(ḥusn, jamāl, zīna, naḍra, bahja, zahra, ḥilya)

Gibril Fouad Haddad

“Beauty” refers to the splendor and exquisiteness of both (i) the creation of the world as a reflection of the Divine (see Allah) attributes of PowerGenerosity, Perfection and Wisdom, and (ii) the Hereafter  and Paradise He has prepared for the Believers. It has seven main vocables with interrelated definitions: ḥusnjamālnaḍrabahjazahrazīna, and ḥilya, respectively derived from the roots ḥ-s-nj-m-ln-ḍ-rb-h-jz-h-rz-y-n, and ḥ-l-y. Two less explicit vocables also convey strong connotations of beauty even if they do not denote it in literal terms, karīm and yuḥbarūn, respectively derived from the roots k-r-m and ḥ-b-r. The rest of this entry analyzes these nine vocables as well as the themes of the beauty of Allah, of the Qurʾān, of the Prophet Muḥammad and the Prophet Yūsuf, upon them blessings and peace, and of Paradise and its dwellers.

Definitions and Usage

Seven Nouns Denoting Beauty

Ḥusn. As ḥusn, beauty is defined as “the contrary of ugliness” (Ibn Durayd, Jamhara, p. 535; Fārābī, Dīwān, 2:277; Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs, 2:57; Ibn Sīda, Muḥkam, 3:143; Saraqusṭī, Afʿāl, 1:366) and as the quality of every delightful and desirable matter from any one of three perspectives: intellectual, affective, or sensory (Rāghib, Mufradāt); thus it is closely related to the ethico-spiritual meanings of excellence. Cognates of ḥ-s-n occur 193 times, 24 of them as the intransitive verbal forms ḥasuna, “to be beautiful and excellent” (Q 4:69, 18:31, 25:76), and aḥsana, “to act beautifully and excellently” (Q 2:195, 3:172, 4:128, 5:93, 6:154, 10:26, 16:30, 17:7 x2, 18:30, 28:77, 39:10); and, in the transitive, aḥsana, “treat beautifully and excellently” (Q 12:100, 28:77) and “make beautiful and excellent” (Q 12:23, 18:104, 32:7, 40:64, 64:3, 65:11), most notably in the verses that repeatedly emphasize that Allah Most High creates human beings as exemplars of beauty, and He fashioned you, making your images beautiful and excellent (fa-aḥsana ṣuwarakum) (Q 40:64, 64:3). In the latter sense of fashioning, sawwā (to proportion) and ʿadala (to balance) also signify “to make beautiful” in the verses He Who created you, proportioned you and balanced you; in any image He wishes, He composes you (Q 82:7-8). Similarly, the description of the angel appearing to Maryam bint ʿImrān, upon her peace , as basharan sawīyyan (Q 19:16), is sometimes glossed as “a beautiful human being” (ḥasan al-ṣūra/al-shakl: Tafsīrs of Zamakhsharī, Qummī, Biqāʿī).

The nominal (ḥusn, iḥsān, muḥsin, aḥsan, ḥasana/āt) and adjectival (ḥasan, ḥasana, ḥusnā) forms reflect the same semantic register with meanings that are related to (i) this world, such as good deeds (Q 4:40, 6:160, 7:168, 11:114, etc.) including speech (Q 2:83, 41:33), intercession(Q 4:85) and repentance(Q 7:95, 27:11); good things (see Good and Evil) (Q 2:220, 3:120, 4:78, 7:131, 7:156, etc.); sustenance (Q 16:67, 16:75); almsgiving, zakāt  and abnegation as a beautiful and excellent loan to Allah (Q 2:245, 5:12, 57:11, 57:18, 64:17, 73:20), and deluded claims (Q 18:104; 35:8); (ii) the hereafter, such as rewards (Q 48:13) and Paradise as in the term ḥusn repeatedly put before the words maʾāb (transition) (Q 3:14, 13:29, 38:25, 38:49) and thawāb (reward) (Q 3:148, 3:195); eternal provision (Q 22:58); and (iii) Divine acts such as acceptance (see Supplication and Answer) (Q 3:37) and preservation (Q 3:37), promises (Q 20:86, 28:61), and the granting of victory (see Succor) (Q 8:17).

As an adjective, al-ḥusnā qualifies the Beautiful Names of Allah (q.v.) (Q 7:180, 17:110, 20:8, 59:24) and as a feminine noun it denotes (i) one of the names of Paradise in nine verses, among them: to both parties Allah has promised al-ḥusnā (Q 4:95); for those who act beautifully and excellently is al-ḥusnā and more (Q 10:26); and He requites those who act beautifully and excellently with al-ḥusnā (Q 53:31) (Ṭabarī); (ii) martyrdom (shahāda) and booty as the two good things (al-ḥusnayayn) (Q 9:52) (Ibn Qutayba, Gharīb); (iii) the claim of a good deed (Q 9:107) (Ṭabarī).

The noun al-iḥsān is also used as a reference to Paradise as a Divine reward in the verse Is the requital of iḥsān but Iḥsān? (Q 55:60) which uses the rhetorical figure of “alliterative semblance” (tajānus muzāwaja), whereby the reiteration of a term or its cognate implies consequentiality and additional meanings (Fayrūzābādī, Baṣāʾir, 1:70, Muqaddimāt, iʿjāz al-Qurʾān; 2:380, Fī wujūh al-kalimāt al-muftataḥa bil-jīm, baṣīra fīl-jazāʾ), as in for those who acted beautifully and excellently (aḥsanū) is al-ḥusnā, and more (Q 10:26). The noun aḥsan is used 34 times, of which five are superlatives in reference to Allah Most High as the most beautiful and excellent of creators (Q 23:14, 37:125), the Qurʾān as the most beautiful and excellent account (Q 12:3) and the most beautiful and excellent discourse (Q 39:23), and human beings as created in the most beautiful and excellent stature (Q 95:4), glossed as “the best-balanced physique (aʿdal khalq)” (Ibn ʿAbbās in Mujāhid, Tafsīr) and “the best image” (Ṭabarī). The rest are comparatives of superiority including rhetorical questions to which the answer is “none,” and who is more beautiful and excellent than Allah in coloring? (Q 2:138), and who is more beautiful and excellent than Allah in judging for a people who have certainty? (Q 5:50).

