Cosmetic Surgery in Imami Jurisprudence | Part 3

This is the third of five short lessons delivered by Ustādh Rafī’pūr – a teacher of khārij – in the city of Mashad, in Madrassah Ayatullah Khūi, on the topic of cosmetic surgery.

We are exploring the topic of cosmetic surgery and have said our discussion does not concern surgeries done for medical reasons. One type of surgery that can be understood as medical is certain surgical procedures where a body part is reconstructed due to certain difficulties that a person faces in society as a result of the body part.

For example, certain women get breast augmentation for very abnormally large breasts, as this causes them physical pain, or makes day-to-day life activities very difficult for them in society. These surgeries are not being done because the person wants to aesthetically look different, but rather to alleviate a difficulty. Another example is if someone gets a rhinoplasty because the current shape of their nose causes them some difficulty breathing; these surgical procedures are not included in our discussion either as society considers them to have a medical objective behind them, rather than a mere cosmetic objective.

In the previous lesson we cited a narration where the Prophet (p) cursed the wāṣilah and mustawṣilah. One of the points we want to mention about this narration is that many jurists do not believe simply because an infallible cursed an act or the doer of a certain act, that the curse signifies prohibition of that act. Secondly, the report in Ma‘ānī al-Akhbār explains the meaning of these two terms and in that case, even the severe curse of the Prophet (p) perhaps makes sense.

Thirdly, there is a narration that contradicts the narration on wāṣilah and mustawṣilah recorded in Tahdhīb al-Aḥkām:

أَحْمَدُ بْنُ مُحَمَّدٍ عَنْ عَلِيِّ بْنِ الْحَكَمِ عَنْ يَحْيَى بْنِ مِهْرَانَ عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ الْحَسَنِ قَالَ: سَأَلْتُهُ عَنِ الْقَرَامِلِ قَالَ وَ مَا الْقَرَامِلُ قُلْتُ صُوفٌ تَجْعَلُهُ النِّسَاءُ فِي رُءُوسِهِنَّ قَالَ إِنْ كَانَ صُوفاً فَلَا بَأْسَ وَ إِنْ كَانَ شَعْراً فَلَا خَيْرَ فِيهِ مِنَ الْوَاصِلَةِ وَ الْمُوصَلَةِ.

‘Abdullah b. al-Ḥasan says, I asked him (a) about what qarāmil is? He (a) said: It is a piece of wool which women put on their heads. If it is made of wool, then that there is no problem in using it, but if it is made of human hair, then there is no good in it for the wāṣilah and muṣilah.[note]Vol. 6, pg. 361[/note]

The phrase “there is no good in it” does not signify anything more than kirāha (that it is a detested act); it does not prove ḥurmah (prohibition). However, this chain of transmitters is weak because we do not know who ‘Abdullah b. al-Ḥasan is.

The third scenario had to do with beautifying the body with things that remain on there, such as tattoos. The Ahl al-Sunnah have reports about someone who puts tattoos on another person (wāshima) and the one who receives the tattoos (mustawshima) and generally consider it a prohibited act. Some Ahl al-Sunnah have used a narration referring to a qāshira and maqshūra, who have been cursed by the Prophet (p). This was a process of removing a part of the skin or some fat from the face to make it appear more beautiful.

However, we cannot use these reports as they do not give us conviction and we do not have anything concrete in our literature that prohibits these acts.

Another argument that can be used against the third scenario is verse [4:119]. As mentioned earlier, we will address this verse later.

We will now begin discussing the fourth scenario, which is the main topic of our lessons. This is when a person wants to beautify themselves, by surgically reconstructing a body part and they have no medical ailment or problem. In the first lesson I said we will address this topic based on two schools of thought: 1) The school of Najaf which relies heavily on procedural principles, investigates the chains of transmitters, and also do not allow the intellect to interfere too much into the process of ijtihād; and 2) The school of Ayatullah Borūjerdī and its subsequent expansion by some of the contemporary jurists, where we will begin looking at some of the theological assumptions about humans, and then look at the evidence through that light.

The First Approach 

The default assumption about any act is exemption (barā‘ah) which entails permissibility, as opposed to the view of the Akhbārīs who took the default assumption to be precaution. In other words, it is upon a jurist to bring evidence for the prohibition of this act. Despite that, proponents of permissibility can also cite certain evidence for their case and do not just have to rely on their default assumption.

