Social Issues: In Search Of Body Beautiful

There seems no limit nowadays to the extent that women (and men!) are prepared to go to in order to achieve that ‘perfect look’. Forget false eyelashes and wigs, we are now talking scalpels, implants and liposuction! Cosmetic surgery amongst film actresses has been commonplace for quite some time now, but these days, we wouldn’t be too hard pressed to find ordinary women on the street who are more plastic than real! Indeed, in some circles, having multiple facelifts has become a status symbol: the more you have, the higher you are in the status rankings. If questioned whether cosmetic surgery was Islamically correct or not, then without doubt, most Muslims would instinctively respond by saying that it isn’t, for the simple reason that it would be interfering with Allaah’s creation. And certainly, this would be the correct response. The Companion, Ibn Mas’ood, radiAllaahu ‘anhu, once said (quoting what he had heard the Prophet, peace be upon him, say): “Allaah has cursed the tattooers and those who have themselves tattooed, and those women who have their teeth filed for beauty and those who have their [facial] hair plucked and thus alter Allaah’s creation.” A woman remarked, “What’s all this?” So Ibn Mas’ood – radiAllaahu ‘anhu – said: “Should I not curse one whom Allaah’s Messenger cursed? And it is in the Book of Allaah!” She said: “I have read the Qur’aan from cover to cover, but I did not find that in it.” He replied: “If you had read it thoroughly you would have found it. Allaah says, ‘Whatever the Messenger gives you, take it and whatever he has forbidden, retrain from it’” [Sooratul-Hashr (59): 7]. 1 So the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, forbade women from performing these three practices which the women commonly did for the sake of beauty in those days – seemingly ‘insignificant’ practices for which they would incur the CURSE of Allaah. And this forbiddance isn’t just restricted to the procedures mentioned in the hadeeth. Because Allaah says in more general terms in His Book: “So set your face truly to the faith, Allaah’s handiwork according to the pattern on which He has made mankind, [Let there be] no change in the creation of Allaah.” 2 [Soorah ar-Room (30): 30]. Therefore, it is obligatory for us to accept the creation of Allaah as it is, not making any alterations to it.3 More importantly though, it is obligatory on us to believe that all of Allaah’s creation is beautiful, because Allaah, the Khaaliq (Creator) does not create anything except with beauty and perfection, which is why He says to mankind: “You can see no fault in the creation of ar-Rahmaan [the Most Merciful]. Then look again: can you see any rifts? Then look again and yet again, your sight will return to you in a state of humiliation and worn out.” [Soorah al-Mulk (67):3]. This may all sound quite strange when we consider how often we hear women complaining about their appearance. In fact, it is estimated that over half of the Western women today actually perceive themselves to be ugly. In addition, surveys show that nearly all women feel under pressure to “look good”. As a result, the quest for beauty has become a serious preoccupation for many women. Open up any women’s magazine and you will not fail to find a single one which doesn’t contain tips on how to “look good”, or which don’t contain huge adverts promoting new creams that halt the aging process or hide wrinkles, etc. Beauty today is big business. Beauty contests are very profitable and – contrary to popular belief – more are spawned every year. The cosmetics market is a multi-billion dollar industry; the demand for cosmetic surgery is growing at a tremendous rate. All three industries promote the same notions of beauty that woman everywhere is expected to meet: mainly a white, European, “Barbie-doll” like standard. The pressures on women to conform to these standards are enormous and few are able to withstand them.4 The fact is that Western women today may complain that they are not treated with equality and respect, but it is they themselves who have made it acceptable for society worldwide to see women merely as beauty-objects who are there to be ogled by the men who in turn are the impolite voyeurs. When viewed in this light, we find that beauty contests are not too dissimilar to reality itself: just as the tallest, slimmest blonde girl gets the title in the beauty contest, in the real world it’s the tallest, slimmest blonde girl who gets the man! In Islam, beauty is not just in the eye of the beholder, beauty is in the whole of creation, because Allaah – the One free of all imperfections – is the one responsible for it. And as Allaah says: “Your Lord creates whatsoever He wills and chooses: no choice have they. SubhaanAllaah! And far removed is He from the partners they ascribe [to Him].” [Soorah al-Qasas (28):68]. So it is from the wisdom of Allaah that He has chosen to create some of us short, others tall, some fat, some thin, some dark-coloured, some light – all are beautiful and perfect in their own right. That is why we are taught from the Sunnah, the beautiful du’aa (supplication) that the Prophet, peace be upon him, would say: “O Allaah, as You have made my appearance beautiful, likewise make my character beautiful.” (Allaahumma kamaa hassanta khalaqee fa hassin khuluqee). 5 As Muslims, we must believe that evil and imperfection cannot be attributed to Allaah.6 The desire to change any aspect of ourselves means, in effect, that we are dissatisfied with Allaah’s choice and His handiwork, and that there is imperfection in what He has created. Thus to say about anyone or ourselves else that they or we are ugly is a great sin. This point was reinforced by the Prophet, peace be upon him, when he once saw the Companion, ‘Amr ibn Fulaan al-Ansaaree, radiAllaahu ‘anhu, whose izaar (lower garment) was hanging low (to the ground), so he, peace be upon him, ordered that he raise it. ‘Amr made an excuse saying that he had skinny shins (i.e. he was embarrassed to show them), so the Prophet responded by saying: “O ‘Amr! Verily Allaah – the Mighty and the Majestic – has created everything in the best form.” 7 All this is certainly not intended to discourage women to look after themselves and adorn themselves in lawful ways (e.g. wearing nice clothes, having nicely done hair, etc.). Indeed, adorning oneself is something that the wives are obliged to do for their husbands and Allaah rewards the woman who pleases the husband when he looks at her.8 But with these tremendous pressures on women to conform to the ideals set by the marketing media, it may be hard for Muslim women to resist feeling insecure or uncomfortable about their appearance. Consequently, many Muslim women have shed their hijaabs (headscarf) for the sake of following fashion; Muslim women too develop inferiority complexes about themselves. We must bear in mind that this search for the ‘body beautiful’ is, in reality, a deception from Shaitaan (Satan). Shaitaan has vowed that he will create such false desires in mankind. He has said (as stated in the Qur’aan): “Surely I will arouse in them [mankind] false desires; and certainly I will order them to slit the ears of cattle, and indeed I will order them to change the nature created by Allaah.” [Soorah an-Nisaa’ (4):119]. May Allaah always keep us safe from the false promises of Shaitaan, for Verily He is the One who guides to the Truth.

