By Romina Afghan
The Muslim female body is one of those things that many people talk about on many different levels – there is the non-Muslim political discourse about which parts of the body we, as Muslim women, should be allowed to cover in society( because apparently we can’t decide that for ourselves and can only dress in the way our culturally-bound backwards husbands tell us! ); there is the Muslim discussion about what we should be allowed to show- which is fine by me as long as it revolves around what pleases Allaah, is based upon proper proofs, and is a personal choice; and then there is the deeply personal discussion we have between ourselves and with ourselves about our bodies, and how we feel about them.
No doubt, living in the West, we have absorbed the maladjusted and conflicting ideas about beauty, the purpose of our bodies and about who these bodies actually belong to. So many women have lost ownership of their bodies- Muslim and non-Muslim. So many women seem to wait for others to approve of their body before they do. They wait for others to tell them they are beautiful before they can feel it. They wait for others to give them permission to feel the joy of living in the body that our Creator gifted to them, before they give themselves permission.
No more! As enlightened Muslim women, looking to live a life that embodies gratitude or “Shukr” to Allaah in every single aspect and form, let us move purposefully into that space where we can see, feel and appreciate all the gifts that Allah has bestowed upon us.
One of the joys of reaching the ripe age of forty (plus!), is that you have experienced enough of life to realise what matters and what doesn’t; you have seen and felt enough to recognise what to let go of, what to hold on to; what’s worth crying about and what definitely is not- most of the time…but I understand that we are still all prone to those moments of foolishness and folly that define our species, and that even with a good number of years under the belt, so to speak, we may still falter sometimes. However, the joy is that now, a sprinkle of wisdom can go a very long way to embracing the weakness that before might have caused an internal crisis; the difference is that now, we can place those momentary lapses of judgement within the wider framework of the whole person that we are, and decide to view ourselves with the kindness and judgement of a friend rather than the enemy we might have been to ourselves in our brash youth!
So let us take that kindness and that shukr with us as we look at ourselves in the mirror. Really look and appreciate what this body enables us to do.
The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) used to pray:
“O Allaah, You have made my outward form beautiful, so make my attitude good too.”
(Narrated by Ibn Hibbaan in his Saheeh (3/239) and classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Irwa’ al-Ghaleel (75).)
The body of each one of us, male or female, old or young, big or small, is beautiful because it is the creation of Allaah. It is beautiful, whether we have conditioned ourselves to see that beauty or not, and the example of the Prophet sallAllahu alayhi wa sallam above exemplifies the healthy relationship we need to nurture with it, in order to be complete believers.
As I take myself on that journey ( and I don’t believe I’ve reached my destination, for sure!), I’m not so much interested in the look or shape of my body in and of itself, as much as I am in making the most of what this body houses and what it can help me do; of trying to improve as much as I can the quality of the soul and heart that resides within it. My journey is now about easing into acceptance of what Allaah has given me, and about making the choice to either make use of the blessings of this physical form, or to waste them by allowing it to be less than optimal.
I’m more interested now in how I can improve what I’ve been given; how I can show gratitude for the immense blessings of this body that protects and heals and is on guard 24 hours a day, even while I sleep and am unaware, dead to the world – Allaah gave me a miraculous body that not only maintains its function, but also improves itself while I sleep. It repairs what was broken, fights off what shouldn’t be there, it grows where it needs to and adapts itself continually without needing instruction nor conscious permission from me, subhanAllaah. And yes, it is beautiful- it looks as beautiful as it needs to! I need to be grateful for all of that, and gratitude requires action- as Allaah subhnahu wa ta’ala instructed the Prophet Dawood (peace be upon him):
“Work, O family of David, in gratitude.” And few of My servants are grateful. (Quran 34:13)
Part of that gratitude is appreciating it, taking care of it, nourishing it, using it in a way which shows Allaah that you appreciate this gift- and remembering that indeed, like everything we have in this life, it is a gift that doesn’t truly belong to us. The way we enjoy this body today may be a gift that tests our gratitude now, and perhaps the lack of it could be a test of our patience tomorrow. We have no guarantee that the independence, the mobility, the looks we enjoy today will be there tomorrow- in fact, as we get older the likelier it becomes that those things will diminish, and therefore the more important it becomes to preserve them by showing gratitude for them whilst we can:
“And [remember] when your Lord proclaimed, ‘If you are grateful, I will surely increase you…” (Qur’an 14:7)
As part of that gratitude, when I look in the mirror, I can choose to see my lines as a celebration of the life I have been blessed with, the result of smiles that have lifted moments of my life into memorable pleasure-giving pictures that are etched into my very physicality. And whilst I might engage in a bit of facial yoga every now and then (well, why not?), I don’t deny those lines their right to be there.
