The clouds covered the horizon, as Mr Smith looked out of the window. Grey, everything was grey. The sky, the playground outside, even the classroom he taught in. Mr Smith looked at the clock ticking away on the wall above the white board, 'Five minutes to go before the lesson starts,' he thought. 'Five minutes before history with year eleven!' He had set them a novel assignment; to make their own dream team of eleven of the world's greatest people. Now Mr Smith waited to see their response.
The bell rang and 'Abdullāh was the first to come in. Dressed in his long white robe and black beard, 'Abdullāh was a rarity in a school dominated by the latest designer trends. It always amazed Mr Smith how kids from some of the most deprived backgrounds could afford clothes from the most expensive boutiques in town. 'Abdullāh had intrigued Mr Smith since the first time he had met him. 'Abdullāh's father, Dr Saleem was a consultant at the local hospital, yet he adopted the same dress code as 'Abdullāh. Mrs Saleem was the headmistress of the local Islamic school. What was the long clothing and veil she wore called again...? Ah yes, the hijāb. Mr Smith clearly remembered the last parent's meeting he had with Dr Saleem, when he had said, 'Abdullāh is the most intelligent pupil in the school, I'm sure he's Oxbridge material.' Dr Saleem's answer had shocked Mr Smith at first and still puzzled him to this day. 'I appreciate your judgement Mr Smith, but I think 'Abdullāh wants to study Islām. Whether Oxbridge is his first choice, I don't know.'
The sudden rush and noise interrupted Mr Smith's thoughts as the rest of the class came in, five minutes late! 'Abū Bakr, John, 'Umar, Zubayr, 'Abdur Rahmān, Sā'd, Sa'īd, 'Alī, 'Uthmān, Talhah, Abū 'Ubaydah…' Mr Smith, quickly went through the names of the class as they took their seats. It had taken him six months to learn all their names. Having grown up and trained in a rural area, Mr Smith had not heard, never mind pronounced, the names of some of his class. John, was the only name Mr Smith had picked up straight away.
'Right lads, how many of you have completed the homework from last week?' A flurry of activity took place, as the students took out their books from their bags. 'What I'm going to ask you to do is give the rest of the class a brief summary of your dream team and name the person who you think is the best from your selected group of people. Think of it as selecting a captain, perhaps. Who wants to go first?'
'Umar put his hand up. 'I will sir,' he said. Mr Smith looked at 'Umar as he stood up and came to the front of the class. 'Umar was a large lad for his age. A champion kick boxer and sportsman, 'Umar commanded respect from all. As 'Umar began to speak the rest of the class shuffled a little to listen to what he had to say. Mr Smith sat down at his desk.
'I chose boxing as my criteria for my top eleven. The reason for this is that I think professional boxers have considerable skill which should be admired. They are also adored by a lot of people and in their own way, they are also quite beautiful.'
Sniggers bounded around the classroom at this last comment but 'Umar went on unperturbed. 'My number one boxer is Muhammad 'Ali because... well, to put it simply, he is the best.' Cheers and cries of ''Ali, 'Ali,' erupted in the classroom. Mr Smith stood up from his chair, 'Alright, alright, quieten down! Well done, 'Umar, you made a very good effort. Now...' Mr Smith was cut off midway through his sentence by a noise at the back of the class.
The gold chain was noticeable before the neck that wore it could be seen. Mr Smith was quite used to the sequence now. The class would have started and he would be disturbed midway through the lesson by a shadowy figure entering the class, not through the door but via one of the windows at the back. Mr Smith stood up a little straighter. 'Nice of you to join us, Muhammad. Have you done your homework?'
'Yes, I have,' was the reply. The gold toothed smile that followed the answer was mischievous. 'Would you like to share it with the rest of us then?' Mr Smith braced himself for the reply. 'You know what sir, I made a team but because it was a dream team, I made it in my sleep. I've forgotten the team now.' The class burst into laughter, only 'Abdullāh, who sat next to Muhammad, looked sadly at the floor. 'Alright, alright very funny,' said Mr Smith. Who would like to volunteer next?'
