Eyebrow shaping has been a very popular issue for some time now, and one which many people seem very confused about. It is a type of personal grooming that involves plucking or trimming the eyebrow hairs for a desired shape. Though both women and men may ‘shape’ their eyebrows, it is a more common practice for women. There are various means of eyebrow shaping such as plucking, trimming and bleaching. In this brief study, we will examine the Islamic perspective on all of these methods, insha Allah.
Central to the issue of eyebrow shaping is the famous hadith of the Companion Sayyiduna AbdAllah ibn Mas’ud (may Allah be pleased with him). Let us first look at this hadith, and the various aspects that relate to it.
Alqama relates that Sayyiduna AbdAllah [ibn Mas’ud] cursed women who practice tattooing, have [facial] hair plucked and create gaps between their [front] teeth [artificially] to look beautiful; changing the creation of Allah. Umm Ya’qub said [to him], “What is this?” AbdAllah said, “Why should I not curse those whom the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) cursed and are referred to in the Book of Allah.” She said, “By Allah, I have read [the book of Allah] from cover to cover but have not found such a thing.” So he said, “By Allah, if you had read it [carefully], you would have found it. [Allah says:] “Whatever the Messenger gives you, accept it; and whatever he forbids you from, abstain from it.”(Sahih al-Bukhari 5939 & Sahih Muslim 2125)
There are various points of discussion in relation to this hadith:
1) What is the exact meaning of ‘tanmis’ or ‘nimas’ – the root words for the terms ‘namisat’ and ‘mutanammisat’ used in the various versions of this hadith?
a) The vast majority of linguistics (ulama al-lugha), jurists (fuqaha) and hadith experts (muhaddithun) are of the opinion that it refers to plucking ‘facial’ hair. As such, the term ‘namisat’ refers to women who pluck their own or others’ facial hair; and in the narration of Muslim, there is an addition of ‘mutanammisat’ which refers to women who have their facial hair plucked by others.
Imam Nawawi (Allah have mercy on him) states in his commentary of Sahih Muslim, “Al-Namisa is a woman who removes her facial hair...” (Al-Minhaj sharh Sahih Muslim p: 1602; also see for language references: Al-Nihaya 5/119, Lisan al-Arab 7/101 and Al-Mu’jam al-Wasit 2/955; and for hadith commentaries: Fath al-Bari 10/463 and Umdat al-Qari 15/114; and for fiqh references: Radd al-Muhtar 5:239, Al-Qawanin al-Fiqhiyya, Nihayat al-Muhtaj 2/25 and Kashshaf al-Qina’ 1/81)
b) On the other hand, some classical scholars are of the view that ‘nimas’ refers specifically to plucking eyebrows, and some say eyebrows and forehead. Imam Abu Dawud states in his Sunan, “Al-Namisa is a woman who plucks the eyebrows in order to make them thin.” (Sunan Abi Dawud, hadith 3621)
Imam Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani states in his commentary of Sahih al-Bukhari, “Al-Nimas is to remove facial hair with a chisel… and it is said that it refers specifically to removing hairs from the eyebrows in order to make them thin or straight.” (Fath al-Bari 10/463)
It seems that the difference is one of semantics, since the majority of scholars who say that it refers to the removal of ‘all’ facial hair also make exceptions such as removing hair from the chin, upper lip and forehead (details to follow). As such, the issue remains focused on the eyebrows. This is the reason why some even translate the actual text of the hadith as “those who pluck their eyebrows.”
2) Although the hadith mentions ‘plucking’, most classical scholars hold that it is not restricted to plucking; rather, it includes all ways of reducing the hair. As such, the same ruling will apply to cutting, trimming, shaving, etc. (Nawawi, Al-Minhaj sharh Sahih Muslim p: 1602, Fath al-Bari 10/463, Radd al-Muhtar 6/373, Nihayat al-Muhtaj 2/25 and Kashshaf al-Qina’ 1/81)
Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (Allah have mercy on him), however, is reported to have allowed reducing eyebrow hairs by means which are other than plucking. However, this remains a minority opinion. (See: Al-Mughni of Ibn Qudamah 1/131)
3) Exceptions from the general prohibition of removing facial hair
As mentioned above that even though the hadith in question refers to the removal of all facial hair, the vast majority of classical scholars make certain exceptions. So what are these exceptions?
