Aesthetics and Artistry in the Qur'an
By its very nature, the human soul is inclined to derive pleasure from items that are beautiful and aesthetic. However, this sense manifests itself and develops with respect to one's faith and wisdom.
Aware that Allah is the Creator of all beauty, believers feel excited when they encounter this beauty and try to appreciate His Might and Artistry in the best possible way. Their longing for Paradise adds to their ability to enjoy beauty. Moreover, pondering upon the Qur'an's description of the torments of Hell and comparing them help people appreciate the worth of aesthetics, which gives pleasure to their soul.
The Qur'an's verses concerning Paradise also serve as a guide to believers, for they describe the aesthetics and beauty that Allah has chosen for them. These are the kinds of beauty and aesthetics that please Allah. Moreover, He has promised to reward His servants with such beauty in Paradise. In light of these signs, believers try to create such an environment for themselves in this world, and thus attain a lifestyle characterized by abundant beauty.
Beauties Allah Presents
One of Allah's favors to believers in this world is ornaments. Allah created gold and silver jewelry, pearls, precious fabrics, and many other goods mentioned in the Qur'an to give humanity pleasure. The beauty that Allah will grant to His true servants in Paradise are praised:
They will wear green garments of fine silk and rich brocade. They will be adorned with silver bracelets... Surat al-Insan: 21
In this verse, Allah draws our attention to the value of silk and brocade. As the verse maintains, silver jewelry is one of the ornaments that Allah created for humanity. For example, silver bracelets are mentioned in many verses.
Another verse stresses the beauty of gold bracelets and pearls:
But Allah will admit those who believe and do right actions into Gardens with rivers flowing under them, where they will be adorned with gold bracelets and pearls, and where their clothing will be of silk. Surat al-Hajj: 23
Allah has indicated that pearls are distinguished ornaments that will be granted to believers as rewards in Paradise.
In return for all of this beauty, people are asked only to give due thanks to Allah and live according to His commands. Those who do so will be rewarded with Paradise and will receive infinite favors and beauty for all eternity. Otherwise, they may make temporary use of the means existing here, none of which will help them on the Day of Judgment, when all people will have to account for their deeds. Eventually, such people will deserve Hell, a place of eternal and utter malice.
Allah, Who has given humanity the best form, also has inspired people to derive pleasure from aesthetic things. Among all created beings, only humans are cognizant of the concept of "beauty." People not only enjoy beautiful things, but also try to produce them.
Through some signs in the Qur'an, Allah praises aesthetics, beauty, and fineness, and encourages His servants to enjoy them. In the Qur'an, He stated that His "beautiful (gifts), which He has produced for His servants, and the things, clean and pure (that He has provided) for sustenance" are "in the life of this world, for those who believe, (and) purely for them on the Day of Judgment." Surat al-A'raf: 32
As the verse maintains, all beautiful and delicate things inworld are for believers who can appreciate them. In the hereafter, on the other hand, many other things that are incomparably better will belong only to them.
Every single beauty is a work of art that belongs only to Allah, the Creator of everything. This is why all beauty impresses believers, and why all believers give thanks to Allah and are drawn ever closer to Him by every favor. Some details related to Prophet Sulayman (as)'s life convey several signs about this issue. In the following verse, Prophet Sulayman (as) explains why he enjoys wealth, power, and magnificence:
And he said: "Truly do I love the love of good, with a view to the glory of my Lord"... Surah Sâd: 32
As the verse makes clear, possessions, magnificence, and wealth, all of which might lead unbelievers astray, are only means for believers to thank Allah and earn His good pleasure.
The works of art made for the Prophet Sulayman (as) show his excellent taste in the arts. The Temple of Solomon, of which only a wall remains today in Jerusalem, was a glorious palace that is mentioned in the Old and New Testaments, the Qur'an, and many historical documents and scrolls. As the Qur'an narrates, when the Queen of Saba entered it, she mistook its floor for a pool, not realizing that it was paved with glass. This was truly an unusual technique for that time. When she encountered the palace's magnificence, she submitted to the Prophet Sulayman (as)'s wisdom, art, and knowledge and converted to the true religion.
The story of the Prophet Sulayman (as) is a striking example for believers, for it reveals the Muslims' outstanding artistic and aesthetic abilities. In the recent past, we also have seen a brilliant understanding of the arts, mainly in those nurtured by the Ottoman Empire. The most important factor behind the value of Ottoman art was the inspiration it derived from the Qur'an and the subsequent application of its signs in arts.
The Qur'an provides many details and examples about decoration, and gives many clues about decoration, ranging from the proper areas in which to construct residences to interior decoration.
Verses that describe Paradise refer to such signs and, in addition to giving a detailed account of its environment, guide people so that they can attain the most pleasant places in this world.