The agential noun muḥsin, literally “one who acts beautifully and excellently,” occurs 39 times in reference to Believers whom Allah declares loving (Q 2:195, 3:134, 3:148, 5:13, 5:93), “who perform all the obligations of Allah and shun all the prohibitions of Allah” (Ḥasan al-Baṣrī in Samʿānī, Tafsīr, sub Q 77:44), including Prophets (Q 37:80, 105, 110, 121, 131), and who are especially rewarded in Paradise (Māturīdī, Taʾwīlāt, sub Q 77:44).

Jamāl. As jamāl, beauty means “abundant ḥusn” (Rāghib, Mufradāt) with the added senses of (i) human volition with regard to actions and character (ʿAskarī, see below); (ii) large physique (ʿiẓam al-khalq: Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs, 1:481), “whence the camel was named jamal” (ʿAskarī, see below); (iii) wealth and tribe (ʿashīra), “as in the Qurʾān, and you have in them beauty (jamāl) when you take them up and when you run them out (Q 16:6), meaning horses and camels” when they are brought back into the stables at night and driven out to pasture in the morning (ʿAskarī, Furūq, pp. 262-263, §23; Farrāʾ, Maʿānī; Abū ʿUbayda, Majāz), “whence the Arabs named the camel jamal” (Samīn, ʿUmda, 1:341, sub j-m); and (iv) completeness in beauty (jamula al-shayʾ jamālan: tamma ḥusnuh, Saraqusṭī, Afʿāl, 2:270). Just like ḥasan (see paragraphs above),

jamīl was originally coined for the external form that is perceptible by eyesight; then it was transferred to the inward form perceived by insights as in “a beautiful life” (sīra ḥasana jamīla) and “a beautiful character” (khuluq jamīl). When the inward form gathers up all of its attributes of completion that are fit for it, it gives the possessor of insight that beholds it more pleasure, beauty, joy and emotion than that experienced by the onlooker at a beautiful form with external eyesight (Ghazālī, Maqṣad, al-Jalīl).

The sense of beauty is meant in eight out of the eleven cognates of j-m-l in the Qurʾān: once as a noun referring to horses and camels in the above-cited verse, and seven times as an adjective qualifying excellent behavior in adversity, enmity, and separation from spouses. These occurrences include:

·        the superlative patience (ṣabr) invoked by the Prophet Yaʿqūb, upon him peace (Q 12:18, 12:83)

·        and enjoined on the Prophet Muḥammad, upon him blessings and peace (Q 70:5);

·        the forbearance (ṣafḥ) enjoined on the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace (Q 15:85);

·        the amicable release of wives from marriage (sarāḥ, Q 33:28, 33:49)

·        and the gracious forsaking (hajr) of enemies enjoined on the Prophet (Q 73:10).

Jamāl is the ḥusn of a thing among the excellent attributes of its kind, and the beauty of patience is the most excellent of its aspects, which is that nothing should accompany it that would detract from the characteristics of its essence… and his saying to the distressed widow, ‘Patience is but at the first shock’ (innamā al-ṣabru ʿinda al-ṣadmat al-ūlā) [Bukhārī, Janāʾiz, ziyārat al-qubūr] means complete patience (Ibn ʿĀshūr, Tafsīr, sub Q 12:18).

Naḍra. Naḍra and naḍāra denote “effulgence” or the sending forth of intense light, from the root n-ḍ-r that points to the beauty of the human face and foliage (naḍara: ḥasuna: Farāhīdī, ʿAyn, 7:26; al-naḍāra: al-jamāl: Ibn Durayd, Jamhara, p. 752), with an added sense of flash and moisture (barīq wa-nadā: Azharī, Tahdhīb, 12:8). The noun naḍra occurs twice in reference to the appearance of the dwellers of Paradise: Allah deflected from them the calamity of that Day and He lavished on them naḍra and gladness (Q 76:11); You recognize in their faces the naḍra of bliss (Q 83:24), “meaning its luster (rawnaquh)” (Rāghib, Mufradāt). The adjective nāḍira occurs in an identical sense in the verses that serve as the proof for the doctrine of the vision of Allah (ruʾya, see Face of Allah) by the Believers in the Hereafter as mentioned in the Sura of Resurrection (al-Qiyāma): Faces on that Day are effulgent, beholding their Lord (Q 75:22-23). Effulgence in faces is glossed as brightness and clarity (al-bayāḍ wal-ṣafā) (Ṭabarī; Ibn Ḥajar, Fatḥ, 13:419, Tawḥīd, qawl Allāh taʿālā wujūhun yawmaʾidhin nāḍira) as well as beauty: “Nāḍira means beautiful, and they are entitled to be effulgent as they look at the Creator!” (al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī in Ṭabarī, Tafsīr); “Allah made them effulgent so that they could look at Him” (Muḥammad b. Kaʿb al-Quraẓī in Ājurrī, Sharīʿa, 2:989 §582; Suyūṭī, Durr). “al-Quraẓī affirmed the faces’ beauty before the vision as a preparation for them for the vision of their Creator, while al-Ḥasan viewed their beauty as a consequence of their vision; and both meanings are beautiful” (Abū Shāma, Ḍawʾ al-sārī, p. 31).

