Beauty & Body Image

June 14, 2012 § Leave a comment


According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, Americans spent nearly $10 billion on over 9 million cosmetic procedures in 2011. The latter represents a whopping 197% increase in the total number of procedures performed in 2007.1 Some of the reasons cited for these alterations were to correct abnormalities, but most were for purely cosmetic reasons.

While the beauty, fashion and entertainment industries make big bucks on selling the newest standards of beauty and physical appeal, we as a society are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with our appearances. We are feeling more self-conscious, more deficient and even less beautiful. Why?

Because we’re being told—implicitly or explicitly— that we are not enough. We’re not good enough, thin enough, or attractive enough; that our skin does not look young or light enough. We are always broken, blemished, or scarred, and we need fixing. There is always a new standard or method for enhancing everything from our skin, hair, lips and nails, to almost every inch of our body—and it’s impossible to keep up. So many succumb to society’s pressure to conform, and they go to great lengths to surgically alter their bodies, inject foreign objects in them, starve themselves or follow strict diets or exercise programs—all in an effort to look more beautiful and desirable.

As in the other article, Islam encourages outward beauty, cleanliness and beautiful dress. We adorn our bodies with nice clothes and maintain good hygiene because this is what God loves. We also do our best to eat healthy and stay fit because our bodies are a trust from God, and because better health gives us more energy to serve God and society better. These are all admirable efforts, when done moderately. What I am addressing here is how we view the natural physical form of our bodies; what we were born with or what developed over time because of genetic influences.

It is important to remember that God is our Maker—He made you the way you are—your unique color, shape, hair and facial features. In His eyes, you are beautiful—no matter what society says. He says, “Surely, we have created the human being in the finest stature,” (Qur’an, 94:4). He fashioned you in your mother’s womb, brought you into this world knowing nothing, and then beautified your heart and mind with faith, wisdom and intelligence. Even before you were born, He honored you; He created your father, Adam, with His Own Blessed Two Hands, breathed His spirit into him, and made the angels prostrate to him out of respect.

Throughout your life, He showers you with beautiful gifts; He provides you with experiences that inspire you, teach you, and make you feel joy, connectedness and love towards Him and others. He gives you a lifetime to invest in the beauty of the Eternal life with gorgeous homes, companions, flowing rivers, and blessings that you cannot even imagine. Now, who could dare touch your feelings of self-worth after that?

Underneath the superficial layers of different physical features, skin colors and types of dress, all of us have hearts and souls that long and plead for the same deep connection with their Creator. As Ibn Al-Qayyim (may God have mercy on him) says, “Truly, in the heart there is a void that cannot be removed except with the company of God; and in it there is a sadness that cannot be removed except with the happiness of knowing God and being true to Him; and in it there is an emptiness that cannot be filled except with love for Him and turning to Him and always remembering Him; and if a person were given the entire world and what is in it, it would never fill that emptiness.”

So no matter how much we alter and reshape our physical form, it will not fill the void in our hearts that is reserved for God. When we follow our desires and the ever-changing whims of creation, we chain our souls down to the lowly, fleeting life—and away from God. But when we connect our hearts and minds to the Eternally Permanent One, Al-Baqi, our souls are freer to draw closer to Him. Reflect for a moment on this hadith (narration) of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (peace be upon him): “Prayer is light; charity is a proof, patience is illumination; and the Qur’an is an argument for or against you. Everyone starts his/her day and is a vendor of his/her soul, either freeing it or bringing about its ruin.” [Muslim]

When our souls are liberated, we see Reality for what it really is; that physical beauty fades, and that the beauty and light of our faith, character and actions are what bring us true bliss and deeply satisfying relationships in this life, along with a more permanent relationship with God and eternal bliss and in the Hereafter.

The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ would supplicate, “O Allah, as You have made my appearance beautiful, make my character beautiful,” (Allahumma kama hassanta khalqi fa hassin khuluqi).

That beautiful character is in sincere intentions, in our positive attitude, and in a graceful smile. It’s in showing abundant gratitude and forgiveness, in overlooking people’s faults, in giving generously of your love and time to support others, and in treating people with respect, mercy and gentleness. As Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said, “Gentleness is not in something except that it adorns it, and it is not stripped from something except that it ruins it.” [Muslim]

So, rather than striving to perfect a body that will, one day, end up covered in dirt, how about we turn to what truly matters? Instead of facelift and breast enhancements, perhaps we ought to focus more on uplifting our faith and morality; and instead of dwelling over fat layers and contemplating liposuction, we might want to work on suctioning the arrogance, pride and anger from our hearts; and instead of eyelid surgeries—yes, those exist—we would prosper more if we considered the virtues of lowering our gazes and turning our faces and hearts toward God’s light and guidance. These are the changes that yield the most beautiful, long-lasting effects in this life and the Next.

