Beauty or the Beast

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When a harsh school experience made guest writer Sundus Alsharif self-conscious and miserable, another of life’s difficulties taught her many lessons.

What is beauty?

To a model, beauty may be having a certain body type. Beauty from a doctor’s point of view could be to the ability to help other people in their time of need. To a writer, beauty can be the crafting of words to convey a message. To a painter, beauty might mean the ability to convey a feeling through an image. From a reader’s perspective, beauty may be the way writing captivates imagination.

There are many different ways human beings view beauty. What way is the best way to view beauty, you ask? I can’t answer that question – that is a question you have to answer for yourself. One thing I can tell you is how to not view beauty. We all face struggles in life – and it was through one of these struggles that I learned what beauty really is.

I know for a fact that I am not the only human that endures hardship in life. That being said, I am not writing this to be praised or recognized. I am writing this for the sake of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, in the hopes of bringing light to a topic that is not really discussed. I also know that I am not alone in what I faced. I hope that I am the voice for everyone that has never had the courage to say anything about it. I debated for many days whether or not I should make this story anonymous – I decided not to. I want everyone who reads this to know that this story is real. And what better way to do that than to reveal my identity?

I remember it like it was yesterday.

I was at a square desk all to myself, as the rest of my classmates arranged their desks in a circle. I got up from my desk to move it into the circle because we were about to read a chapter in American History. As I was moving my desk, someone yelped, “Oh my goodness, Sundus, your nose is so big! Hahaha, you look just like Toucan Sam!” My heartbeat raced and my hands started to shake. What could I possibly answer back to such a statement? My nose certainly is not small, so I could not tell this person that he or she was lying.

I decided I would just ignore the statement. As I ignored the hurtful comments, they only got worse. Now, I had almost everyone in the class making fun of my nose in some way. This was no longer a joke – I went home everyday crying. I hated the way I looked, and I wanted nothing more than for people to accept me. But they never did. The teasing got so bad that I finally decided to stick up for myself. I remember saying, “What you are saying to me is not nice, please stop.” Little did I know that by saying this, I would get made fun of even more. The people that made fun of me said in a very sarcastic tone, “Oh Sundus says it’s not nice, like we care!”

I was very young when this happened to me, and it was extremely difficult for me to deal with. It’s one thing to be made fun of by a couple of class bullies occasionally, but it wasn’t like that for me. Practically everyone in the class made fun of me, every day. I heard that I was ugly because of my nose so often that I started to believe it. For two years straight, I was made fun of by more than half of the class. When I looked in the mirror, I would examine my nose for long periods of time, asking myself whether or not something really was wrong with the way I looked. My thoughts were consumed with the so-called “flaw” my peers pointed out to me. As I got older, the teasing stopped. People were still pointing out others “flaws,” but I guess they didn’t bother pointing out mine anymore because they had done it so much that it was an old story.

Even though the bullying had stopped, I was still self-conscious about my nose and image in general. And how could I not be? I was teased about it for two years straight everyday! Many life experiences helped me see past what my peers said were my “flaws.” The experience that helped me the most was when my sister Layla had to have brain surgery in the middle of the night. Her shunt was no longer working properly, and she had to have a new shunt put in.

I stayed up all night with my family in the waiting room, awaiting the results. As I sat in the waiting room, I thought about my life. I thought about how my sister might not survive. I thought about how close death is to everyone, even though I was not the one having the surgery. Death is not always expected, just as my sister’s surgery was not planned.

As everyone sat in the waiting room, I walked into the bathroom. I looked in the mirror like always, but this time, something was different. Tears started to flow from my eyes as I stared into my reflection. Why would I spend one more second thinking about the way I looked when it would never benefit me? How could I criticize my nose when there are some people who wish they even had a nose because they were born without one? This time, when I looked in the mirror, I didn’t see myself as an ugly girl with a messed up nose. I saw a servant of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, and it was then and only then then that I was truly happy to look in the mirror. I saw my physical features as the creation of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, and I could never be upset with the way He had created me. From that day on, it never bothered me in the slightest when someone made an offensive comment towards my appearance.

When I was younger and had been made fun of often, I wanted nothing more than to change who I was so that the people who made fun of me would accept me. I remember making du’aa to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, asking Him why He had given me a different nose, and why so many of the people I thought were my friends would make fun of me. It wasn’t until many years later that I got the answer to my du’aa: that this life is not about being accepted by other people; it’is about gaining acceptance from Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala.

At the time I was being teased, I thought it would be the greatest thing in the world to get plastic surgery to change my nose so I would be accepted. But Allah knew what was best for me, and He didn’t give me plastic surgery. Allah did not give me the acceptance I had longed to have for so long. What Allah gave me was so much better than what I wanted. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala gave me the ability to see beauty in all of His creation. He gave me the wisdom to realize that no one is worth pleasing except Him.

Many people have had to deal with bullying – even in the Muslim community. What happened to me is not a unique story. If you are being teased or you know someone who is being teased, then please do something about it. We don’t realize how much demeaning statements can hurt someone until we are victims of them. As for the people that made fun of me, I have nothing against any of them. I know that when this happened, they were young and unaware that what they did would hurt me. Many of them apologized to me years later, and I accepted the apology. If I made a similar mistake, I would want someone to forgive me as well. I don’t blame any of them, because I know they didn’t intentionally hurt my feelings.

I didn’t write this piece to receive praise, sympathy, empathy or recognition. Please, hold your “You are such a good person” comments. I wrote this with the intention of pleasing Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. Without Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala guiding me, I would have never realized all of the beauties of life that cannot be seen. It would be wrong for me to say that I realized all of these things on my own, because I didn’t.

If we want to find beauty, we must remember the simple things that we sometimes overlook. This is a reminder to myself before anyone else.

For myself, beauty is the love for Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala that fills my heart when I am making sujood. Beauty is the laughter I share with my father when he tells me a funny joke. Beauty is when my sister shows me how to be content with little. Beauty is serving Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. Beauty is when my little brother whispers in my ear that he loves having me as a sister. Beauty is when I chase Sara Samaha down the beach with a sand-ball in my hand prepared to throw it at her. Beauty is when my mother hugs me tightly before I leave to class. Beauty is strong character. Beauty is the recitation of the Quran. Beauty is the Masjid on Eid.

Beauty is modesty, and modesty is covering ourselves for the sake of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. As much as a blessing hijab is, I realize how much of a struggle it can be. We live in a society that tells us every day what we should wear, and how we should wear it. We have to deal with growing up, going to school, and getting married one day. We worry about our friendships, our family, and that paper we have to write. But in the grand scheme of life, we have to realize how short our time here really is. No matter what path we choose, life goes on and struggles will always somehow find us. If you want to make a change in your life, whether it’s to start wearing hijab, or to simply appreciate the way Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala created you, go for it . We all have everything to gain by struggling in the way of Allah ta’ala.

I know from personal experience that it is not easy to see beauty beyond appearance. But it is possible. Once you find beauty beyond what your eyes can see, you will never look at things the same again.

Literally.

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Sundus Alsharif is a contributor to the Muslim Youth for Truth blog, run by a MAS Media chapter in Tampa, Florida. The purpose of  MAS Media is to bring light to misconceptions targeted towards Muslim communities via the media, while also engaging in Islamic outreach efforts to clean up our own backyard.

This piece, “Beauty or the Beast,” originally appeared on the Muslim Youth for Truth blog, and is reposted here with permission from the author.

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