Over the next half an hour, Mr Smith's classroom was graced by some of the world's greatest figures; Albert Einstein, Leonardo Da Vinci, Mahatma Gandhi, Winston Churchill, Pelé, Bill Gates, Sigmund Freud, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X... Mr Smith was genuinely pleased with the class' efforts. 'Abdullāh was the last to come to the front. Knowing the intelligence of his star student, Mr Smith keenly waited to hear about the team 'Abdullāh had compiled.
'Before I begin to talk about the team that I put together, I would just like to tell you why I chose the team I did. Is that OK Mr Smith?' Mr Smith nodded, prompting 'Abdullāh to continue. 'Whenever we see someone as great, we generally base our judgement on one of three factors. These three factors are beauty, achievement and the benefit such individuals have provided to society. I am sure all of us considered one or more of these factors when choosing our teams.' The class nodded in response, even Muhammad looked interested.
'So I began thinking about my team, based on these things but I very quickly encountered a problem. As I thought over each of these three things in detail, I began to find that it was hard to think of people who were the best in each one of these categories. For example, someone can be so physically beautiful that we can be lead to loose our senses and some of our lists reflected this...' The class burst into laughter again, as they recalled in their mind's eye, 'Alī's enthusiastic presentation about famous actresses a few minutes earlier. Even Mr Smith could not stifle a smile. 'But beauty in reality, consists of both the external appearance combined with the internal beauty of manners and good character. Likewise, I found problems with achievement and benefit to others; either someone had only achieved something in one specific field or had achieved something that was only applicable or recognised in a specific period. As I continued to think about how to solve this problem, I thought, 'Why don't I think of the people I know and think about what I like about them so much? Maybe that might help me.' And the first person I thought of was you Mr Smith.'
'Abdullāh suddenly turned around to face Mr Smith. Mr Smith stood up from his desk, slightly embarrassed. 'I hope you don't mind me saying this sir, but your first name is David isn't it?' Mr Smith nodded in reply. 'Abdullāh turned back to face the class, who were clearly intrigued to know what 'Abdullāh would say next.
'As most of us probably know, David in Arabic is Dāwūd, and this is the name of one of the greatest and wisest Prophets of God, or as Muslims we say, Allāh. That's probably why Mr Smith is so clever, because he shares a name with such a wise Prophet.' Abdullāh looked at Mr Smith and smiled. The rest of the class laughed and cheered loudly. Mr Smith turned a brighter shade of pink.
'So thinking about names and how they affect and shape our lives made me think of the rest of my class, and I began to think of you guys. I thought of how John's name in Arabic is Yahyā, the name of another great Prophet of Allāh. Then as I went through the names of the rest of the class, I thought, wow, my class is named after a unique set of people. A set of people so unique that their legacy continues to this day, a set of people so famous that the libraries of the world are filled with books describing their achievements, and a set of people so great that people have been named after them for over 1400 years.'
The class was completely silent, their gazes fixed intently on 'Abdullāh. At the back of the class Muhammad sat straight in his chair. 'Who could 'Abdullāh be talking about?' thought Mr Smith.
'Can I carry on Mr Smith?' asked 'Abdullāh. 'Yes, 'Abdullāh, by all means, please carry on,' replied Mr Smith. 'The group of people I am talking about are called the Companions. The Companions were the first generation of Muslims and I am sure many of you have heard of them. Every single one of them was unique and special in their own way and amongst them we find role models for all of us, whether male or female, young or old.' 'Abdullāh continued, 'But among this special group of people, were a group of people who were so special, so unique that they earned the greatest prize of all, a prize so great, so unique that it is even beyond our wildest dreams. Does anybody know who this group of people are?'
No one uttered a word, even Mr Smith was speechless. 'Go on Abdullāh, tell us...,' the serious and interested voice belonged to Muhammad. Mr Smith was amazed, he had never heard Muhammad sound so interested in his history class before. 'Can I write on the board please Mr Smith? Is that okay?' asked 'Abdullāh. 'The pens are on the side 'Abdullāh, go ahead,' replied Mr Smith. 'Abdullāh picked up the black marker and began to write on the white board, talking as he wrote.
'The group of ten superstars I am talking about are called the 'Asharah Mubash-sharah', or the ten Companions who achieved the promise of the greatest prize attainable; they attained the promise of entry into Paradise, or as it is called in Arabic, Jannah, in this very world.' A gasp went around the class as 'Abdullāh turned back to face the class. Mr Smith looked closely at the board and noticed that 'Abdullāh had written ten names on the board. Ten names of ten students in Mr Smith's class!!
