Prof. Peter Antes, beauty and Islam: "Allah loves beauty"

Monday, 09 October 2017 22:55
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Epos converses with Prof. Peter Antes

by Nicolamaria Coppola (EPOS)
EPOS Conversations


Professor Peter Antes is a prominent German religious scholar. Professor Emeritus for Religionswissenschaft und Didaktik des religionswissenschaftlichen Unterrichts (Religious Studies and Didactis of Religions) at the Insitute of Theology and Religious Studies at Leibniz University of Hannover, Peter Antes has a longstanding academic experience in history of religions and comparative religions. He has been president of many associations, such as the German Association for the History of Religions, the International Association for the History of Religions and others. He presided, and is still participating in the International Summer School on Religions in San Gimignano. In the following exclusive interview for EPOS, Professor Antes talks about the relationship between Islam and beauty, pointing out what the Quran says about beauty and how beauty is perceived by the Muslims, especially the new generations, all around the world.

EPOS, Nicolamaria Coppola: What is the relationship between beauty and Islam? What is written in the Quran, and in the writing of the Prophet?

Prof. Peter Antes: I think that beauty is one of the central themes in the understanding of Islam, mainly because we have this very interesting phenomenon that the Quran is a poetry. It is considered to be the best poetry that has been produced, such a wonderful production, that no human being can compete with it.

EPOS, Nicolamaria Coppola: How do the Muslims perceive beauty?

Prof. Peter Antes: I think that they have a very good feeling for the beauty of the language, of the language of the Quran in particular, and the Quran itself challenges those who don’t accept that it has a divine revelation by saying “if you are able to put forward something similar in language quality, similar to the Quran, then you can have doubt about that”, and this writes we know nobody have succeded in this doing so. And this is one of the things where the Muslims have a good feeling of beauty and I would say the second thing is that they see nature, the all Creation, as an expression of divine beauty: God has created Sun, Moon and the creatures, just to show how beautiful the World is.

EPOS, Nicolamaria Coppola: So, when you say that “Allah loves beauty” what do you exactly mean?

Prof. Peter Antes: It is exactly the same, and in a certain sense we must see the Nature, as well as the Quran, as an indication for the beauty that God has created. We must consider that the word mizaj means both “sign” and “nature”: the nature is a sign of God’s beauty as well as the Quran verses are signs of God’s beauty.

EPOS, Nicolamaria Coppola: Why does it seem that beauty is not contemplated in Muslim societies? Why does it seem there is a lack of beauty in most of the Muslim societies?

Prof. Peter Antes: Perhaps not the society, but the feeling of the Muslims in any case. If you look at the mosques, for example, or at the calligraphy, they are both perfect examples of beauty. People enjoy religion and they see the religious rights and duties as an expression of beautiful life. I think that Islam is full of beauties which are not the topics of the normal, the “common” discussion but  beauty is very deeply rooted in the feelings of the Muslims.

EPOS, Nicolamaria Coppola: Is beauty perceived in the same way by the Sunnis, the Shias and the others or are differences  in the feeling and understanding of beauty between them?

Prof. Peter Antes: I would say it is the same but the Shias, for example, have a deep understanding and respect of beauty. We can simply look at the beautiful Shia mosques which, usually, are much more decorated and beautifully expressing the idea of God’s house. We also have, of course, as in Christianity, people who are against those visible forms of beauty, such as the Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia. Some fundamentalists refuse the concept of beauty and they are against beautiful mosques. They can even destroy them because they think that the mosque is an invention that came after the Islam of the Prophet Mohammed. At that time, they have no mosques, and this is why they think there is a deviation of the original understanding of the religion.

EPOS, Nicolamaria Coppola: You said that in the Quran there are Sura in which it is written that beauty is central in Islam. Could you please tell us more about this?

Prof. Peter Antes: We must say that there are two aspects to be considered in dealing with beauty in Islam. First, the verses of the Quran are in a beautiful and divine Arabic language; second, beauty is related to the beauty of the Creation. We have a beautiful language on one side and, on the other, a theological theme according to which the verses of the Quran cannot be imitated beyond the human capacity. The Prophet himself, his actions and the miracles of the Prophet Muhammad are a clear expression of God’s beauty. The Quran, as the message of God to humankind, is beauty.

EPOS, Nicolamaria Coppola: What about the physical beauty? What is the relation between Islam, the Muslim communities and the physical beauty?

Prof. Peter Antes: Usually, they are convinced that human body has been created as a beautiful product by God, but they do not pay so much attention to the physical beauty. The body of men and women is a product of God’s beauty and they deserve respect and admiration.

EPOS, Nicolamaria Coppola: Is it the public audience and the public opinion aware of the centrality of beauty in Islam?

Prof. Peter Antes: I think it is really far too, but if you go in to the text you can find it.

EPOS, Nicolamaria Coppola: Do you think that beauty will save the world?

Prof. Peter Antes: I think it would give a better feeling of the world. It is much better to have beautiful things instead of ugly things, or destroyed things, and in that sense I think that beauty would not save the world but it can give a positive feeling of the world we live in, somehow a deep understanding of the world.

EPOS, Nicolamaria Coppola: What are the challenges for the new generations with regard to beauty?

Prof. Peter Antes: The new generations have to cope with the advancements, the developments and the progresses that are happening into the Islamic countries due to modern sciences and modern technologies. Beauty is a central theme in modern societies and the new generations are very well aware of that. I think that it would be easy to write a book of the history of beauty in Islam, including calligraphy, mosques and things like that, but it would not be possible, according to my understanding, to write a book on the ugliness, on the history of the ugliness like Umberto Eco did with regard to Europe. I think that ugliness is something related and interconnected with beauty, and the new generations should take that in mind. Beauty and ugliness are two faces of the same coin and it is up to the youth decide where to stay.

EPOS, Nicolamaria Coppola: Can the youth have a role in pushing for a better understanding of the beauty in the Muslim world?

Prof. Peter Antes: It is very difficult to predict what the role of the youth will be in this regard, but let me say that, especially for the young terrorists, it seems they have feelings of beauty of destruction. Some people find so beautiful to destroy things but this beauty is completely different from the beauty that is referred to into the Quran. We must avoid that the beauty of destruction prevails. The youth have a big responsibility in that.

EPOS, Nicolamaria Coppola: May the youth contribute to like a Renaissance in the Muslim world?

Prof. Peter Antes: Well, this is very ambiguous problem, because we have on the wrong side this idea that people want to come back to original ideals of Islam and its message, and we have also a completely different trend saying that most of the modern requirement most be into Islam. It is certain that the total return to the past is impossible, because in any case we have to come to compromise to modern time. The youth can play a central role in finding this compromise but they must have the will to do that, otherwise no Renaissance will take place.


DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this article are the interviewed’s own and do not necessarily reflect EPOS WorldView’s editorial policy

Last modified on Tuesday, 26 December 2017 23:14
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