Is it permissible for a lady to pluck her eyebrows?
The question of the permissibility of plucking the eyebrows is one that needs to be dealt with. Despite the clear quotations from our jurists regarding its permissibility, we find a large numbers of scholars issuing the unequivocal verdict that it is haram. The scholars of this latter opinion take their cue from the Prophetic tradition narrated by Abdullah ibn Mas‘ūd radiyAllahu ‘anhu which clearly indicates impermissibility of plucking the eyebrows.
I will first present the relevant quotations from our Shafi‘ī jurists and then get into a discussion on the hadith of Abdullah ibn Mas‘ūd radiyAllahu ‘anhu.
A presentation of quotations
Imam ar-Ramli is quoted to have said:
ويحرم أيضا تجعيد شعرها … والخضاب بالسواد … والتنميص – وهو الأخذ من شعر الوجه والحاجب المحسن، فإن أذن لها زوجها أو سيدها في ذلك جاز، لأن له غرضا في تـزيـنها له كما في الروضة.
“And it is also haram for her to make taj‘īd [I think it means to curl, no dictionary with me] of her hair… and to dye [her hair] black… and tanmīs – that is plucking facial hair or eyebrows for adornment. If, however, her husband permits her to do the above then it will be permissible, as the husband has a right to his wife’s adornment as mentioned in Ar-Rawdah.”
Khatib ash-Shirbini in his Mugni said:
والتنميص – وهو الأخذ من شعر الوجه والحاجب للحسن لما في ذلك من التغرير، أما إذا أذن لها الزوج أو السيد في ذلك فإنه يجوز، لأن له غرضا في تزيينها له وقد أذن لها فيه
“And tanmīs – that is plucking facial hair or eyebrows for adornment [is haram] since it creates deception. However, if the husband or master grants her permission then it will be permissible, as the husband has an objective in her adornment and he permitted her to do so.”
Consequently, the Shafi‘ī school considers the plucking of the eyebrows for the married lady with the permission of her husband as permissible. Unmarried women, however, are not allowed to pluck “since it creates deception”.
A discussion around the hadith of Abdullah ibn Mas‘ūd
It should be noted from the very outset that my discussion here is merely an attempt to understand how our jurists dealt with the prohibition within hadith. The wording of the hadith as it appears in Sahih Muslim reads:
“May Allah curse the tattooer and tattooed; the one who plucks (facial hair) and the plucked; those who split their front teeth seeking thereby adornment, changing the creation of Allah.”
The hadith clearly seems to be prohibiting plucking along with tattooing and splitting of the front teeth. Ibn Jarir at-Tabari adopts what is probably the most severe stance here when he considers the prohibition in the above tradition as completely general, thereby considering the removal of any facial hair as haram. Imam Nawawi, however, when commenting on the hadith says that a lady who grows a beard or moustache is exempted from the generality of this prohibition and, consequently, may remove those hairs. The point I wish to highlight at this juncture is the phenomenon of exemption from generality. The legal maxim reads: there is no general [prohibition] except that it may be exempted/specified.
This wAllahu ‘a‘lam serves as a starting point: that even though the prohibition in the hadith is general there would always be exceptions or instances of specifications. One such instance, according to our jurists, is the removal of facial hair [plucking the eyebrows specifically] for a married lady with the permission of her husband. Khatib Shirbini in the above quotation provides us the reason for this exemption. He identifies the ratio legis (‘illah) behind the prohibition and then applies the maxim that “a particular ruling stands while the ratio legis exist; when the ratio legis ceases to exist then too will the ruling”. Pointing out the ratio legis, Khatib ash-Shirbini said, “And tanmīs – that is plucking facial hair or eyebrows for adornment [is haram] since it creates deception”. Thus when plucking creates deception, as in the case of an unmarried lady who might deceive a prospective husband, it will be haram; when the ‘illah or deception is absent then too will the ruling of impermissibility be absent.
Yes, one could possibly argue that the hadith mentions “changing the creation of Allah” and thus the ‘illah should be tagyīr khalqIllah or changing the creation of Allah, as was the opinion of Hafiz ibn Hajar and others. To this end our response would be that the statement “changing the creation of Allah” refers specifically to “those who split their front teeth seeking thereby adornment” as hinted to by Imam Nawawi in his Sharh Sahih Muslim. In addition, if we were to assume that removal of facial hair is haram since it is tantamount to “changing the creation of Allah”, then we’ll have to consider the shaving of the moustache for the male also as haram for the very same reason, an opinion that probably no scholar ever held.
And Allah knows best
Shaykh Abdurragmaan Khan
2 Sha‘bān 1431
Edited Aug. 15th 2010