By Dr. Muhammad ‘Ali
Islam encourages the Muslims to stand out among people, readily distinguishable by their dress, appearance and behavior, so that they will be a good example, worthy of the great message that they bring to humanity. According to the hadith narrated by the great Sahabi Ibn al-Hanzaliyyah, the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) told his Companions, when they were traveling to meet some brothers in faith:
“You are going to visit your brothers, so repair your saddles and make sure that you are dressed well, so that you will stand out among people like an adornment, for Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’ala) does not love ugliness.”1
The Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) considered an unkempt and careless appearance, and scruffy clothes and furnishings, to be forms of ugliness, which is hated and forbidden by Islam.
Islam encourages the Muslims in general to stand out among the people; the Muslim woman, in particular, is encouraged to be distinct from other people in her appearance, because this reflects well on her, and on her husband, family and children.
The Muslim woman does not neglect her appearance, no matter how busy she is with her domestic chores and the duties of motherhood. She is keen to look good, without going to extremes, because a good appearance is an indication of how well she understands herself, her Islamic identity, and her mission in life. The outward appearance of a woman cannot be separated from her inner nature: a neat, tidy and clean exterior reflects a noble and decent inner character, both of which go to make up the character of the true Muslim woman.
The smart Muslim woman is one who strikes a balance between her external appearance and internal nature. She understands that she is composed of a body, a mind and a soul, and gives each the attention it deserves, without exaggerating in one aspect to the detriment of others. In seeking to strike the right balance, she is following the wise guidance of Islam which encourages her to do so. How can the Muslim woman achieve this balance between her body, mind and soul?
1 – HER BODY
Moderation in food and drink
The Muslim woman takes good care of her body, promoting its good health and strength. She is active, not flabby or overweight. So she does not eat to excess; she eats just enough to maintain her health and energy. This is in accordance with the guidance of Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’ala) in the Qur’an:
( . . . Eat and drink: but waste not by excess, for Allah loves not the wasters.) (Qur’an 7:31)
The Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) also advised moderation in food and drink:
“There is no worse vessel for the son of Adam to fill than his stomach, but if he must fill it, the let him allow one-third for food, one-third for drink, and one-third for air.”2
‘Umar (radhiallahu anhu) said:
“Beware of filling your stomachs with food and drink, for it is harmful to the body and causes sickness and laziness in performing prayers. Be moderate in both food and drink, for that is healthier for your bodies and furthest removed from extravagance. Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’ala) will hate the fat man (one who revels in a life of luxury), and a man will not be condemned until he favors his desires over his religion.”3
The Muslim woman also steers clear of drugs and stimulants, especially those which are clearly known to be haram, and she avoids the bad habits that many women have fallen into in societies that have deviated from the guidance of Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’ala) and His Messenger, such as staying up late at night to waste time in idle pursuits. She goes to sleep early and gets up early to start the day’s activities with energy and enthusiasm. She does not weaken her energy with late nights and bad habits; she is always active and efficient, so that her household chores do not exhaust her and she can meet her targets.
She understands that a strong believer is more loved by Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’ala) than a weak believer, as the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) taught, so she always seeks to strengthen her body by means of a healthy lifestyle.
She exercises regularly
The Muslim woman does not forget to maintain her physical fitness and energy by following the healthy practices recommended by Islam. But she is not content only with the natural, healthy diet referred to above: she also follows an organized exercise program, appropriate to her physical condition, weight, age and social status. These exercises give her body agility, beauty, good health, strength and immunity to disease; this will make her more able to carry out her duties, and more fit to fulfill her role in life, whether it be as a wife or mother, young girl or old woman.
Her body and clothes are clean
The Muslim woman who truly follows the teachings of Islam keeps her body and clothes very clean. She bathes frequently, in accordance with the teachings of the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) who advised Muslims to take baths, especially on Fridays: “Have a bath on Fridays and wash your heads, even if you are not in a state of janabah (impurity, e.g. following marital relations), and wear perfume.”4
“Whoever attends Friday prayer, man or woman, should take a bath (ghusl).”5
The Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) placed such a great emphasis on cleanliness and bathing that some of the Imams considered performing ghusl before Friday prayer to be obligatory (wajib).
Abu Hurayrah (radhiallahu anhu) reported that the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said:
“It is the duty of every Muslim to take a bath (at least) once every seven days, and to wash his head and body.”6
Cleanliness is one of the most essential requirements of people, especially women, and one of the clearest indicators of a sound and likeable character. Cleanliness makes a woman more likeable not only to her husband, but also to other women and her relatives.