a) Imam Ibn Jarir al-Tabari is of the opinion that the prohibition is absolutely general. As such, according to him, even if a woman develops a beard or moustache, or grows excessive hair on her forehead, it remains impermissible for her to trim or pluck the hair out – regardless of whether she is married and wants to adorn herself for her husband, or otherwise. However, this seems to be an isolated position. (See: Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari 10/463)
b) According to most classical jurists, however, the general prohibition of removing facial hair is to be restricted due to other texts signifying as such. For example:
Imam Abd al-Razzaq relates with his chain of narration that a woman asked the mother of the believers Sayyida A’isha (Allah be pleased with her) whether it was permitted for her to remove facial hair in order to beautify herself for her husband. A’isha (Allah be pleased with her) replied, “Remove what is unsightly from you and adorn yourself for your husband…” (Al-Musannaf no: 5104)
Imam Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani relates a slightly different version of this report. He states in his Fath al-Bari that the wife of Abu Ishaq, who loved to beautify herself, once visited Sayyida A’isha (Allah be pleased with her) and asked, “What if a woman removes the hair from her forehead to please her husband?” She replied, “Remove what is unsightly from you as much as possible.” (Fath al-Bari 10/463)
In view of this, the Hanafi and Shafi’i Schools of Islamic law hold that if a woman develops a beard or moustache, it is permitted for her to remove the facial hair growing on her chin, above the upper lip and below the lower lip. In fact, they state that it is recommended since it is to prevent her from resembling men.
Imam Ibn Abidin (Allah have mercy on him) of the Hanafi School states, “… If she grows some hair on her face which is a cause of her husband disliking her, then the prohibition of removing such [facial] hair seems far-fetched. This is because [self-] beautification for women is recommended for the sake of chastity… It is stated in Tabyin al-Maharim that removing facial hair is unlawful, unless a beard or moustache grows on a woman, in which case it is not unlawful to remove it; rather, recommended.” (Radd al-Muhtar ala ‘l-Durr al-Mukhtar 5:239)
The renowned Hadith expert and Shafi’i jurist Imam Nawawi (Allah have mercy on him), commenting on the hadith, states that a woman who grows a beard, moustache or hair below her lower-lip (anfaqa) is exempted from the generality of this prohibition, and thus it is permitted – in fact, recommended – for her to remove these hairs. (See: Al-Minhaj sharh Sahih Muslim, p: 1602)
Shaykh Mufti Rashid Ahmad Ludhyanwi (Allah have mercy on him), the renowned late Hanafi scholar from the Subcontinent, states that it is permitted for a woman to remove facial hair; and if she develops a beard and moustache, it is recommended (mustahab) to remove it. (Ahsan al-Fatawa 8/74)
Plucking and Trimming Eyebrows
The above concession is concerning the removal of facial hair other than the eyebrows. As for a further concession, in terms of removing eyebrow hairs, there are diverse views and statements of classical jurists (fuqaha) from the four main Sunni Schools of Islamic law and others. Some say that plucking is permitted for a woman who wishes to adorn herself for her husband, whilst others hold that it is unrestrictedly forbidden. Nevertheless, we will first present some of these texts from the classical works of fiqh, and then endeavor to draw up a conclusion, insha Allah.
