This short post will in’shaa Allah be part of a series of blog posts where I cover common cultural practices for weddings (in Singapore and Malaysia) through an Islamic lens, detailing the majority opinions regarding the permissibility of each practice.
A/N: All the content is based on my own research throughout my own wedding preparation. I am by no means an expert on Islamic rulings. Any corrections will be greatly appreciated.
Upholding our culture is important. However, we must be careful of certain practices that are contradictory with our Islamic beliefs. Applying henna for weddings has been commonly seen as mustahabb (encouraged) in our religion, but this is not always the case. In fact, there are some cases whereby applying and displaying the henna is haram (prohibited).
Generally, it is encouraged for women to apply henna on the nails of her hands, whether or not there is a special occasion that warrants it.
Narrated Aisha, Ummul Mu’minin: A woman made a sign from behind a curtain to indicate that she had a letter for the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ). The Prophet (ﷺ) closed his hand, saying: I do not know this is a man’s or a woman’s hand. She said: No, a woman. He said: If you were a woman, you would make a difference to your nails, meaning with henna. (Sunan Abu Dawud; Hasan)
I attended a lecture on Fiqh of Beauty whereby the ustazah briefly discussed the history of this use of henna. As shown in the above hadith, during the Prophet’s (ﷺ) time, henna was used only at the nails – or as most henna artists would term it, the ‘cappings’, as seen here:
The use of henna in this form is still unarguably considered as mustahabb.
Over time, as Islam expanded particularly into regions like India, the use of henna has evolved into the decorative henna that we know today:
As such, some argue that this form of henna should be discouraged as we are seen to be imitating the Hindus, and imitating the non-Muslims (and their associated customs) is haram in Islam:
Ibn ’Umar (RAA) narrated that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: He who imitates any people (in their actions) is considered to be one of them. (Abu Dawud; Sahih)
However, this ruling only applies to the acts of worship and the customs that are unique to these groups – acts and customs that distinguish these religions or groups from the rest. (See here for more details on the ruling on imitating the kuffar). For example, walking down the aisle to “Here Comes the Bride” with flowers being thrown is clear imitation of the Christians and hence should be avoided.
Although the use of intricate henna designs originated from the Hindus, over time it has seeped into the Malay culture and has been prevalent throughout many decades. Wedding photos of our mothers and our grandmothers show these intricate henna designs. As such, it is likely that this custom is no longer seen as unique to Hindu culture and hence does not fall under the category of imitating their culture. Therefore, the majority opinion is that these intricate designs are permissible.However, the designs must not include animals and logos of organizations or other religions groups.
As for the ‘henna parties’ that some brides would throw, they should be permissible as well, as long as they are within the confines of Islam (i.e. no unneeded intermingling between genders and no extravagance).
With that being said, it is important for brides to understand that while these intricate henna designs are (most likely) not haram, they are definitely not mustahabb or sunnah. No bride should feel pressured to simply follow the trend. If a bride chooses to have these designs drawn, it should be done with the intention of beautification for her own gratification, or for her husband, and not for the intention of imitating others’ cultures. The bride should be careful about excessively displaying these designs on her hands – be it during her event, in photos or on social media – lest it fall under the category of tabarruj (wanton display of beauty), which is haram.
One should avoid these intricate henna designs if she is still unsure of its permissibility, or if its cost is beyond what she can afford (for hands, the price can range between SGD $50 for the less-known artists, to $200 for the most intricate designs done by the bigger names)
The discussion thus far has covered henna on the hands. It is important for brides to remember that her aurat in front of non-mahram men is her whole body except for her face and hands (according to the majority opinion). Using the argument in the earlier section, having henna designs on one’s arms and feet is not haram. However, it is unarguably haram to show these areas of her body during the event or on social media where they can be seen by non-mahram men. Displaying henna on other parts of the body to her husband is permissible if he has a liking for it; in fact, beautification for the husband is encouraged.
It is imperative to note that all of the above discussion has been with regards to women. It is haram for men to apply henna on any part of his body, for weddings or otherwise.
Narrated Abu Hurayrah: An effeminate man (mukhannath) who had dyed his hands and feet with henna was brought to the Prophet (ﷺ). He asked: What is the matter with this man? He was told: “Messenger of Allah! He imitates the look of women.” So he issued an order regarding him and he was banished to an-Naqi’. The people said: Messenger of Allah! Should we not kill him? He said: I have been prohibited from killing people who pray. (Sunan Abu Dawud; Sahih)
Recently I have noticed a trend of “white henna” being used for weddings, as seen below:
Contrary to its name, white henna actually does not contain henna ingredients. Hence it is seen only as a form of beautification or adornment (and not sunnah or mustahabb in any way) and the rulings with regards to beautification as detailed above apply.
More importantly, it is waterproof and can only be removed by letting it fade over time, or by using make-up remover or baby oil. Unlike usual henna, it creates a barrier between the water and the skin and hence ablution (wudhu) will not be valid. Hence, just like nail polish, waterproof make-up, and the like, using such a product in itself is not haram, but it must be removed for taking ablution.
Allah knows best.