The Challenge of Beauty: Striving for Perfection in an Imperfect World
“God is beautiful and loves beauty.” -Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him
One of the great mysteries of life is its inextricable beauty. Mankind is surrounded by a wondrous universe. From the depths of the night sky upon the vastness of the seas to hearing a bird’s song while tasting a pear plucked from the tree, beauty surrounds us at every turn of our lives. And yet, beauty is not so superficial that it’s limited to our sensory perceptions. We find beauty in the smile of a grandmother, wrinkled as she may be. We find beauty in the pages of a book, nerve-racking as the plot may be. We find beauty in the footwork of the athlete, grueling as the sport may be. We find beauty in the pitter patter of raindrops, scary as the storm may be. What is it about these disparate things that cause us such admiration?
Some may argue that the world is not so beautiful after all. Pain. Arrogance. Anger. Jealousy. Hatred. Greed. However, isn’t it true that each comes with its own antidote? Joy. Humility. Compassion. Generosity. Love. Sacrifice. For those who are adamant, beauty can be found or created in every situation, amidst every challenge, through every difficulty, and even within every ugliness, where the only place we find beauty may be in the hope that things get better.
Arabic has a word for beauty generally: jamal, as in the quote, “God is beautiful and loves beauty.” Arabic also has a word for beauty that people can attain through action: ihsan, beauty that emanates from the perfection of good deeds. Written in the Quran is a command: “...and do ihsan. God loves the doers of ihsan” (Quran 2:195). Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, defined the term thus: “Ihsan is to be aware of God as if you see Him, knowing that if you do not see Him, He sees you” (Bukhari, Muslim). Taken together, when someone strives to constantly be aware of their purpose and live up to their highest ideals as much as possible, even if they falter at times, that’s beautiful. As Rumi famously said, “Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.”
Beauty has many other dimensions to explore. There is beauty in social harmony. As Dr. Cornel West recently said, “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” There is the portrayal of beauty in popular culture, which leads to issues dealing with body image and self-esteem against impossible expectations. There is beauty in diversity amidst the disease of racism. There is beauty in “a word of truth spoken to an unjust ruler.” The list goes on...
How do you define beauty? How do you think we can we make our world more beautiful? How can we make our nation “a more perfect union?” How can we make our homes and communities more loving spaces? How can we sculpt ourselves and our characters to emanate more beauty? Finally, how do we reconcile our struggle for perfection with our human limitations and frailties?
We challenge you to take a deeper look and analyze the various concepts surrounding this theme. You have a chance to explore these concepts and more in the competitions and workshops of MIST this year, at both the Regional and National levels. Remember, competitive submissions with the most creativity and insight earn the greatest points.