'The first of these great people was the Companion Abū Bakr, the first leader of the Muslims, the best friend of the Prophet, peace be upon him, and the bearer of the title: the most truthful. Next on my list is the second leader of Islām, the great warrior, commander and defender of Islām, 'Umar Ibn Khattāb.' Mr Smith stole a glance at the 'Umar that was sitting in his class. 'Umar's chest was filled with pride and his face was a beaming smile.
'Then we have the third leader of Islām, the great businessman 'Uthmān Ibn 'Affān.' 'No wonder Uthmān's so good at business studies,' thought Mr Smith. 'Fourth is the great scholar and courageous Companion, the cousin of the Prophet, peace be upon him, 'Alī Ibn Abī Tālib. 'Wow!' shouted out 'Alī, 'I didn't know I was named after the Prophet's cousin. Nuff respec to dat.'
'And then we have the great companions Talhah Ibn 'Ubaydullāh, Zubayr, 'Abdur Rahmān Ibn 'Awf, Sā'd Ibn Abī Waqqās, Sa'īd Ibn Zayd, and Abū 'Ubaydah Ibn Jarrāh.' 'Abdullāh looked at the rest of the boys in the class as he mentioned their names and told them a little about the great achievements of the people whose names the boys shared. Mr Smith had never seen his students so intrigued or so interested. Even little Sā'd, usually sleepy and rather quiet, was a bundle of activity.
'Is it OK for me to carry on, Mr Smith? I'm nearly finished,' asked 'Abdullāh. 'Yes carry on 'Abdullāh; we've still got a few minutes left.'
'Abdullāh turned away from Mr Smith and once again faced the class. 'Now that I've told you about my team, I want to tell you about my captain. As you guys probably found out when selecting your teams, selecting a captain is really hard. I spent a lot of time selecting my captain, because I wanted him to be the best there ever was. And while I was doing my research I came across the following piece of writing by the French writer Lamartine. I'll read it to you and you guys tell me if you can guess who it is. Can I read it out Mr Smith?' Mr Smith nodded enthusiastically and told 'Abdullāh to carry on.
'Lamartine writes: The most famous men, and women for that matter too, created arms, laws and empires only. They founded, if anything at all, no more than material powers which often crumbled away before their eyes. This man moved not only armies, legislations, empires, people and dynasties, but millions of men in one third of the then inhabited world. And more than that he moved the altars, the gods, the religions, the ideas, the beliefs and souls. As regards all standards by which human greatness can be measured, we may well ask, “Is there any man greater than he?”'
'Abdullāh stopped reading and slowly looked up at the class. 'Any idea who my captain is?' he casually asked. No answer. The class willed 'Abdullāh on with their eyes. 'Go on 'Abdullāh, tell us!' thought Mr Smith.
'My captain is the one who is known as the praised one, the one who is renowned throughout the world as a symbol of mercy and the one who is the greatest man ever to have walked this earth. My captain is...' 'Abdullāh suddenly paused and looked directly at the back of the class, directly at Muhammad. The class followed 'Abdullāh's gaze. Muhammad surprisingly looked at the floor, avoiding the attention that he usually basked in. 'Has Muhammad got tears in his eyes?' thought Mr Smith. 'Amazing!' 'Abdullāh continued his unflinching gaze at Muhammad. 'And the name of my captain? The name of my captain is Muhammad, peace be upon him, the last and greatest Prophet of Allāh.'
The sudden ringing of the bell disrupted the spell 'Abdullāh's speech had cast on the class. Chairs were scraped and books hurriedly shoved into bags, as the usual commotion ensued. As he gave the class instructions for next week's homework, Mr Smith noticed that most of the boys had formed a huddle around 'Abdullāh. 'Umar's voice could be heard loud and clear, 'Tell me more about Ibn Khattāb later, don't forget!' In a few minutes the class was empty.
'Abdullāh thanked Mr Smith as he left the class. 'Thanks for giving me so much time sir.' 'No Problem,' replied Mr Smith as he asked 'Abdullāh to bring him some more information about the Companions. Last to leave though was Muhammad and surprisingly he left through the door and not the window. As he walked past Mr Smith he suddenly looked up and said, 'Sir, can I speak to you for a second?' 'Wow', thought Mr Smith, 'Muhammad's never called me sir before, never mind asking to speak to me. 'I'm sorry for giving you so much hassle this year Mr Smith. Things will hopefully be different from now on.'
