Narrated in a prophetic tradition is the phrase: ‘Indeed, God is beautiful and loves beauty’.
Contained within these words are divine subtleties which have come to symbolize a marriage between the Sacred and its manifestation in the world of forms. God through creation expresses His love for beauty, such that the Qur’ān describes the physical world as a collective of signs (āyāt) indicating upon the Divine Architect. Names such as al-Muṣawwir which describe God as the Designer-Architect, or al-Jamāl which means the Beautiful are from the ninety-nine Names of God invoked by Muslims. For God’s design to be appreciated or his beauty to be understood requires that there also be a manifest medium through which God is known.
In a Qur’ānic parable, Moses requests to see his Lord directly. Though he is denied such a vision, he is instructed to gaze upon a mountain. The Lord then discloses Himself through manifestation such that the mountain crumbles and Moses falls in a swoon of bewilderment. It is at this juncture that the Qur’ān guides the faithful to appreciate that found buried in creation are signs through which one can develop a deeper understanding of the Divine. The first stage of coming to know God the Qur’ān says, are signs within creation, stating: “We will show you Our signs on the horizons […]”, meaning the world of expression. So important is Sacred expression in knowing God, that for many Islamic thinkers such as al-Fārābī (d. 951) the natural world, art, sound and symbolism became just as important as the study of theology. It is quite clear that Islamic art and music played a central role in unveiling the Absolute. Whereas the intellectual sciences were a form of acquired knowledge, the path of beauty that art came to represent was a form of knowledge by presence, illuminating the heart of the seeker. It was deemed the presence of the Divine in the Sacred. The most important visual example being that of the Ka‘bah, the direction of Muslim canonical prayers. No more than a cube, it belongs to what has been termed as ‘proto-art’, with its spiritual significance corresponding to the inner dimension of Islamic revelation. Traditionally, covered with a vesture ‘kiswah’ which clothes the Ka‘bah, it is suggestive of being like a living body, a concept foreign to the Greco-Roman world, but found in Semitic tradition. The Ka‘bah is often referred to as the ‘house of God’ (bayt Allāh), symbolizing that God dwells in the innermost part of man. Similar to the Holy of Holies, residing in the Temple, the Ka‘bah rests in what is referred to as the Holy Sanctuary. In the Ka‘bah is but a curtain called the ‘Curtain of Mercy’. Of importance too is the black stone, which whilst having been described as coming from the heavens is not found in the centre of the Ka‘bah but is positioned in its corner, preserving its sacredness, but negating any claim of divinity. In preventing idolatry, one finds that Islamic art, architecture and calligraphy is free from sculptures or pictures of nature or people. Anything from Sacred geometry to woven carpets are designed to hold deep symbology, with an intention to highlight monotheism by showing unity in multiplicity, akin to how the Divine Names in all their diversity are unified in the name Allāh.
An equally important symbol is that of the Qur’ān, or the logos in book form. Beauty that one experiences in the natural world and the world of art in specific can be taken as a physical manifestation of the Qur’ān in the world of form. For Muslims the Qur’ān in book form represents the word of God, yet every detail from its calligraphy, to its melodious chanting is symbolic of the beauty of God in creation. It is a means of coming to know God through the senses which ultimately manifest in the heart and eventually the soul of a person.
As Islamic art is an outward expression of an inward reality, there developed in many ways a hierarchy of Sacred art in the medieval period. This consisted of Qur’ānic calligraphy, Sacred architecture and geometric patterns found in mosques, to dress, poetry, music and carpets. The purpose of each was to sanctify monotheism in one’s daily life – for instance, the beauty of Islamic dress was that it conformed to the primordial disposition of man and woman, encapsulating the Divine names al-Jalāl and al-Jamāl. Islamic dress came to reflect what it was to be human by capturing the prophetic nature, which meant that it reflected the names and qualities of God, but not God in form. Furthermore, the garb of Islam was always priestly, representing equality and one’s personal connection to God. Similarly across the Islamic world, one finds various styles of carpet, be they Persian, Afghan or Turkish. Traditionally a faithful would pray on their carpet, symbolizing the bringing forth of the celestial to the material plain of existence. The faithful would also eat on it or simply sit on it, representing an absence of bifurcation between the spiritual and corporeal realms. So important was Sacred space that even ceilings in a Mosque, such as the Grand Mosques of Damascus or Isfahan exhibit to this day timeless symbols of circles and squares reflective of the eternal archetypes. Suffice it to say, symbolism manifest in art form became an extremely important method of sacred expression. The main purpose of such expressions, it can be concluded was to guide the observer to the threshold of prayer and Holy Union by inciting the senses, with a final goal of touching the heart, even if it meant bypassing the mind. Throughout history, perennial truths have spoken to people through the language of beauty rather than abstract thought. Part of this universal language is an ability to convey divine mysteries. Thus, as abstract theology developed in the Islamic world, so did a theology of Sacred art and beauty.
 Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, Kitāb al-Īmān, Beirut, Dār al-Fikr, (Beirut, 1401 AH/1981), I, 60-61.
 Qur’ān, 7:143.
 Ibid. 41:53.
 Titus Burckhardt, Art of Islam, World Wisdom, Inc, (China, 2009), 1-4.
 Ibid. 1-4.