by Mansoureh Tadjik for the Saker Blog
We have many well-known and universal concepts that, over times, places, and people, have gone through expansions and contractions in meaning and connotation. One such concept is that of beauty. To return this concept to a level of transparency it requires and afford it a deeper understanding, we must first launder it clear of all that which is not. What is meant here is not that concept of “beauty” which toxifies bodies and the planet by courtesy of L’Oreals, Proctor & Gambles, Estee Lauders, and Johnson & Johnsons of the world. Nor is it the concept of “beauty” that is savagely carved on vulnerable bodies of misguided souls using sharp scalpels and laser beams, poison injections, and leaky augments performed by medicine wo/men who took the oath to uphold the principle of non-maleficence—first, do no harm—expunged away by pharmaceutical and bio-tech giants. It could be safely assumed, as well, that it cannot be that concept of “beauty” which commits celebrities to suicide,[6,7] drugs superstars to overdose, and liquors personalities up into a semi-permanent state of inebriety at best, and death at worst.[8,9] None of the latter, sadly enough, remains an exclusive domain of Bollywoods, Hollywoods, Jollywoods, Mollywoods, and Nollywoods of the current times. Rather, they act as vectors of contagions affecting the general public.[10, 11] An insider, motivated by an unfortunate event, once described things quite candidly,
“[Demi] Moore is a product of our youth-obsessed culture which teaches women from when they are girls that we are valued by our beauty. We are taught to stay young and thin at any cost, and there is no other industry that consistently reinforces that message more than Hollywood. It is clear that we are all buying and believing this message.
The fact of the matter is the film industry, in the US and around the world, have pitted women against Mother Nature. It’s an impossible battle to win and we all know it.
Abandonment coupled with age in a town like Hollywood makes us feel sorry for Moore, but deep down we are actually terrified because we know what happened to her can happen to us. We are all equally vulnerable to our insecurities. Every one of us fears rejection and heartbreak.
We are all products of our society and that society is obsessed with staying young. Demi Moore embodies that obsession. Can there be a worse place to grow old than in Hollywood where as a woman you can literally find yourself out of work because you had the audacity to age? The sad fact is as we grow older, women around the world, but especially those working in films, are told that they are worthless. How ridiculous and wrong is that?” 
Just to put a couple of final nails in the coffin of misnomers, neither is it that concept of “beauty” which is actualized by moguls of soft porn masquerading as fashion, music, and sports industries; nor is it the one that motivates the profiteers to add all sorts of carcinogenic, teratogenic, and mutagenic colors and dyes to our food, beverages, toys, wall paints, packaging, and more to “beautify” things.
A dizzying chain of dismissals all in a one-paragraph breath. What contemporary human enterprise, one might be curious to ask, is left then that was not held in contempt in the prologue? In truth, quite a lot but they are in stealth mode and our task is to identify and safely land just a fraction of one here. Perhaps we could intellectually indulge ourselves for a few minutes and regard the above section as a filtering or damping technique to sift the concept of beauty and isolate all sorts of non-random and purposefully engineered noises that have inundated it. This is just an exercise to expand our horizon far enough and our range of view wide enough for a different vision of beauty to emerge. It is a necessary preliminary step in order to find, to listen, and to look at the actual and truthful signals emitted from this most familiar yet well-concealed concept. It might also prove useful in achieving excellence in our souls as well as in our bodies.
«مَا رَأَیْتُ إِلَّا جَمِیلًا» “I did not see except beauty” is perhaps one of the most well-known phrases narrated in Shi’a remembrances and sermons about the aftermath of Ashura in Karbala. The phrase is attributed to Hazrat Zainab (s.a.), Imam Hussain’s (a.s.) sister, the very lady whose Al-haram— tomb, sanctuary or holy shrine— in the southern part of Damascus, draws fighters from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon, and other places from around the world to come to Syria to defend and protect it. The warriors call themselves “مدافعین الحرم”, the Defenders of Al-haram. When they are killed, they are referred to as “Martyr Defender of Al-haram.” Exploring the context for Hazrat Zainab’s statement may help facilitate seeing a lot more than just another way of looking at beauty.
