The word plastic in plastic surgery is derived from a Greek word, ‘plastikē’, which means reshaping. Plastic surgery can simply be defined as a surgical specialty involving the restoration, reconstruction, or alteration of the human body. Plastic surgery is mainly used to improve how someone looks and to reconstruct facial and body tissue defects. Hence, plastic surgery is seen as a medium to restore the functions and appearance of tissue or skin.
Plastic surgery has become one of the branches of medicine that has gained substantial popularity all over the world in the last few decades. The demand for plastic surgery has increased rapidly, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a survey by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), one of the reasons for this increase is “Zoom dysmorphia,” which means the dissatisfaction with one’s own appearance that has developed because of the daily use of Zoom videoconferences. Therefore, people are seeking methods to improve their facial appearance, which can build their confidence in confronting people.
The main issue arising out of the practice of plastic surgery is the question of willful alteration of God’s creation (known in Islamic jurisprudence as taghyir khalqillah). Thus, it is important to clarify the concepts of plastic surgery in Islam and eradicate the confusion that people have related to this subject.
ISLAMIC VIEW IN PLASTIC SURGERY
In the era of Prophet Muhammad (SAW), people were already involved in some plastic surgery, such as ear piercing, circumcision, and tattoos. However, tattoos were completely prohibited in Islamic shariah, whereas ear piercings and circumcision were encouraged.
As decades passed, other forms of plastic surgery emerged. Thereafter, the field of plastic surgery was broken down into two main categories: reconstructive procedures and cosmetic procedures. The first kind is used to treat a deformity caused by birth defects, trauma, or an accident. This may include procedures like removing extra fingers, treating fire burns, or treating any physical or psychological pain. Hence, this kind of plastic surgery is legally prescribed and encouraged by Islam.
Whereas cosmetic or aesthetic procedures are carried out to change physical appearances to seek beautification rather than for medical reasons. It won’t be wrong to say that the main goal of cosmetic surgery is to build one’s self-esteem and self-confidence by enhancing a person’s physical appearance. Hence, comedic surgeries are prohibited if the purpose is to reshape a normal body structure to make it look better and improve a person’s self-esteem. This may include procedures like breast augmentation, tummy tucks (abdominoplasty), or face lifts.
The International Islamic Fiqh Academy discussed the issue of plastic surgery in 2007 and issued the following conditions for the permissibility of plastic surgery:
I. Conditions to undergo plastic surgery:
- Surgeries should achieve a recognized benefit in sharia, such as restoring function.
- Surgery should not result in harm.
- A qualified, specialized physician should perform the surgery.
- Surgical operations should be performed with the permission of the patient.
- Specialized surgeons should make the patient aware of the risks and complications.
- There is no other treatment that will be less harmful less than surgery.
- There should be no violation of textual evidence in sharia.
II. Plastic surgery is permissible if performed to:
- Restore the shape of body organs in its original form.
- Restore the normal functions of the body.
- Repair the congenital defects (caused by birth).
- Repair the acquired defects (caused by burns, accidents or diseases).
- Remove ugliness causing a person psychological or organ damage.
III. Plastic surgery is impermissible if performed to:
- Change the creation of the normal person according to his/her desires.
- Remove wrinkles by surgery or injection.
Al Izz ibn Abdul Salam, a renowned Islamic jurist, said in his book Qawa’id al Ahkam (Basics of Rulings): “The aim of medicine is to preserve health, restore it when it is lost; remove an ailment, or reduce its effects. To achieve this goal, it may be essential to accept the lesser harm, in order to ward off a greater one, or to lose a certain benefit to procure a greater one.” This is a very rational attitude that is widely accepted in Islamic jurisprudence and is applied in the field of plastic surgery.
Hence, Islam welcomes plastic surgery as long as it is performed in absolute necessity due to a health issue or some type of deformity on the body, to preserve the functions of the body organs. Thus, Islam prohibits surgery that has the intention of changing God’s creation or done merely with the purpose of improving one’s appearance.
It is important to recognise that beauty standards are subjective and vary across cultures and times. Hence, what may be considered attractive in one society may not be in another. Therefore, it is not appropriate to judge people based on their physical appearance, as it can be a superficial and arbitrary criterion.
Billions of people all over the world, in the present as well as in the past, with average or low-grade appearances, have contributed to society in such a way that people have honoured them with love and respect. Thus, changing physical appearances is never a solution to building self-esteem and improving self-confidence.
Further, people should understand that Allah has made each person a unique appearance, and by the will of Allah, every person has acquired some unique strengths and weaknesses, including physical and mental defects. Therefore, Islam emphasizes the fact that physical appearance is not a measure of a person’s worth or value. Rather, Muslims are encouraged to treat each other with respect and kindness, regardless of their appearance. Moreover, it is important that society views each person as special and valuable. Rather than focusing on external appearances, we should focus on the inner qualities of a person, such as their character, values, and actions.