by Ayesha Khan
Who do you consider to be beautiful?
Do you think that you are beautiful?
What is beauty anyway?
The Greek idea of beauty was of being ‘of the hour’ – i.e. just the right age, or youthful. Other ideas of beauty are that the object is perfectly proportioned. Historically, women had to squeeze into impossibly tight corsets, or apply layers of poisonous make up. Women are found in history fainting all over the place, because while they were kitted out in the latest fashions, they could barely breathe.
We can laugh at women in the past, but let’s look at the idea of beauty today. Advertising agencies would have us believe that you need to look European, be size zero, have impossible proportions, legs a mile long, oh and flawless skin, obviously. And when models who have starved themselves dare to have a spot, it has to be airbrushed off.
We sadly are at the mercy of this barrage of marketing. Every day we are bombarded by images of impossibly beautiful and mostly semi naked women. But if the only reason for advertising to exist is to make money for companies selling products, then do we trust them to know and project the image of real beauty?
Recent studies suggest that whereas a decade ago girls outperformed boys, who were seen as hyperactive, video game-playing underachievers, NOW the level of girls with self-esteem problems and mental health issues is increasing. And one major reason is how girls perceive themselves.
Advertising just makes us feel bad about ourselves. The very first tactic advertisers use to convince us to buy their products is to imply that that we are incomplete and inadequate without them. Our smile will not be minty fresh, and our skin will not glow, and our clothes will not be bright unless we use their products. So if advertisers cannot be trusted to tell us the truth about what really is or isn’t beautiful, who do we look to for the answer?
What does Islam say?
In Islam, we look to God and the Quran for the answer. Firstly, we are told that ultimate beauty is with God. God is beautiful in His essence, in His names and attributes, and in His actions. The greatest of all pleasures in Paradise will be to look upon God’s face.
Everything God made on Earth has a purpose, but is also beautiful: “Surely We have made whatever is on the earth an embellishment for it.” [18:7] Moreover, we are told that God created human beings in the best of forms. He gave us stature and set us apart from creation by being upright.
And there are three particular words that God uses to describe himself:
Al Khaliq – the creator who can originate life and everything that exists in the universe from nothing
Al Bari – which means the one who creates order, design and proportion.
Al Musawir – which means the shaper of beauty, like a potter who moulds clay, or an artist choosing the colours for a painting, the emphasis is on being pleasing to the eye.
So Muslims believe that God not only created us, but chose our features for us. He didn’t just let pot luck decide what nose we would be born with. In fact, He describes repeatedly how we are shaped in the womb and formed with precision. He designed and planned every single one of us to look the way we do.
Let’s look around us. God didn’t create 3.5 billion Angelina Jolies and 3.5 billion Brad Pitts. He gave us our own unique hair colour and face. There cannot be just one standard of beauty, because God tells us that he deliberately created us in different races.
If you look around the room you will see unique individuals, and I am sure that you will find something attractive or beautiful about every single person who is here. It may be their smile, or their teeth, or skin, or hair, or hands or physique.
So Islam liberates women from the pressure of conforming to either men’s idea of beauty or advertising agencies pressure on us to look perfect, and allows us to have confidence in being us.
So tip 1: Believe in yourselves.
As God has bestowed the gift of beauty on us, it is up to us to look after ourselves. Be clean and hygienic, moisturise, exercise, eat well, sleep well, & dress well.
In Islam we do not need to flaunt our beauty. In the same way that you would think a rich person lacks class when he goes around flashing his cash, women don’t need to exhibit their attributes to the world to prove that they have them. That’s why in Islam we have the concept of modesty – by wearing a headscarf, and loose clothes that cover us, we remove a woman’s body from the gaze and scrutiny of every passer-by.
And once you believe in yourself, you can have the courage to be different. Why do we need to put it all out there in competition with the rest of the world to be judged? We don’t need to conform to society’s pressure to look like an X-factor contestant.
And who are we are we giving the right to judge us when we go out? Random strangers?
We are not just packaging. We have more substance than that.
Roald Dahl hit the nail on the head when he described Mrs Twit. He said ugly thoughts make us ugly, while beautiful thoughts make us beautiful. In other words, beauty is not just skin deep. Real beauty emanates from our whole being.
There is a prayer which the Prophet Muhammad* taught us, that we recite when we look in a mirror. The translation is: ‘God you created my external appearance with beauty, give me beauty in my character.’
The Arabic word used for beauty in this prayer is ‘hasan’ which also means ‘goodness’. So goodness and beauty are inextricably linked. Beauty manifests itself in our behaviour at all times.
The example of our Prophet* was to beautify every aspect of his life. Similarly, real beauty is reflected in the way we eat, dress, play sports, work, and interact with others. How we are with every single person around us. Whether it be teachers, or other girls in our class, or from another class. Beauty comes from being kind, thoughtful, elegant and sincere. Being gracious in defeat and humble in victory, being modest, being polite…
When we look at our friendships, they are not based on looks, but on personality. So once we have accepted what we look like, just as we look after our outer selves, to develop real beauty, we need to focus on our inner selves.
Muslims believe God is beautiful, creates beauty, and likes beauty in all things. Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. We are surrounded by it and it is up to us to notice this gift and make the most of it. To appreciate what we have been given, to enhance it and to work on our inner selves, because it will shine through.
*peace be upon him
Written by Ayesha Khan in 2013