From Cherif Abou El Fadl: "Reflecting on Light...and Makeup?" And KAEF on The Sin of Hajj


Reflecting on Surah Al Nur...and Makeup?

What creates light is light, and what creates darkness blocks the light. And those who block out the light often feel justified in blocking the light. They convince themselves they are creating light. All of us block out the light unintentionally. We ignore this obvious fact, and wishfully think it will all turn out all right while remaining unchanged.

When our sense of right and wrong is defined through the logic and philosophies of our society, it is guaranteed that we will fall into darkness. And to fall into darkness is to approach destruction, in this world and the next. What is it that makes us ignore all the warnings? Is it a diseased heart? Can a diseased heart see that it is diseased? Do we assume that we are not diseased - that we are one of the few who is “fine”?

Surah Al-Nur reverberates through my head this week. After 79 surahs in Project Illumine, Nur takes on a different meaning. I am convinced that, while you are most certainly free to take the Qur’an as isolated verses and chapters, you are guaranteed to miss what the Qur’an is trying to tell you unless you study it as a whole. Each chapter speaks to others. This week we received a record number of emails, many revolving around a singular topic - makeup. I felt the need to share my thoughts on the matter, because what was amazing to me was that I did not take that part of the halaqa as a generalized condemnation of makeup.

It seems not many heeded my advice on the importance of an etiquette around asking questions, and I wish we could collectively leave this particular approach to Islam. It is an approach of reducing Islam to a set of “dos” and “don’ts”. It is an Islam which suggests a petty God chiefly concerned with you denying yourself, willing to punish you for putting paint on your face, and one that desires to micro-manage you through His revelation. That is not my God. 

The verses regarding lowering our gaze and modesty are not punitive for the sake of being punitive. They have immense wisdom, but not many reflect. Let’s take a look at our society for a moment and leave the makeup issue aside. We live in a hyper-sexualized society where appearance is everything. Unblemished skin, fine clothing, a fit body are pursued by most who can afford it. If it is not pursued, we pursue to consume those who pursue the standards of superficial beauty. We abandon and punish our homeless for being an eyesore. Exorbitant amounts of money are spent on skin care, makeup, gyms, workout routines, plastic surgery, and the list goes on. Addictions to porn and sex are higher in our society than others. The rates of those suffering body dimorphism, eating disorders, anorexia, depression, anxiety, and suicide are higher in our society than anywhere else. The phenomenon of a person hating themself, hating their body, hating others is commonplace. Clinical psychology tends to diagnose these people in individual vacuums - meaning their symptoms are caused by their psychology alone - but even this is changing. Mental health professionals are waking up to the fact that these ailments are a reflection of a fundamentally sick society, and that you cannot separate the individual from his environment.

Now, don’t think for a second that I am only talking about women. It has become common for men to obsess over their figure, spending hours at the gym, not for their health, but for their appearance. The rates for body dysmorphia and eating disorders are higher among women, but they are still plaguing men at a growing and alarming rate. Men will spend more time and commitment in pursuit of “fitness” than they do with Islam. They define themselves by how attractive they are, and how attractive their sexual partners are. The challenge that women face is greater, because this society values a woman first and foremost based on her appearance. Even if this has begun to change in the last few decades, it would be grossly unfair to equate men’s struggle with this to that of women. My point is not to make excuses or to argue who has more of an excuse. No. My point is to call out the B.S. on both sides. We need to combat this, because it is darkness. Are your gym videos and selfies contributing to these diseases of superficiality in our society, or combating it? 

Go back to the Qur’an. Look at the halaqa on Surah Al-Zukhruf which warned us about humanity’s love for superficiality and adornments. The dangers of this, and how we cannot obtain godliness without abandoning this superficiality. How this superficiality can become an addiction, which corrodes the heart. Superficiality is not a light matter, it is a poison. Look back at all of the surahs which talked about the people of Lut, or any of the past nations which were destroyed. They all fell into darkness, at their own hands. They were all unique mixtures of hubris, cruelty, and superficiality, and these institutionalized habits of darkness caused them to destroy themselves. Literally their darkness consumed them. It is easy to look back at these stories and feel a sense of pride thinking: I would never be like them. But we are. Wake up.

What if makeup was haram? Would you let go of it? Does it not disturb you that you feel so defensive and attached to makeup? The truth is that these are the things that block us from Allah, because we are so attached to them. Nothing is wrong with makeup, the gym, our careers, our friends, but we put it in the niche where the lantern is supposed to go. We put it in the place of God, granting it a power to determine our fate in life, a power and place we should only be granting to God, and that is the problem. When it comes to compromising on our time with God, we feel no fear. But when it comes to compromising time with friends, our habits around fitness, our way of living, we become threatened and indignant. 

If you can get past the fear and anger, you will realize this moment is a gift because it is showing you an idol. An idol that can be smashed. You have your own connection with Allah, and you must remove the things that block that connection. For some women that will be makeup, for others it isn’t. For some men it will be their gym life, for others they will need to take care of themselves more. We are not all attached to the same forms of darkness, but we all have attachments. And we all have a responsibility to not contribute to others’ forms of darkness even though we may not be attached to them ourselves. When those attachments are threatened we feel fear, anger, and resentment. 

This is an opportunity to notice what your body is telling you, and rather than trying to perform mental gymnastics to maintain the status quo, it would be better to listen to the anger. Sever that attachment. Surround yourself with people who are going through life focused on confronting themselves like this, rather than people who validate and participate in mutual distraction with you. This is the big jihad - we all need all the help we can get. It will not be enough to just subhanallah your way through life.

In closing, makeup is fine. Or maybe it isn’t for you. You probably know that best. Wear it all you want. But be mindful of living life superficially. Be mindful of what you post, and remember that someone may be struggling with an eating disorder or body dysmorphia. If your post could possibly cause this person to feel jealous, it is most likely not a source of light. You are absolutely responsible, and maintaining the mentality that these people should just lower their gaze is wrong. Be mindful of how you’re contributing to the superficiality of our society, and instead take the opportunity to enrich it with something more meaningful. In the end, Allah is the one with the power to change everything. Not your pragmatism. Teach the world how it should value you, rather than adopting what the world values.

Cherif Abou El Fadl

The Movement to Reinvigorate Beautiful and Ethical Islam has begun.  Join us.

Your donation to The Institute for Advanced Usuli Studies will help fund important work to combat extremism and ignorance. We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit public charity dedicated to research and education to promote humanistically beautiful and morally elevating interpretations of Islam. We seek to support our brightest minds to advance knowledge and to build a community of individuals founded on dignity, respect and love for all of God's creation. See The Usuli Institute Credo for our statement of values. Please give generously to support a beautiful, reasonable and vibrantly human Islam for future generations to come. All donations are tax-deductible and zakat eligible.


Subscribe to Our E-mail List for Weekly updates and Latest News: