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By  Selma A. Cook  

Many Muslim women (and men!) wonder about how to take proper care of their hair as it is very important in Islam for one to maintain an appropriate outward appearance as a reflection of one's inner faith and cleanliness. Our best instructions on how to take care of our hair come from the examples of the Prophet Muhammed (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and his Companions (the first generation of Muslims) who left us with very clear ideas about this subject.

Muslim women must take care to cover their hair completely whenever they are outdoors, in the presence of non-Mahrem men, or with women who may talk about their appearance to men who are not otherwise permitted to see them. They may, however, dress as they like and uncover the hair within the privacy of their own homes so long as they are among Mahrem and trusted women.

Hair should be clean, well-groomed and neatly kept. Said 'Ata ibn Yasar, "Once a man came before the Prophet (peace be upon him) with his hair and beard unkempt. The Prophet (peace be upon him) made some gestures as though ordering the man to comb his hair. He did so, and upon his return, the Prophet (peace be upon him) remarked, 'Is this not better than one of you coming with dishevelled hair, looking like a devil?'" (reported by Malik in Al-Muwatta)

The Prophet himself (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) used to take great care when grooming his hair. 'Aisha reported: "The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) loved to start from the right-hand side for performing ablution, for combing (the hair) and wearing shoes." (Muslim)

Women should be mindful of arranging their hair before their husbands enter their houses. Once the Prophet (peace be upon him) was on an expedition with some Companions. Upon their return to Medina when they were about to go back to their houses, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, "Wait so that we may enter by the night so that the woman with dishevelled hair may comb it and the woman whose husband has been away may get herself clean." (agreed upon)

It is a hated thing in Islam to go to extremes in styling the hair. Consider the following hadeeth:

Abu Hurairah narrated that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said, "I will not be a witness for two types of people who are destined for the Fire: people with whips, like the tails of cows, who beat the people (i.e., tyrannical rulers who are the enemies of their own people), and women who, although clothed, are yet naked, seducing and being seduced, their hair styled like the tilted humps of camels. These will not enter the Garden, nor will its fragrance even reach them, although its fragrance reaches a very great distance." (Muslim)

Abu Hurairah also reported the Prophet (peace be upon him) as saying, "Whoever has hair should honor it." (Abu Dawud) Some Companions used to honor their hair by oiling it. It was also customary (but not obligatory) to dye it with henna, katm (a plant from Yemen) or saffron, although a woman should not use henna while she is mourning the death of her husband. Another way of honoring the hair is to make sure it is styled in a manner appropriate to one's gender and not in imitation of the non-Muslims. It is completely forbidden for a woman to shave off her hair while a man may do so as long as he shaves all of it. Ibn 'Umar narrated that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said (with regards to men), "Shave it all or leave it all." (Abu Dawud, Ahmad, Muslim, an-Nasa'i)

Both sexes may cut the hair as long as they follow the above guidelines. Women should not cut their hair excessively short so that they resemble men, and women should also take care to ask the permission of their husbands before deciding to change their hair so that they will not feel displeased by a new style which they may find unattractive. However, a woman must not comply with the wishes of her husband if he asks her to add false hair to her head for some reason because it is prohibited in Islam to wear or make wigs.

Asma', daughter of Abu Bakr, reported that a woman came to Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him) and said, "I have married my daughter whose hair has fallen out. Her spouse likes her hair to be long. O Messenger of Allah! May I add false hair to her head?" He forbade her to do this...while in other narrations 'Aisha, her sister Asma, Ibn Mas'ood, and Abu Hurairah all report that "The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) cursed al-wasilah and al-mutawasilah," referring both to the wig-maker and the wig-wearer and describing the use of false hair a "forgery." (Bukhari and Muslim)

Women who braid their hair may leave the braids in place when they perform ghusl (full-body ablution) provided that the water they pour on their heads reaches the roots of the hair. 'Ubaid ibn 'Umair reported that 'Aisha discovered that 'Abdullah ibn 'Amr was ordering the women to undo their plaited hair (for ghusl). She observed, "It is amazing that Ibn 'Amr orders women to undo their plaited hair for ghusl. Why doesn't he just order them to shave their heads? I and the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) used to bathe from one vessel, and all I did was pour three handfuls of water over my head." (Ahmad and Muslim)

With regards to gray hair, it is a blessing for anyone Muslim. 'Amr ibn Shu'aib related on the authority of his father from his grandfather that the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, "Do not pluck gray hairs as they are a Muslim's light. Never a Muslim grows gray in Islam except that Allah writes for him, due to that, a good deed, and he raises him a degree. And He erases for him, due to that, one of his sins." (Abu Dawud, Ahmad, Tirmidhi, an-Nasa'i, Ibn Majah)

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