In Search of the Body Beautiful
By ‘Ifrat Azad
There seems no limit nowadays to the extent that women (and men) are prepared to go to for that ‘perfect look’. Forget false eyelashes and wigs, we are now talking scalpels, implants and liposuction!
Cosmetic surgery amongst film actresses has been common place 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 Allah’s creation. And certainly, this would be the correct response. [Scholars have noted several exceptions to this general rule if there is a genuine medical need for it. – Ed.]
It is reported in Sahih Bukhari :: Volume 6 :: Book 60 :: Hadith 408
The companion, Ibn Mas’ood radiaIaahu ‘anhu, once said (quoting what he had heard the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam say): “Allah curses those ladies who practice tattooing and those who get themselves tattooed, and those ladies who remove the hair from their faces and those who make artificial spaces between their teeth in order to look more beautiful whereby they change Allah’s creation.” His saying reached a lady from Bani Asd called Um Yaqub who came (to Abdullah) and said, “I have come to know that you have cursed such-and-such (ladies)?” He replied, “Why should I not curse these whom Allah’s Apostle has cursed and who are (cursed) in Allah’s Book!” Um Yaqub said, “I have read the whole Quran, but I did not find in it what you say.” He said, “Verily, if you have read it (i.e. the Quran), you have found it. Didn’t you read:
Allah says: Whatever the Messenger gives you take it; and whatever he has forbidden, refrain from it. [Qur’an ul-Hashr (59):7]”
She replied, “Yes, I did,” He said, “Verily, Allah’s Apostle forbade such things.” “She said, “But I see your wife doing these things?” He said, “Go and watch her.” She went and watched her but could not see anything in support of her statement. On that he said, “If my wife was as you thought, I would not keep her in my company.”
So the Prophet Muhammad, sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam 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 Allah. And this forbiddance isn’t just restricted to the procedures mentioned in the hadeeth. Because Allah says in more general terms in His Book: So set your face truly to the faith, Allah’s handiwork according to the pattern on which He has made mankind; [Let there be] no change in the creation of Allah.[Qur’an Ar-Room (30):30].
Therefore, it is obligatory for us to accept the creation of Allah as it is, not making any alterations to it. More importantly though, it is also obligatory for us to believe that all of Allah’s creation is beautiful, because Allah, 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. [Qur’an Al-MuIk (67): 3-4].
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 advertisements promoting new creams that halt the aging process or concealers to 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 are 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. (Please read the follow-up to this article below-Ed.)
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 (im) polite 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 Allah – the One free of all imperfections – is the one responsible for it. And as Allah says: Your Lord creates whatsoever He wills and chooses: no choice have they. SubhaanAllah! And far removed is He from the partners they ascribe [to Him]! [Qur’an Al-Qasas 28:68].
So it is from the wisdom of Allah that He has chosen to create some of us short, others tall, some fat, some thin, some dark-colored, 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 sallAllahu ‘alaihi wa sallam would say: ‘O Allah, as You have made my appearance beautiful, likewise make my character beautiful. – (‘Allahumma kama hassanta khalaqee fa hassin khuluqee”).
As Muslims, we must believe that evil and imperfection cannot be attributed to Allah. The desire to change any aspect of ourselves means, in effect, that we are dissatisfied with Allah’s choice and His handiwork, and that there is imperfection in what He has created. Thus to say about ourselves, or anyone else, that we or they are ugly is a great sin. This point was reinforced by the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam when he once saw the Companion, ‘Amr Ibn Fulaan Al-Ansaaree radiallahu ‘anhu, whose izaar (lower garment) was hanging low (to the ground), so he, sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, 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 Allah Azza wa Jal has created everything in the best form.
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 Allah rewards the woman who pleases the husband when he looks at her. 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 hijabs 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 Shaytaan. Shaytaan has vowed that he will create such false desires in mankind. He has said (as stated in the Qur’an): 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 Allah. [Qur’an An-Nisaa (4): 119].
May Allah always keep us safe from the false promises of Shaytaan, for verily Allah is the One Who guides to the Truth.
This article was originally published in 1995 in Ad-Da’wah IlAllah – The Magazine Featuring Women’s Issues.