Beauty, Perfumes, and Cosmetics in the Arab-Muslim World

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Western rendering of an Ottoman-era lady and her servant

Despite being forced to cover up in various ways when they go outside, many Arab and Muslim women spend a fortune on perfume, make up, fancy underwear and even lingerie and cosmetic surgery. One woman from Mazar-i-Sharif told the Independent, women in the West “are so busy they don’t have time to look beautiful.” Muslim women “have so much time so they sit around all afternoon making their skin and hair look beautiful, to make fashionable clothes, not for men but for each other. This is important for us, so please understand and don’t just think we are stupid like quiet cows under a stick.”

Muslims are not allowed to wear wigs, even people who have lost all their hair from chemotherapy, and women forbidden to pluck their eyebrows or change the shape of their eyebrows in anyway. Muhammad was very specific in his pronouncement of wigs on the grounds that they "give one a false appearance." In the Qur’an the prophet cursed a woman who asked for her eyebrows to be plucked and another woman plucked the eyebrows of another women. According to scholars in Saudi Arabia hair transplants and the removal of unsightly facial hair is alright.

Muslim women do not usually enter beauty contests out of concerns of breaking standards of feminine modesty. Plastic surgery however is surprisingly common in some places among Arab women, some of whom have said they would like to get nose jobs. Blonde women get stared at a lot.

When asked if it was okay for Muslim boys to wear an earring, the late Dr. Mahmood Abu Saud, a well-known Islamic scholar, said: “The general rule is that men should not try to look like woman and vice versa. If conventionally agreed and accepted, earrings are used only for women; then a Muslim boy should not wear them. Shahid Athar, a well known Muslim American psychiatrist at the Islamic Center in Toledo, Ohio, said in 1992: “Men are not allowed to mimic women in dress or other ways including jewelry.[Source: “Sexuality in Islam” by Heba G. Kotb M.D., A dissertation presented to Maimonides University, 2004]

Websites and Resources: Islam IslamOnline ; Institute for Social Policy and Understanding; ; Islamic City ; BBC article ; University of Southern California Compendium of Muslim Texts ; Encyclopædia Britannica article on Islam ; Islam at Project Gutenberg ; Muslims: PBS Frontline documentary frontline

Websites and Resources: Arabs: Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Who Is an Arab? ; Encyclopædia Britannica article ; Arab Cultural Awareness ; Arab Cultural Center ; 'Face' Among the Arabs, CIA ; Arab American Institute ; Introduction to the Arabic Language ; Wikipedia article on the Arabic language Wikipedia

Fat and Chubbiness in the Arab-Muslim World

Chubbiness has traditionally been regarded as attractive among women and is seen as sign of wealth among men. If someone says, “you’ve put on weight that is regarded as a compliment and often means you look well and fit. “Ishtah” is Arabic slang for fat or chubby.

Many Arab men and women find American-style super models to be “bony and scary.” In Egypt, plumpness was a desired trait until Western images of thin lithe women bombarded Egyptian women from the television and covers of fashion magazines.

A study by Tracy Mann of UCLA published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders found that women who wear the veil in Iran were just as obsessed with weight and body appearance as Western women and were just as likely to have anorexia and anxieties and feelings of inadequacy based on feeling about physical imperfection. The study was based on a comparison between women at the University of Tehran in Iran and Western universities.

Cleanliness in the Arab-Muslim World

wudu (washing before prayers)

Cleanliness is highly valued in Muslim cultures. Arabs have traditionally put a premium on cleanliness, partly because of the emphasis of ablutions before prayer. Arab peasants have a reputation for being dirty. Part of this stems from the fact that water has traditionally been in such short supply that using it for washing was considered a waste.

Muslims are required to be clean before praying. They do this through ritual washing called wudhu. Mosques have washing facilities to do this. Muhammad said 'cleanliness is half of faith'. Muslims must be clean and wear good clothes before they present themselves before God. There is a certain ritual order in which wudhu is normally performed, but as long as Muslims wash the four essentials at least once, by taking a shower for example, it counts. [Source: BBC]

When no water is available, they are supposed to use what is at hand. On a Muslim Turkmen he met at a train station, Paul Theroux wrote in The New Yorker: “All Muslims wash before they pray. When water is unavailable, they use sand or dust to perform the dry ablution called tayammum, making an elaborate business of rubbing the hands and arms, and slowly wiping the face, massaging the eyes, the cheeks, the jaw, then drawing the hands downward. Selim went through this ritual as the train rushed across the desert, rattling the windows and the door handles.Then he prayed, for almost a full minute, his eyes closed, speaking into the stifling air of the compartment. When he was finished, I asked him what he had said. Was it a standard prayer or had he improvised it? He said that it was improvised for the occasion. “I thanked Allah for the food. I thanked the friend who gave it to us. I wished the friend blessings on his journey.” [Source: Paul Theroux, The New Yorker, May 28, 2007]

Muhammad recommended sweat baths and rinsing one’s mouth up to 15 times a day, brushing with twigs of the Salvadora tersica tree, which contained sodium bicarbonate and astringents beneficial to the gums. Some Arabs are appalled that Westerners wipe their butts with paper only. Turkish and Arab women commonly shave pubic hair. Some men shave their underarms.

