Between Two Extremes: My Conclusion on Wearing Make Up

The Beauty Balance - Every Woman's Dilemma

Makeup and hijab.”  Type those keywords into a YouTube search, and you will encounter dozens of tutorials that feature young, headscarf-wearing women demonstrating the techniques and products they use to achieve a flawless look for Eid, weddings, or every day.

Contoured faces, embellished lips, and enhanced eyes have become the new norm for many Muslim women –a demographic that spends billions of dollars every year on cosmetics.

An article in Fashionista.com cites a report that values the global halal cosmetics market — products specifically targeted to Muslim consumers– at $16.32 billion in 2015.  It is expected to reach $52.02 billion by 2025.

Interspersed with those instructional YouTube videos are a handful of lectures from Muslim men claiming that makeup is haraam.

These brothers, along with many others — whether standing in front of a minbar delivering a Friday khutba, or expounding passionately on social media — insist that their sisters in Islam eschew cosmetics and other forms of beautification.  Sometimes they even insult women they consider to be too glamorous, comparing them to prostitutes or calling them derogatory names like “hojabi.”

One brother, whose video is entitled “Why you can’t wear hijab & MakeUp,” claims that wearing cosmetics in public is not only forbidden but also “opposes what the female companions used to do.”

Comparing the behavior of modern day women to that of the sahabiyaat is a common practice, since those remarkable women of the past are indeed role models.  The noble early believers were blessed to live alongside the Prophet (PBUH), learn from him, and ask him questions pertaining to issues that were crucial to women.  Many of the sahabiyaat displayed superior Islamic adaab (etiquette) and were uniquely knowledgeable about the deen.

Interestingly, many of the female companions were not as unadorned as most people imagine.  In an informative lecture, “Fiqh of Women’s Attire and Beauty,” Safiya Ravat, Graduate of Fiqh and Usul al Fiqh at the International Islamic University, explains that many of the female companions of the Prophet (PBUH) regularly wore a natural-looking cosmetic the color of saffron (similar to foundation) on their faces, as well as kohl on their eyes, henna on their hands, and rings and bangles on their fingers and wrists.

According to one hadith, explains Ravat, a Companion named Zainab Bint Abi Salama had been mourning the death of her brother for three days.  Faithfully following the dictum of the Prophet (PBUH), she had not beautified herself during that period.

When the three days were complete, however, she purposely reapplied the saffron-colored cosmetic to her face in order to signify that her mourning period was over.  Thus, we see that believers at the time of the Prophet (PBUH) did indeed use some natural-looking cosmetics to enhance their eyes and brighten or refine their face — not just at home, but also in public.

So, who is right?  The YouTubers with their colorful makeup palettes, or the well-meaning (though oftentimes sanctimonious) brothers who declaim makeup as categorically haraam?

Between Two Extremes: My Conclusion on Wearing Make Up - About Islam

What Is Meant by “Balance”?

As with everything in our noble deen, the key to beautification is balance.  Makeup and most kinds of primping are not haraam in and of themselves; in the privacy of their homes and among their maharem, Muslim women can wear cosmetics and adornments and be as glamorous as they choose.  Even in public, according to many scholars, Muslim women can use moderate cosmetics to correct imperfections and give a look of health and presentableness.

But . . . how will women know how to draw the line between looking “fresh faced” and “seductive?

“Every woman will know if she is putting makeup on to look fresh, clean, and presentable or whether she is doing it to look alluring and attractive to men,” explains Karima Khatib, a great-grandmother and former Islamic school teacher in the U.S.

“Putting this responsibility on the woman herself instead of defining how much if any beautification can be considered halal or haraam keeps a woman close to Allah.”

My own daughter, a Muslim American high school student, asserts that a woman’s intentions when wearing makeup are what truly matter. “A lot of girls, like me, wear some makeup because it’s enjoyable to apply and it makes us feel good about ourselves.  We’re not trying to attract guys or be seductive, and since Allah knows our intentions, that is what matters.  No one has any right to judge another.”

