Maybe I should have worn sun cream more often. Perhaps I’ve not been drinking enough water. Have my youthful days of smoking rollies come back to bite me? Or maybe I’m just not as young as I think I am. Almost as though it happened overnight, at some point during summer 2016, my face began to show signs of – oh my gosh – WRINKLES. It’s nothing much, just little creases by the eyes, and my forehead takes that bit longer to settle down each time my eyebrows pop up for a visit. I’m not particularly obsessive or vain about my appearance – having acne and blemish-prone skin for well over a decade can do that to you. But I’m not quite sure I’m ready for the wrinkles.
But why not? While I’m stirring collagen powder into my smoothie and rubbing rosehip oil into my stubborn brow, I can’t help but wonder what this obsession is with remaining crease-free. When I was six years old, my parents were friends with a man who had the deepest wrinkles beside each of his eyes, which deepened whenever he smiled or laughed. I thought his wrinkles were the most wonderful thing, as it made him look like a man who must have spent his entire life with a smile upon his face. At what point did I cease to appreciate these happiness scars? When did I learn to fear and loathe the thought of gaining some lovely smile maps of my own?
Of course, my finger points instinctively to the not-so-beautiful beauty industry, which has mastered the art of convincing us to hand over our pennies in exchange for a promise that we can forever look like their airbrushed model on the billboards. But is it really just the skin that we worry about with age, or do the fears go deeper than that? With each passing birthday, with every year added on to the clock, there is the thought, conscious or unconscious, that time is passing, and that one day it will be running out.
“You prefer the life of this world, even though the Hereafter is better and more lasting.” (Qur’an 87: 16-17)
Is it our survival instinct that causes us to strive to maintain our youthful skin for as long as possible, somehow believing that our potions and serums can fool death into giving us extra time? Despite being a Muslim who believes in the Hereafter, and who understands that this life is only temporary, I feel that I have to consciously exercise my detachment from this dunya, reminding myself that the inevitable passing of this life is every much as part of the journey as my daily struggles, achievements, and dreams. This world is not where I belong, and my gradually tiring skin is a reminder that this body won’t hold me forever, but that doesn’t stop me in my attempts to keep my looks youthful for as long as I possibly can. But are my efforts misplaced? Am I striving for the totally wrong goal? Our bodies are an amanah from Allah, yes, and looking after them well is a form of gratitude and worship to Him, subhaan’Allah. But if my intentions are purely vain, maintaining smoother, plumper skin won’t do anything in terms of adding extra years to my life, and nor will it do anything for adding extra good deeds to my scales. I may feel more at ease looking in the mirror, but how am I preparing for how at ease I will feel when I finally see my book of deeds on the Day of Qiyamah?
While contemplating this process of ageing, and the journey that is our worldly life, I have a growing sensation that our dreaded creasing skin and greying hair is actually a blessing from Allah. All of it is a reminder; a gentle nudge to keep us on track and focused on our ever-approaching destination. Without this ageing process, we could delude ourselves that we are forever spring chickens; that death is just a far away concept that we don’t have to worry about for an unknown and an uncared number of decades. Ignoring the fact that any of us could pass away at any given moment, the act of growing older is the beautifully visible and physical connection to the process of edging closer to the end of our lives.
All around us, Allah constantly reminds us of the temporary nature of this life. At the time of writing this, I am surrounded by the autumnal beauty of October. The trees outside my window are baring their multicoloured display of death and decay. Do the trees worry about their orangeing leaves in the same way that we fret about wrinkling skin? Or do they remember that with death, Allah also provides life, and that it won’t be long until they bloom with fresh young blossom once again.
With the falling leaves, and new flowers of spring; with the fading glow after dusk, to the bright sky of each new morning; with the wrinkling skin, fragile bones and missing teeth, to new born screams, plump new flesh, and the gummy lines where new teeth soon will grow; we are each a part of this cycle. We live our days from within our own tiny perspective, when there is so much more outside of us that we forget to ponder upon. We don’t worry about the crisping leaves, showing signs that they’re soon going to be ready to fall to their end; instead we marvel at their beauty, and admire both their aesthetics and their metaphors. So why do we find it so difficult to do the same with ourselves, when we too are sharing the exact same process?
“It is He who created night and day, the sun and the moon, each floating in its orbit.” (Qur’an 21: 33)
Everything is in its cycle; all of us have our path. We are not one life, one body, one wrinkling outfit of flesh. We are each one leaf, in a forest of millions of trees. We are each one star, on a sky of billions of specs, rising and fading in the dust. We are all a part of this orbit of planets, circulating in a number of days, weeks, months, years. The lines on our face, and greys in our hair, remind us that we are not a permanent feature. We are not here forever.
“Every soul is certain to taste death: We test you all through the bad and the good, and to Us you will all return.” (Qur’an 21: 35)
Alhamdulillah for wrinkles. Alhamdulillah for greying hair. Not everyone is blessed with a life long enough to witness these changes in ourselves; these beautiful messages from Allah. Whether you are currently in the spring, summer, or autumn of your life, be the busy squirrel hoarding nuts before the winter. Be the busy slave, all-aware of the passing of time; all-aware of the importance of planning and preparing for our next destination.
Admire the creases on your skin. Marvel at the beauty contained within those lines. Allah created everything in its perfection, and not one thing was created without its own purpose – and that includes our wrinkles. Look at the lines on your face as though they’re a gift from Allah, like a postcard sent to a loved one, which reads ‘See you soon’.