The Hanafi School
1) It is stated in Tahtawi’s commentary on Al-Durr al-Mukhtar, “Al-Nimas is removing facial hair with a chisel (tweezers)… Some commentators of Suyuti’s Al-Jami’ al-Saghir state that ‘nimas’ is specific to the removal of eyebrow hair in order to make them thin and equal. This act is unlawful (haram)… It is permitted [however] to remove hair, dye it red, beautify it and adorn it with the permission of the husband, since it is from [permissible] adornment… The apparent implication of this condition is that the impermissibility is restricted to when it is done without the permission of the husband. It is possible to interpret the [Hanafi] Madhhab on this, because it cannot be denied that nimas – which is a form of hair removal – is from adornment, and a woman is religiously commanded to beautify herself [for her husband].” (Hashiyat al-Tahtawi ala ‘l-Durr al-Mukhtar 4/186)
2) The renowned later authority in the Hanafi School Imam Ibn Abidin (Allah have mercy on him) states concerning the prohibition of plucking facial hair, “It is possible that the prohibition mentioned [in the hadith] is when it is done for the sake of beautifying herself for strangers; otherwise, if she has facial hair which causes her husband to dislike her appearance, then the prohibition of removing such hair seems far-fetched. This is because [self-] beautification for women is recommended in order to look good [for the husband], unless the hadith is interpreted to mean when it is done without a need, since there is harm in ‘plucking’ hair… It is related in Al-Tatarkhaniyya from Al-Mudmarat that there is no objection in removing hairs from the eyebrows and face provided it does not cause one to resemble an effeminate (mukhannas). (Radd al-Muhtar ala ‘l-Durr al-Mukhtar 5:239)
3) It is stated in Al-Fatawa al-Hindiyya, “There is nothing wrong with removing the hair of eyebrows and face as long as one does not resemble an effeminate person [although this seems to refer to males]…” (Al-Fatawa al-Hindiyya 4/23)
The Maliki School
1) It is stated in Al-Fawakih al-Dawani, “Al-Tanmis [mentioned as being prohibited in the hadith] is to pluck the eyebrow hairs so that it becomes fine and beautiful. However, the permissibility of removing hair from the eyebrows and face has been narrated from A’isha (Allah be please with her), and it conforms to what was mentioned previously that the relied upon opinion [in the Maliki School] is the permissibility of a woman removing all her hair with the exception of the hair of her head. As such, the [prohibition] in this hadith will be understood to be for a woman who has been prohibited from adorning herself, such as a woman whose husband has passed away [and she is in her waiting period] and a woman whose husband is lost… This cannot be countered by claiming that it results in changing the creation of Allah [meaning the way Allah created you], since not every form of change is prohibited. Do you not consider that the characteristics of natural disposition (khisal al-fitra) such as circumcision, clipping nails and cutting hair; and other similar actions like castrating lawful animals and others besides these are permitted?” (Nafrawi, Al-Fawakih al-Dawani 2/411)
2) It is stated in Hashiyat al-Adawi, “Al-Mutanimmasa is a woman who plucks eyebrow hairs so that it becomes fine and beautiful. The prohibition is for a woman who is forbidden from adorning herself such as a woman whose husband has passed away, and one whose husband is lost. As such, the hadith [of prohibition] does not contradict what is narrated from A’isha (Allah be pleased with her) in regards to the permissibility of removing eyebrow and facial hair.” (Hashiyat al-Adawi ala Kifayat al-Talib al-Rabbani 2/459)
The Shafi’i School
1) Imam Shams al-Din al-Ramli (Allah have mercy on him) states, “Al-Tanmis – which is to remove facial hair and eyebrows for adornment – is unlawful. However, if the husband or master [of a slave girl] gives her permission, then it is permitted; because he has an interest in her adorning herself for him, as mentioned in Al-Rawda...” (Nihayat al-Muhtaj ila sharh al-Minhaj 2/25)
2) Imam Khatib al-Shirbini, another Shafi’i jurist, states the same in his Mughni al-Muhtaj explaining that the reason (illa) for the prohibition is deception – such as an unmarried lady deceiving a prospective husband. However, when the illa of deception is absent and a woman’s husband grants her permission, then it is permissible. (Mughni al-Muhtaj 1/294. See also: Tuhfat al-Muhtaj fi sharh al-Minhaj by al-Haytami 2/128, Rawd al-Talib 1/173, Hashiyat al-Jumal, Al-Hawi al-Kabir and other Shafi’i fiqh references)
3) Imam Nawawi from amongst the Shafi’i jurists, however, seems to have a stricter stance. He states in his commentary of Sahih Muslim, “This act [of plucking facial hair] is unlawful (haram), unless a woman grows a beard or moustache, in which case it is not unlawful to remove the hair; in fact it is recommended… The prohibition is of removing eyebrow hairs…” (Al-Minhaj sharh Sahih Muslim, p: 1602)
The Hanbali School
The more reliable position is that ‘plucking’ (and not other methods of hair removal) facial hair including the eyebrows is unrestrictedly forbidden. However, there are other views within the Hanbali School which state that it is permitted: a) upon the request of one’s husband, b) when there is no deception, and c) when it does not result in imitating immoral and obscene women.
