Oct 13, 2021
Why Beauty Is Not Optional
“Beauty is not a luxury. It’s the air that our souls breathe.” —Oludamini Ogunnaike
“The Islamic requirement [when creating art] is that your work be excellent.” —Ubaydullah Evans
What better topic for discussion than beauty, muses Oludamini Ogunnaike, a regular contributor to Renovatio and a scholar of Islam in north and west Africa. Beauty is inseparable from truth, goodness, and justice, yet reference to it is missing from many of our most important discussions on those matters. The neglect of beauty has been detrimental to communities everywhere, notes Ogunnaike; it’s often seen as superfluous, compartmentalized from other values, or reserved for the elite when, in fact, beauty remains an existential need for every human being. Ubaydullah Evans engages with Ogunnaike on the quiddity of beauty, beauty as it relates to a fuller understanding of God, and the correlation between beauty and spiritual maturity.
Oludamini Ogunnaike is assistant professor of African religious thought at the University of Virginia. His research interests include the philosophical dimensions of postcolonial, colonial, and precolonial Islamic and indigenous religious traditions of West and North Africa. He has taught courses on Islam, Islamic philosophy, spirituality, art, and African and African diasporic religions. He recently published his dissertation as a full-length monograph: Deep Knowledge: Ways of Knowing in Sufism and Ifa, Two West African Intellectual Traditions.
Ubaydullah Evans is the scholar-in-residence of the American Learning Institute for Muslims (ALIM) and an instructor with the Ta’leef Collective. He converted to Islam while in high school. Upon conversion, Ubaydullah began studying some of the foundational books of Islam under the private tutelage of local scholars while simultaneously pursuing a degree in journalism from Columbia. Since then, he has studied at Chicagoland’s Institute of Islamic Education (IIE), studied in Tarim, Yemen, and graduated from the Sharia program at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt.
The Walking Qur’an: Islamic Education, Embodied Knowledge, and History in West Africa, Rudolph T. Ware III (UNC Press: 2014)
A Culture of Ambiguity: An Alternative History of Islam, Thomas Bauer. Translated by Hinrich Biesterfeldt and Tricia Tunstall (Columbia University Press: 2021)