Be honest. Have you fallen for the trick? Are you happy with the way you look? If you had the chance, wouldn’t you like to change some part of you? Maybe you would like to be a bit taller or thinner or have a different colour hair. Maybe you would like to have blue eyes or a different skin tone.
In a world where millions of people are dying of hunger and disease almost every day, it is a fact that billions upon billions of dollars are spent every year on cosmetic surgery. Television, the internet, and newspapers are full of advertisements telling us what we should look like. For a few thousand dollars, plastic surgeons can alter the shape of your nose, reduce the appearance of wrinkles around your eyes or make that tummy fat disappear forever.
Countless television programs cater for the public’s desire to know more about losing weight or how to dress in a way that best conceals their less flattering features. Perhaps most of us don’t go as far as plastic surgery, but probably just because we can’t afford to, not because we don’t want to. We spend plenty of time and energy, though, trying to reduce weight or to build up muscles, so that we fit into the stereotype the magazines present to us.
Let us be honest. We have all fallen for the advertising trick, which makes us believe that there is a perfect way to look. Young or old, people in every street want to look their best. And why shouldn’t they? It is not wrong to want to look nice. The problem comes when it gets out of control and the pressure on people becomes so great that they no longer feel happy not only with how they look, but also with who they are.
Young people, especially, are forced by advertising to conform to a certain type. They are told to buy the latest jeans or the latest pair of trainers. They are told that this tracksuit or this hairstyle will make them cool. Not only will their appearance alter by wearing the tracksuit. The advertising campaigns are so clever that they persuade us that we will not only look cool, but we will be cool. Our personalities will be changed, they tell us, by wearing certain brands.
This is nonsense and it is a lie. The advertising companies, remember, care nothing for the way we look or whether we are cool or not. They just want to sell their products and they will stop at nothing in piling pressure upon us to buy them.
It takes a lot of courage to resist all this pressure. At the end of the day, it all comes down to how we feel about ourselves. If we are confident and content, the advertising campaigns won’t make much of an impression. If we are vulnerable and feel in need of reassurance, they will prey upon us.
We read in the very last Surat of the holy Quran a description of what the shaytan does. He whispers into the hearts of Mankind, telling them that they are no good. This very last Surat warns us to beware of the mischief of the Whisperer (of Evil), who withdraws (after his whisper).
Almighty Allah has created us all with the potential of what He wants us to be. Do you think He made a mistake when He made you or me? Do you think that the One who created the heavens and the earth and everything that is in between them, got it wrong when you were born? Of course, He didn’t. He tells us that We have created Man in the best of moulds. The best of moulds.
The big sports or cosmetics manufacturers might want to tell us otherwise because that way they will sell their goods, but there is nothing wrong with the way we look to start with. And, by the way, looks change. What is the popular look in one age can be very unpopular in another? In some societies, looking slim is a sign that you are undernourished, not that you are attractive! Other societies favour pale skin over a sun tan. Don’t be fooled. The advertisers just want you to spend money. That’s all.
Think for a moment, too, about the millions of people in the world for whom brand names and cosmetics have no place. A blind person, for example, does not care if his eyes are blue or brown if he cannot see with them. What use is a pair of the latest style in trainers to a young boy who cannot walk? Any hair at all is longed for by the young girl whose hair has fallen out through cancer treatment. You see how lucky we are? Yet there are those who make us doubt the gifts we have received, just because they want to take advantage of us.
Being happy about who we are has nothing to do with the way we dress or the colour of our eyes. Look at the happy, smiling faces of millions of people who quite literally have nothing. Yet, for them, even life itself is a gift. Just take a few moments each day to think of all the good things in your life. You had breakfast this morning, didn’t you? Spare a thought for those who didn’t.
We spoke about the last words in the Quran. We also read these words in the beginning of the holy Quran: And behold, We said to the angels: Bow down to Adam, and they bowed down. Almighty Allah did not ask the angels to bow down before something that was less than them. He created Mankind as the summit of all His Creation. There would be nothing in the whole of His Creation better than Mankind.
Now, apply those verses to yourself. The shaytan might keep whispering to you that you are not up to much and that you will never amount to much. He might even use the advertising companies to reinforce his message and make you believe that you have to conform to a certain look in order to be acceptable. As Muslims, though, we believe something different. We believe that Allah Almighty has created us as the very pinnacle of his Creation.
Believing anything else is to fall for the trick of those who want to take advantage of us. Whether we have the best trainers in the world, or no trainers at all, when our heads are bowed on the ground in prayer, we know the truth. When our foreheads are touching the ground we can’t get away from the facts. Allah has created us. Allah wills us into being every moment of every day. It is Allah who will make the sun come up for us the next morning and breathe life into our bodies once more.
The next time you pray, just take a moment to thank Allah for all of this and to thank Him that He made you just the person you are. He didn’t make any mistake. The challenge for us is to live up to all of this. And we can start by looking in the mirror and winking at the person we see. If we are good enough for Allah, we are good enough for anyone else, too!
First published: March 2011