Those thus described in the Hadith include the 70,000 Friends of Allah who, the Prophet said, upon him blessings and peace, “shall enter Paradise in the image of / their faces like the full moon, without account, each of them bringing in 70,000 more” (Aḥmad, 1:203 §22, 14:326-327 §8707, 36:479-480 §22156; Tirmidhī, Ṣifat al-Qiyāma wal-raqā’iq wal-waraʿ, bāb 11, rated ḥasan), and whom he further described as “those whose faces will be light, who will be on daises (manābir) of light and in whose position Prophets and Martyrs shall yearn to be” (Abū Dāwūd, Ijāra, fīl-rahn; Tirmidhī, Zuhd, mā jāʾ fīl-ḥubb bil-Lāh, rated ḥasan ṣaḥīḥ; Aḥmad, 36:399-400 §22080, 37:540-542 §22906), “and their faces shall be com­pletely covered in light until Allah finishes with the sins of creatures” (Ṭabarānī, Kabīr, 8:112 §7527, rated good-chained: Haythamī, Majmaʿ, 10:492 §18001).

Such beauty begins in this world for those whose marks are on their faces from the traces of prostration (Q 48:29, see Bowing and Prostration) and, more particularly, for the scholars of Hadith as stated in the mass-transmitted report by nearly thirty Companions, “May Allah make radiant (naḍara/naḍḍara Allāh) the one who hears from us a hadith, preserves it, and conveys it as heard” (Abū Dāwūd, ʿIlm, faḍl nashr al-ʿilm; Tirmidhī, ʿIlm, mā jāʾ fīl-ḥathth ʿalā tablīgh al-samāʿ; Dārimī, Muqaddima, al-iqtidāʾ bil-ʿulamāʾ; Kattānī, Naẓm, ʿIlm, §4). Other evidence for the vision of Allah Most High includes (i) the counter-proof verse that asserts unbelievers will not be able to see Allah, nay, verily they are veiled from their Lord on that Day (Q 83:15) and (ii) the expression and more (wa-ziyāda) in the verse for those who act beautifully and excellently is al-ḥusnā and more (Tafsīrs of ʿAbd al-Razzāq, Ṭabarī, Zajjāj, Ibn Abī Ḥātim, sub Q 10:26), whereby the created servants of Allah will be allowed to behold the uncreated beauty of the Divine countenance on top of the created beauty (al-ḥusnā) of Paradise (cf. Baghawī, Tafsīr sub Q 6:103). A slightly different interpretation glosses al-ḥusna itself as the effulgence of the Believers’ faces (Rāzī, Tafsīr, sub Q 10:26).

Bahja. The noun bahja and its adjectival form bahīj are closely related to naḍra, nāḍira and are defined as “the beauty (ḥusn) of the color of a thing and its shine (naḍāra)” (Farāhīdī, ʿAyn, 3:349; cf. Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs, 5:439; Fārābī, Dīwān, 2:272, all sub b-h-j), together with a feeling of joy (surūr) (Ibn Durayd, Jamhara, p. 272; Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs) caused by the sighting of such beauty (bahija: sarra wa-aʿjaba: Saraqusṭī, Afʿāl, 2:90; al-bahīj: al-ḥasan al-ladhī yusirru nāẓirah: Samīn, Durr, sub Q 22:5), all the more since “bahja originally means gladness” (ʿAskarī, see next paragraph). The root b-h-j is used in connection with plants and vegetation as the context of its three occurrences: and with it [i.e. water] We made delightful (dhāta bahja) gardens grow (Q 27:60); it [i.e. the earth] quivers and develops and grows every delightful type in pairs (min kulli zawjin bahīj) (Q 22:5); and We caused to grow in it every delightful type in pairs (Q 50:7). The register of beauty is confirmed by the fact that two very similar verses mention karīm (see below) in the place of bahīj: how many a beautiful type in pairs (min kulli zawjin karīm) We cause to grow in it! (Q 26:7), and We caused to grow in it every beautiful type in pairs (Q 31:10). These verses serve to illustrate the Divine attribute of Power (qudra) as a proclamation of the reality of the Day of Resurrection (Māturīdī, Taʾwīlāt, sub Q 22:5), as confirmed by the challenge to create anything comparable in the verse that follows one occurrence (Q 31:11) and the mention of Resurrection in the verses that follow the other two (Q 22:6-7, 50:8-11).

The lexicographer of the Qurʾān Abū Hilāl al-Ḥasan b. ʿAbd Allāh b. Sahl al-ʿAskarī (d. 395/1005) addressed the differences between the above four vocables in his book on semantic nuances entitled al-Furūq al-lughawiyya (Lexicological differences) thus:

Ḥusn is used for actions and character, such as in one’s management of affairs (al-tadbīr), as well as for appearance of form and sound of voice, while bahja is a gladness (surūr) that makes the heart exult (yafraḥ), as bahja originally means gladness. The difference between ḥusn and jamāl is that the latter is what distinguishes and raises a human being in actions, character, abundant wealth, and physique. Originally, jamāl is for acts, manners and external states; then it became used as a term for forms (al-ṣuwar) (pp. 261-262, §23).