It is important to realize that women wear makeup for reasons that are varied and often legitimate.  We should not jump to the conclusion that a woman is wearing cosmetics to be provocative or glamorous.  Some women have scars, acne, rosacea, dark circles, or other imperfections that make them feel self-conscious.  Makeup, for them, is a way to feel more confident and to blend in, not attract attention.

Women frequently apply cosmetics to appear younger for professional reasons. In the business world, a woman’s looks and perceived age can mean the difference between success and failure.  According to an article in Forbes, “Women who advance most at work, studies agree, are more attractive, thinner, taller and have a more youthful appearance than their female colleagues who are promoted less often.”

Men do not face the same level of pressure to look youthful and handsome in the workplace, and their age is less likely to prohibit them from finding — or keeping — a job.

A Washington Post article cites researchers whose studies found that “. . .  older women may in fact experience more discrimination than older men, because physical appearance matters more for women and because age detracts more from physical appearance for women than for men.”

“Some ladies adorn themselves out of insecurity, not vanity,” adds Aasma Maqbool, a mother of five in the U.S.

“I know a sister who was abused by an ex-husband.  She was told she was ugly and worthless.  Another sister was in an accident which left her with scarring, so she uses makeup to hide the scars.  Personally as I’m grappling with ageing I do a little freshening with makeup to look less tired and sallow and to cover the bags under my eyes.”

Between Two Extremes: My Conclusion on Wearing Make Up - About Islam

Struggling with a Habit

Another reason some Muslim wear makeup is habit.  Some sisters who converted to Islam struggle with toning down their glamour.  For years many of them felt they had to make themselves attractive for the male gaze, but Islam now commands the opposite of them.  The new guidelines can take some adjustment, and patience and understanding from their more experienced brothers and sisters is necessary.

“There are sisters who are new reverts who I feel need to work at their own pace to reduce makeup wearing because it’s a transition and their journey,” explains Amy Brooke, a single mom of five and Muslim of nearly eight years in the U.S.  “Allah changes their hearts, but we must not bend a twig too hard or it will break.”

It must also be acknowledged that some women who were raised as a Muslim and understand the Islamic mandate of modesty still choose to look alluring, for reasons only known to them.

“If a woman wants to wear full-on club makeup, that’s her prerogative,” opines Stephanie Siam, an English and Writing Studies instructor in Abu Dhabi. “She shouldn’t be reprimanded or prohibited from doing so because a man might be attracted to her.  If she chooses not to, it should come from the same impetus that inspires all other devotion to God.”

All of these arguments — that many of the female companions wore some cosmetics, that some scholars allow the use of light, natural-looking makeup, and that Muslim women wear makeup for a variety of reasons and usually not with the purpose of seducing men — will still probably not convince some men to stop condemning their sisters.

They seem to want women to look as drab as possible in public, in order not to be a temptation.  Fortunately, there is a simple solution.  Allah SWT commands:

{Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: And Allah is well acquainted with all that they do.} (24:30)

Brothers will inevitably encounter attractive women in public places, including non-Muslims, Muslims who cover, and Muslims who don’t.  Instead of blaming women for being too seductive or beautiful, or trying to control them by policing what they wear, men should concentrate on controlling themselves.

More emphasis must be made in Friday lectures and in conversations amongst Muslim men about males’ responsibility to control their own desires.

“Making women responsible for men’s attraction (or lack thereof) is a dangerous slope that leads to several issues, including rape culture and victim blaming,” asserts Stephanie Siam.

She adds,  “I don’t think modesty means going out with dark circles under your eyes, dressed head to toe in black, as though you’re trying to erase yourself from existence in society.  But I also don’t think full-on club makeup is appropriate, either.”

Islam requires modesty of male and female believers.  It is up to each individual to seek Allah’s pleasure through careful and well-informed choices.  “Balance” should be the mantra of a Muslim’s life:  balance in the way we dress, the way we behave, and the way we interact with each other.

So, the woman who wears excessive, unnatural, alluring makeup may well be out of balance, but so is the brother who condemns, judges, and labels her.  Both parties need to check their behavior because they– and all of us, in the end — will answer to Allah SWT.

First published: November 2018

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