Petty, inferior, and two-bit victors, when intoxicated by their own peculiar brand of triumph, often act in ways that betray the vulgarity of their minds and infirmity their souls. Some incinerate masses of unarmed and defenseless people in a span of three weeks, land on an aircraft carrier, attired in a green flight suit strategically strapped, to photovoice their “Mission” as “Accomplished.” Calling it a lampoon would be embarrassing; for a lampoon, that is. Others capture, sodomize, and kill their own ex-partners, murder thousands of yet other defenseless people, loot their resources then channel their muse and deliver their own version of veni, vidi, vici interviews to crow. Yazid ibn Mu‘awiya, that junior in Umayyad Dynasty, ordered Ubayd Allah Ibn Ziyad, his sycophant in Iraq to finish Imam Hussain (a.s.) and his companions off so that he could have free hand in his corruption, transgression, and oppressive rule. Ibn Ziyad did as ordered on the day of Ashura in Karbala. He then took the survivors of Imam’s household as prisoners, among them was the matriarch, Hazrat Zainab Al-Kubra (s.a.).
Yazid and Ibn Ziyad, too, did not behave any better than their colleagues, in our contemporary era, who just got dishonorable mentions. They decapitated those who had been killed and put the heads on spears. They tied ropes and chains around women, children as young as three years old, the ill, and the injured prisoners. They then paraded them in towns and cities, all before the eyes of a dis-informed and propagandized public who had been duped to believe they were witnessing a defeated group of non-believers gone rogue who had turned their backs to God, the Prophet ﷺ, and Holy Quran. Now that is what one might call an extremely effective, although transient, propaganda campaign. The prisoners were taken along a path from Karbala to Ibn Ziyad’s palace in Kufa, and onward to al-Sham (Damascus, Syria) where Yazid lived and ruled. A trail of more than a 1000-kilometer, mostly on foot, sometimes on bare-backed camels.
The concept of beauty. Surely somewhere along the way, this essay must have forgotten what it was supposed to be about. A bit of leeway, I request. The above demonstrates how small, petty, inferior people without vision act when they achieve an apparent victory. A victory that is already on its way to obsolescence. It does take a true stretch of imagination, especially for an unaware mind, to explore the concept of beauty in any of these. Most imaginations do not have that much spiritual elasticity. So, let us go back to the lady who led us this way in the first place: Zinab Al-Kubra (s.a.). She was taken as a prisoner of a battle in which she had just witnessed her brother and Imam and seventy two plus of her closest loved ones and allies including her other brothers, her sons, nephews, and cousins to get killed, their heads chopped off and raised on spears. She is witnessing more than twenty five heartbroken mourning women, small children who have just become orphans, and an unwell nephew, Imam Sajjad (a.s.), who must now carry on the leadership of Shi’a (whoever is left of it) all being dragged as prisoners from place to place and paraded in front of a propagandized public who are committing all sorts of dishonorable, disgraceful, and despicable acts against them. And, she “did not see except beauty”? Seriously?! On what grounds? Through what sort of a cognitive filtering were these events processed? What basic principles for beauty is she using? I, for one, am dying to know and will follow the clues to wherever they lead me.
The statement «مَا رَأَیْتُ إِلَّا جَمِیلًا» “I did not see except beauty” was extracted from the following excerpt of an extended dialogue that took place inside Ibn Ziad’s palace in Kufa, two nights after the battle of Karbala. It was an exchange between Ibn Ziyad and Hazrat Zainab (s.a):
Ibn Ziyad, “Praise God Who exposed you by killing and disgracing you that shows what you people were saying was nothing by falsehood.” [Tries to imply that if God were on your side, He would have protected you from getting killed and captured.]