“O Allaah, You have made my outward form beautiful, so make my attitude good too.”
Whilst I appreciate my body, I recognise that I am more than the sum of my body parts or the beauty I can present to the world. My beauty exists in my alignment with my purpose, in my alignment with what my Creator loves and wants from me. That living in alignment may not happen all the time, because I’m simply a weak human being, but in the moments that it does- there is pure beauty and joy.
And that true joy is something that spreads like ripples in a lake. My joy reverberates in those around me who are also living in alignment with their inner beauty and joy- with their fitrah ( that natural instinctual belief that Allaah gave all of us and that guides us to Him). Living in alignment, we become like the turning fork that causes everything with the same frequency to start vibrating and ringing together with it. When you are in alignment with the beauty of your soul and with what the Creator of Everything wants from you, then you’re implicitly giving permission for everything else on the same frequency, who wants to live in alignment with their true goal of submitting to their creator and finding the beauty in that, to free themselves from the shackles of this materialistic life, the shackles of bodily expectations and body shame, and instead start celebrating what we all do have.
And that is a precious body that houses a beautiful eternal soul, a mechanism by which to show with your limbs your beautiful submission to none other than your Creator. This body will enable you to make sujood- that posture in which a human being is closest to their Creator, in which you physically show that while you are an honoured Creation, in front of Him, you are willing to bow and submit and accept His Lordship over you.
As the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said:
“The closest that a person is to his Lord is when he is prostrating…” (Narrated by Muslim, 482.)
The muslimah I am today loves my body, and I invite you to love yours – really love what Allaah has blessed you with. Love it and take care of it- this body that enables you to embody love, and both give it and receive it physically- through loving touch, hugs and smiles. This body that can stand you up in prayer. This body that allows you to help others and care for them. This body that was created to worship Allaah through physically enacting as much worship as it is able.
Your body is beautiful, and it will never be more beautiful than the day you show gratitude for it. That warm belly that nourished your unborn child and protected it. Those strong legs that help you walk to the prayer mat. Those hands and fingers that help you count tasbeeh. That mouth that enables you to make thikr (remebrance) of Allaah in alignment with all of creation. That face that radiates joy and gives sadaqah ( charity ) by smiling to your neighbours. Yes, that face is beautiful ! Fully beautiful. That nose is perfect for you. Your eyebrows are perfect for you( and they definitely don’t need to be plucked or punished for doing their job!). And all of it was fashioned for you by a Creator who loves you.
I’m not advocating that you don’t make the most of your beauty assets, or that you stop grooming yourself in any way – but do so from a loving place. Do so from a place of the right intention; do so from the place of knowing that your beauty is there and you accept it as a gift from Allaah; do so from a place of knowing that your beauty is eternal and comes from the way in which you use your gifts.
The Muslimah I am today is learning to be grateful and to be kind to this body. To be thankful for it and where it has taken me, and where it still has yet to take me. We are spiritual beings having a physical experience on this earth, someone clever said. Let us not forget that; let us celebrate the physical by putting it in alignment with the spiritual. I love my body and my face because it is the One Allaah chose for me, and I aim to prefer what Allaah loves to what I love, I aspire to be amongst those who can love everything my Creator sent to me and gifted me with, and I aspire to live my life from this day forward doing that.
Who wants to free themselves and join me?
About the author:
Romina is a happy mother to four children, a Master NLP-practitioner in training, part-time teacher and passionate believer in unlocking the wonderful potential of each and every soul by connecting them to Allaah and His Book. She has been blessed to be a part of Solace for some years now, and loves connecting with sisters everywhere, so if you happen to come to a Solace event where she is, come on over and introduce yourself!