Cleanliness and Pubic Hair in Turkey

Gülsuyu Gülsuyu, a rose-based eau-de-cologne without alcohol, used to give taste to certain desserts and as cologne, from Turkey

The Turks have a real thing about cleanliness and looking their best. A poor Turk it is said is more likely to spend his last coins on a shoeshine than he in on something to eat. Istanbul and other Turkish cities are filled with shoeshine men with the shiny brass knob cases, whose eyes are constantly scanning the crowds for scuffed shoes. Lots of young boys have buzz cuts. It is said this done to prevent hair lice.

Long distance Turkish buses provide their passengers with a cologne pick-me-up. The buses are required by law to stop every three hours or so to give the driver a rest and allow the passengers to get a bite to eat and go to the bathroom. When a bus starts rolling again the steward goes around to the passengers and dribbles lemony cologne on their cupped hands. The passengers then refresh themselves by slapping the cologne on their face like guys in aftershave commercials.

Despite their tough demeanor, the Turks have a real thing about germs. A popular conversation topic is microbes, or “meecrobes” as the say it, and what can be done about them. When Turks get sick, they often down massive quantities of antibiotics to get rid of the microscopic intruders even if all they have is a mild cold. In an attempt to rid themselves of microbe hiding places, many Turkish women shave their pubic hair. A Scottish woman I know wanted to go to a salon to have her legs waxed. Before she went a friend warned her to tell the women at the salon to stop at the top of her legs or else "they'll take the whole lot off."

Islam and Shaving Pubic Hair and Plucking Armpit Hair

Some Muslims shave their pubic hair and pluck their armpit hair, and do so because it says to do so in the sunnahs. According to “The Sunnah indicates that it is prescribed to remove pubic hair and armpit hair. Al-Bukhaari (5889) and Muslim (257) narrated from Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) that the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) said: “The fitrah [natural order] is five things – or five things are part of the fitrah – circumcision, shaving the pubes, cutting the nails, plucking the armpit hairs, and trimming the moustache.” The wisdom behind the prescription of removing the hair from these two places – and Allah knows best – is that removing it helps one to attain a perfect level of cleanliness and prevents what could emanate from them of bad smells if the hair was left without removing it. And there are other reasons and wisdom behind it. [Source:, December 3, 2016 ^|^]

“Al-Haafiz Ibn Hajar (may Allah have mercy on him) said: These characteristics of the fitrah may serve some religious or worldly interests, that one may notice by reflecting upon the issue, such as: improving one’s physical well-being; cleansing the body thoroughly; taking precautions to ensure purity when doing ghusl or wudoo’; doing a favour to one’s friends and companions by avoiding unpleasant smells that may offend them; differing from the practices of the disbelievers such as the Magians, Jews, Christians and idol-worshippers; obeying the command of the Lawgiver; preserving that which is mentioned to in the verse in which Allah, may He be exalted, said (interpretation of the meaning), “and [Allah] has given you shape and made your shapes good (looking)” [Ghaafir 40:64], because by doing so one is preserving that beautiful image – it is as if the verse implies: I have given you beautiful shapes, so do not distort them with anything that may make them ugly, and take care of them so that they will continue to be beautiful, for taking care of them is a kind of adhering to dignity and maintaining harmony with others, because if a person appears handsome or beautiful, that makes others feel at ease with him, so people will listen to what he says and appreciate what he says, and vice versa. — Fath al-Baari. ^|^

“What was well known at the time of the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) was that they would use a razor to shave their hair. Al-Bukhaari (5079) and Muslim (715) narrated that Jaabir ibn ‘Abdullah (may Allah be pleased with him) said: “We were with the Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) on campaign, and when we approached Madinah, we wanted to enter the city straight away, but the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) said: “Delay it until we enter at night, so that the one who is dishevelled may tidy herself up and the one whose husband is absent may shave her pubic hair.” ^|^


Henna is worn by both men and women. It is often applied to the hands of women in pre-wedding parties. Men use it dye their beards orange and pink. Women from different tribes in the Sahara adorn their faces, hands and feet with henna. The designs often tell a story of love and betrayal. Henna is believed to offer some protection against evil spirits.

