Islamic Garden

Islamic Garden
Islamic Garden in Lausanne, Switzerland

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Al-Hamd: A Psychology of Aesthetics and of Imagination

Valerie Gonzalez's book "Beauty and Islam" raises some questions for me as to the appropriate starting point for a Psychology of Aesthetics and of Imagination:

"The field of aesthetics falls into two interconnected but distinct spheres: primary aesthetics, or 'meta-aesthetics' we should say, which consists of philosophical activity whose object is the beautiful and the experience of beauty; and aesthetics in the modern and specialised sense which is both a practical and a theoretical knowledge of artistic creation. Naturally, by virtue of its purpose and/or its ability to produce beauty, art involves both kinds of cognitive practice since it is basically the tangible result and the expression of a certain concept of the beautiful. Therefore, there are two paths towards an understanding of aesthetics: the study of texts through which one defines the concepts of beauty and the doctrine of the creation of art; and the direct observation of artistic forms as meaningful things and the experience they induce. These paths clearly constitute separate subjects for reflection. However, though it is far from easy to relate texts and arts in the framework of Islam, the former necessarily contain useful material for the grasp of the latter."

Somehow, within the context of Al-Hamd, this seems to be a very limiting place to begin a discussion of "Beauty and Islam." Granted, the focus of her work is on "Aesthetics in Islamic Art and Architecture," but surely Al-Hamd, by invoking Allah as the Source of all Praise, points, first and foremost, to a deeper aesthetic than material and artistic representations of Divine Beauty.

In fact, my impulse is to say that, if "All Praise is due to Allah", our creative imaginations are instantly summoned in the process. For, to express our praise from the heart, we must ponder all the beauty that the Giver of Life has created. We are really being called by al-Hamd to praise all that is seen and unseen in Creation!

It is from this act of aesthetic appreciation for all of Creation and our experience of it that our gratitude emanates, is nourished and nurtured on a daily basis through a full, unstinting expression of praise. It is when we deny the Divine Hand in all of Creation that we experience more mundane thoughts and sensations. And yet, even in imagining a world for ourselves in which social justice is sought on a purely material if not moral basis, we must first cultivate an aesthetic sensibility for the Source of all imagination.

If one can truly embody the principle of Al-Hamd at various intervals of the day and night, then it must perforce influence our perception of reality, which in turn has far reaching implicatons for our mental and emotional states of well-being. It is my contention that a series of daily aesthetic experiences is the key to human happiness and contentment.

Most of us can only begin, through our cherished repetitions of al-Fatiha, to express the beauty of the Seen, but how do we praise Allah for all of the gifts which remain unseen?

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