By Wael Abdelgawad | Zawaj.com
(This piece was written for Zawaj.com, and I am reprinting it here):
Is his hair nicely styled? Is he the perfect height? Are his dimples so cute when he smiles?
Is her makeup just right? Does her body have the perfect curves? Do her feet arch perfectly in those killer high heels?
This is packaging, it’s irrelevant.
American, Pakistani, Arab, African, black, white, this is a veneer. These qualities are insignificant by any true, spiritual standard. When you’re feeling ill and are curled up in bed, it’s not an Arab or American who holds your hand and tells you that it will be okay, who takes your temperature and cools your forehead with a towel, who makes you chicken soup with lemon… it’s a human being, a husband or wife who loves you.
We must get beyond superficial and meaningless classifications like race and nationality. In one of the most powerful condemnations of tribalism that I have ever read, the Prophet Muhammad (sws) said, in a hadith narrated by At-Tirmidhi and Abu Dawud,
“There are people who boast of their dead ancestors; but they are more contemptible in the sight of Allah than the black beetle that rolls dung with its nose. Behold, Allah has removed from you the arrogance of the time of Jahiliyyah (Ignorance) with its boasting of ancestral glories. Man is but a God-fearing believer or a miserable sinner. All people are the children of Adam, and Adam was made from dust.”
And about the impulse to nationalism and racism in general, he said, “Leave it, it is rotten.” (Agreed upon).
Alright, how about this: That guy wanting to court you, is his Armani suit cut just right? Are his shoes sleek and stylish?
That woman who caught your eye, does her dress drape elegantly on her figure?
You know what? That Armani suit can’t stand on its own. It needs a hangar to stay upright. That elegant dress can’t raise your children right.
We must learn to look beyond appearances. I’m not saying that appearance is irrelevant, but how much of our attraction is based on true human beauty, and how much is based on distorted standards and poisonous imagery pumped into our brains by TV, movies, and advertising? In other words, to what degree have we been brainwashed?
The world of advertising teaches us to focus on the wrong things. Consultants are paid millions to design the perfect package for a box of cereal or an energy drink, just the right shape and bright color to catch your eye and entice you to open your wallet. Meanwhile, the product – likely as not – is actually bad for you, consisting of sugar, salt, chemicals and dyes. These advertisers are teaching us to make choices based on packaging and image.
What they are teaching us is entirely ruinous and wrong.
Human beings are not consumer products. We’re not disposable. When you marry someone you’re in it for the long haul. You’re with them when they wake up in the morning with crust in their eyes and hair pressed to one side of the their head; when they get laid off from work because the company is “downsizing”, and you don’t know how the bills will get paid next month; when they’re depressed, tired, sick; when they make mistakes, when they say and do the wrong things, when they lose their temper, when they’re afraid or insecure…
This is as serious as it gets. This is life, and a shiny but empty package won’t get you through it, won’t help on you the path, won’t hold you up when you’re weak, or make you laugh when you’re down. The package can’t do that. Remember that when you buy something, the package ends up in the trash. If you choose someone for the package only, you may be bitterly disappointed when the storm comes and no one is there to shelter you, or to hold.
These are lessons learned through heartache and disappointment.
Look deeper. Find a gentle and honest heart, a strong backbone, a striving spirit. Look to what the person does, how they live, how they treat people, how they relate to the Almighty. Look to that shimmering soul inside, and discern whether it’s a selfish and bitter soul, or loving and true. Look beyond the packaging to the core, and trust your God-given instincts, and you’ll find yourself a rare happiness, a precious partnership, or a true friend.
The most beautiful, powerful things in the world don’t come in disposable packages. Mountains, trees, ocean, sky, stars… their true attributes are bared to the world. They don’t need packages because they are stunning and profound in their essence.
As someone said, beautiful things are not always good, but good things are always beautiful.
By basing your life choices on matters of substance, you’ll avoid social and financial traps that ruin so many. You’ll build friendships as real and solid as mountains, with people you can trust with your reputation, your heart and your life. You’ll do work that matters, and leave a legacy that improves people’s lives in unforgettable ways.