Laws of Religion
Laws of Islam Concerning Ritual Purity and Cleanliness
from the Holy Qur’an, major hadith collections
and Islamic jurisprudence
9. Personal Grooming
From Islamic source documents: Qur’an and hadith
The Qur'an says to purify one's garments and shun all defilement.
Muhammad prescribed a variety of practices concerning general grooming of the body, not specific to prayer. (The hadiths concerning cleaning away of bodily emissions, such as urine and feces, are discussed on a previous page on "Laws of Islam Concerning Ritual Purity and Cleanliness/4. Filth from Bodily Emissions" and are not discussed here.)
Muhammad said that men should trim their moustaches closely and permit their beards to grow as an action against the fire-worshippers or polytheists who do just the opposite. He forbade boys to have their heads shaved while leaving only a tuft of hair.
Muhammad cursed women who use false hair to lengthen their own hair or someone else's hair. He said that this was a practice of the Jews and was a form of falsehood or cheating, which is forbidden.
He said that Muslims should dye their hair since Jews and Christians do not do this. Some hadiths say that Muhammad dyed his hair while others say that he had very little grey hair and therefore did not dye it.
Muhammad forbade tattooing. He cursed women who had tattoos or gave tattoos to others as well as those who removed their facial hair or enhanced their beauty by creating a space between their teeth.
Muhammad said that there are five acts of fitra. (Editor's note: The translated hadith collections say that following fitra means adhering to the tradition of the prophets, taking the right path or following Islam.) The five acts of fitra enumerated by Muhammad are: circumcision, shaving one's pubic hair, plucking out the hair under one's armpits, cutting one's nails and clipping one's moustache to keep it short. It was reported that the last four of these should not be neglected for more than forty nights.
In one hadith, there are ten acts of fitra listed: those above excluding circumcision and six more: letting one's beard grow, using a tooth-stick, snuffing up water into one's nose, washing the joints of one's fingers, cleaning one's private parts with water and rinsing one's mouth. (Editor’s note: The translation of a hadith outside the collections of al-Bukhari and Muslim clarifies that when Muhammad specifies that cleaning one’s private parts with water is an act of fitra, it means cleaning oneself after urinating as well as after defecating; thus the penis as well as the anus is to be cleaned.)
Muhammad advised men to wait before entering their houses so that the women could comb their hair and those women whose husbands had been away from home would be able to shave their pubic hair. Using chemicals to help remove hair was, however, disapproved.
From Islamic Jurisprudence (fiqh§): Reliance of the Traveller
(Editor’s note: The jurisprudence concerning cleaning away of bodily emissions, such as urine and feces, is discussed on a previous page on "Laws of Islam Concerning Ritual Purity and Cleanliness/4. Filth from Bodily Emissions" and is not included here.)
Reliance of the Traveller (Shafi‛i school) includes a number of recommendations (sunna) concerning the body. These include trimming the fingernails, toenails and moustache; plucking out the hair of the underarms and nostrils, but if this is difficult for the person, then shaving this hair is acceptable; and shaving the pubic hair. (A 20th century commentator notes in this section, discussing the shaving of one's beard, that if a person follows the ways of non-Muslims (e.g., by shaving one's beard) out of a belief that this is superior to the teachings of Islam, then that person is guilty of unbelief (kufr).) These grooming actions – trimming the nails and moustache, plucking the underarm hair and shaving the pubic hair – are specifically recommended as part of the preparation for pilgrimage to Mecca, though they are completely prohibited once a person has entered the sacred state (ihram) required for pilgrimage. A man may insist that his wife shave her private parts prior to sexual intercourse to help ensure maximum enjoyment.
Another general grooming recommendation is to use kohl as eyeliner, preferably three times though another odd number also acceptable.
Reliance of the Traveller (Shafi‛i school) says that circumcision is required. (Although circumcision of women is required by the Shafi‛i school, a 20th century commentator at this point in the translation says that for the Hanbali school it is recommended (sunna) rather than required and for the Hanafi school a woman is to do this solely out of courtesy to her husband.)
The hair on one's head may be shaved off completely, but it is considered offensive to shave only part of the head. The hair of a baby is recommended to be shaved off on the seventh day after its birth, with gold or silver equal in weight to the shaved hair given to charity.
While plucking out of gray hairs is considered offensive, it is recommended to dye the hair red or yellow. Dyeing one's hair black is prohibited unless the reason is that one is fighting against unbelievers (jihad). (A 19th century commentator notes here in the translation that this would be a show of strength against the enemy. A 20th century commentator says here that a woman may cut her hair to beautify herself but not to disfigure herself – the example of mourning being given by the translator here in relation to disfigurement.)
In Keller’s English translation of Reliance of the Traveller, Imam Dhahabi (an important 13th-14th century Shafi‛i scholar) is quoted as listing certain sins as “enormities,” meaning that there is a threat of punishment after death mentioned in the Qur’an or hadiths, a legal penalty is prescribed or the transgressor is accursed by Allah (God) or Muhammad. These “enormities” are the most serious sins and, according to the Qur’an; if they are avoided then a person will be caused by Allah to enter an honorable gate (meaning reward in Paradise after death). According to Imam Dhahabi, committing an “enormity” without knowing that it is unlawful eliminates the guilt, except for denying those religious tenets that are universally known by Muslims. Imam Dhahabi lists wearing false hair, being tattooed and plucking out facial hair or eyebrows by women as "enormities." Similarly, a woman who assists another woman in doing these things is also guilty of enormities. Women who enhance their beauty by separating their front teeth are likewise committing an enormity. Failing to trim one's moustache is listed as a probable enormity.