Imam Ahmad and al-Nisa’i report that Jabir (radhiallahu anhu) said:
“The Messenger of Allah (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) came to visit us, and saw a man who was wearing dirty clothes. He said, ‘Could this person not find anything with which to wash his clothes?”
The Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) hated to see people come out in public wearing dirty clothes when they were able to clean them; he drew attention to the fact that the Muslim should always be clean, smart and pleasing to look at.
This teaching which is directed at men, is directed even more so at women, who are usually thought of as being more clean, the source of joy and tranquility in the home. There is no doubt that the woman’s deep sense of cleanliness reflects on her home, her husband and her children, because it is by virtue of her concern for cleanliness that they will be clean and tidy.
No researcher, of whatever era or country, can fail to notice that this teaching which encourages cleanliness and bathing, came fifteen hundred years ago, at a time when the world knew next to nothing of such hygienic habits. A thousand years later, the non-Muslim world had still not reached the level of cleanliness that the Muslims had reached.
In her book Min al-riqq ila’l-sayadah, Samihah A. Wirdi says: “There is no need for us to go back to the time of the Crusades in order to know the level of civilization in Europe at that time. We need go back no further than a few hundred years, to the days of the Ottoman Empire, and compare between the Ottomans and the Europeans to see what level the Ottoman civilization had reached.
“In 1624, Prince Brandeboug wrote the following on the invitations to a banquet that he sent to other princes and nobles: Guests are requested not to plunge their hands up to the elbow in the dishes; not to throw food behind them; not to spit on their plates; and not to blow their noses on the edges of the tablecloths.”
The author adds: “These words clearly indicate the level of civilization, culture, knowledge and manners among the Europeans. At the same time, in another part of Europe, the situation was not much different. In the palace of the King of England (George I), the ugly smell emanating from the persons of the King and his family overpowered the grandeur of their fine, lace-edged French clothes. This is what was happening in Europe. Meanwhile in Istanbul, the seat of the khilafah, it is well-known that the European ambassadors who were authorized by the Ottoman state be thrown into baths before they could approach the sultan. Sometime around 1730, during the reign of Sultan Ahmad III, when the Ottoman state entered its political and military decline, the wife of the English ambassador in Istanbul, Lady Montague, wrote many letters which were later published, in which she described the level of cleanliness, good manners and high standards among the Muslims. In one of her memoirs she wrote that the Ottoman princess Hafizah had given her a gift of a towel that had been hand-embroidered; she liked it so much that she could not even bear to wipe her mouth with it. The Europeans were particularly astounded by the fact that the Muslims used to wash their hands before and after every meal. It is enough to read the words of the famous English nurse Florence Nightingale, describing English hospitals in the mid-nineteenth century, where she describes how these hospitals were full of squalor, negligence and moral decay, and the wings of these hospitals were full of sick people who could not help answering the call of nature on their beds . . .”7
What a great contrast there is between the refined civilization of Islam and other, human civilizations!
She takes care of her mouth and teeth
The intelligent Muslim woman takes care of her mouth, for no-one should ever have to smell an unpleasant odor coming from it. She does this by cleaning her teeth with a siwak, toothbrush, toothpaste and mouthwash after every meal. She checks her teeth and visits the dentist at least once a year, even if she does not feel any pain, in order to keep her teeth healthy and strong. She consults otolaryngologists (“ear, nose and throat” doctors) if necessary, so that her breath will remain clean and fresh. This is undoubtedly more befitting for a woman.
‘A’ishah (radhiallahu anha) used to be very diligent in taking care of her teeth: she never neglected to clean them with a siwak, as Bukhari and Muslim reported from a number of the Sahabah (radhiallahu anha).
Bukhari reported from ‘Urwah (radhiallahu anha) via ‘Ata’:
“We heard ‘A’ishah the Mother of the Believers cleaning her teeth in the room . . .”8
Muslim also reported from ‘Urwah (radhiallahu anha) through ‘Ata’:
“We heard her using the siwak . . .”9
‘A’ishah (radhiallahu anha) said:
“The Messenger of Allah (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) never woke from sleeping at any time of day or night without cleaning his teeth with a siwak before performing wudu’“10
The Prophet’s concern for oral hygiene was so great that he said:
“If it were not for the fact that I did not want to overburden my ummah, I would have ordered them to use the siwak before every prayer.”11
‘A’ishah (radhiallahu anha) was asked what the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) used to do first when he came home. She said, “Use siwak.”12
It is very strange to see that some Muslim women neglect these matters, which are among the most important elements of a woman’s character, besides being at the very heart of Islam.
