Saturday, December 10, 2011

Islamic Beauty: Hands

Asalamu Alaykom,

This is the second posting in my Islamic Beauty series.

First, we thought about our faces.  We are mandated to cover everything except our faces and our hands.  We'll think about our hands next.

Limit the Exposure

Our hands, unlike our faces, reach out and explore our world.  Our sense of touch is fulfilled mostly through this part of our body.  Since we are so busy with our hands we need to be careful that we don't over expose them.

One of the ways a Muslimah can be careful with her hands is to limit who gets to touch them.  Hands are beautiful, soft, tender and warm.  We don't need to share them with everyone who reaches out to us.  We don't have to shake the hands of men. 

Women shaking hands with men is a cultural norm in the West.  It is not done everywhere.  And, like most cultural norms, it is not something we should adhere to blindly.  The Quran admonishes us time and again to walk the straight path and not simply follow the footsteps of the past.  We need to stop, think, and reassess.  Does shaking hands with a man help or hurt my Islam?

For me, I made the decision years ago to forgo this act of closeness.  My hand is not for any man who thrusts his arm out.  It is actually against Emily Post's ettiquette for a man to suggest a handshake first.  So, for any woman who thinks that it is rude to not take a man's hand if he offers, please realize that it is rude for a man to innitiate.

When we limit who touches and holds us, we reign in our power more.  We are owning our own beauty; not giving it away.  No, not every man gets to touch us.  Being aware of our beauty and our right to keep it from public consumption is protecting ourselves.  When we feel that protection we are able to feel the safety and freedom to be ourselves.  Being ourselves is beautiful.

What to do when a man puts out his hand?  I smile sincerely, place my right hand on my heart and say, "It's nice to meet you, sorry but I don't shake hands."

Do I shake hands with women?  Yes.

I don't need to describe to Non-Muslims every move I make.  It is implied but not spelled out.  This is a quick interaction; a blip.  Usually there is some short-lived embarrassment on the part of the man.  It is a learning moment and often we do learn from our mistakes.  I bet that the same man will not offer his hand thoughtlessly to the next covered woman.

Keep in mind, that in most of the world, men do not shake hands with women. So, if you are in doubt about your right to politely refuse, then know that a large percent of the world's citizens understand and even support your stance.  I understand.

It's a chance for dawa the spread of Islam.  We do not spread Islam by being the same as everyone else.  We spread Islam by explaining that there are both simmilarities and differences.  The differences we adhere to are to keep us closer to what is good and healthy for us; for the pleasure of Allah.

If you have any doubt, think if you would like your beloved husband shaking hands with every woman in the room or if you'd rather he told them that he doesn't shake hands.  Later, the two of you could hold each other's hands in private knowing that just you two are able to share something special.


We need to cover up our hands from the cold.  Cold leads to sore, chapped hands.  Not taking care of our hands in the cold leads to more interventions later.  It's far better to use preventative measures.

We also need to cover up our hands when we do the housework.  This is hard for a lot of women.  I've seen it!  I've felt it myself.  When we put on laytex gloves, we feel subservient.  We hate to feel like a housewife!  Yet, without the gloves, we touch many harsh cleaning chemicals, detergents, and soaps.

When I was a new mom, I went to the dermotologist for help with my hands.  My hands were in rough shape!  I felt so much discomfort from them; they were so itchy and dry.  With winter setting in, the skin was actually drying and splitting from itself. I needed help!

The doctor told me that it was a typical symptom of new motherhood.  Moms are changing diapers and washing hands.  Moms are doing more laundry.  Moms are trying harder to keep the house clean for baby.  In the end, he told me how I had to wear gloves for every cleaning job.  I could not allow the chemical agents to touch my skin any more.  He also told me to apply a small amount cream after every time I used hand soap. 

Since that time, I've been able to keep my hands free from problems by using gloves.  The only time I have problems is when I think I can actually handle doing the dishes quickly without gloves.  I can't.  It's life. 

Avoid Harshness

How can a soft hand be subjected daily to harsh soaps and gels?  It can't.  Avoid them.  There are hand soaps which kill germs and also rob us of moisture.  We don't need them.  What we need is to practice proper procedures in hand washing.  Rubbing your hands vigorously with a mild lathering soap, using a nail brush, and drying hands afterward is enough.

We don't need germ-killing hand gel throughout our day.  Yes, there are times I open my purse, pull out the gel bottle and squirt up the whole family.  But I've seen ladies constantly use hand gel as if they were warding off evil spirits.  

Cure Cuts 

Cuts on our fingers and hands are hard to cure.  I have never had much success with band-aids on my hands.  I have, however, been very happy with Nu-Skin.  This is a thin, clear, coat of antiseptic which needs maybe one or two applications in order to heal your wound.  Subhanallah, it has helped me many times.


Keep nails short.  Really. 

When I was searching for just the right image for this posting, I had a hard time finding hands with short nails.  It is seen as beautiful to have long nails.