Zahra. The root z-h-r points to beauty and has but a single cognate in the Qurʾān, the noun zahra, which denotes that sense (ḥusn, bahja, zīna, naḍāra) in the verse And do not stretch your eyes to what We let them enjoy of spouses as the bloom (zahra) of the life of this world, so that We test them in that (Q 20:131), although its literal sense is the flower (nawr) of a plant (Farāhīdī, ʿAyn; Ibn Durayd, Jamhara; Fārābī, Dīwān, 1:139; Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs; Tafsīrs of Yaḥyā b. Sallām, Thaʿlabī, Samʿānī; Wāḥidī, Wasīṭ). The verse is a warning that material longings (amānī al-nafs) sever one from remembrance of Allah (Tustarī, Tafsīr). Another interpretation is that it refers not to beautiful wives but to orchards and fertile lands (Māturīdī, Taʾwīlāt). Both senses are among the pleasurable and desirable items that constitute temptation in various verses that refer to wealth (Q 8:28, 64:15), wives (Q 64:14) as well as relatives, tribe, wealth, trade and dwellings (Q 9:24), women… and tillage (Q 3:14), in sum, what We created on earth as its ornament (Q 18:7), which consists in “all things on earth” (Mujāhid, Tafsīr). The Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, summed it all up as “the world and women” in his hadith, “Verily the world is verdant and pretty (ḥulwa), and Allah indeed makes you successors [of previous generations] in it, then He watches how you act; therefore beware of the world and beware of women” (Muslim, Riqāq, akthar ahl al-janna fuqarāʾ wa-akthar ahl al-nār al-nisāʾ wa-bayān al-fitna bil-nisāʾ; Aḥmad, 17:260-261 §11169; Ṭabarī, Tafsīr). Among the meanings of the second warning are the extremes to which men’s lust for women push them to commit murder and other enormities (Qārī, Mirqāt, Nikāḥ, preamble) as well as marital tests (Nawawī, Sharḥ, Riqāq, akthar ahl al-janna fuqarāʾ etc.).

Zīna. Zīna is the noun derived from the root z-y-n, yielding the infinitive nouns zayn and zīna, defined as “the contrary of blemish (shayn)” (Farāhīdī, ʿAyn, 7:387; Fārābī, Dīwān, 3:411), “beauty” (ḥusn, bahja) (Azharī, Tahdhīb, 13:255) and “beautification” (ḥusn al-shayʾ wa-taḥsīnuh: Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs, 3:41), usually translated as “embellishment, adornment.” “One’s real zīna is what is never a blemish for one from any aspect, whether in this world or the Hereafter” (Rāghib, Mufradāt). There are 46 occurrences of the root, of which 27 are verbal in the sense of “make beautiful” and “make to seem beautiful” as in

(i)               the Divine adorning of the cosmos with heavenly bodies (see Stars and Planets) (Q 15:16, 37:6, 41:12, 50:6, 67:5);

(ii)            the Divine custom of testing humankind (see Trials and Strife) in the verse Fair-seeming to men is made the love of pleasurable things: women, children, heaped-up mounds of gold and silver, horses with marks, cattle and tilth (Q 3:14) and verses precluding inter-marriage with polytheists, as attractive and beautiful as they may be (Q 2:221, cf. Māwardī, Nukat, sub Q 60:10);

(iii)          the Divine reinforcement of the Believers’ predisposition to belief (Q 6:108, 49:7) (see Innate Nature);

(iv)          the Divine beguilement of the disbelievers (Q 2:212, 6:108, 6:122, 9:37, 10:12, 13:33, 27:4, 35:8, 40:37, 41:25, 47:14, 48:12);

(v)            the Satanic sworn seduction of the latter (see Deceit and Delusion; Oaths; Satan) (15:39); and

(vi)          nature’s spring (Q 10:24).

The remaining 19 nominal occurrences of the root all feature the noun zīna in the following meanings and contexts.

(i)               The Divinely-revealed origin of human dress (see Garments) is introduced by the verse O children of Ādam, We have sent down upon you clothes that cover your pudenda and outer garments (Q 7:26) in explicit contrast with the Satanic legacy of indecent disrobement mentioned in the next verse: O children of Ādam, never let Satan seduce you as he brought out your parents from Paradise by divesting them of their clothes to show them their pudenda (Q 7:27), followed by the mention of indecent man-made traditions (Q 7:28) and culminating with the abrogative verses, O children of Ādam, put on your adornments at every place of worship; Say: “Who dares prohibit the adornment of Allah which He brought out for His slaves?”; Say: “My Lord only prohibits indecencies, both outward and inward” (Q 7:31-33, see Abrogation; Commanding Good and Forbidding Wrong). Polytheists would circumambulate the Kaʿba naked and proscribe any clothing at that time (Tafsīrs of Mujāhid, Farrāʾ, Ṭabarī, sub Q 7:31). The Islamic adornments enjoined in Q 7:31 consist in the humble unsewn garments during the consecrated state of pilgrimage (see Hajj) and, outside it, in at least two pieces of garment such as “a loinwrap (izār) and mantle (ridāʾ); or a loinwrap and camise (qamīṣ, an ankle-length shirt); or a loinwrap and kebaya (qabāʾ); or trousers (sarāwīl) and a cloak (ridāʾ); or trousers and a camise; or trousers and a kebaya; or briefs (tubbān) and a camise” (ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb in Bukhārī, Ṣalāt, al-ṣalāt fīl-qamīṣ wal-sarāwīl wal-tubbān wal-qabāʾ).

(ii)            The Divine embellishment of the cosmos (Q 37:6) and human life (Q 11:15, 28:60, 33:28, 57:20) including equids (see Animals) (Q 16:8) is a sign of Divine power, wisdom and munificence as well as a test for all (Q 18:7, 18:28, 18:46) and a beguilement for unbelievers, such as the beautiful garb and huge wealth of both Qārūn who was subsequently swallowed up by the earth (Q 28:76-81) and Firʿawn (Tafsīrs of Muqātil, Ṭabarī, Thaʿlabī, sub Q 10:88) and his people, whose annual festival the Qurʾān calls “the Day of Beauty” (yawm al-zīna: Q 20:59), a term that may also signify their weekly market-day (Jawharī, Ṣiḥāḥ, 5:2132; Ṭabarī, Tafsīr).