Reliance of the Traveller (Shafi‛i school) recommends that married women dye their hands and feet completely with henna, but it is prohibited for men to do so without specific need. (Protection against sunburn is mentioned here by a 20th century commentator as an example of such a need). Women are, more specifically, recommended to dye their hands and feet with henna before assuming the sacred state of ihram for pilgrimage.
A husband is obliged to provide his wife with oil for her hair, sidr and a comb. (Sidr means leaves from a particular kind of tree and is translated as "shampoo" in Reliance of the Traveller.)
§The more general term sharia is often used loosely to mean the specific derived laws of fiqh, such as those summarized here.
Abbreviations used in footnotes:
BK: Hadith collection of al-Bukhari as found here (USC website) and here (ebook download). In a few instances, the hadiths on the USC website differ from those in the ebook download, either by having slightly different numbering of the hadiths or because the hadith appears only on the USC site and not in the ebook download. Such cases are noted in the footnotes by putting either “(USC)” or “(ebook)” after the relevant hadith number when it applies to only one of these two sources.
DJP: The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer, by Ibn Rushd, translated by Imran Ahsan Khan Nyazee, published by Garnet Publishing Ltd, Reading, UK. Volume 1, 1994. Volume 2, 1996. Limited preview is available here (Volume 1) and here (Volume 2).
RT: Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law by Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri, translated by Nuh Ha Mim Keller, revised edition 1994, published by Amana Publications, Beltsville, Maryland, USA. It is available as a PDF file here and in HTML here.
SR: al-Shafi‛i’s Risala: Treatise on the Foundations of Islamic Jurisprudence, translated by Majid Khadduri, Second Edition, published by The Islamic Texts Society. It can be downloaded here.
● The sources cited are described on the page Source Texts Used for Laws of Islam.
 QR 74:4-5
 BK 7:72:780, BK 7:72:781, ML 2:498, ML 2:499, ML 2:500, ML 2:501
 ML 2:501
 ML 2:500
 BK 7:72:780
 BK 7:72:803, BK 7:72:804, ML 24:5289-5290-5291-5292
 BK 4:56:674, BK 4:56:694, BK 6:60:409, BK 7:62:133, BK 7:72:816, BK 7:72:817, BK 7:72:818, BK 7:72:819, BK 7:72:820, BK 7:72:821, BK 7:72:823, BK 7:72:824, BK 7:72:825, BK 7:72:831, ML 24:5295-5296, ML 24:5297, ML 24:5298, ML 24:5299, ML 24:5300, ML 24:5305, ML 24:5306-5307, ML 24:5308, ML 24:5309
 BK 4:56:674, BK 4:56:694, BK 7:72:816, BK 7:72:821, ML 24:5306-5307, ML 24:5308
 BK 4:56:694, BK 7:72:821, ML 24:5308
 ML 24:5309
 BK 4:56:668, BK 7:72:786, ML 24:5245
 BK 7:72:742, BK 7:72:784, BK 7:72:785, ML 7:2674-2675
 BK 7:72:782, BK 7:72:783, BK 7:72:787
 BK 3:34:299, BK 7:72:827
 BK 3:34:440, BK 6:60:408, BK 7:63:259, BK 7:72:815, BK 7:72:816, BK 7:72:820, BK 7:72:822, BK 7:72:823, BK 7:72:825, BK 7:72:826, BK 7:72:829, BK 7:72:830, BK 7:72:831, BK 7:72:832, BK 7:72:845, ML 24:5300, ML 24:5301-5902-5303-5304
 BK 6:60:408, BK 7:72:815, BK 7:72:822, BK 7:72:826, BK 7:72:832, ML 24:5301-5902-5303-5304
 BK 8:74:312
 BK 7:69:482
 BK 6:60:232, BK 6:60:298, BK 9:87:171, ML 4:745, ML 35:6544
 BK 7:72:777, BK 7:72:779, BK 8:74:312, ML 2:495, ML 2:496
 BK 7:72:777, BK 7:72:778, BK 7:72:779, BK 8:74:312, ML 2:495, ML 2:496
 BK 7:72:779, BK 8:74:312, ML 2:495, ML 2:496
 BK 7:72:777, BK 7:72:778, BK 7:72:779, BK 8:74:312, ML 2:495, ML 2:496
 BK 7:72:776, BK 7:72:777, BK 7:72:778, BK 7:72:779, BK 8:74:312, ML 2:495, ML 2:496
 ML 2:497
 ML 2:502
 BK 7:62:16, BK 7:62:172, BK 7:62:173, BK 7:62:174, ML 20:4727, ML 20:4728-4729
 ML 22:4874-4875
 RT c2.2 (page 30)
 RT e4.1 (pages 58-59)
 RT e4.1(1) (page 58)
 RT e4.1(2) (page 58)
 RT e4.1(3) (page 58)
 RT j3.1 (pages 311-312)
 RT j3.8 (page 316)
 RT m5.6 (page 526)
 RT e4.1(4) (page 58)
 RT e4.3 (page 59)
 RT e4.2 (pages 58-59)
 RT j15.1 (page 360)
 RT e4.4 (page 59)
 RT p0.0 (pages 651-652)
 QR 4:31, cited in RT p0.1 (page 652)
 RT p70.2 (page 696)
 RT p59.0-p59.1 (page 691)
 RT p75.16 (page 706)
 RT e4.4 (page 59)
 RT j3.2(c) (page 312)
 RT m11.3 (page 543)
 translator’s note at RT g2.8(4) (page 226)