Last Updated on 15th July 2022
An Arab lady wrote to Hazrat Amirul Momineen, Khalifatul Masih Vaa that a woman had asked her if it was permissible for a Muslim woman to run a business involving the plucking of eyebrows and making tattoos on women’s bodies.
In his letter dated 27 April 2021, Huzooraa provided the following guidance on this issue:
“It is not permissible to tattoo someone or to get a tattoo. Its prohibition has also been mentioned in ahadith, where it states that Allah the Exalted had cursed those women who, for cosmetic or aesthetic purposes, practised tattooing, and those who got themselves tattooed, and those who plucked facial hair, and those who artificially created a space between the front teeth, and those who practised artificial lengthening of the hair, and those who got their hair lengthened artificially, who altered Allah’s creation. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Libas)
“There is always some or the other point of wisdom behind every Islamic commandment. Moreover, some Islamic injunctions have a specific context and background to them. If we disregard their background, then they would become distorted. When the Holy Prophetsa was commissioned as a prophet, on the one hand, the poison of various kinds of polytheism had spread everywhere in the world and especially in the Arabian Peninsula, and on the other hand, different kinds of misguided attitudes had also gripped humanity in their claws. Men and women were involved in various kinds of polytheistic rituals and social evils.
“The ahadith that prohibit the above-mentioned actions, especially mention two motivators [behind those actions]; (a) the altering of God’s creation or (b) looking more beautiful.
“When we carefully consider these two aspects, we observe that the first aspect, namely ‘the altering of God’s creation’, points to social evils and also reflects polytheistic practices. Hence, wearing long braids, wrapping them around like turbans and then considering those to be a sign of nobility or sacrament; wearing braids or topknots as a vow of devotion to some saint or guru; shaving the top of the head while growing hair around it and considering it a blessing for children; having the image of a goddess, idol or animal tattooed on the body, face or arms etc. to seek blessings – these were all polytheistic practices, driven by mythical superstitions.
“The second aspect, that is ‘for the sake of beauty’, in some respects, reflects social misconduct and obscenity. It is not forbidden for a person to adopt any legitimate methods for their own beauty while remaining within the permissible limits. Hence, it is mentioned in a hadith that a person said [to the Holy Prophetsa] that he liked and admired a fine dress and shoes and he asked if it constituted arrogance. The Holy Prophetsa replied that that was not arrogance. Arrogance was to deny the truth and despise others. He went on to say:
إِنَّ اللّٰهَ جَمِيلٌ يُحِبُّ الْجَمَالَ
“‘Allah is most Beautiful and loves beauty.’ (Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-Iman, Bab Tahrimi l-Kibri wa Bayanih)
“Moreover, it is a well-established fact that even in those days when women were to be married, they too would be adorned according to the traditions of that era. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitabu l-Hibati wa Fadliha wa t-Tahrisi ‘Alahiha, Babu l-Isti‘arati li l-‘Urusi ‘Inda l-Bina’; Fath al-Bari fi Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitabu n-Nikah, Babu Isti‘arati th-Thiyabi li l-‘Urusi wa Ghayriha)
“Therefore, the attainment of ‘beauty’ about which the Holy Prophetsa warned of God’s curse certainly means something else. Hence, when we carefully ponder over the ahadith in this regard, we see that the Holy Prophetsa, when prohibiting these things, added that the Children of Israel perished when their women started such acts. At the time of the Holy Prophetsa, lewdness was common among the Jews and at that time, there were several brothels in Medina. The women who were involved in this business would employ such tactics of embellishment to beguile the men. Hence, Allah’s Messengersa expressed his dislike and forbade believing women from using those [means of enhancing beauty].
“Thus, the prohibition of these things appears to stem from the wisdom that if they result in such an artificial change in the physical appearance of an individual that the distinction between man and woman, which God Almighty has created in human beings, vanishes, or there is a fear that this kind of action may lead to inclination towards shirk, which is the gravest of sins; or if these things are carried out in order to beguile the opposite sex in an impermissible manner, then all these actions would be considered unlawful and actionable.
“As far as getting a tattoo is concerned, whether it is a man or a woman, the only purpose behind it is to show it off or to beguile the opposite sex in an impermissible manner. That is why people usually get tattoos on body parts that they may then expose and exhibit to the public. However, if a person gets a tattoo on a body part which is commanded to be veiled [satr], then first of all, while having that tattoo, the individual violates the commandment of purdah and commits obscenity which is against the teachings of Islam. Moreover, one idea behind getting tattoos on the veiled parts of the body is that they may be exposed in front of the opposite sex while committing evil deeds. All of these methods are prohibited because they contradict Islamic teachings.
“Furthermore, tattoos have also been linked to a host of physical and health issues. For instance, the sweat glands under the skin are badly affected in the areas of the body that have tattoos, that is having a tattoo reduces the sweating in the concerned parts of the body, which is harmful to one’s health. Similarly, since tattoos become permanent features on the skin, sometimes as the body grows or shrinks, so does the shape of the tattoo, which makes the tattoo look ugly instead of ‘beautiful’. Then such individuals begin to think of them as a plague that they cannot get rid of. Thus, for these reasons alone, it is futile and absurd to get a tattoo.
“As for the question of women shaping eyebrows for beauty while staying within their Islamic limits, it was within the context of the [above-mentioned] vices that the Holy Prophetsa forbade such things to the believing women. However, he also gave permission in exceptional circumstances on grounds of someone’s suffering or illness. Hence, it is narrated by Hazrat Abdullahra bin Mas‘ud that:
سَمِعْتُ رَسُوْلَ اللّٰهِ صَلَّى اللّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ نَهَى عَن النَّامِصَةِ وَالْوَاشِرَةِ وَالْوَاصِلَةِ وَالْوَاشِمَةِ إِلَّا مِنْ دَاء
“‘I heard Allah’s Messengersa forbidding the plucking of hair, filing of the teeth, having artificial hair and having tattoos done except on grounds of illness.’
“Islam has made actions dependent on their intentions. Therefore, in this age, there is nothing wrong with a woman making use of these things in a lawful way and for a legitimate purpose as long as she is observing the Islamic injunctions regarding hijab. Nonetheless, if these actions lead to an inclination toward vices or they lead to an expression of any polytheistic rituals or disobedience to a clear command of Islam – for example, if women do not take full care of their purdah and expose their private parts [satr] in front of other women while having their waxing or other treatments etcetera done – then such actions would be counted among those against which we have been warned by the Holy Prophetsa and they would be unlawful.
“Furthermore, it should also be kept in mind in this regard that Allah the Exalted has declared discord and disorder to be greater sins than murder and has commanded their abolition. There have been some instances where marriages were dissolved or divorces were issued after marriages because the husband found out later that the woman had facial hair. If they are not cleaned or plucked out, these few hairs would ruin more houses, and a long series of unpleasantries would begin. In any case, it was not at all the objective of the Holy Prophetsa to give rise to a situation in society that would lead to the spread of disorder in the homes. The wisdom behind his uttering such harsh words appears to be that since polytheism is the gravest of sins and these practices were employed for the sake of various deities etcetera, or since they used to be tools for promoting indecency, he expressed his disgust about them in the strongest possible terms, and thus uprooted polytheistic customs and indecency.”
(Author’s note: Some parts of the above answer have already been published in different episodes of Answers to Everyday Issues in response to various questions. The complete and consolidated answer given by Huzooraa to the above question is being published here for the benefit of the readers.)