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The Islamic Perspective on Beauty

Dec 28, 2012, 9:28 AM

Dressing Well and Caring for One’s Appearance 

Studying the sayings and the lifestyle of the infallible authorities of religion, we arrive at the conclusion that Islam considers wearing neat, nice, and elegant clothing that becomes one’s social status and individual bearing as commendable. Moreover, buying multiple dresses and clothes is deemed permissible by Islam and is not condemned as an instance of extravagant spending. The following question-and-answer between Ishaq ibn ‘Ammar and Imam Sadiq specifically address this point:

Ishaq ibn ‘Ammar:” Does it become a believer to have ten dresses?

The Imam: “Yes.”

Ishaq:”Twenty dresses?”

The Imam: “Yes.”

Ishaq: “Thirty dresses?”

The Imam: “Yes. This is not an instance of wasting. Wasting is to wear your elegant clothes when you should be wearing your casual clothes.

It is reported that Imam Sajjad purchased two summer dresses, each for the price of one hundred and fifty dirhams.

When a group of sanctimonious Muslims disapprovingly asked him, “In the eyes of Muslims, you are the most meritorious, so why are you dressed the way you are?” Ibn ‘Abbas replied,” God says in the Qur’an, say (O Prophet), ‘Who has forbidden the adornment of God which He has brought forth for His slaves, and the savoury things of His provision?”’

In numerous reports, Muslims are encouraged to wear white clothes, and the reason given for this is their more pleasing fragrance and their greater beauty. Wearing black clothes, on the other hand, has been discourages as the dress of grief and the inmates of hell.

Furthermore, great emphasis is laid on being well- dressed and personable when meeting one’s friends. In one report, Imam Sadiq relates that on one occasion when the Prophet was asked to the door by a companion, he first moistened his hand and tidied his beard and hair with his hands and then checked his appearance, using a bowl of water as a mirror. This surprised the Prophet’s wife, ‘A’ishah. After the Prophet conversation with the companion was over and he came back in, she asked him why he had groomed himself before going to meet the man. The Prophet replied, “O ‘A’ishah, verily God desired to see a believer who goes out to see his brother to prepare and groom himself.”

The Youth and Appealing Clothing

Examining the reports of the sayings and the tradition of the infallible imams, one is struck by the emphasis with which they spoke to the need for the youth to be well-dressed and presentable. Imam Baqir reports that during his caliphate, Imam ‘Ali went to the bazaar along with Qanbar, his servant, to purchase clothes. He brought two dresses, one for the price of three dirhams and another for two dirhams. He then told his servant to take the three-dirham one. Qanbar told the Imam that it would be better for him to take the more expensive dress as he must make public appearances to speak to the people. Imam ‘Ali’s reply was, “But you are young and have the desires of the youth. I would be ashamed before my Lord should i prefer myself to you.”

The Imam’s conduct teaches us that we must respect the youth’s desire for dressing well and appearing personable, which is only a natural inclination. In doing so, the youth satisfy the psychological need they have in this respect, while they should be careful to observe the bounds of moderation.

The Permissibility of Growing Long Hair

as explained above, Islam does notpermissible adornments. It even condemns those who forbid such adornments on their own account. Having said this we should point out that Islam permits men to wear their hair long: “Men are recommended to either shave their head or to grow long hair, in which case they must care for it by washing and combing it.”

This report clearly shows that men, particularly the youth, are allowed to either keep their hair or shave it, but if they choose to wear it long, they must tend to it, keep it clean and combed. It is, of course, necessary to respect the particular norms of every society, and so if shaving the head is considered disagreeable in a society-that it is a factor to be taken into consideration. In this light, ’Allamah Majlisi, considering why the Prophet and the imams wore their hair long, explains that shaving the head was a dishonourable thing to do among the Arabs of that period, and the Prophet and imams had to avoid a behaviour that would have harmed their social credibility. That the Prophet was mindful of the sensibilities of the society is an example that we must follow. But in any case, if we decide to keep long hair, we must observe the requirement; that is, washing it regularly and keeping it combed.

Dressing Well and Grooming Oneself for Prayer

The Qur’an affirms, O Children of Adam, put on your adornment on going to a place of prayer. This verse could be read either to indicate bodily and outward adornment-wearing clean and nice clothes, combing the hair, using fragrance, etc. – or to include spiritual adornment-conducting oneself in accordance to virtue-as well. The verse was revealed in condemnation of the egregious tradition observed by some pre-Islamic Arabs, who would perform the ritual circumambulation of the kaaba while naked. The Qur’an requires that Muslims should refrain from wearing dirty and shabby clothes and instead wear their best most appealing when they go for prayer.

The Prophet and the imams strictly followed this instruction. Asked why he would always dress so well when he went to the mosque for prayers, Imam Hasan replied, “Indeed God is beautiful and love beauty. I groom myself for my Lord, for He says, put on your adornment on going to a place of prayers.

Thus, we may conclude that based on numerous reports in the religious corpus, wearing elegant clothing-provided the money used to purchase it has been acquired by lawful means and it conforms to one’s comportment and standing –is sanctioned by Islam and secures God’s satisfaction.


The innate impulse for seeking beauty is even stronger in the female nature. As Islam’s precepts and directions are in conformity with human nature, those that pertain to women are different from those that concern the men.

Beauty as a Criterion in Seeking a Wife

Islamic tradition advises men to ask about the beauty of the hair of the woman they seek to marry in addition to asking about her countenance, for hair and countenance are the two elements of beauty. The Prophet asserted that the most meritorious wives of his nation are those who are the most beautiful and who require only a meagre mahr.

To take beauty into consideration for the selection of one’s spouse is considered appropriate by the infallible imams, thought, they caution, that it should not be one’s sole concern. Certain groups of beautiful women are in fact condemned, for beauty is a merit only when it is a complement to virtue and religiosity. As such, the Prophet warned his companions, “Beware of plants that grow on putrid soli.” They asked what the meant and he explained, “A beautiful girl raised in a depraved family”. Imam Sadiq emphasizes that one should not marry a woman merely for her wealth or beauty; piety and virtue should be given priority in the selection of one’s wife......