By Mawlānā Junayd Makda
We give a lot of importance to our physical appearance, the way we look and how others see us. It is no surprise then that we spend so long deciding on what to wear and so much time in front of the mirror! We strive to leave an impression on others, and to feel good about ourselves. When choosing clothes to buy we look for the right label, colour, and style. We reserve different clothing for different occasions, and spend lots of time and money shopping for such occasions.
Apart from clothing, the body is also given utmost attention. The more we are concerned with physical appearance, the more we feel the need to keep in shape. We carefully select the food we eat, looking at the fat and calorie content, and we study the various food types for the benefits and harms they bring. Trying out the many skin care and cosmetic products is also a must, as are regular visits to the gym. Many of us invest in an annual gym membership to allow for regular training to keep the body in perfect shape.
Fitness and Adornment are Part of Dīn
Good nutrition, exercise, hygiene, and maintaining a pleasant presentable appearance, within moderation, are all aspects of Islām. The body is an amānah (trust) from Allāh ta'ālā, and we must take care of it. In a hadīth in which the Prophet sallallāhu 'alayhi wasallam was once discouraging the Sahābah radhiyallāhu 'anhum from pride, one of those present enquired if adorning oneself with good clothing was also pride. The Prophet sallallāhu 'alayhi wasallam replied, "Allāh is beautiful and loves beauty." (Muslim) The Prophet sallallāhu 'alayhi wasallam also encouraged us to keep fit and strong, so that we may better fulfil the requirements of Dīn: "A strong believer is better than a weak believer." (Muslim) Regarding moderation in eating habits, Rasūlullāh sallallāhu 'alayhi wasallam said, "No human ever filled a vessel worse than the stomach. Sufficient for a person are some morsels to keep his back straight. But if it must be, then one third for his food, one third for his drink and one third for his breath." (At-Tirmidhī)
More than Meets the Eye
However, there is an area of adornment and health which is often neglected. It is an area that requires great attention, as it relates to our eternal life.
Allāh ta'ālā refers to it, along with physical adornment, in the Glorious Qur'ān,
"O children of Ādam, We have sent down to you the dress that covers your shame and provides adornment. As for the dress of taqwā (piety), that is the best…" (7:26)
'The Dress of Taqwā' alludes to adornment of the inner self and spiritual health. Clothing of the outer self, as important as it is, is only a question of ensuring the body is covered properly. The quality of clothes and how fashionable they are only have relevance in this temporal world. Whether the body is toned, the skin in good condition or beauty is present are only the concerns of a few days. With the expiry of life, so will expire all such external factors. The body will be lowered into the grave, wrapped in the plainest of cloth, and its physical beauty will disappear. All that will remain will be the inner qualities - the inner beauty one had attained and developed whilst in this world.
In the Hereafter, beauty will not be measured by how a person looked in this world or the impression people had of him. Fame and reputation last only till the grave. Success or failure in the Hereafter will be determined solely on the inner beauty one possessed. The fadā'il, the praiseworthy spiritual qualities, are what will dress the eternal body of the Hereafter.
Allāh ta'ālā says:
"Verily he who purified the heart is successful." (91:9)
"Whereas for the one who feared to stand before his Lord, and restrained his self from the (evil) desire, Paradise will be the abode." (79:40-41)
What will have weight in the Hereafter is the good a person did and the evil he refrained from, a reflection of his spiritual condition. Allāh ta'ālā mentions how those who took care of their spiritual health will be addressed at the time of death:
"O content soul, come back to your Lord, well-pleased, well-pleasing. So enter among my [special] servants, and enter my paradise." (89:27-30)
Those servants of Allāh ta'ālā who possess a healthy soul through regular spiritual training under the guidance of a spiritual expert, combined with commitment, dedication and hard work, build their stamina and learn their sense of direction which keeps them on the straight path towards Jannah. They never give up, and so when they finally complete their circuit training in the world, having vaulted the hurdles placed by Shaytān, they come out victorious. Such is their victory that Allāh ta'ālā sends angels to escort them to the Hereafter, who say:
"Do not fear, and do not grieve; and be happy with the good news of the Jannah that you had been promised. We have been your friends in the worldly life, and [will remain as such] in the Hereafter. And for you here is whatever your soul desires, and for you here is whatever you call for." (41:30-31)
Such souls will be so fit and healthy that they will be able to cross the bridge of Sirāt at the speed of lightning. The life for them in Jannah will contain every beauty, adornment and luxury.
So given the importance of the inner self, we need to do some honest soul searching and see where the balance is in our lives: do we give more care and consideration to the finite external self or the eternal and infinite inner self? The way we have a membership at our local gym or club, and take great care in what we eat, have we considered a membership with the Mashāyikh and 'Ulamā who can assist us to attain fitness for our souls through ta'līm and tazkiyah? Are we even aware of the necessary elements of a good, balanced spiritual diet, like regular remembrance of Allāh ta'ālā and doing good deeds and refraining from sin, which will help us maintain our spiritual health? We need to connect more closely to our inner selves. We need to study, understand, and develop our inner condition under the guidance of an authentic, reliable and qualified shaykh (spiritual mentor). Only then will we realise what we really are inside and that beauty really is only skin deep. The heart is where real beauty, real adornment and our real self are to be found.