Cosmetic Surgery: The lawful and the unlawful

Cosmetic Surgery: The lawful and the unlawful

Question

Is it permitted Islamically to perform cosmetic surgery to correct a birth defect? If not, will the surgeon be equally culpable in the eyes of Shari`ah? What if the patient was non-Muslim? Would you also provide some titles of works in English to which I could refer?

Answer

Permissibility of Cosmetic Surgery in Islam

The Shar‘i position on cosmetic surgery depends upon the motivation for undergoing such surgery. When the patient’s decision to undergo cosmetic surgery is motivated by reasons which are recognised as valid by the Shari‘ah, surgery will be regarded as permissible. If the motive for undergoing cosmetic surgery is one that is in itself disallowed by the Shari‘ah, the surgery would be deemed unlawful.

Circumstances

We recognise two general conditions under which cosmetic surgery is performed:

Cosmetic surgery performed in order to correct unusual physical and functional deformities. Deformities of this kind are usually such that they cause pain and discomfort, either physical or psychological, to the patient.
Cosmetic surgery performed upon a normal face or body, i.e. a face or body which does not contain abnormal or unnatural deformities. This would include surgery performed for the purpose of altering apparent or conventional unattractiveness.

Types of Cosmetic Surgery

Undergoing cosmetic surgery is lawful and permissible when it is done for the sake of correcting abnormal or unusual deformities. In this case it is governed by the legal maxim ‘Harm will be eradicated’.

In terms of this maxim anything regarded as harmful may be removed. A healthy tooth, for example, may not be removed, but when it causes pain and discomfort, its removal becomes permissible (jaa’iz). The removal of something harmful may even become incumbent (waajib) if the pain caused by it becomes unbearable or life-threatening.

On the other hand, cosmetic surgery done for the purpose of enhancing physical beauty through altering features of the face or body that are perceived to be unattractive, will be unlawful. It is disallowed on grounds of an ethos which exists in the Shari‘ah, according to which severe censure is placed on alteration to the creation of Allah. This ethos is inspired by various verses of the Qur’an and ahadith of Rasulullah [peace be upon Him]. Below we quote some of these.

…and they call but upon a rebellious shaytaan. Allah did curse him. And he (Shaytaan) said: ‘I will take of Your servants a fixed portion. I will mislead them; I will give them false hopes; I will command them, and they will split the ears of cattle; and I will command them, and they will alter the creation of Allah.’ Whoever takes Shaytaan, instead of Allah, as his friend, has incurred a manifest loss. (an-Nisa:117—119)

The concept of “altering the creation of Allah” admittedly has a wider meaning than physical alteration of the human body. However, alteration of the body most definitely falls within the wider scope of the intended meaning, as borne out by the following hadith:

Ibn Mas‘ud [r`a] said: May Allah curse the woman who tattoos, and the woman who has herself tattood, and the woman who plucks out the eyebrows, and the woman who splits her teeth for the sake of beauty—such women who alter the creation of Allah … He said: Why should I not curse those who are cursed by Rasulullah and who are in the Book of Allah? (Sahih al-Bukhari no. 4886)

Cosmetic Surgery on a Muslim Patient

Wherever cosmetic surgery is allowed, it is obvious that it is as lawful for the doctor to perform the operation as it is for the patient to undergo surgery. Conversely, when surgery itself is disallowed, it would be unlawful for both doctor and patient to be involved in the operation. This would apply to all instances where the doctor and the patient are both Muslims. If the patient is a Muslim and the doctor a non-Muslim, it would still be unlawful for the patient to undergo cosmetic surgery.

Cosmetic Surgery on a non-Muslim Patient

In the case of cosmetic surgery by a Muslim doctor on a non-Muslim patient, it would still be unlawful for the doctor to be involved in an operation regarded as unlawful by the Shari‘ah. The fact that the patient happens to be a non-Muslim is inconsequential, and does nothing to make this case different from the case of a Muslim patient. Ahadith such as the hadith of Ibn Mas‘ud quoted above—where both the one who tattoos and the one who is tattooed are cursed by Rasulullah [peace be upon Him] —make it clear that the Shari‘ah applies individually to both parties involved in such an operation. Therefore,when it happens that the Shari‘ah doesn’t extend to one of the two parties, the Shar‘i position of the other party remains unaffected.

References

To the best of our knowledge not much has been written in English on this topic. In Arabic too, we do not know of any specialised works on the subject. The major works on Fiqh all include material that are related to this topic, but not in the sense of modern cosmetic surgery. Some writings have appeared of recent which deal with the general topic of “Dress and Adornment”. One of these would be the doctoral thesis Al-Libas waz-Zinah fish-Shari‘ah al-Islamiyyah (Dress and Adornment in Islamic Law) by Dr. Muhammad ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ‘Amr, published by Mu’assasat ar-Risalah, Beirut in 1985. Pages 454 to 462 of this work contain a discussion of cosmetic surgery.

[Taken from website http://www.duai.co.za/cosmeticsurgery.shtml]

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