Imam al-Mardawi states in his Al-Insaf, “It is unlawful (haram) to pluck [facial hair]… according to the more correct position of the [Hanbali] School. However, it was said [in a weaker opinion] that it is not unlawful… Only Ibn al-Jawzi [from among the Hanbali jurists] permitted plucking, and interpreted the prohibition [in the hadith] as applicable to when there is deception or it becomes the hallmark of obscene women (fajirat). In Al-Gunyah, there is an opinion that it [plucking facial hair] is permitted with the request of the husband.” (Al-Insaf fi Ma’rifat al-Rajih min al-Khilaf 1/125-126; the same is also mentioned by Al-Bahuti in his Kashshaf al-Qina’ 1/76, Ibn Muflih in his Al-Furu’ 1/107-108, and in other Hanbali references)
Moreover, the prohibition relates specifically to the act of ‘plucking (nimas).’ As for removing facial hair via other methods such as shaving, trimming and cutting, it seems to be permitted in the Hanbali School.
1) The renowned Hanbali jurist Imam Ibn Qudama states in his Al-Mughni, “Al-Namisa is a woman who ‘plucks’ facial hair, and al-Mutanammisa is one whose facial hair is plucked upon her request. This is not permissible due to the hadith. If [however] she shaves off the hair, there is nothing wrong with that; since the hadith is in reference to plucking. Imam Ahmad (Allah have mercy on him) clearly mentioned this.” (Al-Mughni 1/77, with Al-Sharh al-Kabir)
2) Imam al-Mardawi states, “It is permitted for a woman to shave and trim [her facial hair], as clearly mentioned [by Imam Ahmad].” (Al-Insaf fi Ma’rifat al-Rajih min al-Khilaf 1/126; the same is also mentioned in Kashshaf al-Qina’ and other Hanbali references)
Summarizing the Positions of the Four Schools
The above quotes from the reliable sources within the four Schools of Sunni Islamic law demonstrate that the jurists (fuqaha) did not take the hadith of AbdAllah ibn Mas’ud (Allah be pleased with him) – in which women who pluck facial hair are cursed – literally; rather, many of them made exceptions or instances of specifications due to other evidences (cited previously), such as the narrations of Sayyida A’isha (Allah be pleased with her) in Musannaf Abd al-Razzaq and Fath al-Bari, and other similar narrations.
The first exception is in regards to facial hair besides the eyebrows. Most classical jurists are of the view that it is permitted – in fact recommended – for a woman to remove facial hair growing on her chin, above the upper lip and below the lower lip. Thereafter, many other jurists make further exceptions which relate to the plucking of eyebrows themselves, since the legal maxim reads, “There is no general [prohibition] except that it may be specified.”
The Hanafis make an exception for a woman who is married and her husband wants her to adorn herself for him. If she plucks her eyebrows in order to beautify herself for him, then it is permitted; and the prohibition is restricted to when it is done for non-Mahram men, or when the eyebrows are plucked excessively to the point that it distorts her appearance (tashwih).
The Malikis seem the most flexible, making an exception for all women to pluck their eyebrows. As such, the prohibition is restricted to a woman who is in a state where she is forbidden from adorning herself such as the post-marriage waiting period (idda).
The Shafi’is – like the Hanafis – make an exception for a married lady to pluck her eyebrows with the permission of her husband. As such, the prohibition is restricted to unmarried women who may deceive a prospective husband with plucked eyebrows.
The most reliable position in the Hanbali School is that there is no exception, and thus the ‘plucking’ of eyebrows is unrestrictedly unlawful. However, there are other positions within the School that it is permitted for a married lady upon the request of her husband, or when there is no deception, or when there is no imitation of sinful and obscene women. As such, the prohibition is restricted (according to these other positions) to either unmarried women, or when the intention is to deceive a prospective husband or attract the attention of strange men as done by sinful and immoral women.
Moreover, the prohibition in the Hanbali School is only for plucking facial hair. As far as the other methods of hair removal are concerned, they are permitted. (See: Al-Mawsu’a al-Fiqhiyya, part 14 on tanammus)
The evidence for these exceptions are the previously quoted two reports in which A’isha (Allah be pleased with her) said, “Remove what is unsightly from you [i.e. from facial hair] and adorn yourself for your husband.”
