for 'womb', rahim). Although it might seem more logical to balance out the formula of consecration by referring to a name expressing the rigorous side of God alongside one of these names of mercy, a repetition of the principle of compassion is found in stead. God is, above all else, merciful and compassionate. As the Qur'an says, 'My Mercy encompasseth all things' (7:156). 
The qualities of mercy, forgiveness and compassion all stem from the absolute goodness of God. Infinite goodness and absolute beauty, then, are inseparable within the divine nature and also on the plane of the human soul. As Frithjof Schuon so aptly puts it as he sums up the relationship between virtue and beauty in general with a particular pertinence to the relationship within the Islamic view of ethics, 'beauty is outward virtue, virtue is inward beauty.' (Frithjof Schuon, the Transfiguration of Man (Bloomington, 1995), p.113)

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