(iii)          The figure of the calf which the Israelites fashioned out of their gold and silver ornaments is described as made from the zīna of that nation (Q 20:87) and out of their jewelry (ḥulīy: Q 7:148; see below) in reference to the Egyptians to whom it had first belonged (Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī, Qurṭubī, Ibn Kathīr; see Calf; Children of Israel).

(iv)          The zīna of Muslim women is mentioned four times in two verses that concern vestimentary rulings enjoining them to refrain from the attractive displays that typified pre-Islamic fashion (Q 24:31, 24:60) in other than private or family settings (see “Female adornments children are allowed to see” in Childhood and Youth), and denotes hennaed palms, rings, kohl (Baghawī, Tafsīr, sub Q 24:31), and “the adornments worn beneath [clothes], such as a necklaces, anklets, armlets and bracelets, whereas what shows is the clothes and the face” (Zajjāj, Maʿānī, sub Q 24:31).

Ḥilya. Another type of typically but not exclusively female adornment denoting beauty is the golden jewelry known as ḥulīy (singular ḥaly) and ḥilya, from the root ḥ-l-y which has nine occurrences and is defined as “what is worn of gold, silver and precious stones” (Ibn Durayd, Jamhara). Both of the above nouns occur in the Qurʾān in reference to (i) metallurgy, the process of what they heat up in the fire to extract metal ore from its gangue for adornment (ḥilyatan) or enjoyment, which produces foam and froth in the process (see Gold and Silver) (Q 13:17); (ii) the precious metals collected and melted for the confection of the golden Calf (Q 7:148, see above); (iii) the adornments (ḥilya) you extract from it (the sea) to wear them (Q 16:14, 35:12), glossed as “pearls and corals” (Ṭabarī); and (iv) the type of garb that typifies female upbringing in the verse that shows the fallacy of the polytheists’ attribution of daughters to Allah through the retelling of their own logic: is one brought up amid pretty ornaments (al-ḥilya), unnoticed in disputes, [fit to be a child for Allah]? (Q 43:18; cf. Mujāhid, Tafsīr). The remaining four instances are all verbal occurrences that refer to the Believers in Paradise (see last section below) being adorned (ḥullū, yuḥallawn) with its silver, gold and pearl armlets and green brocade and silk tunics (Q 18:31, 22:23, 35:33, 76:21), “how beautiful the wrist whereon both metals mix! It may also be that gold is for those brought near (muqarrabīn) and silver for the virtuous (abrār)” (Burusawī, Rūḥ, sub Q 76:21).

“Beauty” also has two auxiliary vocables in the Qurʾān which, although they do not literally denote it, nevertheless overwhelmingly imply it:

Karīm, literally “honorable,” “generous” (Farāhīdī, ʿAyn, 5:368; Ibn Durayd, Jamhara, p. 798; Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs, 5:172, all sub k-r-m), is glossed as “excellent and beautiful” (ḥasan, jamīl) in verses qualifying (i) entrance, i.e. into Paradise (ma/udkhalan karīman ay ḥasanan, wa-huwa al-janna: Baghawī, Tafsīr, sub Q 4:31; Zabīdī, Tāj, sub k-r-m); (ii) Divine provision (rizq) in the sense of Paradise (rizqan karīman: ḥasanan, yaʿnī al-janna: Baghawī, Tafsīr, sub Q 33:31); (iii) the reward (ajr) of Believers therein (ajran karīman ay ḥasanan: Māturīdī, Taʾwīlāt; Qushayrī, Tafsīr, sub Q 33:44); (iv) the gracious communication (qawl) of believing sons and daughters with their disbelieving parents (qawlan karīman: ḥasanan, jamīlan: Tafsīrs of Thaʿlabī, Baghawī, Zamakhsharī, Bayḍāwī, sub Q 17:23), consisting in “soft speech” (Tafsīrs of Baghawī, Biqāʿī, Jalālayn, Ibn ʿAjība) along with “beautiful and excellent manners, observance of the minutiae of dignity (muruwwa), modesty and decency” (Qummī, Gharāʾib); (v) the residence (mathwā) appointed by the King of Egypt for Yūsuf (akrimī mathwāh: ijʿalī manzilah karīman ḥasanan: Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf; Tafsīrs of Rāzī, Bayḍāwī, sub Q 12:21); (vi) every pair (zawj) in the plants of creation (Q 26:7, 31:10) (karīm: ḥasan: Tafsīrs of Muqātil, ʿAbd al-Razzāq, Ṭabarī, Ibn Abī Ḥātim; ʿAskarī, Furūq, p. 175, §12).

Yuḥbarūn, tuḥbarūn. The passive verbs plural yuḥbarūn (Q 30:15) and tuḥbarūn (Q 43:70), from the stem ḥ-b-r, denote revelling in Paradise and are usually glossed as they/you are lavishly honored (yukramūn/tukramūn: Tafsīrs of Muqātil, Ṭabarī, Zajjāj, Ibn Abī Ḥātim, etc.), blessed with all kinds of blessings (yunaʿʿamūn: Tafsīrs of Mujāhid, Ṭabarī) and made joyful (tusarrūn: Abū ʿUbayda, Majāz; Ibn Qutayba, Gharīb). They are indeed cognates of ḥabr and ḥabra, both defined as blessing (niʿma: Farāhīdī, ʿAyn, 3:218; Ibn Sīda, Muḥkam, 3:236), and of ḥubūr, defined as gladness (surūr: Ibn Durayd, Jamhara, p. 275; Saraqusṭī, Afʿāl, 1:329). However, these are all metaphorical senses (Abū ʿUbayda, op. cit.) as the original literal sense of the root is “the effect of beauty and grace” (al-athar fī ḥusn wa-bahāʾ: Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs, 2:127) and ḥabra is “extreme beauty” (al-mubālagha fī-mā wuṣifa bil-jamāl: Ibn Abī Zamanīn sub Q 43:70). The Baghdad grammarian Abū ʿAlī Muḥammad b. al-Mustanīr al-Baṣrī, known as Quṭrub (d. 206/821), said: “That ḥabr is beauty and handsome appearance is indicated by the saying of the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, ‘A man shall come out of the Fire with all his ḥabr and sabr (also ḥibr and sibr) having left him’ [Muṭarrif b. ʿAbd Allāh b. al-Shikhkhīr and Khulayd b. ʿAbd Allāh al-ʿAṣarī Mawlā Abū al-Dardāʾ in Ṭabarī, sub Q 37:55-57, both in maqṭūʿ mode as they are Successors; cf. Abū ʿUbayd, Gharīb, 1:220]” (Thaʿlabī, Kashf, sub Q 5:44); “meaning, all his beauty and grace (jamāluh wa-bahāʾuh)” (Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād, sub Q 5:44).

