I have been reflecting a lot on Surat al-Kahf lately. Aside from the many lessons we can take away from its stories, it serves as a personal reminder that as a community we will struggle with different phases and stages. As Muslims, some of us may be in the Cave state, just like the first Muslims that were attending secret gatherings in Dar al-Arqam in Mecca to solidify their faith while avoiding persecution. As we develop and gain strength we begin searching for more knowledge, wherever that may take us (Al-Khidr and Musa) and then insha’Allah we reach a point that we have righteously responsible leaders (Dhul Qarnain). This beautiful progression is seen as an overall thematic of the surah, and yet I want to focus on a progression that hits closer to home for me, what I consider so intimately tied to me, that separating away from it may be likened to losing an appendage.
Allah mentions beauty three times in Suraht al-Kahf.
When we consider the idea of beauty, we often think of what is aesthetically pleasing. The first time Allah mentions the word beauty (zeena) in the Surah, it is precisely with this meaning.
Indeed, We have made that which is on earth as an adornment for it, in order that We may test them as to which of them are best in deeds.
Our first observation of this aya is that beauty is everywhere. Allah even mentions in the Qur’an that there is beauty in an’aam (cattle). Do you see beauty when you glance at a cow? SubhanAllah, I think we often fail in the way we interpret what is beautiful. Who has it and who lacks it. Who desperately needs it as is said with the quick glib of the tongue “well, if she would just…”
We see secondly in this aya that beauty is a test from Allah. This may come as a shock at first. I mean, when I think of beauty, I usually gravitate towards images of Allah’s creation in nature. Pretty fall leaves, waterfalls, the ocean, a clear blue sky with no humidity…how is this a test? Am I noticing this beauty and remembering the Creator of the trees, beaches, and sky? Maybe I love this beauty so much, that I never want to escape from it; that I am not mentally preparing myself of its temporality. Allah follows this aya by saying,
And indeed, We will make that which is upon it [into] a barren ground.
It’s not here to stay. Just as Allah gives us summer, He gives us winter. Just as Allah gives us health and prosperity, we become ill and lose jobs. Just as Allah has given us fertility, He will also make us barren. Barren and dry- just thinking about it is enough to parch our throats.
In the first verse on beauty in Surat al-Kahf, we see three major themes: a) Beauty is all around us- are we finding it in the mosquitoes that bite us? b) Beauty is a centrifuge, separating those who are best in deed with those who are not and c) The beauty of this Earth is temporary. It will most definitely be taken away.
We may think this is all too general, that I could go on with my life mentally preparing myself of its temporality, that I can appreciate beauty while distancing myself from it. Hmm, maybe we tend to forget what Allah means when He declares that everything on this Earth is adorned- even (and especially) our friends. The second time we notice the word zeena used in Surat al Kahf, Allah gives us a command:
And keep yourself patient [by being] with those who call upon their Lord in the morning and the evening, seeking His countenance. And let not your eyes pass beyond them, desiring adornments of the worldly life, and do not obey one whose heart We have made heedless of Our remembrance and who follows his desire and whose affair is ever [in] neglect.
This aya is heavy. Allah is telling us to remain with those that remember Allah, not because they are cutting a deal with Him or petitioning for an easier life, but because they are seeking the ultimate beauty- an opportunity to see Him. There’s a reason why our Christian counterparts call it the Beatific Vision.
Sometimes though, it’s hard to find such friends and we fear what it means to be with people who are devoted to God. Will they judge me? Will I be able to step up as a Muslim? I have so many flaws, I don’t want them to find out about them because then I might get stoned.
A word of advice- take the leap that’s required. Be close to them- they have flaws too and you both will be able to help one another and keep each other in check. The beauty of this world will always be there to taunt us and if we end up stumbling, cracking, succumbing- we know that those who remember Allah in the morning (while most are sleeping) and the evening (when many are partying) will help pick us back up.
(From the query of a pretty cool student, the context of this verse is actually directed to the Prophet Muhammad (sas) when the Quraysh told him it would be offensive if the “weak” companions were to accompany him as they sat with the Qurayshi leaders. This is when Allah commanded the Prophet (sas) to remain patient with those who remember Him. Here is more specific info on the aya.)
This beauty thing is becoming more and more specific and this verse carries heavy implications in our lives. It may mean distancing ourselves from those that have a negative influence on us, and if one is of strong enough character helping change that person’s negativity without our souls being affected in the process. Not an easy task, my friend.
We have reached the point of beauty that I mentioned earlier would be akin to losing a physical part of me.
The last aya that Allah mentions zeena in Surat al-Kahf is the first aya on the sixth page:
“Wealth and children are [but] adornment of the worldly life. But the enduring good deeds are better to your Lord for reward and better for [one's] hope.”
Yes, now it’s really personal. Allah has displayed for us beauty in its generalities to a beauty so specific, it plays with our emotions, tugging at our hearts. My child is a beauty of this world. My child can be taken away- my world can be made into a barren and dry ground. I can detach myself to a great extent on the material beauty, but what about my community? My community that does not always remember God morning and evening… What about my culture and all those little things that define my identity? What about my child??
I definitely don’t have an answer to any of this. I wish it was simple but we are not machines. And maybe it’s not detachment that we are seeking, but an awareness of what’s to come. An awareness that Allah is more beautiful and that our good actions are everlasting. An awareness that even if we are facing a barren time in our lives, feeling empty and distraught, the fruits of our actions will bring forth a permanence of fertile land- a fertile land that is adorned with our patient perseverance.
I pray that we can witness such an everlasting beauty and best of all, the beauty of Allah’s Magnificence.