Furthermore, it is related from Bakra bint Uqba that she asked A’isha (Allah be pleased with both) about the removal of facial hair, so she replied, “If you have a husband and you are able to remove [excess hair] from [above] your eyes and thus make them appear more beautiful, then do so.” (Recorded by Ibn Sa’d in his Al-Tabaqat al-Kubra 8/70-71 and Imam Dhahabi in his Siyar A’lam al-Nubala 2/188)
After surveying the opinions of all four major Schools of Islamic law, we can deduce the following rulings in regards to the plucking and trimming of facial hair and eyebrows:
1) It is permitted for a woman to remove facial hair (besides the eyebrows) – whether she is married or unmarried – especially if she develops a beard, moustache, etc; in which case it is recommended.
2) As for the eyebrows, if there is some sort of defect in them or they seem unsightly because, for example:
a) they are unusually thick and bushy,
b) they have grown too long and cover the eyes, and thus cause distress,
c) they are linked in between,
then it is permitted to remove the excess hair, or trim the stray hair, and bring one’s eyebrows back to a more normal size. This is allowed for both married and non married women [and also for men], since the ‘basis’ here is a genuine need. The Shari’ah allows bringing back to normality areas of the body that are deformed, damaged or considered abnormal by ‘sound’ people (and not what the fashion industry dictates) – especially when it results in hardship and psychological pain, and more so, when it may affect one’s aspirations to marry.
This is more or less agreed upon by the scholars, and based on several general texts of the Qur’an and Sunna, and statements of classical scholars. In fact, there is a specific hadith in this regard.
Imam Ahmad relates in his Musnad from AbdAllah ibn Mas’ud (Allah be pleased with him) who said, “I heard the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) prohibiting the removal of [facial and eyebrow] hair… except when there is a defect (da’).” (Musnad Ahmad no: 3975)
Commentating on this hadith, Imam al-Shawkani states, “The apparent meaning of this [hadith] is that the prohibition applies to when the objective is beatification, and not due to an illness or defect; in which case it is not prohibited.” (Nayl al-Awtar 4/298)
3) If there is no such defect in the eyebrows, then it is not permitted for a non-married woman, or a woman who may expose her eyebrows in front of non-Mahram men, to trim or pluck them even if slightly.
4) If a woman is married and her intention is to adorn herself for her husband; then, upon her husband’s request, it is permitted for her to pluck or trim her eyebrows by making them ‘somewhat’ neater and shaping them ‘slightly’ – provided it is not excessive and exaggerated to the point that it looks unnatural and distorts her appearance (tashwih). As for unmarried women, this will remain impermissible.
Islam takes the husband-wife relationship very seriously – emphasizing the importance of both spouses remaining clean, neat and adorned for each other. As such, we see the jurists (fuqaha) from the various schools allowing a married woman to trim her eyebrows in order to beautify herself for her husband, as the narrations from Sayyida A’isha (Allah be pleased with her) indicate.
In this case, however, it is necessary that she does not expose them in front of non-Mahram men, since the jurists of the Hanafi and Shafi’i Schools clearly state that such trimmed eyebrows are a means of adornment only for the husband. As such, she must conceal her beautified eyebrows with her Hijab or Niqab when in the presence of non-Mahram men.
5) It is not permitted for both married and non married women to shape the eyebrows excessively such that it distorts the appearance, or in a way that is the hallmark of immoral and corrupt women who are considered sexually promiscuous and whose main aim is to lure men. One must avoid that which becomes the symbol of sinful and immoral activities.
As such, it is not permitted to shape one’s eyebrows into a thin fine line as practiced within the modern fashion industry. This is regardless of whether a woman is married or otherwise, and whether she exposes her eyebrows in front of non-Mahram men or not. The concession for married women is merely to ‘slightly’ neaten and shape the eyebrows, and thus great caution must be exercised in this regard. If one fears they will end up trimming the eyebrows excessively, then it is best not to trim at all.
Changing the Creation of Allah (taghyir khalq Allah)
A question arising here is whether any form of modification to the eyebrows is considered ‘changing the creation of Allah (taghyir khalq Allah)’ – which is emphatically prohibited in Shari’ah. If it does, then it would mean that even married women are not permitted to ‘slightly neaten’ their eyebrows as a form of adornment for their husbands.