The rest of the six occurrences of the cognate all concern the scholars of the Jews, the aḥbār (singular ḥabr and ḥibr), thus named because of their use of ink (ḥibr) when writing (Ibn Fāris, op. cit.) (see Rabbis).

The Beauty of Allah Most High

The beauty of Allah is proclaimed in the Qurʾānic mentions of (i) His Face in the senses of His encompassement of all creation (Q 2:115), eternity (Q 28:88, 55:27), the absolute good (khayr) sought after by His oft-rememberers (Q 6:52, 18:28), and the givers of alms and zakāt (Q 2:272, 30:38-39, 76:9, 92:20) who pray, show fortitude, and requite evil with beautiful and excellent responses (Q 13:22); (ii) the splendor of Paradise that is their reward and defies description (Q 76:12-21; see below, “The Beauty of Paradise and Its Dwellers”); (iii) His beautiful Names and Attributes (Q 7:180, 17:110, 20:8, 57:1-6, 59:22-24), particular al-Ghaffār, “the Oft-Forgiving” (Q 20:82, 38:66, 39:5, 40:42, 71:10), glossed as “He Who shows what is beautiful and covers up ugliness and sins,” al-Majīd, “the All-Glorious” (Q 11:73, 85:15), glossed as “He Whose Essence is noble and Whose acts are beautiful” (Ghazālī, Maqṣad, al-Ghaffār and al-Majīd), and His Speech as represented by the Qurʾān (q.v., see below); (iv) His acts, as in the three verses He has treated me beautifully and excellently (qad aḥsana bī) by bringing me out of prison (Q 12:100)—from which the Andalusian exegete Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad b. Aḥmad al-Qurṭubī (d. 671/1273) inferred the Divine Name al-Muḥsin, “the Benefactor,” although “it is not mentioned in the Qurʾān as a name but as an act” (Asnā 1:512-513); Truly those for whom is already decreed by Us beauty and excellence… (al-ḥusnā) (Q 21:101), meaning “Paradise which Allah has foreordained for all Believers” (Mujāhid, Tafsīr); and His beautiful Word fulfilled for the Children of Isrāʾīl for what they patiently endured (Q 7:137); (v) His creation, including His Throne (q.v.), Footstool (q.v.), angels (q.v.), Paradise and its dwellers (see below), the visible universe and all it contains (see World), particularly human beings (see Humans), who are like its microcosms (Bayḍāwī, Tafsīr, sub Q 1:2, 2:34, 51:21) and the beauty of whom defies description (cf. Qurṭubī, Tafsīr; Ibn ʿĀdil, Lubāb, sub Q 95:4), most particularly Believers (q.v.), Prophets, and above all the Prophet Muḥammad, upon him and them blessings and peace (q.v. and Aḥmad, upon him blessings and peace; see below).

In the Sunna the beauty of Allah is explicitly mentioned in the hadith, “Allah is beautiful and He loves beauty” (Muslim, Īmān, taḥrīm al-kibr wa-bayānuh):

That is, He is beautiful in His Essence, His Attributes and His acts; and every type of beauty, whether of outward form or spiritual, are traces of His beauty; and He loves beauty in the sense of its appearance in His creatures. That is the reason He caused them to appear (aẓharahum) and made them manifestations of Him (maẓāhirah) (Qārī, Mirqāt, Ādāb, al-ghaḍab wal-kibr).

He loves for His servants to be characterized by embellishing traits such as noble deeds and meritorious characters that show forbearance, generosity, mercy, and forgiveness (Ṣanʿānī, Tanwīr, 3:294 §1714).

The Beauty of the Sublime Qurʾān

The Qurʾān is the Speech of Allah (Dārimī, Faḍāʾil al-Qurʾān, al-Qurʾān kalām Allāh) and a light (Q 7:157) especially lavished on the parents of its reciters, let alone the reciters themselves: “Those who recite the Qurʾān, complete it (akmalah) and put what it contains into practice, will dress their parents on the Day of Resurrection with a crown whose light is more beautiful (aḥsan) than the light of the sun on the houses of this world; what to say of the doers themselves?” (Aḥmad, 24:402-403 §15645; Abū Dāwūd, Witr, thawāb qirāʾat al-Qurʾān; rated ḥasan). Its beauty affects those who hear it: Allah sent down the most beautiful and excellent discourse (aḥsan al-ḥadīth), a consimilar Book, oft-repeated verses at which the skins of those who fear their Lord tremble, then their skins soften, as do their hearts, at the remembrance of Allah (Q 39:23).

