I’ve often read about incidents where strangers approached a gathering looking for the leader of the Muslims, including the Prophet (SAW) and some of the Caliphs after him, and often they would not be able to determine who he was because he would appear as ordinary as the rest of them.
Today I wondered about the context of this and how it may apply to what I’m doing in my life. The dress code and appearance of these blessed leaders was similar to the common people around them, not different. They didn’t appear to be more pious, or more religious, or more anything; they must have appeared to be as common as the rest. So I considered this in line with the obvious difference in appearance between the present day scholars, especially those living in western societies with no ties to the Arabian culture, and the common people of those same areas.
While I can accept that there is sincerity among many that choose to dress according to what is interpreted to be the Sunnah, I once again wonder how much of the principles of this simple Sunnah have been forgotten or overlooked, and how much of the practice is just a custom. For me, the Sunnah is about establishing your appearance based on modesty, not extravagance. Which leads me to question whether a man dressed in a casual jeans, with a casual top that covers his body appropriately to perform Salaah is in fact more modest than a man dressed in a cloak designed in the style of the Sunnah, made of the finest non-crease fabric, and with a recognised label from a prominent designer house with just the right combination of expensive pens sticking out from his top pocket, and an equally elegant watch to match.
I don’t know…that’s a pretty long winded way of trying to make sense of this. But the lingering thought in my head is still whether or not attention to detail in appearance taints our intentions or not? I think it does. And some may accuse me of extremism or impracticality in my views on this, but given the stigma that is attached to appearance being a measure or at least an indicator of piety, dressing according to the Sunnah, knowing about this stigma, surely must introduce a significant distraction about conformity of appearance with those social circles we aspire to be a part of, rather than establishment of modesty? Incidentally, one of the common traits in appearance of these pious predecessors was that it was often possible to count the number of patches on their clothes. I can barely recall the last time I saw a scholar walking in clothes that had any signs of excessive wear on it, let alone patches.