Beauty in Islam


Islam is an important topic in society today and its way of beauty is worth discovering. This lecture series, previously offered in 2016, examines Islam and its essential ideas and forms of beauty. It explores the rich philosophical and theological framework that has given rise to the Islamic sense of beauty, which combines the Arab–Islamic mind with classical and local traditions worldwide.

It looks at important Islamic concepts such as the Qur’an, qur’anic recitation and calligraphy, the meaning and forms of the mosque, Allah's Ninety-nine Beautiful Names, Islam's mystical practices and some significant connections between Islam and Christianity.

Target audience:
This course will appeal to anyone interested in religion, Islam, Islamic philosophy and theology, aesthetics and Islamic art and architecture.

Learning objectives:
The course provides the opportunity to learn about Islam. It aims to promote a basic understanding of beauty in Islam through awareness of its aesthetic tradition and most significant institutions (the Qur’an and mosque), including normative modes of belief and expression.

By the end of this course, you will have:

  • gained an insight into the beauty of Islam and how Islam conceives of beauty philosophically and represents itself aesthetically
  • increased their vocabulary to discuss art styles and aesthetic principles of Islam
  • gained an understanding of the fundamental teachings of Islam, chief differences and similarities alongside Christianity.

Course outline:
Each session includes a lecture presentation with some time for questions and group discussion.

Week 1: Beauty in Islam – how Islam manifests itself in shapes, sounds and letters

Week one provides an introduction to beauty in the Islamic tradition and aesthetic manifestations of Islam in the world. It covers how Islam expresses itself in extraordinary aniconic (non-figurative) ways, the shapes and patterns in the arabesque, sounds in Qur’anic recitation and letters in Islamic calligraphy. This lecture reveals the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of these sophisticated art forms as tributes to Islam’s sense of beauty, and gives insights into its unique approach to art.

Week 2: Mosque - form and function

Week two presents the mosque as Islam’s most significant building. It introduces participants to the mosque’s main modules as they historically appeared in Arabia and their interior and exterior functions. It goes further by exploring the Prophet’s idea of the mosque, what the mosque means to Muslims as more than a piece of religious architecture, namely, as a place of worship and a community centre for the Islamic lifeway. It also covers the ‘eternal’ idea of the mosque and the meaning of hadith on ‘all the earth as a mosque’.

Week 3: Qur’an and the universe – structural relationships

Week three introduces the Qur’an as both a physical book and the revealed Will and Law of God in the Islamic tradition. It provides insightful information on why Muslims hold the Qur’an in such esteem while highlighting differences in Muslim understandings of how Qur’an denotes ‘book’ and ‘divine presence’, and how it is understood as ‘created’ or ‘uncreated’ amongst Islam’s diverse groups.

Week 4: Islamic mysticism – the Sufi way and the symbolism of light

Week four looks at the esoteric side of Islam, in particular, the writings of Rumi, 13th-century Persian poet and Sufi mystic. Here participants will discover the aims, teachings and devotional practices of the inner mystical dimension of Islam (ta’sawwuf) such as dhikr (remembrance), muraqaba (meditation), Sufi whirling and visitations – practices often left out or forgotten about among mainstream practitioners of Islam.

Week 5: What ‘Jesus’ and ‘Mary’ mean to Muslims, and other relationships between Christian–Muslim personalities

Week five reflects on Surah 21, verse 91 of the Qur’an: “We made her (Mary) and her son (Jesus) a sign for the worlds”. This lecture presents an image of Mary and Jesus from the Qur’an that the average person, especially the Christian, would find astonishingly sympathetic. It provides insights to the extraordinary similarities – doctrinal and historical ¬– of these two personalities, and others, to reveal intimate connections between the Islamic and Christian traditions concerning two of Christianity’s most significant personalities.

Week 6: The 99 Most Beautiful Names of Allah – reflections on the divine names and attributes and their signs (ayat)

Week six looks at the Divine Names in Islam and their sources and meaning as divine attributes and their diverse manifestations (ayat) in the Qur’an and throughout the world, both aesthetically and conceptually. It looks at the nature of Islam’s God through a selection of divine attributes and focuses on helping participants gain an appreciation of Islam’s understanding of the transcendent and benevolent nature of the divinity. Emphasis is placed on Islam’s strict observance of monotheism, thus the concept of tawḥīd (divine unity and oneness) is studied.

There is a short break half-way through each session, and you are welcome to bring something to eat and drink if you wish.

Christopher Longhurst has a doctorate in theological aesthetics and worked at Al Akhawayn University in Morocco as Professor of Philosophy, and chair of Graduate Program in Islamic Studies.

For further information:
Continuing Education, Victoria University of Wellington, PO Box 600, Wellington 6140.
Phone 04 463 6556,  Email:

Please note: Courses need a minimum number of enrolments to go ahead. If your course doesn’t reach the number required, we’ll have to cancel it. If this happens, we’ll contact you by phone or email about a week before the scheduled start date and arrange a full refund. Please check your emails regularly.