It is most beautiful and excellent because it is uncreated, a consimilar Book in its inimitability (iʿjāz) and powerful eloquence (balāgha), and oft-repeated verses in which wisdom after wisdom are enumerated which one never tires of reciting. They are two types: [the first is] praise of Him through the mention of His power and his doing what is beautiful and excellent, and [the second type is] the attributes of Paradise and Hellfire, promises and threats. The skins of those who fear their Lord tremble when they hear the verses of threat then their skins soften, as do their hearts, at the remembrance of Allah when they hear the verses of promise. It is also said they tremble and soften with fear and hope; with constriction and expansion; with awe and familiarity; with manifestation and concealment (Qushayrī, Tafsīr).

The stylistic beauty of the Qurʾān is summed up by the exegetes with the term iʿjāz, literally “incapacitation” and usually translated as “inimitability,” which the major central Asian exegete Abū Jaʿfar Muḥammad b. Jarīr b. Yazīd al-Ṭabarī (224-310/839-923) takes up in his magnum opus, the thirty-volume commentary entitled Jāmiʿ al-bayān ʿan taʾwīl āy al-Qurʾān (Integrated elucidation of the interpretation of the verses of the Qurʾān) (Preamble; sub Q 2:23, 10:38, 11:13) where he states that the Torah, Psalms (see Zabūr) and Gospel (see Injīl) are all devoid of the stunning miraculousness of the Qurʾān (lā muʿjizata fī wāḥidin minhā: sub Q 1:7). Most importantly, Ṭabarī links the incapacitation of would-be imitators of the Qurʾān to the miraculous beauty of its style,

Among the noblest of those meanings in which our Book is superior to all others are its astonishing ordering (naẓmuh al-ʿajīb), its marvelous arrangement (raṣfūh al-gharīb) and its unique composition (taʾlīfuh al-badīʿ), which orators failed to produce the like of even with respect to the smallest sura, the structure of which the experts of high style fell short of producing even part of, and which left poets mind-boggled and the keenest minds bewildered at their own incapacity to produce anything remotely like it (sub Q 1:7).

The Beauty of the Prophet Muḥammad, upon him blessings and peace

The Qurʾān presents as sublime the legal paradigm of the Way (Sunna) of the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace: There is indeed for you in the Messenger of Allah a model of beauty and excellence (i/uswatun ḥasana) and for all who desire Allah and the Last Day (Q 33:21). The Prophet Ibrāhīm, upon him peace, is also mentioned as such a model (Q 60:4); however, “The latter is restricted to desisting from polytheism , which is the rule in every community without exception, whereas there is in our Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, a model of beauty and excellence in absolute terms (ʿalā al-iṭlāq) because it is in credal doctrines as well as in all the rulings of sacred Law” (Ibn ʿAṭiyya, Muḥarrar). More than that, there is congruence between the beauty of the Qurʾān and the beauty of the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, as expressed in the well-known reply of his wife the Mother of the Believers Umm ʿAbd Allāh ʿĀʾisha bint Abī Bakr al-Ṣiddīq (7bh-57/615-677): “His character (khuluq) was the Qurʾān” as she recited, You command a truly magnificent character (Q 68:4) (Aḥmad, 41:148-149 §24601). Another such congruence is the description of Allah Most High as light (Q 24:35), of the Qurʾān as a light (Q 7:157) and of the Prophet as light (Q 5:15). The latter aspect, moreover, was not only spiritual but also literal. It is one of the mass-transmitted yet under-exposed facts of the Prophetic Sunna that over forty Companions of the Prophet are authentically documented to describe him as effulgent and as a visible light both by day and in night-time (Haddad, Muḥammadan Light, pp. 45-76).

Another remarkable aspect in which the beauty of the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, stands out in the Qurʾān is in the mention of his physical appearance from head to foot, outward and inward, front and back, as documented by the Hadith master of Nishapur Abū Saʿd ʿAbd al-Malik b. Muḥammad b. Ibrāhīm al-Kharkūshī (d. 406/1015) in his book on the Prophetic attributes entitled Sharaf al-Muṣṭafā:

Allah Most High mentions the limbs of the Messenger of Allah, upon him blessings and peace, in the Qurʾān out of love for him and to compliment him. He mentions the Prophet’s life (nafs: Q 7:205, 18:6, 35:8), his face (wajh: Q 2:144), his eyes (ʿaynayn: Q 15:88), his sight (baṣar: Q 53:17), his ears (udhun: Q 9:61), his heart (qalb: Q 2:97, 26:193-194), his inner heart (fuʾād: Q 53:11), his speech (nuṭq: Q 53:3), his chest (ṣadr: Q 39:22, 94:1), his tongue (lisān: Q 19:97, 44:58, 75:16), his back (ẓahr: Q 94:3), his hands (yad: 17:29), his neck (ʿunuq: Q 17:29), his right hand (yamīn: Q 29:48, 33:50, 33:52, 69:45), his leg (rijl: Q 20:1-2, see below), his foot (qadam: Q 10:2), his frame (taqwīm: Q 95:4), his character (khuluq: Q 68:4), and his life (ʿamr: Q 15:72)—may Allah bless and greet him abundantly (4:186-188 §1455).

The mention of the Prophet’s leg lies in the Disjointed Letters (al-ḥurūf al-muqaṭṭaʿa, see Opening Letters of the Qurʾān) ṭa ha which stand for ṭaʾhā, the impera­tive singular of the verb waṭi’a, to tread, as supported by the report that the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, used to take turns between his two legs in prayer, standing on one then the other, until the verse was revealed, Ṭaha—i.e. tread the earth with both feet!—We have not revealed the Qur’ān to you to cause you difficulty (Q 20:1-2) (Bazzār, Musnad, 3:136 §926; Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf; Suyūṭī, Durr, rated ḥasan-chained; Lubāb).