As Muhammad walked out of the door, Mr Smith sat down at his desk. 'Five minutes before history. This time with year seven. I understand why 'Abdullāh wants to study Islām now. With such a great history of heroes, who wouldn't,' he thought. 'I'll read about these people, these Companions when I get home.' The sun streamed down through the windows lighting up the dull classroom as Mr Smith contemplated about his star student. Once again Mr Smith was disturbed as the bell rang.
Every action is dependent upon intention. When marrying, both partners should therefore make a firm intention to accomplish the following objectives:
Following the Sunnah of our beloved Nabī Muhammad sallallāhu 'alayhi wasallam.
Safeguarding oneself from sins.
Parenting pious children.
When marrying, each becomes the other’s lifetime companion. Each should understand and appreciate that Allāh ta'ālā has brought them both together and that their destiny in life has now become one. Whatever the circumstances: happiness or sorrow; health or sickness; wealth or poverty; comfort or hardship; trial or ease; all events are to be confronted together as a team with mutual affection and respect. No matter how wealthy, affluent, materially prosperous and “better-off” another couple may appear, one’s circumstances are to be happily accepted with qanā'at (contentment upon the Choice of Allāh ta'ālā). The wife should happily accept her husband, his home and income as her lot and should always feel that her husband is her true beloved and best friend and well-wisher in all family decisions. The husband too should accept his wife as his partner-for-life and not cast a glance towards another.
Nowadays, the husband reads about, and is well-informed of his rights and demands them. Similarly, the wife reads of her rights and expects them. However, both should concentrate on being aware of each other’s rights and then strive to fulfil them. This is the prescription for a prosperous marriage and everlasting love.
During the first year of marriage, the couple must try and spend as much time as possible together. This is especially true for the first two months as it provides an opportunity to understand each other’s temperaments and establishes a firm foundation which contributes towards securing a prosperous marriage.
The couple (especially the husband) must make a point to arrive home early after ‘Ishā Salāh and scrupulously avoid the habit of socialising with friends late into the evening. Wherever possible, business, employment and other activities should be concluded beforehand or curtailed in order to set aside time for spending together.
Mutual respect between husband and wife should not be lost. They should each be very particular about following the Dīn right from the initial stages of married life. This will also ensure a religious environment for the children to be nurtured in, contributing greatly towards their successful upbringing.
True and everlasting prosperity is only possible for Muslims when they follow the Sunnah of Rasūlullāh sallallāhu 'alayhi wasallam in all affairs. The couple too, should adhere to the teachings of Rasūlullāh sallallāhu 'alayhi wasallam in all their matters and abstain from anything which contradicts them. Careful attention should be given to this in their intimate relationship too. Inshā’allāh this will be an assured approach to acquiring the blessing of pious offspring.
In the initial stages of marriage, the love between the couple is a physical bond, wherein emotional changes take place all the time. Despite great passion and physical love for each other, affection between the couple is not yet well established or on a rational basis. Such rational love comes after many years together. It is therefore extremely important for the husband not to succumb to emotional weaknesses at the onset and let the marriage waver towards an irreligious direction. Both the husband and wife should make a pledge to each other to steadfastly follow the Dīn, especially in the performance of salāh and in avoiding all sins.
Marriage is like the weather, forever changing. Sometimes it is cloudy and rainy, life appears gloomy, then the sun appears and rays of happiness break through bringing joy. At times, one experiences rain, wind and sunshine all in one day. Such is life, and like the seasons, we go through different experiences. The secret is to remain devoted and steadfast to one’s Dīn and spouse.
The husband should be sympathetic to the fact that his wife has left her parents, brothers and sisters to start a new life with him. Her sacrifice and her feelings should be respected and joy should be felt by both partners at the expansion of their families. Just as the wife should treat her husband’s parents as her own, he should also extend affection, courtesy and respect to his new in-laws.
As soon as one experiences a problem, no matter how trivial, which remains unresolved for more than three days, consult a person who is both knowledgeable and your sincere well-wisher.
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.