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Notes
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1. Reported by Ibn Mas’ood and collected in Saheeh Muslim (English trans, vo1. 3, p.1166, no.5301). This incident is a good illustration of the status, which the Sunnah held in front of the Companions.

2. Note that this forbiddance applies to the whole of creation, not just human beings. Therefore, defacing any part of Allaah’s creation is haraam. By extension, this ruling also applies to all forms of genetic engineering, which are carried out on farm animals, for example, in order to procure more profitable meat from them.

3. This is with the exception of those things which have been prescribed in the Sharee’ah, e.g. clipping the nails, shaving the underarms and around the private parts, etc.

4. In fact, some women go to such extremes that it results in them developing health problems – anorexia nervosa – for instance. The carcinogenic nature of breast implants is also well documented now. No doubt, the future will reveal more harmful effects of these artificial means of changing creation.

5. One hadeeth which contains this supplication mentions that this du’aa should be recited on looking in the mirror. However, the chain (isnaad) of this hadeeth is not authentic. But it is authentically reported as a supplication to be recited at any time. (See Ibn Taimiyyah’s al-Kalimat-Tayyib with al-Albaanee’s footnotes.)

6. For an explanation of this important aspect of belief, please refer to The Prophet’s Prayer Described (p.15).

7. Saheeh – collected in the Musnad of Imaam Ahmad (vo1.4, p.200).

8. See Musnad Ahmad, an-Nasaa’ee and others. Also, it is forbidden for the husband to invoke ugliness upon the wife -, as was a common practice amongst the pre-Islamic Arabs.