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16 June 2017

Beauty in Sufism: The Teachings of Ruzbihan Baqli

Beauty in Sufism: The Teachings of Ruzbihan Baqli - Kazuyo Murata

Murata cover

A monograph by Dr Kazuyo Murata, Beauty in Sufism: The Teachings of Ruzbihan Baqli, was published by the State University of New York Press on 1 June 2017.

Muhammad famously proclaimed, ‘God is beautiful and He loves beauty’. In a world, however, where politicized, militant Islam dominates the news, it has become almost counterintuitive to associate beauty with Islam. This book tells a story of beauty in Islam, forgotten by many Muslims and little known to non-specialists today. It examines a worldview that was current especially among premodern Muslim intellectuals, who saw God as beautiful in Himself and as creator of an inherently beautiful world, while regarding the pursuit of beauty at all levels (e.g., material, ethical, spiritual, and divine) as part and parcel of the life of a good Muslim.

This is the first book that provides a systematic conceptual analysis of beauty in Sufism, or Islamic mysticism. It takes as a case study the Arabic and Persian writings of a celebrated yet little-studied Sufi thinker, Ruzbihan Baqli (1128–1209), who presented some of the most fully developed discussions on the nature of beauty to be found in Muslim literature. He argued that striving to become a beautiful person, morally and spiritually, is the goal of Muslim life, for ‘God is beautiful and He loves beauty’ and To Him belong the most beautiful names (Q. 7:180). Ruzbihan emphasized the importance of trying to beautify one’s inner qualities in imitation of God so that one can reclaim the innate human nature created in God’s beautiful image.

To date Ruzbihan’s theory of beauty has been little known, largely because of his convoluted style and eccentric terminology in both Persian and Arabic. In this book, Dr Murata revives Ruzbihan’s ideas for modern readers. She provides an overview of Muslim discourse on beauty before Ruzbihan’s time; an analysis of key terms related to beauty in the Quran, Hadith, and Ruzbihan’s writings; a reconstruction of his understanding of divine, cosmic, and human beauty; and a discussion of what he regards as the pinnacle of beauty in creation, that is, the prophets, especially Adam, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and Muhammad, and its implications for human life.

In this story

Kazuyo Murata

Senior Lecturer in Islamic Studies