By Daniel Thomas Dyer, who is an author and artist and Creative Director of Chickpea Press. A great lover of poetry, he was called to Islam after falling in love with the beautiful poems of Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi.
I have often wondered why the Beautiful and the Joyful do not usually appear in Islam’s traditional lists of Divine Names. Most of the listed Names are in the Quran, and these two are not. So it might at first seem that God does not wish to be seen as beautiful or joyful.
However, the Quran does refer to the Divine Names as a whole as al-Asma ul-Husna, meaning “the Beautiful Names”. For example: To Him belong the Most Beautiful Names [59:24].[i] So perhaps all the Names together manifest beauty, and we could infer from this something about the nature of beauty itself: it is what we recognise when we perceive a certain coherence or wholeness.
Looking at a few of the Names – the Subtle (al-Latif) or the Balancer (al-Adl) for instance – can help us appreciate this. Most of us would accept that subtlety and balance play a role in creating beauty, and we can assume the other Qualities do too. In fact Muslims have sometimes attempted to divide the Names between Names of Beauty (Jamal Names) and Names of Power (Jalal Names), because the more gentle ones in particular seem to evoke this beauty, whereas the more stringent ones evoke a sense of power. Taken altogether, perhaps there is a sense of overpowering beauty.
A variation of Jalal normally appears individually among the Divine Names: there is al-Jalil (the Powerful, Mighty, or Majestic ). This tends to make the lack of a similar variant for al-Jamal appear all the more significant. Even though Muhammad said quite plainly, “God is beautiful and loves beauty”[ii], we might ask, Why does God not self- identify as the Beautiful?
Turning to the concept of God as the Joyful, the Quran does not name Allah as such. Allah is described as being pleased on a number of occasions due to the beautiful character or conduct displayed by men and women. Ridwan is one word used to describe Allah’s good pleasure, for instance: Return to your Sustainer well-pleased and well-pleasing [89:28].
Outside the Quran, we find Hadith Qudsi that powerfully communicate a sense of God’s joy. Rumi certainly sensed it, for he addressed God with these words, “You are joy and we are laughter,”[iii] and he makes it clear that joy is the result of witnessing God’s beauty. But despite these inspirational examples, the fact remains that the Quran is not explicit with regard to this quality of God either.
Could it be that these two qualities are best left to be discovered rather than pointed at too overtly? After all, no beloved should ever have to tell her lover she is beautiful, and the joy of love needs to be tasted in the secluded chamber of the heart. Perhaps it makes sense that Allah’s most ecstatic pronouncements are not found in the Quran but in the Hadith Qudsi, those intimate whispers from Allah to the beloved Prophet. Human experience teaches us that flaunting beauty or joy tends to diminish them. Is Allah’s shy reserve even meant to be a lesson to us?