“God is Beautiful and He Loves Beauty”
The Prophet (ﷺ) said: “No one will enter Paradise who has an atom’s weight of pride in his heart.” A man said, “What if a man likes his clothes to look good and his shoes to look good?” He said, “Allah is beautiful and loves beauty. Pride means denying the truth and looking down on people.” – Muslim
“Allah loves to see the effects of His blessing on His slave.” – Tirmidhi
When one travels in the Muslim world, what becomes apparent for even the most inattentive of travellers is the sheer amount of beauty that was imbued in the daily lives of Muslims. From a home in a Moroccan riyad, to a grand Imperial Ottoman mosque, to the bazaars full of craftsmanship and artistry, and then even to the tombs and graves of the righteous, from the cradle to the grave, Muslims used ethereal beauty to remind them of true Divine beauty. By infusing one’s life with things that are aesthetically appealing, it leads to healthy spiritual growth and a tame heart that is preserved from rancour and malice.
Reflecting on this in the so called post modern world, it gives us an indication of our current state of affairs. Here in the United Kingdom most Muslims grow up, not around imperial mosques, but housing estates. The “Islamic ornaments” on their walls at home weren’t made by a master in a guild working hours on end, it was mass manufactured in a factory in China (most likely by a non-Muslim). There are no rose gardens to hear nightingales sing, no bazaars to see artisans hard at work, all of this adds up to reflect on the kind of spiritual life we end up having. This isn’t just a problem with Muslims, it affects all people. One can see in any environment, when you replace craftsmanship with mass manufacturing, it leads to a number of adverse ends. Workers in sweatshops with dismal working lives, go home and reflect their state in the their families, they buy goods made in other sweatshops and the people working there do the same thing. Eventually you will end up with what happened in the north of England and those factories become too expensive to operate and maintain, they’re shipped to cheaper areas in the Far East, the workers in England lose their jobs, and in most cases the working environment for the people in the new areas of manufacture are much worse that what their colleagues in Europe put up with.
While some people turn to crime, Muslims I have noticed tend to turn to conservative and narrow minded religiosity, in an environment that doesn’t promote beauty and spirituality this is to be expected. Taking into account the fact that most Muslims in the UK (and much of the western world) live in working class communities, it makes sense that many of us choose not to build elaborate mosques, or to wear tailored made clothes, or decorate our homes with ornate calligraphy. But I think we should. It could be argued that the mosques are already quite large and elaborate, but are they actually beautiful? I suppose it’s subjective, but does the beauty of our mosques infuse good character into us? They certainly do in Turkey, forget about the Suleymaniye and Sultanahmet, every mosque I’ve been to in Turkey, be it large and small, is beautiful, and it’s reflected in the character of the Turkish people, especially amongst those who frequent the houses of Allah (“How great is that army that conquers Constantinople…”). In the west when we choose to build a “beautiful” mosque we unfortunately model it on the definition of beauty as defined by the Gulf states, which is essentially defined by the “the larger/bigger/taller/more expensive the better”, which is far from the truth.
Many young Muslims (myself included) who become inclined to a more spiritually minded Islam, inevitably come across tales of asceticism (zuhd) and poverty related to the time of the Prophet (ﷺ) and the pious early generations. When reflecting on these accounts with our modern state of luxury in the developed world, it leads to a sense of inadequacy when seen in the light of those luminaries, and it makes one feel as though one should try their utmost in humbling oneself by the material things one is surrounded with, in some cases that means buying cheaper goods so as to protect ourselves from the temptations of the world. But when one looks at the hadiths quoted above this is not necessarily the case. It is dependent on how the heart is attached to the things of this world, if one wears nice clothes, and decorates one’s house, as long as the heart isn’t saddened by the loss of those things, it’s a sign that one is humbled by what Allah (ﷻ) has given. Indeed, if one looks at the lives of the spending of some pious early Muslims they may be considered extravagant in today’s terms: Nu’man bin Bashir (or it may have been Tamim bin ‘Aws al-Dari, I can’t remember) would wear an expensive thawb just for the night vigil. Imam Malik would wear a turban that cost 500 dirhams (silver pieces). Imam Abu Hanifa was a highly successful cloth merchant in Baghdad and would always dress as such, and insisted his students do similar. Imam Abu’l Hassan al-Shadhili would adorn himself with elegant clothing, so much so one of the Sufis who were more attuned to poverty remarked to him “Why do you display your riches to people?”, to which he responded “Why do you display your poverty to people? I keep my needs between myself and my Lord, whereas you make a show of them”.
For Muslims who find themselves in possession of a comfortable income, especially those of us from a South Asian background highly renowned for our frugal spending, it’s time we invest in higher quality goods and support Muslims businesses that encourage quality. And thus we enable ourselves to act upon the hadith of the Prophet (ﷺ), if we imbue ourselves with aesthetical beauty, as long as we do not let it take over our hearts, it will, God willing, lead to spiritual beauty. To this end I’ve created a list of Islamic related businesses which I have found ensure quality and workmanship in what they produce and sell. It is not an exhaustive list and I would encourage others to feel free and post in the comments section others whom they feel should be added to it and I will update accordingly.
Arts and Crafts
Dhikr Factory – Prayer Beads
Ian Abdul Lateef Whiteman – Typesetting, calligraphy, graphic design
Josh Berer – Calligrapher (Josh isn’t Muslim but his Arabic calligraphy is beautiful)
Mohamed Zakariya – Calligrapher
Muhammadan Press – Computer based calligraphy and design
Peter Sanders – Photographer
Prayer Bead Store – Prayer Beads(!)
Qashif Masud – Woodworker
Uns Fine Crafts – Prayer beads, jewellery, perfume
Ensar Oud – Oud oils
Oudimentary – Oud oils and wood