They are among the most important elements of a woman’s gentle nature, and they reveal her feminine elegance and beauty. They are also at the heart of Islam because the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) urged cleanliness on many occasions, and he detested unpleasant odors and an ugly appearance. He said:
“Whoever eats onions, garlic or leeks should not approach our mosque, because whatever offends the sons of Adam may offend the angels.”13
The Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) banned those who had eaten these pungent vegetables from coming anywhere near the mosque, lest the people and the angels be offended by their bad breath, but these smells pale into insignificance beside the stench of dirty clothes, filthy socks, unwashed bodies and unclean mouths that emanates from some careless and unkempt individuals who offend others in gatherings.
She takes care of her hair
The Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) also taught Muslims to take care of their hair, and to make it look attractive and beautiful, within the limits of Islamic rulings.
This is reported in the hadith quoted by Abu Dawud from Abu Hurayrah (radhiallahu anhu), who said:
“The Messenger of Allah (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said: ‘Whoever has hair, let him look after it properly.’“14
Looking after one’s hair, according to Islamic teaching, involves keeping it clean, combing it, perfuming it, and styling it nicely.
The Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) did not like people to leave their hair uncombed and unkempt, so that they looked like wild monsters; he likened such ugliness to the appearance of the Shaytan. In al-Muwatta’, Imam Malik reports a hadith with a mursal isnad from ‘Ata’ ibn Yassar, who said:
“The Messenger of Allah (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) was in the mosque, when a man with unkempt hair and an untidy beard came in. The Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) pointed to him, as if indicating to him that he should tidy up his hair and beard. The man went and did so, then returned. The Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, ‘Is this not better than that any one of you should come with unkempt hair, looking like the Shaytan?’“15
The Prophet’s likening a man with untidy hair to the Shaytan clearly shows how concerned Islam is with a neat and pleasant appearance, and how opposed it is to scruffiness and ugliness.
The Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) always took note of people’s appearance, and he never saw a scruffily-dressed man with untidy hair but he criticized him for his self-neglect. Imam Ahmad and al-Nisa’i report that Jabir (radhiallahu anhu) said:
“The Messenger of Allah (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) came to visit us, and he saw an unkempt man whose hair was goin in all directions, so he said, ‘Could he not find anything with which to calm his head?’“16
If this is how he Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) taught men to take care of themselves, then how much more applicable are his teachings to women, for whom beauty and elegance are more befitting, as they are the ones to whom men draw close and seek comfort, tranquility and happiness in their company! It is obvious to the sensitive Muslim woman that the hair is one of the most important features of a woman’s beauty and attractiveness.
It is no surprise that the Muslim woman is concerned with her clothes and appearance, without going to extremes or making a wanton display of herself. She presents a pleasing appearance to her husband, children, mahram relatives and other Muslim women, and people feel comfortable with her. She does not put them off with an ugly or untidy appearance and she always checks herself and takes care of herself, in accordance with the teachings of Islam, which asks its followers to look good in ways that are permitted. In a commentary on the ayah:
( Say: Who has forbidden the beautiful [gifts] of Allah, which He has produced for His servants, and the things, cleans and pure, [which He has provided] for sustenance? . . .) (Qur’an 7:32)
Al-Qurtubi said: “Makhul reported from ‘A’ishah (May Allah be pleased with her): ‘A group of the Companions of the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) were waiting at the door for him, so he prepared to go out to meet them. There was a vessel of water in the house, and he peered into it, smoothing his beard and his hair. (‘A’ishah said) I asked him, “O Messenger of Allah, even you do this?” He said, “Yes, when a man goes out to meet his brothers, let him prepare himself properly, for Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’ala) is beautiful and loves beauty.”’“17
The Muslim does all of this in accordance with the Islamic ideal of moderation, avoiding the extremes of either exaggeration or negligence:
( Those who, when they spend, are not extravagant and not niggardly, but hold a just [balance] between those [extremes].) (Qur’an 25:67)
Islam wants its followers, and especially its advocates (da’is), to stand out in gatherings in an attractive fashion, not to appear unsightly or unbearable. Neglecting one’s appearance to the extent of being offensive to one’s companions in the name of asceticism and humility is not part of Islam. The Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) who was the epitome of asceticism and humility, used to dress in decent clothes and present a pleasant appearance to his family and companions. He regarded dressing well and looking good to be a demonstration of the Blessings of Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’ala) :
“Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’ala) loves to see the signs His gifts on His servant.”18
Ibn Sa’d reports in al-Tabaqat (4/346) that Jundub ibn Makith (radhiallahu anhu) said:
“Whenever a delegation came to meet the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) he would wear his best clothes and order his leading Companions to do likewise. I saw the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) on the day that the delegation of Kindah came to meet him; he was wearing a Yemeni garment, and Abu Bakr and ‘Umar were dressed similarly.”
