Remona AlyThursday 02 November 2017 Pause for Thought, BBC Radio 2
Ugly ducklings and inner swans
I rediscovered a childhood treasure recently amid a cloud of dust and nostalgia – it was my midnight blue music box painted with a swirling cascade of delicate moon white flowers. The tiny ballerina inside twirled to the enchanting sound of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.
As a child I was always fascinated by the story of Odette who transformed into a beautiful swan. I on the other hand, was never a swan. I was more, an ugly duckling. I was the least aesthetically pleasing of my siblings, and after a trip to the barber’s to get a bowl haircut, people used to say ‘doesn’t he look like his dad’.
‘When God’, I used to ask upstairs, ‘when will I become a swan?’
It’s a question I also put to my mother: ‘Mum’, I said one day, gangly as I was with granny glasses and questionable dress sense, ‘When will I be beautiful?’ ‘You’re already beautiful,’ came her alternative truth reply. I was like, ‘Mum, you’re biased, just tell me.’ ‘Ok’ she relented, ‘you’ll be beautiful when you’re…18 years old.’ Ooh I thought, this could be the magic number! My eighteenth birthday came and went. No transformation.
And so my superficial quest and prayers for the looks of Aphrodite’s handmaiden continued, but I was so busy chasing outer beauty, I forgot about my inner swan.
Prophet Muhammad emphasised the importance of inner beauty beyond anything else. “Nothing is heavier upon the scales than beautiful character,” he said.
This was likely good news to one of his companions who was called, Zahir. Zahir was not easy on the eye and because of this he had really low self esteem. The prophet made an extra effort to show his regard for Zahir in the hope it would boost his confidence. One day in the marketplace, he playfully grabbed Zahir and asked who would buy Zahir off him. Zahir replied, ‘No one would want me even as a slave, I’m unmarketable.’ The prophet put his hands on his shoulders and said, “But you are priceless and beautiful in the sight of God, don’t worry about how you look in the sight of people.”
In this age of filters and beauty apps, I’ll remember that no matter how much ugly ducklingness I edit from the outside, no transformation can be more beautiful than the inner swan.