Beauty Beyond The Physical
"Beauty is when meaning arrives in the soul." Those were the words uttered by Prof Z while we were on the topic of art and people's perception of beauty.
Prof Z's statement definitely has its roots in Tan Sri Prof Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas’s view on 'ilm (knowledge), which he defines as “the arrival of meaning in the soul.” Knowledge, adab (manners), iman (faith) and beauty are all interconnected within the Islamic worldview. When things are in its proper places, it creates a harmonious ecosystem. Justice and order are the results of putting things in its rightful places.
There can be no beauty without knowledge, adab (read more here) or iman. Anything that beautifies our soul, also serves to beautify us outwardly. These days, it's hard to appreciate or even recognise true beauty when we are constantly being conditioned to believe that beauty is to fit society's ideals.
The film, fashion and beauty industry present beauty as a very narrow concept; they do little to explore the realms of beauty beyond what is physical. It wouldn't be problematic if the vast majority of people didn't rely on those industries to dictate how they feel about themselves but the reality is: we do. We become obsessed with mainstream ideals of beauty and reduce our self-worth when we don't live up to those standards.
In the pursuit of diversifying beauty, however, pop culture teaches us that beauty comes in all shapes, colours and sizes. Beauty is to be confident in our skin. Beauty is to embrace whatever our weight is. Beauty is to be proud of one's skin colour. All of this gives us the impression that beauty is diverse, but for as long as beauty is limited to the outer form, then beauty sounds a lot like an empty shell to me. As we age, our face and body goes through so much, it's absurd to me that people have to place their confidence and self-worth on something that wrinkles, stretches and blemishes.
“So Prof, do you think that’s why people these days have a skewed perception of beauty?” My question was met with an affirmative yes.
As I observed the way Prof Z interacted with his wife, I could see that their relationship transcended all that is superficial. Their love isn't the cheesy 'oh, he likes my laugh' kind of relationship. In her absence, Prof Z would praise his wife for her intelligence, her cooking, her characteristics. And in her presence, he did the same if not even more.
He told me about the time he stumbled upon a line in a book which says “The Sun appears more beautiful with patches of clouds.” He reflected on this and concluded that modesty accentuates one's beauty and that TRUE beauty is discovered.
It's hard to see the Sun's beauty when the skies are clear and blue. But when the Sun sits on a bed of clouds—its colour changes, its edges are crisp and all of a sudden, you get a much different version of the Sun. In the way that a headscarf and modest clothing hides a woman's sensuality and physical beauty, to reveal her innermost beauty, it's only with the help of surrounding clouds, that we get to appreciate the Sun's beauty without being blinded.
After much contemplation, Prof Z said he phoned his wife from his office to tell her that he’s fallen in love with her again. All this while, he shared this story with me in the presence of his wife and she looked at me all shy. Their kids are all young adults and here they are, very much in love with each other.
I see the kind of love that the Prophetic household is built on when Prof Z and his wife talk to each other. It isn’t infatuation, it’s nothing shallow. It’s true appreciation for each other’s inner-qualities. Prof told me: “Sarina, orang zaman skrg tak pandang memandang lagi.”
There was a big question mark in my head and it was probably plastered on my face, too.
“They don’t look into each other anymore,” Prof Z explained. Ahh, I thought to myself. And then I thought of all the times I failed to see the beauty in a person or an event in my life simply because I was unable to see the beauty within.
"Beauty is when meaning arrives in the soul," I thought to myself once more.
True beauty radiates from within. It is seen even when the face shows signs of sadness and exhaustion.
What I took home that day was that true beauty never fades; it increases as the years go by. Much like true love.