Ibn al-Mubarak, Tabarani, al-Hakim, al-Bayhaqi and others report that ‘Umar (radhiallahu anhu) said:
“I saw the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) ask for a new garment. He put it on, and when it reached his knees he said, ‘Praise be to Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’ala) , Who has given me clothes with which to cover myself and make myself look beautiful in this life.‘“19
So long as this taking care of one’s outward appearance does not go to extremes, then it is part of the beauty that Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’ala) has allowed for His servants and encouraged them to adopt:
( O children of Adam! Wear your beautiful apparel at every time and place of prayer: eat and drink: but waste not by excess, for Allah loves not the wasters.
Say, Who has forbidden the beautiful [gifts] of Allah, which He has produced for His servants, and the things, clean and pure, [which He has provided] for sustenance? Say: They are, in the life of this world, for those who believe, [and] purely for them on the Day of Judgement. Thus do We explain the Signs in detail for those who understand.) (Qur’an 7:31-32)
Muslim reports from Ibn Mas’ud (radhiallahu anhu) that the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said:
“No-one who has even an atom’s -weight of pride in his heart will enter Paradise.” A man asked him, “What if a man likes his clothes and shoes to look good?” (Meaning, is this counted as pride?) The Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said: “Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’ala) is beautiful and loves beauty. Pride means denying the truth and looking down on other people.”20
This is the understanding adopted by the Sahabah and those who followed them sincerely. Therefore Imam Abu Hanifah (radhiallahu anhu) always took care to dress well and to ensure that he smelled clean and fresh, and urged others to do likewise. One day he met a man who used to attend his circle, who was dressed in scruffy clothes. He took him to one side and offered him a thousand dirhams with which to smarten himself up. The man told him, “I have money; I do not need this.” Abu Hanifah admonished him: “Have you not heard the hadith, ‘Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’ala) loves to see the signs of His gifts on His servant’? So you have to change yourself, and not appear offensive to your friend.”
Naturally, those who call people to Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’ala) should be better and smarter in appearance than others, so that they will be better able to attract people and make their message reach they hearts.
Indeed they, unlike others, are required to be like this even if they do not go out and meet people, because those who proclaim the word of Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’ala) should take care of their appearance and pay attention to the cleanliness of their bodies, clothes, nails and hair. They should do this even if they are in a state of isolation or retreat, in response to the call of the natural inclination of man (fitrah) which the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) told us about and outlined its requirements:
“Five things are part of the fitrah: circumcision, removing the pubic hair, plucking hair from the armpits, cutting the nails, and trimming the moustache.”21
Taking care of oneself in accordance with this fitrah is something encouraged by Islam and supported by every person of common sense and good taste.
She does not go to extremes of beautification or make a wanton display of herself
Paying attention to one’s appearance should not make a Muslim woman fall into the trap of wanton display (tabarruj) and showing her beauty to anyone other than her husband and mahram relatives. She should not upset the balance which is the basis of all Islamic teaching, for the Muslim woman always aims at moderation in all things, and is on the alert to prevent any one aspect of her life from taking over at the expense of another.
She never forgets that Islam, which encourages her to look attractive within the permitted limits, is also the religion that warns her against going to such extremes that she becomes a slave to her appearance, as the hadith says:
“Wretched is the slave of the dinar, dirham and fancy clothes of velvet and silk! If he is given, he is pleased, and if he is not given, he is displeased.”22
Our women today, many of whom have been influenced by the international fashion houses to such an extent that a rich women will not wear an outfit more than once, have fallen into that slavery of which the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) warned and, as a result, they are trapped in the misery of that senseless enslavement to excessively luxurious clothing and accessories. Such women have deviated from the purpose for which humanity was created in this world.
One of the worst excesses that many modern Muslim women have fallen into is the habit of showing off expensive outfits at wedding parties, which have become fashion shows where competition is rife and is taken to extremes far beyond the realms of common sense and moderation. This phenomenon becomes clearest when the bride herself wears all her outfits, which may number as many as ten, one after the other: each time she changes, she comes out and shows it off to the other women present, exactly like the fashion models in the West. It does not even occur to the women among whom this habit is common, that there may be women present who are financially unable to buy such outfits, and who may be feeling depressed and jealous, or even hostile towards the bride and her family, and other rich people. Nothing of this sort would happen if brides were more moderate, and just wore one or two outfits at their wedding parties. This is better than that extravagant showing-off which is contradictory to the balanced, moderate spirit of Islam.
No doubt the Muslim woman who has surrounded herself with the teachings of this great religion is spared and protected from such foolish errors, because she has adopted its principles of moderation.