Some of the decorative elements featured in the Qur'an are as follows:
And the House frequented, and the roof exalted. Surat at-Tur: 4-5
Being spacious and large, places with high ceilings provide some relief to the human soul. They also look beautiful. Low ceilings, on the other hand, cause distress. That this is one of Hell's torments gives us a better understanding of what kind of an affliction the inhabitants of Hell will face. Implied in Allah's drawing attention to Hell's low, cramped, and constricted places is the possible assertion that we should not prefer such places in this world.
Silver Ceilings and Stairways
(We would have given) silver roofs to their houses and silver stairways to ascend. Surat az-Zukhruf: 33
Other decorative elements mentioned in the Qur'an are silver ceilings and high stairways. Allah gives all these beauties as blessings to humanity, but He also reminds us that these are merely the trappings of the life of this world and that our real home is in the hereafter.
… (We would have given) silver doors to their houses and silver couches on which to recline, and gold ornaments... Surat az-Zukhruf: 34-35
This verse draws attention to the aesthetic and artistic value of doors as decorative elements: "doors to their houses." Apart from their functional use, doors, which may be of silver, gold, or engraved wood, or adorned with glass, may be used as decorative ornaments at the house's entrance or elsewhere inside. Indeed, Ottoman art made extensive use of this style and also embellished doors of various sizes and designs in palaces, mansions, and houses.
Iram of the columns, whose like was not created in any land – Surat al-Fajr: 7-8
As we learn from the Qur'an, Iram, the city of the people of 'Ad, was strikingly beautiful due to its glorious architecture, which mainly consisted of high columns. The Qur'anic account of Iram indicates the beauty and imposing appearance of high columns.
Couches Embroidered with Jewels
The Qur'an frequently refers to couches, describing them as gifts that Allah grants to those of His servants with whom He is pleased:
… and raised-up couches, and set-out goblets, and lined-up cushions, and spread-out rugs. Surat al-Ghashiyya: 13-16
Couches that are both comfortable and striking in appearance are ideal seats for people. Furthermore, they can be embellished and made more splendid. We read:
On sumptuous woven couches, reclining on them face to face. Surat al-Waqi'a: 15-16
The comfort provided by couches are especially stressed in the following verses:
Reclining in it (Paradise) on couches, they will experience there neither burning sun nor bitter cold. Surat al-Insan: 13
The Companions of the Garden are busy enjoying them today, they and their wives reclining on couches in the shade. Surah Ya Sin: 55-56
Gardens of Eden, whose gates will be open to them, where they will recline... Surah Sâd: 50-51
They will recline on couches ranged in rows... Surat at-Tur: 20
Elevated Couches and Beds with Rich Silk Brocade
And on elevated couches. Surat al-Waqi'a: 34
Elevated couches and divans, decorative elements in Paradise, provide a much wider view than the low ones. Eventually they provide relief:
They will be reclining on couches lined with rich brocade, the fruits of the Gardens hanging close to hand. So which of your Lord's blessings do you both then deny? Surat ar-Rahman: 54-55
This verse draws attention to the beauty of using rich silk brocade on couches and beds. Rich silk, which is an elaborate and thick form of silk, is a very precious and aesthetically pleasing fabric. When embellished with rich designs and fine thread, rich silk gives a couch a more impressive appearance.
Reclining on green cushions and beautiful carpets. Which then of the bounties of your Lord will you deny? Surat ar-Rahman: 76-77
Cushions are another beauty mentioned in the Qur'an. Besides cushions, the verse also points to the significance of green, the peace-giving nature of which has been confirmed by modern science.
Golden Trays and Cups
Platters and cups of gold will pass around among them, and they will have there all that their hearts desire and in which their eyes find delight. You will remain in it timelessly, for ever. That is the Garden you will inherit for what you did. Surat az-Zukhruf: 71-72
Allah informs us that cups in Paradise also will have artistic and aesthetic value. As the verse further maintains, these materials are the blessings "that their hearts desire and in which their eyes find delight."
Vessels of Silver and Goblets of Pure Crystal
Aside from golden trays and cups, we learn that silver and goblets of pure crystal will be available in Paradise. The verses read:
Vessels of silver and goblets of pure crystal will be passed round among them, crystalline silver – they have measured them very exactly. Surat al-Insan: 15-16
Those who live by Islam's principles will be rewarded with the eternal life of Paradise and with numerous blessings from which their souls will derive pleasure. Indeed, believers will reside in mansions and gardens with unprecedented decoration, and will be served drinks from the springs of Paradise with golden trays, crystalline cups, and goblets. As we read:
On couches face to face; a cup from a flowing spring passing round among them. Surat as-Saffat: 44-45
These gifts of Paradise cannot be compared to their copies in this world. However, Allah provides His servants with numerous favors in this world that may resemble those of Paradise. In return for these blessings, believers should appreciate and enjoy them, and feel thankful to Allah, our Lord.