Nails are dead.  Nails are not living parts of ourselves.  Just like hair, we don't feel any pain when they are cut.  To worship something dead on us is strange, isn't it?

The practice of growing long nails was famous far and wide for Chinese royalty and nobility.  Long ago, for a Chinese woman to have long nails meant she was a kept woman.  Her man was rich.  She was not necessary for any work.  She was a showpiece kept by her man for his enjoyment. 

Islamically, we are warned against keeping long nails.  Nails should not extend beyond your fingertip; the shorter the better.  They should be trimmed once a week in deferrence to good hygiene and health.

One of the most dramatic real-life detective stories I've ever heard involved long nails.  This is a true story (though I am unable to find substantiating links at this time).  There was a hospital nursery in which a healthy baby suddenly caught an infection and died.  The administration investigated the ventilation system.  It checked out fine.  They thought that maybe the baby picked it up from a visiting family member.  While this first death was still being grieved, a second baby died in very simmilar circumstances.  Now there were two dead babies, two families in mourning and no answers.  What was killing the babies?

What linked the two deaths was one nurse.  Yes, she had long nails.  The undersides of her long nails were depositories of disease-spreading strains of staph.  The hospital staff knew that it was healthier to have short nails but they let societal norms for "beauty" dictate to them.

In my own life, I had to be Mama Bear when a hospital worker came to change the IV on two-year-old Mr. Boo back in 2007.  She showed up with her long nails and I stopped her.

"Are you going to wear gloves?"


"Then I want someone else."

I later complained to the Ombudsman of the hospital. She agreed. 

Yes, long nails are not healthy.  As Muslimahs, we need to make decisions for our health and for the health of our families.  Good health is the most beautiful. 

Nail Polish

Yes, we can wear nail polish

                                                 BUT we have to remove it to pray. 

For those of you who say, "Muslimahs can't wear nail polish, " please ammend yourselves.  We can wear it but we have to remove it to pray.

We have to remove it in order to make a successful wudu washing for prayer.  A wudu is only valid if the water touches the surfaces of those body parts:  hands, face, arms from elbows down, hairline, ears, tand feet.  Without a successful wudu, our prayer is invalid.  If you have been praying while wearing nail polish, and only now realized your mistake, then perhaps Allah (in all His Mercy) might accept your prayers.  However, now you know.

I never was big on nail polish.  I was fine putting it on but I didn't like taking it off.  The smell of the polish remover is hideous!  And I always managed to stain something with it. 

Yet, when I came to Islam, I didn't like to be told, "YOU CAN'T!"  So, during my periods (when I couldn't pray) I would paint my toenails.  When my period was done, I'd take it off and make ghusl.  I felt some of my freedom to have my limits but not your eliminations.  Later, I got tired of this routine and I stopped wearing it all together.  I did it from my own volition, however, and not from someone screaming at me.

I've had two close friends in America verbally attacked at their local masjid for showing up in nail polish.  These are two separate incidents, by the way, in two seperate states.  "HARAM!  HARAM!"  Wow, Girls, let's be a little better in our approach with new visitors to the masjid.  These two friends went to the masjid in pain and hoped for some relief from the hardship of their lives.  Did they find it?  NO!  They found harsh critics who were ready to pounce on them for some perceived flaw in their appearance.

I would rather that we approach ladies in nail polish while making excuses for them.  They might not even be Muslim!  Not every person entering a masjid has taken shahaddah.  What if we jump on them with our "HARAM!  HARAM!" spiel and alienate them immediately by showing how judgemental "sisters" can be.  Please.  Let's be advisers not crucifiers.


Henna on hands is a cultural norm in many countries.  Just as I said that Americans shouldn't follow cultural norms without questions neither should those from Muslim countries.  Muslim countries don't necessarily practice Islam.  They usually practice a mix. 

Intricate henna hand designs are beautiful.  I admire them.  They attract the eye for sure.  So...they cross the line.  They bring attention to a woman in public and that isn't the goal of Islam. 

Henna is also used on fingernails as a halal stand-in for paint.  It is a dye and can accept a layer of water over the nail.  Does it look good?  I don't think so.  It's an option, though. 

Preventing Arthritis

Painful joints can create a crippling look to our hands.  Arthritis is best avoided through exercising your joints.  Muslimahs already know one of the best excercises around! 

Tasbih is the remembrance of Allah through repeating the names "Alhumdulillah" 30 times, then "Subhanallah" 30 times and then "Astragferallah" 30 times.  A lot of people assosciate this activity with a string of prayer beads.  However those prayer beads will not testify for you on the Day of Judgement.  If you do the tasbih on your finger joints you get more benefit---maybe even preventing arthritis!

In Conclusion

Our hands are such an important part of how we connect with the world.  We are allowed to show them.  What are we doing with our hands?  We need to take care of them, protect them and use them to help ourselves and others. 

"Beauty is as beauty does."

Actually, the most beautiful hands in the world won't be worth anything if they can't testify on Judgement Day that the Muslimah used her time wisely.

Others in the Series

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Awesome post