“So direct your face toward the religion, with pure faith. This is the natural disposition God instilled in mankind—there is no altering God’s creation. This is the upright religion, though most people do not realize it.” (Qur’an, 30:30)

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Divine Beauty

June 14, 2012 § 2 Comments


In an enlightening hadith (prophetic narration), the Prophet ﷺ tells us that no one with an ounce of arrogance in his heart will enter Paradise. In seeking to understand what arrogance means, the companions asked “O Prophet of Allah, what if a person likes to dress well?” The Prophet ﷺ responded, “Allah is beautiful and loves beauty. Arrogance is rejecting truth and looking down on people” [Muslim]

Allah is Beautiful

Let us first think about Allah’s Beauty. None of us have seen Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He), so how can we even begin to contemplate His magnificence?

Allah SWT gives us clues. He calls the sun, the moon, the stars, the skies, and the mountains ‘signs’. And what is a sign except something that leads us to something greater—to a logical conclusion, to the source of that sign?

Ibn Al-Qayyim said, “And it is enough to realize Allah’s Beauty when we know that every internal and external beauty in this life and the next are created by Him, so what of the beauty of their Creator?”

Our faith in Allah’s beauty should strengthen our connection with our Lord. It increases our love for Him and our longing to return to Him—to be able to see just a glimpse of Him. The Prophet ﷺ made the following du`a’ (supplication): “I ask of You the joy of looking on Your noble countenance and of my longing to be with You.” [An-Nisa’]

Another aspect of Allah’s Beauty is in His actions. Allah is Beautiful in His Mercy, and His Mercy is manifested in the mercy He has bestowed upon people in terms of what he has proved for them, but also in the mercy that His creation show to each other. Look at a mother’s ability to forget the pains of childbirth as soon as she holds her newborn in her arms. A father’s patient answering of the same question his child asks for the 60th time. A stranger who helps an elderly person cross the street.

This is all part of Allah’s Beauty – so how can we not long to meet Him on the Day of Judgment?

He loves Beauty

The One who is the Most-Beautiful, and who is the source of all Beauty, surely knows what true beauty is. So what is the beauty that Allah SWT loves? Ibn Al-Qayyim said that it pertains to two things: Firstly beautifying ourselves outwardly, and secondly beautifying ourselves inwardly.

Contrary to what some might think, outward beauty is important in Islam. At the very basic level is cleanliness. We are told “Cleanliness is half of faith” [Muslim]. Moreover, people are discouraged from attending the mosque if they have eaten garlic or onion because the odor may bother other people.

At the aesthetic level, we are encouraged to be well-dressed and presentable. As the hadith showed us, dressing well is not considered showing off, unless it is done for that purpose or to show that one is better than others. But dressing well is a sign of dignity. The Prophet ﷺ said “Allah loves to see the effects of His grace upon His servant.” [Tirmidhi] All of this pertains to outward beauty. We all incline towards that kind of beauty, in one way or another.

But if what we consider beautiful is touched by what doesn’t please Allah SWT , it ceases to be beautiful. It is just hawa (our own whims) which are affected by the messages that bombard us everyday in advertisements, magazines and movies. Allah tells us about the hypocrites “And when you see them, their forms please you, and if they speak, you listen to their speech.” [Qur’an, 63:4] They looked a certain way that was pleasing to other people, and they were charismatic when they spoke—but they were hypocrites. Their outward form did not make up for what was missing in their hearts. The Prophet ﷺ also says “Allah does not look at your appearance or your possessions; but He looks at your heart and your deeds.” [Muslim] So beautifying ourselves outwardly, while commendable and can take different forms in different cultures, is tempered by what is beautiful to Allah. No matter how elegant a shirt is, if it does not cover our ‘awra (parts of the body that must be covered), it is not beautiful to Allah SWT . Once a companion was wearing a gold ring, presumably because he did not know that it was prohibited for men. When he heard the Prophet ﷺ say it is forbidden, he immediately removed it and threw it away. It may have been a beautiful ring, it may have been an expensive ring, but in his eyes it was nothing because it was not beautiful to the Creator of beauty.

The real beauty that is evident to anyone is inner beauty. If the inside is beautiful, it beautifies what is outside. How many of us have met people whose inner light shines through? The Prophet ﷺ describes a “seemingly disheveled, dusty, negligible person, but if he would swear to God, He would respond to him,” (Tirmidhi). These are the people of true beauty to Allah SWT because of the beauty in their hearts. They are a people who love to spend time with Allah, and if they are with people, they are in their service.

Look at the inner beauty of the Prophet ﷺ. There was an old woman who detested the Prophet ﷺ even though she had never met him. One day the Prophet ﷺ saw that she needed help and he proceeded to help her. So she thought she would give him advice, and the ‘advice’ was to warn him against the Prophet ﷺ. He simply smiled and listened to what she said. She later found out that he was the Prophet ﷺ. You cannot help but love someone with that kind of inner light.

And if Allah loves your inner beauty, what happens? Allah SWT tells us in a hadith Qudsi:

“When I love him I am his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes and his foot with which he walks. Were he to ask [something] of Me, I would surely give it to him, and were he to ask Me for refuge, I would surely grant him it.” [Bukhari]

So let us beautify ourselves outwardly for His sake by being clean and presentable ambassadors of His religion, and let us beautify ourselves inwardly by adorning ourselves with God-consciousness and good manners.

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