The answer basically boils down to how we understand the hadith central to our discussion which states, “…women who practice tattooing, pluck [facial hair], and create gaps between their teeth to look beautiful – changing the creation of Allah…”
In summary, those who grant concession for married women to pluck or trim their eyebrows argue that not all forms of ‘change’ are unlawful. The text from the Maliki jurist Imam al-Nafrawi was previously cited where he stated, “This cannot be countered by claiming that it results in changing the creation of Allah, since not every form of change is prohibited. Do you not consider that the characteristics of natural disposition (khisal al-fitra) such as circumcision, clipping nails and cutting hair; and other similar actions like castrating lawful animals and others besides this are permitted?” (Al-Fawakih al-Dawani 2/411)
Secondly, some scholars argue that the statement “changing the creation of Allah” in the hadith refers specifically to the last of the actions mentioned, namely: “those who create gaps between their teeth to look beautiful.” As such, plucking or trimming eyebrows is not tantamount to “changing the creation of Allah”, and Allah knows best. (See: Ali al-Qari, Mirqat al-Mafatih 8/295)
As for shaving the eyebrows completely and drawing a pencil line in its place, according to the mainstream majority of classical scholars it is not permitted for both married and non married women. This is understood clearly from the many texts quoted above, in that excessive removal of eyebrow hair is impermissible.
Although, the Hanbali School allows ‘shaving’ as opposed to ‘plucking’ the eyebrows, it too does not permit its excessive removal, since a woman’s appearance is distorted and results in imitation of immoral and obscene women (fajirat).
Bleaching and Dyeing Eyebrows
A recent trend has emerged of bleaching the eyebrows in order to make them look thinner and shaped. This is normally done in two ways:
1) Bleaching the top and bottom of the eyebrows with a colour similar to that of the skin. As a result, the eyebrows look as if they have been excessively plucked, thinned and shaped.
2) Bleaching the eyebrows fully with a colour similar to that of the skin, and then drawing a fine pencil line on top of it. As a result, the original eyebrows are not visible due to the bleaching, and instead only a pencil line is noticed.
Since bleaching eyebrows in this manner is a recent phenomenon, we do not find it being discussed explicitly by classical jurists. As for the contemporary scholars, they disagree on its permissibility.
1) Some contemporary scholars are of the opinion that it is not permitted to bleach the eyebrows in the manner outlined above, since it resembles and has the same effect as that of excessive plucking. Moreover, the substances used may cause damage to the skin or hair. As such, regardless of whether a woman is married or not, bleaching the eyebrows in this manner is impermissible – according to these scholars.
2) Others, however, say that it is permitted to bleach and lighten the eyebrows in the manner mentioned above, since it is only colouring the hair and not plucking it. The general rule regarding the various means of adornment is that they are permitted unless proven otherwise – according to this group of scholars.
It seems, and Allah knows best, that bleaching the eyebrows in the above manner cannot be considered unlawful (haram). The Shari’ah allows colouring and dying one’s hair, with the exception of using pure black dye in order to deceive others.
Indeed, the underlying intention in this case is to make the eyebrows appear as though they have been plucked or trimmed, and thus I feel there may be a degree of detestability (karahiyya) in it. As such, it is better and more precautious to avoid doing so, especially when the bleached eyebrows will be exposed in the presence of non-Mahram men. However, it cannot be deemed as haram.
Note that the above does not relate to dyeing eyebrows fully with hena or some other substance in order to change grey hair, and not with the intention of making them appear plucked. This, without doubt, is permitted provided one avoids pure black colour and the ingredients used in the hair dye are halal.
To sum up, according to the majority of classical jurists, it is permitted for married women to pluck, trim and neaten their eyebrows ‘slightly’ for their husbands, provided they do not expose them in front of non-Mahram men. As for non-married women, this remains impermissible. However, if the eyebrows look deformed and defected then it is permissible for even non-married women to turn them into a more normal size. Trimming the eyebrows excessively into a thin fine line is not permitted for both married and not married women, since it distorts one’s appearance and results in imitating immoral women.
And Allah knows best