Men in stylish suits

Do clothes make the man?

By Wael Abdelgawad

Is his hair nicely styled? Is he the perfect height?

Is her makeup just right? Does her body have the perfect curves?

That is packaging. It’s irrelevant.

American, Pakistani, Mexican, Egyptian, Bengali, Indonesian, black, white, brown, these are veneers. These factors are unimportant in the long run.

When you’re sick and battling to recover, it’s not an American, Somali or Australian who holds you and reassures you that it will be okay; who makes you chicken soup with lemon and ginger… It’s a human being, a husband or wife who loves you.

Does he wear Armani suits cut just right? Are his shoes sleek and shiny? Does her clothing drape elegantly on her figure?

You know what? That Armani suit can’t stand on its own. That elegant dress can’t raise your children right.

The Long Haul

The world of advertising urges us to focus on the wrong things. Consultants are paid millions of dollars to design the perfect package for a box of cereal or an energy drink. They conduct studies to find just the right shapes and bright colors that will catch your eye and entice you to buy. So you buy, and then what? You consume the product and throw away the package.

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 stuck to one side of the their head. You keep on loving them when they get laid off from their job and you don’t know how the bills will get paid. You stand by them when they’re depressed, tired, and sick. You forgive them 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 pretty package alone won’t get you through it, won’t help you walk the path, won’t hold you up when you’re weak and put a smile in your heart when you’re down. The package can’t do that. If you choose someone for the package only, you may be bitterly disappointed when the storm comes and no one is there to keep you safe.

These are lessons learned through heartache and disappointment. These are lessons I have learned.

When you meet someone new, whether that person is a new friend or a potential marriage partner, look to how the person treats other people, including the elderly, children, the poor and even animals. Look to how they relate to the Almighty. Find a gentle heart, a strong backbone, and a striving spirit.

Asses the person’s character honestly, putting aside your natural reaction to external factors like his or her appearance, the car he drives, the clothes he wears, his haircut, and the perfection of his teeth.

Subtly Wrong Motivations

It’s also possible to be attracted to someone, or to want someone’s friendship, for reasons that are more subtly wrong. You might feel sorry for someone and feel a need to save him. You might sense a darkness in someone and therefore see him as a tortured soul who needs your help. You might meet a man who is distant and silent and find yourself intrigued by his mystery, rather than recognizing that he is emotionally closed off or even dangerous.

On the surface the desire to help or “save” someone may seem noble. The reality, however, is that most of the time you can’t change or save anyone. Change has to come from within a human being himself. If you get involved with someone who is distant, angry, closed off, addicted, dishonest, controlling or violent, you will not end up changing him; you’ll end up personally miserable and tormented.

When I was 17 I met a young man named T who became my best friend for the next 25 years. Looking back, I always had the sense that something was not quite right with him, but I attributed it to his chaotic upbringing at a time of civil war in his home country. T could be careless at times with the feelings of others, and he had a deep streak of arrogance. But he had recently converted to Islam when I met him and I felt that the deen would change him in time.

As for what I liked about him, he was a survivor, always managing to get by no matter what life threw at him. He seemed utterly dedicated to the faith, and he looked up to me. Only now in writing this do I realize that maybe my friendship with T appealed to my vanity on some level. Maybe the fact that he admired me made me feel important. Also, I had no close friends, so having someone who obviously desired my friendship filled a deep need. Maybe these factors together caused to me to overlook an undercurrent of disquietude in my gut.

Many years later allegations surfaced that my friend had sexually molested a few girls from local Muslim families – girls who he was tutoring in Arabic. I didn’t want to believe it. Only one girl had come forward – years after the incidents occurred – and I convinced myself that her memories were confused. But when I confronted my friend, though he did not admit any wrongdoing, his lack of an authoritative denial came across as a tacit admission of guilt.

I still blame myself. I never could have guessed that he was a child molester, but my ego and my need for a friend overruled my intuition that T was not emotionally healthy.

It’s important to listen to your heart, and to be sincere with yourself. If you lie to yourself about your motivations or the basis of your attraction, who are you hurting but yourself? All honesty begins with self-honesty.

30 Questions to Ask Yourself

I’ve framed these questions in the masculine, but they are equally applicable to men and women. These questions are not a definitive list of what to look for in a mate. They’re more like an early-warning radar. If the answer to one or more of these questions is negative, you might want to think carefully about proceeding with that person.

When you meet a friend or potential partner, ask yourself:

  1. Is he conscious of Allah? Does he have taqwa?
  2. Does being around him lift me up emotionally and spiritually, or does it bring me down?
  3. Does he encourage me toward stronger faith and inspire me by example, or does he make religion seem like a chore by nitpicking and criticizing my faults?
  4. Does he make me feel hopeful for the future or does he fill me with foreboding?
  5. Do I trust him implicitly, or do I have an uneasy feeling?
  6. Do his words match his deeds, or does something about him smack of hypocrisy?
  7. Is his behavior out of control? Does he scream, punch walls, stay out all night, overeat, hide his phone or laptop, or spend money excessively?
  8. Can he disagree without becoming abusive or contemptuous?
  9. Is he willing to talk about difficult subjects? Or does he shut down?
  10. Does he have healthy ways of dealing with stress? For example prayer, reading, exercise, or sports, or visiting good friends?
  11. Does he have strong feelings for someone else (an ex-girlfriend for example) and does he speak of that person wistfully or fondly? (Obviously a situation to avoid).
  12. Does he actually want to be a husband and father? Or is he only doing it to please his parents or society’s expectations?
  13. Is he modest in his character and dress? Or does he have inappropriate relationships, flirtatious manners or wandering eyes?
  14. Does he encourage me to strive for my most important goals, or does he ridicule my goals and block me from them?
  15. Does being with him help me become my best self, or do I become someone I don’t like?
  16. Is he accepting and supportive of my relationship with my family, or does he try to prevent me from seeing them?
  17. On the same note, is he excessively controlling? Does he try to tell me who to be friends with, how to dress, how to speak, and how to think?
  18. Is he overly jealous and suspicious? Does he accuse me of having inappropriate relationships I don’t have, or of looking at or desiring other men? Does he check my phone messages and my email? Is he jealous of the time I spend with my friends and family?
  19. Does he have a healthy relationship with his own parents and siblings? (Ideally you want someone who is respectful of his parents yet is independent and able to make his own life decisions).
  20. Is he self-absorbed, only willing to discuss himself? Or is he able to shift his focus from himself and show interest in my activities, thoughts and feelings?
  21. Is he a good listener?
  22. When good happens is he grateful or is he arrogant?
  23. When evil happens, is he patient or does he get angry?
  24. Is he judgmental and harsh, or soft and forgiving?
  25. Is he kind in word and deed? Is he kind to the elderly, children, the poor, and animals?
  26. Can he admit his mistakes and say, “I’m sorry,” and and then work on changing his behavior?
  27. Does he speak of others respectfully, or gossip and run them down?
  28. Does he have meaningful goals in life (beyond simply making money)?
  29. When he’s working toward his goals and hits a roadblock, does he give up? Or does he persist and find a way forward?
  30. Is he charitable?
  31. Does he know how to laugh and have fun in halal ways?

These questions encourage you to look beyond surface appearances. Look deep to the shimmering soul, and discern whether it’s selfish and bitter, or loving and true. Look beyond the packaging to the person inside, and trust your instincts, and God willing you’ll find for yourself a rare happiness, and a precious partnership.

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