Some scholars also cited the following verses for permissibility:

يَـٰبَنِىٓ ءَادَمَ قَدْ أَنزَلْنَا عَلَيْكُمْ لِبَاسًا يُوَٰرِى سَوْءَٰتِكُمْ وَرِيشًا ۖ وَلِبَاسُ ٱلتَّقْوَىٰ ذَٰلِكَ خَيْرٌ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ مِنْ ءَايَـٰتِ ٱللَّهِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَذَّكَّرُونَ

[7:26] O children of Adam! We have provided for you clothing to cover your nakedness and as an adornment. However, the best clothing is righteousness. This is one of Allah’s bounties, so perhaps you will be mindful.

۞ يَـٰبَنِىٓ ءَادَمَ خُذُوا۟ زِينَتَكُمْ عِندَ كُلِّ مَسْجِدٍ وَكُلُوا۟ وَٱشْرَبُوا۟ وَلَا تُسْرِفُوٓا۟ ۚ إِنَّهُۥ لَا يُحِبُّ ٱلْمُسْرِفِينَ

[7:31] O Children of Adam! Dress properly whenever you are at worship. Eat and drink, but do not waste. Surely He does not like the wasteful.

In all honesty, I am not sure what these verses have to do with the topic of cosmetic surgery. At the very least, according to the first approach, these verses would be irrelevant, however, when we use the second approach, some verses of the Quran will become relevant.

In terms of narrations, some types of reports that can be used are as follows:

مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ يَحْيَى عَنْ أَحْمَدَ بْنِ مُحَمَّدٍ عَنِ الْقَاسِمِ بْنِ يَحْيَى عَنْ جَدِّهِ الْحَسَنِ بْنِ رَاشِدٍ عَنْ أَبِي بَصِيرٍ عَنْ أَبِي عَبْدِ اللَّهِ ع قَالَ قَالَ أَمِيرُ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ ع‏ إِنَ‏ اللَّهَ‏ جَمِيلٌ‏ يُحِبُ‏ الْجَمَالَ‏ وَ يُحِبُّ أَنْ يَرَى أَثَرَ النِّعْمَةِ عَلَى عَبْدِه‏

Imam ‘Alī (a) says: Allah is beautiful and He loves beauty. He loves to see the impact of His (swt) blessings on His servant.1

This specific report is recorded in both Ahl al-Sunnah and Shi’i ḥadīth works. Unfortunately, in Shi’i works the chain of transmitters is weak as Qāsim b. Yaḥya and his grandfather do not have explicit tawthīq. However, Sayyid Shubayrī Zanjānī believes Qāsim b. Yaḥya and his grandfather can be authenticated as he transmits a ziyārat of Imam al-Ḥusayn (a) recorded in al-Faqīh of Shaykh al-Ṣadūq’s, which Shaykh labels as “the most authentic of ziyārāt”:

وَ قَدْ أَخْرَجْتُ فِي كِتَابِ الزِّيَارَاتِ وَ فِي كِتَابِ مَقْتَلِ الْحُسَيْنِ ع أَنْوَاعاً مِنَ الزِّيَارَاتِ وَ اخْتَرْتُ هَذِهِ لِهَذَا الْكِتَابِ لِأَنَّهَا أَصَحُّ الزِّيَارَاتِ عِنْدِي مِنْ طَرِيقِ الرِّوَايَةِ وَ فِيهَا بَلَاغٌ وَ كِفَايَةٌ.

In Kitāb al-Ziyārāt and Kitāb Maqtal al-Ḥusayn (a) I have recorded a variety of Ziyārāt, however for this particular book, I have recorded this specific Ziyārat because it is the most authentic of ziyārāt according to me from the perspective of its transmission, and it is very eloquent and sufficient.2

Even if we accept this narration as authentic, we say this report does not say anything about the permissibility of beautifying something Allah (swt) has already created in a certain way. This report says Allah (swt) wants to see the effects of His blessings on His servants, which would include things like wearing good clothes, using perfume, combing your hair etc.

Secondly, the beauty that Allah (swt) loves and the beauty that we love, are they the same? One of the most subjective human experiences is the perception of beauty, so if we are to use this narration as evidence for the permissibility of cosmetic surgery, how can we ascertain that the result of that surgery is also beautiful for Allah (swt)?

We will look into this further in the next lesson – God-willing.


  1. Al-Kāfī, vol. 6, pg. 438.
  2. Vol. 2, pg. 597.