A pioneering French fashion designer named Coco Chanel once said, “In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different.” Some choose to be “different” through fashion, espousing a certain political party, identifying with a minority group, or by simply going against the norm. Though an individual has multi-dimensional identities, like gender, ethnicity, economic status, and social relationships, there is a fundamental identity that ultimately defines them. Allah (subhanahu wa ta`ala – exalted is He) says, “And We have not created the heavens and earth and that between them except in truth. And indeed, the Hour is coming; so forgive with gracious forgiveness,” (Qur’an, 15:85) and “… I [Allah] did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me.” (Qur’an, 51:56)
On the Day of Judgment, Allah (swt) will resurrect us from our graves. On that day, no clothing, shoes, hairstyle, car or house will make us unique – only our actions in this life will. The Qur’an reminds us to “fear a Day when no soul will suffice for another soul at all, and no compensation will be accepted from it, nor will any intercession benefit it, nor will they be aided.” (2:123) On this day, the person who planned and prepared for meeting Allah (swt) will be happy with his reward and get to show off his unique book of deeds: “So as for he who is given his record in his right hand, he will say, ‘Here, read my record! Indeed, I was certain that I would be meeting my account.'” (Qur’an, 69:19-20) This is the day when our uniqueness stands out for the entire creation to see.
The sahaba (companions) of the Prophet Muhammad (sal `Allahu alayhi wa sallam – peace be upon him) are role models in how to be truly unique. It was their sincerity to Allah (swt) that blessed their actions and made them memorable throughout history. What made some sahaba more unique amongst the other sahaba was their deeper faith in Allah (swt), and that faith’s manifestation in action. The Prophet’s companions all had amazing lives, but one exceptional sahabi was Abu Bakr As-Siddeeq (radi Allahu `anhu – may Allah be pleased with him). On the authority of Abu Huraira (ra), one morning, after the dawn prayer, the Prophet (s) asked: “Who began this day fasting?” Abu Bakr said: “I did.” The Prophet (s) said: “Who participated in a funeral procession today?” Abu Bakr said: “I did.” The Prophet (s) said: “Who fed a needy person today?” Abu Bakr said: “I did.” The Prophet (s) said: “Who visited a sick person today?” Abu Bakr said: “I did.” Then, the Prophet (s) said: “These things cannot all meet in a single person but that they will enter Paradise.” [Sahih Muslim]
Abu Bakr (ra) was especially unique amongst the Sahaba, who were amongst the best people in the best century of human history, and he achieved this status through competing to do the most good. As `Umar ibn Al-Khattab (ra) said in various narrations, “By Allah, I never tried to compete with Abu Bakr in something good, except that he beat me to it first.”
It may be difficult to shift our perspective on life and how we define ourselves, but it is surely more satisfying to lead a life characterized by doing good deeds that will be rewarded in both this life and the hereafter, rather than defining ourselves by ever-changing fashions of clothing that are destined to wear out and identities that evolve over time.