The Beauty of the Prophet Yūsuf, upon him peace

The Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, referred to the Prophet Yūsuf upon him peace , as having been given “half of beauty” (shaṭr al-ḥusn: Aḥmad, 21:441 §14050, rated ṣaḥīḥ-chained). Another version states, “Yūsuf and his mother were given half of beauty” (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 12:31; Ḥākim, 2:570, rated ṣaḥīḥ-chained), namely Rāḥīl (Rachel) bint Lābān (Ibn Ḥazm, Jamhara, p. 504; Ibn ʿĀshūr, Tafsīr, sub Q 12:10). This aspect of his story is vividly illustrated in the passage of his eponymous Sura (Q 12) that recounts the ruler’s wife revenge against the gossiping townswomen of Egypt: “the ruler’s wife is enticing her servant-boy against his will; she has become possessed with love!” And when she heard of their scheming she sent for them and prepared for them a banquet on couches (see Cushions). She gave each one of them a blade then said [to him], “Come out and let them see you.” When they saw him they extolled him and sliced their own hands and said, “Allah forbid! This is no mortal! Truly this is no other than some gracious angel!” (Q 12:31).

It is said that she beautified him, dressed him up in the most attractive garments that she possibly could, and suddenly brought him out for them to behold. Nothing astonished them so much as the most beautiful and handsome creature of Allah emerging before them out of nowhere. They were seized with astonishment at that marvelous spectacle while holding in their hands knives with which they were slicing their food. They were so stunned they slashed their own hands without realizing. Thus she countered their verbal scheming with this dynamic scheming of unsurpassed effectiveness among women (Ibn al-Qayyim, Tafsīr, p. 315; on Q 12:31 see also Childhood and Youth).

The Beauty of Paradise and Its Dwellers

The Qurʾān abounds in highly moving and motivational descriptions of Paradise and its dwellers. Believers, their foreparents, spouses and offspring (Q 13:23, 36:56, 40:8, 43:70) will bask in its luxuries with Paradisial bliss (ḥubūr, see above). These descriptions revolve around beauty and abundance, notably in the Suras of the All-Merciful (al-Raḥmān, Q 55), the Due Event (al-Wāqiʿa, Q 56), and Man (al-Insān, Q 76), including passages that mention

·        pleasurable food and drink (Q 2:25, 52:22, 56:18-21, 56:32-33, 78:32, 78:34, 77:42-43, 83:25-28) which have a beauty and taste far surpassing their worldly homonyms (Ibn ʿAbbās in Ṭabarī, sub Q 2:25), culminating in the verse and their Lord gives them to drink an all-purifying beverage (Q 76:21) “because it purifies their inner selves… whereby purity takes place in preparation for the reflection of the light of Divine beauty in their hearts, which is the utmost goal of the stations of the most truthful friends of Allah” (ṣiddīqīn: Burusawī, Rūḥ);

·        pleasant shade (Q 4:57, 13:35, 56:30, 77:41);

·        free-flowing rivers and springs of water, milk, wine, and honey (Q 2:25, 3:136, 3:195, 3:198, 4:13, 47:15, etc.);

·        dais, couches, cushions (Q 15:47, 18:31, 36:56, 55:54, 76:13, 83:23, etc.) and garments of silk and brocade (Q 18:31, 35:33, 44:53, 76:21); and

·        gold, silver and pearl jewelry (Q 18:31, 22:23, 35:33, 76:21) as well as dishware and drinkware of the same (Q 43:71, 76:15, 88;14).

The Qurʾān especially mentions the most endearing wives (ʿuruban, Q 56:37) of Paradise who only have eyes for their husbands (qāṣirāt al-ṭarf, Q 37:49, 38:52, 55:56). They are called ḥūr (feminine singular ḥawrāʾ, see Houris; masculine singular aḥwar) (Q 44:54, 52:20, 55:72, 56:22), a term used either for “those who possess very black pupils, perfectly round irises and very white sclera” (Ibn Sīda, Muḥkam, sub ḥ-w-r) or “for the eye to be all black, like gazelles and feral cattle” (Fārābī, Dīwān, 3:415; Jawharī, Ṣiḥāḥ, 2:639, sub ḥ-w-r). They are further described as ʿīn, (fem. singular ʿaynāʾ, masc. singular aʿyan) (Q 37:48, 52:20, 56:22), defined as “wide-and-beautiful-eyed” (Ibn al-Anbārī, Zāhir, 1:27 §8, qawluhum “Allāhumma innā naʿūdh bik min al-ḥawr baʿd al-kawr; Fayyūmī, Miṣbāḥ, 2:440, sub ʿ-y-n), also a praised attribute of feral cattle (Jawharī, Ṣiḥāḥ, sub ʿ-y-n; ʿAskarī, Talkhīṣ, p. 379, min asmāʾ baqar al-waḥsh); the like of treasured pearls (Q 56:23), reminiscent of ruby and coral (Q 55:58), youthful/rejuvenated (Q 56:35) virgins (Q 55:56, 55:74, 56:36) same-aged (atrāb: Q 38:52, 56:37, 78:33) as one another (Tafsīrs of Mujāhid, Abū ʿUbayda, sub Q 38:52) or as their spouses (Māwardī, Tafsīr) in the sense that they are not jealous of one another (Ṭabarī, sub Q 38:52), with full-grown breasts (kawāʿib, Q 78:33; cf. Ibn Durayd, Jamhara, 1:365, sub b-ʿ-k; Qaysī, Īḍāḥ, 1:449 §117), but they do not menstruate(muṭahhara: Q 2:25, 3:15, 4:57; see Ṭabarī, sub Q 2:25), always keeping to their high chambers (Q 39:20, 55:72, 56:34), like eggs carefully hidden (Q 37:49).


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See also

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