a month of the beloved 4

Hilye-i Saadet by Mohamed Zakariya

The Hilye of the Prophet Muhammad

How does one describe the indescribable? How does one form an image of that which cannot be portrayed? That is what the hilye does–it gives parameters to the imagination so that one can think about the Prophet with a mental or spiritual image to hang onto, yet not attempt to visualize him or portray him in a painting. But the hilye is not an icon in words. As impressive and accurate as the many hilye texts are, they still remain vague, contrary to the claims of literalists, who would reject these texts as being visual portraits. That, of course, would not be acceptable to Muslims.

Hilye is the Turkish form of the Arabic word hilya, which has several meanings, including physiognomy, natural disposition, likeness, depiction, characterization, and description. But these dictionary definitions only begin to convey the real meaning of the hilye, which embodies the Prophet’s moral, behavioral, and spiritual qualities as well as physical appearance. Like most Arabic words, hilya carries multiple overtones, making it difficult to translate. It has connotations of ornament, beauty, finery, and embellishment. I like to think of a hilya as a beautiful and significant description.

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