Hazrat Zainab Al-Kubra (s.a.), “Praise God Who graced us with dignity through Muhammad ﷺ and purified us from all impurities and corruptions. Only the immoral are disgraced and only the corrupt falsify. And we are neither.”
Ibn Ziyad, “How did you see what God did to your household?”
Hazrat Zainab Al-Kubra (s.a.), «مَا رَأَیْتُ إِلَّا جَمِیلًا» “I did not see except beauty. They were people ‘upon whom it was decreed to be killed and go to their places of death’ therefore ‘they surely went’. Very soon, God will bring you and them face to face [in the Day of Judgment]; and they will censure you and litigate against you [before God] and you will see who prevails. May your mother mourn you, Son of Majaneh.”
Hazrat Zainab (s.a.) is given the title of the Messenger of Karbala. She delivered many powerful, frank, and compelling speeches and sermons to make sure the message of Karbala remains alive and does not get distorted. Numerous books, speeches, and articles are written and/or delivered that try to explain just this one phrase «مَا رَأَیْتُ إِلَّا جَمِیلًا» “I did not see except beauty” and what she might have meant. Many of them are quite insightful and interesting but I would like to take the simple way and see what Hazrat Zainab (s.a.) may have meant in her own words. She immediately states, “They were people “upon whom it was decreed to be killed and go to their places of death’ therefore ‘they surely went’. Very soon, God will bring you and them face to face [in the Day of Judgment]; and they will censure you and litigate against you [before God] and you will see who prevails.”
She actually references and recites parts of a verse from Quran (Chapter 3, Verse 154) to describe, or perhaps qualify what she had seen/witnessed in the killing field of Karbala. The verse, in its entirety, reads:
“Then after that affliction, He sent down upon a group among you a peaceful sleep to soothe you. Others, however, who were preoccupied more by concerns about their own lives, they were harboring thoughts about God that were unjust/untrue, similar to those of the time of Jahiliyyah, the age of ignorance. They would say, ‘Are we not supposed to control everything?’ Say, ‘Everything is controlled by God.’ Thus they harbored wrong thoughts and concealed them from you. They said, ‘If it were really up to us, none of us would have been killed here.’ Say, ‘Had you stayed in your homes, those decreed to get killed would have certainly gone to their places of death.’ God thus tests the intentions in your heart and thoroughly purifies your inner most convictions. And God fully knows innermost thoughts.”
For the sake of clarification, we will open up the verse just a bit. This verse addresses the circumstances after the battle of Uhud, in which Muslims were on their way to victory but then lost the battle. Earlier, when the unbelievers of Mecca had been defeated in the battle of Badr, they vowed to take revenge and began to prepare themselves for a major attack against Muslims in Medina. In Medina, a division was created among Muslims under the leadership of someone by the name of Abdullah Ibn Ubay, who was later revealed to be a hypocrite, in terms of the strategy for defense and the location of the battle. He taunted the idea that Muslims should bring the battle inside Medina and fight within the city’s perimeter. The majority were against this idea and fully believed the best location for the battle would be outside of the City limit at the foothills of Uhud Mountain. The decision, by a majority vote, was made for the latter strategy. Of the thousand fighters on their way to Uhuh, Abdullah Ibn Ubay was able to deceive about three hundred fighters and have them turn their back to their brothers and return to Medina.
In Uhud, prior to the start of the battle, Prophet Muhammad ﷺ assigned a group of fifty fighters, under the command of Abdullah Ibn Jubair to guard the Uhud Pass to prevent any infiltration of the enemy forces through the Pass. The group was under a strict order not to leave that position until and unless they have received words directly from the Prophet ﷺ himself to return. Toward the end of the battle, when the group saw that Muslims were winning, majority of those fifty people guarding the pass left their position and rushed to collect the spoils. Only twelve remained obedient to the order of the Prophet ﷺ but a false news was circulated that the Prophet ﷺ had been killed. This led to more fighters leaving their position and a weak defense of the pass ensued resulting in an infiltration path into the Muslims fortifications. A surprise attack by the enemies through the Uhud pass led to Muslims’ defeat in that battle. That battle was an important and critical lesson for Muslims, some of who had acted based on greed, some based on ignorance, and some based on hypocrisy.[19, 20, 21, 22] So it seems the real and true battle was a battle of belief authentication. This time, it had taken the shape of the battle of Uhud. Another time, another place, it would take another shape. The essence remains the same though.
