A common question by Muslims who want to undergo cosmetic surgery, is whether it is permitted or not. This article explores the issue of cosmetic surgery and its permissibility in Islam, watch the videos from the scholars on this subject.
Cosmetic surgery, broadly understood as a surgical procedure to enhance a person’s aesthetic beauty, is increasing exponentially. The second most popular cosmetic procedure after dermabrasion (resurfacing of the outermost layer of the skin), is lip augmentation. In a recent article, the President of the American society of plastic surgeons, David Song, stated, “We live in the age of the selfie, and because we see images of ourselves almost constantly on social media, we are much more aware of how our lips look”. The article goes on to say that millions more use injections to get fuller lips and to achieve the perfect pout.
When cosmetic surgery is necessary to correct deformity, scarring due to disease or infection, or to improve one’s health, it is undeniably useful and must be undertaken. In Islam, seeking treatment for an illness is the duty of every individual. There are many hadith of prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) that tell us “There is no disease that Allah has created, except that He also has created its remedy.” Seeking cure, treatment and remedy is undoubtedly the best option for Muslims; but what about where there is no disease or loss of function? What should be an Islamic way of dealing with the obsession of cosmetic surgery? How can need be distinguished from want? Let us consider some examples to clarify this issue.
One of my neighbor’s daughters was born with a cleft palate. She had difficulty swallowing and breathing. After a number of surgeries the palate was corrected but the deformity was obvious on her upper lip. Through a cosmetic procedure, this too was reconstructed, giving her normal lips, which obviously improved her looks and confidence. We can say with certainty that these procedures were necessary and permitted from an Islamic viewpoint. Other surgeries too may be performed for medical reasons or for purely aesthetic ones. Rhinoplasty, or plastic surgery on the nose, may be undertaken to correct a problem (such as a deviated septum that causes difficulty in breathing or sleeping) or because a person is not happy with the shape of their nose. Breast reduction and augmentation can both be done to achieved a certain look, or be done after surviving breast cancer in which the breast may have been removed partially or wholly.
Likewise, many people are not happy with their skin color and undergo several “treatments” and dangerous chemical peels to change it. In the Indian sub-continent, dark skin is regarded as undesirable and inferior, so millions of women of darker color cannot get married as women of paler skin are “selected” for marriage. Not surprisingly, the cosmetic industry offering to lighten skin color, is a multi-billion dollar one. In many Asian countries, surgery is performed on eyelids to create a less Asian look. In China, both men and women undergo torturous limb-lengthening procedures to become taller. This involves fracturing the legs and forcing bones to grow over a period of many months to elongate them. The extent to which a person can go to achieve the look and the body they desire, is unimaginable. It is clear that such procedures which are not based on medical need, and do not improve the bodily function of a person, are not permitted in the framework of Islam.
Some women might say that they are free to choose how they perfect their bodies and how they achieve the look they desire. This is not a matter of choice. Rather, it is important to understand how that choice is formed and why it is articulated as the need to change female bodies and faces to adhere to a desirable norm. The pursuit of the perfect look is a manifestation of the objectification of women. A prominent Turkish feminist and sociologist, Alev Erkilet, aptly summarizes equality when she says, “The problem is how they [men] use women, how women are seen….We think equality starts when women stop being sexual objects for men”. It is indeed time we recognized that this objectification by men that we wish to challenge, starts with our dissatisfaction and objectification of the self. We need to understand our dissatisfaction with our physical self and the factors underlying that dissatisfaction.
This dissatisfaction is linked directly to disregard for Allah’s creative excellence, for He says in the Quran (chapter 95 verse 4), “We have certainly created man in the best of stature”, and “Who perfected everything which He created and began the creation of man from clay” (the Quran, chapter 32 verse 7). The perfection with which Allah has created men and women refers to their physical characteristics, their intellect, their spirit, their potential and their ability for higher thought. By being critical of our physical self, or by being insecure about our abilities, we are in fact disrespecting the care and perfection our Creator has made us with. Being mindful of ourselves means we are grateful to Allah for our body with all its excellence, perfection, functionality, potential, ability, disability, choice and limitation, and this gratitude is good for our own selves, as Allah tells us, “And whoever is grateful is grateful for [the benefit of] himself. And whoever denies [His favor]- then indeed, Allah is free of need and praiseworthy” (the Quran, chapter 31 verse 12).
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