What is the Islamic verdict on cosmetic surgery?
There are many differing opinions on cosmetic surgery. Many jurists permit reconstructive surgery (for example cosmetic surgery that removes a blemish caused by injury) but forbid surgery done for enhancement. The reason for the generally negative view of Islamic jurists on cosmetic surgery is a saying of Satan quoted in the Quran:
“And I will mislead them, and I will entice them, and I will prompt them to slit the ears of cattle, and I will prompt them to alter the creation of God.” Whoever takes Satan as a lord, instead of God, has surely suffered a profound loss. (Verse 4:119)
Since according to them cosmetic surgery alters God’s creation, it is a form of obeying Satan to perform such surgery unless it is done for correction, not enhancement.
But the Egyptian scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi (one of the most respected in the world) has a more nuanced view.1 He believes that the natural state of humans is to be beautiful, therefore cosmetic surgery that enhances a person’s looks is permissible with the following conditions:
- The surgery should not give a person an unnatural appearance (thus lip injections that create an unnatural pouting appearance are not permissible). Surgery done by old women to appear much younger or more sexually attractive (such as breast injections) are also forbidden.
- The surgery should not be an act of isrāf (wasteful extravagance), where a person who is already good-looking gets surgery done to become even better-looking.
Al-Qaradawi’s view is therefore that it is permissible for a woman to enhance her looks through surgery if the result is tasteful, elegant and not absurd, and if it is done to correct for a natural shortcoming of her looks rather than out of an extravagant desire to have extra good looks.
So there are no hard and fast rules on cosmetic surgery. If a person has doubts about whether their surgery is justifiable, it is best for them to consult their relatives and perhaps a religious authority.
The Meaning of Altering God’s Creation in the Quran
The negative view of cosmetic surgery of many scholars comes from a specific interpretation of altering God’s creation in verse 4:119. To them this refers to any change that is not completely forced by necessity. For this reason they approve of various forms of altering God’s creation while disapproving of cosmetic surgery. Commonly practiced forms of altering God’s creation are as follows:
- Male circumcision
- The neutering of male animals, such as oxen, on farms. Farms would be unmanageable without practicing this alteration of God’s creation.
- Grafting: A tree is altered to bear fruits from other types of trees. This is a widespread practice in farming.
The Islamic approval of the above practices shows that altering God’s creation is permissible if it is done for a good purpose. We can actually construct a new understanding of 4:119 based on this: Satan is only referring to the superstitious and senseless altering of God’s creation, as in when an animal’s ear is slit for no proven benefit–it is done merely out of a superstitious belief that it brings benefit.
So the problem is not with the alteration itself. The problem is with altering God’s creation out of superstitious and senseless beliefs that are presumably inspired by Satan.
Since cosmetic surgery is not done for superstitious reasons but done for real benefits, it could be argued that verse 4:119 does not apply to it. It would only apply if someone performs cosmetic surgery for a superstitious or senseless reason (such as if they were to slit their ear or tongue in order to “enhance” some spiritual quality, or if they were to have cosmetic surgery to make themselves look like what they assume a vampire would look like). Ordinary cosmetic surgery that is done for reconstruction or enhancement is therefore not the type of the altering of God’s creation that 4:119 is speaking of.
However, other parts of Islamic law still apply to cosmetic surgery, as Yusuf al-Qaradawi asserts. Extravagance and self-mutilation are forbidden in Islam, so the type of cosmetic surgery that is permitted is surgery that fits social acceptability and common sense.