Perhaps we might be getting a bit closer. Zainab (s.a.) may have seen this: The Most Beautiful Beloved of Hussain (a.s.) and the Creator of all beauties that ever were, are, and will ever be, decreed that Hussain (a.s.) and his loyal companions must go to the battle of Karbala. The outcome of the battle was up to God and only God. The outcome of their test, was up to them and only them. They heard their decree; they obeyed without waiver, they passed their test. Their blood sealed the deal. Perhaps this is an operationalization of the concept of beauty in its most exalted and divine form. Something that perhaps only Zainab (s.a.) could see and narrate.
Now, travelling through time and space and returning to Iran. For certain, we have had a long and perilous road before us. On one hand, ridiculously absurd amount of money and resources are being spent to bombard us by all sorts of books, films, games, shows, media messages, disinformation, advertisements, and more that have one single goal: to convince our young, old, man, and woman, to turn their back to concepts of beauty that bring with them salvation, serenity, and positive authentication by God. Instead, they should embrace concepts of beauty that bring with them sadness, insecurity, disease, pain, immorality, injury, toxicity, and misery. On September 12, 2002, B. Netanyahu addressed the United States’ House Representatives. Here is a fragment of his speech,
“Yes. Now the question you have is this: This is now a question of not of values. Obviously, we would like to see a regime change, at least I would like to, in Iran, just as I would like to see in Iraq. The question now is a practical question. What is the best place to proceed? It is not a question of whether Iraq’s regime should be taken out, but when should it be taken out. It is not a question of whether you would like to see a regime change in Iran, but how to achieve it.
Iran has something that Iraq does not have. Iran has, for example, 250,000 satellite dishes. It has Internet use. I once said to the heads of the CIA when I was Prime Minister that if you want to advance regime change in Iran, you do not have to go through the CIA cloak-and-dagger stuff. What you want to do is take very large, very strong transponders and just beam Melrose Place and Beverly Hills 90210 into Teheran and Iran.
That is subversive stuff. The young kids watch it, the young people. They want to have the same nice clothes and houses and swimming pools and so on. That is something that is available, and internal forces of dissention that are available in Iran–which is paradoxically probably the most open society in that part of the world. It is a lot more open than Iraq, which is probably the most closed society, and therefore you have no ability to foment this kind of dynamic inside Iraq.
So the question now is choose. You can beam Melrose Place, but it may take a long time. On the other hand, if you take out Saddam’s regime, I guarantee you that it will have enormous positive reverberations on the region. And I think that people sitting right next door in Iran, young people and many others will say the time of such regimes of such despots is gone. There is a new age.”
That speech was delivered seventeen years ago. The resources could have been used more wisely. But wisdom, too, is one of those intangible beauties. For decades, sponsoring of a chain of inauthentic publications that lack quality substance, grace, intellectual honesty [24, 25, 26] has been the hallmark of the western push to impose on us their conceptual understanding of beauty. On the other hand, we are not empty-handed defenseless bunch. We have our Zainab (s.a.), Zahra (s.a.), Khadijeh (s.a.), Ma’asoumeh (s.a.), and more. Once again, let’s see whose version of beauty outlasts all others. We hear our decree; we obey without waiver. Insha’allah, God will help us pass the authentication process. السلام علیکم.
Mansoureh Tajik lives in Alborz Province in Iran. She has a background in teaching and research in the areas of community and environmental health, environmental justice, and media literacy. She collaborates with various local community members, groups, and organizations to provide support in addressing health and environmental problems, sustainable agriculture, and in design, implementation, and evaluation of relevant improvement projects.
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