Not just public personalities, even ordinary people are within the purview of image experts. Jo Anna Nicholson, author of five self-help books, including Dressing Smart for Men and Dressing Smart for Women has made a fortune out of telling others how to dress and act so that they make an “instant impression” on prospective employers and spouses. Her books include chapters on “Looking As If You Don’t Have a Clue”, “How to Look Accidentally Good” and “Looking Promotable.”
Popular magazines and websites abound with pseudo-psychoanalytical articles on what one’s clothes, hair, jewellery or accessories are saying about a person, and how people can carefully tailor their appearance to create maximum impact.
Contrast this with the attitude of the early Muslims. When the Muslims opened Jerusalem, the Christians refused to give the city’s keys to anyone except the Caliph. So ‘Umar ibn al-Khattaab, may Allaah be pleased with him, set off from Madeenah to Jerusalem. His entourage? One attendant and a mule, which they took turns to ride. It happened to be the attendant’s turn to ride on the day they were to reach Jerusalem. The attendant volunteered to give up his turn because it would look “awkward in the eyes of the people” if he rode and the Chief of the Believers walked. ‘Umar, may Allaah be pleased with him, refused, saying:
“Yakfeenaa sharaful Islaam – the honour of Islaam is enough for us.”
On the way, while walking across a muddy area, ‘Umar, may Allaah be pleased with him, took off his footwear, put it under his arm and raised his clothes so they wouldn’t get muddy. When Abu Ubaydah, may Allaah be pleased with him, who was one of the commanders waiting for him saw this, he ran to ‘Umar asking him to ride his horse while entering the city. He said they were in a land where the quality of clothes reflected the rank of people.
‘Umar, may Allaah be pleased with him, replied:
“I wish someone other than you had said that. Have you forgotten that we were a lowly people and it was Islaam that made us honourable? If we seek honour from anything other than Islaam, Allaah will return us to that state of lowliness.”
Today this is the case. For proof, one only has to look around: Muslims are being humiliated, subjugated and oppressed by the very system and people whose ways they seek to emulate, in preference to the Sunnah of their Prophet, sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam, and the example of those whom Allaah was pleased with.
It’s true, cultivating “coolness” may have more immediate pay-offs than cultivating sincerity. Wearing the latest brands and hanging out at the most-happening places is the ticket to gaining entry into the ‘with-it’ crowd – the people with the wittiest repartees, trendiest hairstyles and clothes, fanciest cars and gizmos— who spend a considerable amount of time and energy trying to stay abreast of the latest trends. As opposed to this ‘magic circle’, seen from the outside, the company of sincere people seems unglamorous, even boring.
But scratch deeper, and the truth surfaces.
People who try to fit in with a superficial world that subscribes to ever-changing fads, soon discover that the hollowness of their world finds an echo deep within. A deep-seated dissatisfaction with oneself takes a person to stylists and therapists, but make-up and makeovers can’t change one’s personality. They merely reinforce the belief that a person is incapable of being appreciated for themselves, they must use other people’s advice instead of their own judgment to be successful, they must adopt someone else’s idea of beauty to be acceptable in the eyes of others.
How cool is that?
On the other hand, people who set out on the straight and narrow, choosing substance over style, seeking to please Allaah Ta’ala as opposed to pleasing people, may not find their popularity ratings soar—quite the opposite, in fact.
Yet, they get strength in the certainty of their belief, that their reward is with Allaah Ta’ala in the Hereafter.