In Islamic teaching, body piercing raises questions about modesty, ritual purity and respect for God's creation. Although these basic principles are widely accepted elements of the Muslim faith, their application in practice varies. Many Islamic scholars conclude that piercing is a permissible practice that goes back to the time of Muhammad, but this is not a unanimous opinion, and multiple interpretations review what can be pierced.
Piercing in Practice
According to the "Encyclopaedia of Women and Islamic Cultures," Islamic teaching regarding women's piercings varies across cultures and schools of interpretation. For example, the Encyclopaedia states that some religious scholars regard piercing as a forbidden imitation of non-Muslim practice, while others consider pierced ears acceptable long as the woman does not indulge in extravagant adornment. Piercings are also part of coming of age ceremonies in certain areas, such as Malaysia and northern Africa. In Malaysia, for instance, the ear piercing ceremony actually perpetuates a pre-Muslim tradition, but it is now accompanied with a religious ritual that includes children reciting chapters from the Quran.
Principles of Piercing
Although some Islamic scholars prohibit all forms of piercing as a forbidden imitation of pagan practice, a number of contemporary interpreters of Islam allow women to obtain piercings, at least in certain parts of the body. For instance, Mufti Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari, director of the UK Institute of Islamic Jurisprudence, asserts in "The Fiqh of Body Piercing" that piercing is generally forbidden, since it is involves mutilating the body created and given by God. However, al-Kawthari argues that piercing the ears or nose is permissible, since women are allowed to have adornments and these have been traditionally allowed in Muslim communities. One often cited proof in this regard is an incident from the life of Muhammad recounted in the Hadith, in which he tells women to make a charitable donation and they give their earrings.
Piercings and Public Display
One issue on which opinions differ is whether adornment worn by women in connection with permissible piercings can be displayed publicly. According to progressive Muslim scholar Asgharali Engineer, Islamic teaching on this question is not always consistent. While one authoritative commentator allows public display of such adornment, a companion of the Prophet named Hazrat Abd Allah bin Mas'ud asserts that earrings fall into the category of a woman's charms that would be immodest to reveal to people outside the family.
Piercing and Ritual Bathing
An issue related to piercing is its potential for obstructing the proper performance of the ritual known as ghusl, which involves bathing one's entire body. A piercing not only creates additional surface area, but wearing earrings arguably prevents purification from being complete. According to "Taleemul Haq," a survey of Islamic jurisprudence, the rules for the ghusl rite require a woman to remove any rings or earrings, since they could cause an area of the body to remain dry and thus impure. Some jurists, though, consider the surface area created by a piercing to be part of the body's interior, which makes the removal of earrings unnecessary.
- Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures, vol. 3; Suad Joseph and Afsana Nagmabad, eds.
- IlmGate: The Fiqh of Body Piercing
- Islam Question and Answer: Detailed Ruling on Body Piercing
- Islam Question and Answer: Ruling on Piercing Women's Ears
- Islam Today: Fatwa Archive: Ear Piercing for Women
- Taleemul Haq: A Basic Halafi Fiqh Manual; Shabbir Ahmed e Desai, ed.
- Islam Web: Fatwa Number 117205: A Woman Removing Her Earrings During Ghusl
- The Rights of Women in Islam; Asgharali Engineer
- Jack Hollingsworth/Photodisc/Getty Images