When studying other religions, one realizes what a blessing Islam is, for it does not associate religiosity with depriving the human nature of its natural urges. In fact, Islam encourages its followers to adorn themselves, when worshipping Allah (swt):
“O Children of Adam! Take your adornment (by wearing your clean clothes), while praying…” (Al-Araf 7:31)
Furthermore, in the next verse, Allah (swt) says:
“Say ((O Muhammad (sa)): ‘Who has forbidden the adoration with clothes given by Allah, which He has produced for his slaves, and At-Taiyibat [all kinds of Halal (lawful) things] of food?’” (Al-Araf 7:32)
Therefore, Muslims should bear in mind that Islam does not associate piety with a dishevelled appearance.
During the time of the Prophet (sa), people beautified themselves in various ways – some were encouraged and retained by Islam, whilst other forms were prohibited, as they were repugnant to the human nature.
For instance, during the time of the Prophet (sa), people used to dye their hair. Jabir Ibn Abdullah (rta) reported that Abu Quhafah (rta) was brought on the day of the conquest of Makkah, and his head and beard were white like Thaghamah (a plant whose flowers and fruit are white). The Messenger of Allah (sa) said: “Change this with something, but avoid black.” (Muslim)
The Prophet (sa) is also reported to have said: “The Jews and the Christians do not dye their hair, so differ from them.” (Bukhari)
The Prophet (sa) also recommended which dye to use. Abu Dharr (rta) reported that the Prophet (sa) said: “The best things, with which to change grey hair, are henna and Katam (a plant similar to henna, which is used as a dye).” (At-Tirmidhi)
From another Hadeeth, we know that the Prophet (sa) said: “Whoever has hair should care about it.” (Abu Dawood)
Ata Ibn Yasser (rta) reported that a man came to the Prophet (sa), when he was in the mosque, with uncombed hair and an untidy beard. The Prophet (sa) pointed at him, as if ordering him to fix his hair and beard. He did so and returned. Thereupon, the Prophet (saw) observed: “Isn’t this better than one of you coming with his hair uncombed, as if he was a devil?” (Malik in Al-Mawatta)
Whilst reading the Ahadeeth, one gets an insight into the fashion and styles prevalent in that age. For instance, men and women used to shave their heads. The Prophet (sa) allowed men to shave all their heads but made it Makruh (disliked) for women to do so. Ali t said: “The Prophet (sa) told the women not to shave their heads.” (An-Nasai)
He also instructed the men not to shave portions of their heads and leave portions. Ibn Umar (rta) said: “The Prophet (sa) told us not to have the Qaza haircut [shaving some portions and keeping some].” (Bukhari and Muslim)
Ibn Umar (rta) said: “The Prophet (sa) saw a boy, whose head was partially shaved, and told the people not to do so and said: ‘Shave it all or leave it all.’” (Abu Dawood)
Likewise, men used to wear pure silk and gold. Although silk and gold were prohibited for men, they were allowed for women. From a Hadeeth we learn that the Prophet (sa) took silk in his right hand and gold in his left, and said: “These two are Haram (prohibited) for the males among my followers.” (Ahmad, Abu Dawood, An-Nasai and Ibn Majah)
People also used perfume to adorn themselves. One of the sons of Umm Atiyya (rta) died, and on the third day, she asked for a yellow perfume, put it over her body and said: “We were forbidden to mourn for more than three days, except for our husbands.” (Bukhari)
The Prophet (sa) encouraged the use of perfume: “Whoever is offered some perfume should not refuse it, because it is light to wear and has a good scent.” (Abu Dawood and An-Nasai)
He always used to accept perfume when presented to him. (Bukhari)
In fact, the Prophet (sa) rebuked people who ate raw legumes and threatened to exclude them from approaching the mosques due to the unpleasant odour that they carried.
Al-Mughirah Ibn Shubah (rta) reported: “Whoever has eaten from this malignant tree should not approach our mosque, until its smell completely vanishes.” (Ahmad, Abu Dawood and Ibn Hibban)
Ibn Umar (rta) reported that the Prophet (sa) said: “Whoever has eaten garlic should not approach our mosque.” (Bukhari and Muslim) A foul breath is indeed a matter of great discomfort for people around.
Women used to wear earrings and bangles. On Eid day, when the Prophet (sa) preached about giving charity, women started giving their fore-arm bangles and earrings. (Bukhari) It was also a practice to apply Kohl in the eyes.
Umm Atiyya (rta) narrated from the Prophet (sa): “It is not lawful for a lady, who believes in Allah (swt) and the Last Day, to mourn for more than three days for a dead person, except for her husband, in which case she should neither put Kohl in her eyes, nor perfume herself, nor wear dyed clothes, except a garment of Asb.” (Bukhari)
In order to enhance their beauty, women used to pluck their eyebrows, widen and sharpen their teeth, tattoo their skins and attach hair pieces and wigs to lengthen their hair. The Prophet (sa) said: “Allah has cursed the Washimat and the Mustawshimat [tattooers and the tattooed], the Namisat and the Mutanammisat [those who pluck eyebrows and those whose eyebrows are plucked], and the Mutafallijat [those who widen the gaps between their teeth] for beauty, who change what Allah has created.” (Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawood and At-Tirmidhi)
In another Hadeeth, the Prophet (sa) said: “Allah has cursed the Wasilah and the Mustawsilah [those women who make wigs and hairpieces, and those who wear them].” (Bukhari)
However, if a woman has some obtrusive hairs on her face, which are a problem and an embarrassment for her, she may remove them. Aisha y was approached by the young wife of Abu Ishaq. She wished to remove her facial hairs in order to look beautiful for her husband. Aisha y advised her to do so. (At-Tabarani)
In all ages, men and women have paid attention to their personal appearance and spent time, money and effort in beautifying themselves. However, it is disturbing to note that the emphasis on personal appearance is so excessive in the current age.
As Muslims we need to remind ourselves that inner beauty comes before external appearances. After all, we have been taught to pray: “O Allah, just as You have made my external features beautiful, make my character beautiful as well.” (Hisnul Haseen) Ameen.