For centuries women in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia have decorated their bodies with temporary tattoos made from the henna leaves. The tattoos usually last less than two weeks For about $10 you can get henna tattoos applied to your hands or feet. Stencils are sometimes used making hand patterns. Some women have elaborate henna tattoos on their face.

In Morocco, Arab women traditionally went veiled with only their henna-tattooed hands exposed while Berber women exposed their faces and often sported mysterious blue tattoos on their chins, forehead and cheeks.

In the old days henna staining often took an entire day and was done primarily at home. Today it can be done in about a half hour with a fat syringe that squirts out thin lines of black-green paste into elaborate patterns. What do the patterns mean. It is said they are symbols of collective imagination.

Tattoos in the Muslim World

pre-wedding henna

In the old days, some women had thick tattooed eyebrows. In accordance with tribal customs village children were often given tattoos when they five or six. Girls were often marked on their foreheads, chins or cheeks. Boys were often tattooed on their wrists or hands. Saddam Hussein had a tattoo on his right hand, three dark-blue dots in a line near his wrist.

One woman wrote in Hello Giggles: As a Muslim, I've been taught that getting is a tattoo would be a way of harming God's creation. There's a paragraph in the Qur’an that talks about the defacing of God's creation as a sin, which is what is used to interpret the ruling against tattoos. If I were to get a tattoo, it'd mean that my prayers wouldn't be accepted by Allah. Rakin Niass, a life coach and Muqaddam (an Islamic religious official), says that the popular opinion amongst Muslim scholars is that tattoos are haram (impermissible) because they are changing the creation of Allah. However, he also says that this belief differs between Muslim sects. So, are tattoos haram? [Source: Hello Giggles, March 24, 2021]

“While the Qur’an and Hadith remain universal guidance for all Muslims, specific rulings diverge amongst the two main sects of Shia and Sunni Islam. Some Shia scholars believe that getting tattoos is allowed, and even within Sunni schools of thought, Niass says that there are a few people who say that while getting tattoos is makruh (not completely banned) it is still generally disallowed by most scholars. "There is a minute view that argues that getting them done is makrul disliked. This is an opinion which is held by a small number of Maliki (a subsect of Sunni Islam) scholars but the vast majority of Sunni Muslims agree that it is haram" he says.

“As global trends have made tattoos more popular, young Muslims have begun to question why permanent ink isn't aren't allowed. In some ways, this questioning of long-standing norms and beliefs comes from younger Muslims choosing to separate cultural taboos from religious teachings. Gender norms are a huge example of this. A woman's place in the home has long been pushed onto us as Islamic teaching, but questioning that has led to an increase in female scholars and religious feminist movements.

“Another reason for the growing popularity of tattoos in the Muslim community is an increase in globalization. Where tattoo parlors were almost non-existent in the Middle East, Huzz Ink's launch in Jordan in 2007 proved so popular that they recently opened a branch in Dubai. While there aren't any available stats that prove the growing numbers of Muslims getting tattoos, Niass says that for many scholars these topics are becoming more important to discuss as so many young Muslims now want tattoos. “As tattoos are so permanent and face so much cultural backlash, it's easier to accept that they are haram as opposed to many other activities that young Muslims choose to do while also believing them to be impermissible," says Asha, a 21-year-old Muslim woman. In her opinion, young generations focus more on the humanitarian aspect of religion and their spiritual connection with God.

“Alizeh, a 23-year-old Muslim with tattoos, says that while she didn't feel the need to get approval from a religious leader, she did speak to her grandmother before getting inked. Being as close as they are, she said she wanted to get her approval for going through with the decision. Her grandmother, she says, said that tattoos were allowed in Shia Islam and gave her granddaughter her blessing. "I got both of my parents' names in Urdu just below my wrist," Alizeh shares.

“While religious scholars in other parts of the world may have differing opinions, Egypt's former Grand Mufti (a religious scholar who issues legal opinions interpreting Islamic law), Sheikh Ali Goma declared a fatwa in 2017 stating that temporary tattoos — the kind where the ink only penetrates the first layer of the skin and therefore fade faster — are okay for women. “The [new tattoo technique that does not inflict pain or spill blood] is considered a tool for decoration and adornment, so it's permissible for girls to have it done. However for boys, it's like a boy putting on lipstick or nail polish, it's imitating women and that is forbidden in Islam," said Goma. As much as those wanting tattoos want to see Goma's ruling as progressive, the homophobic and sexist connotations it has cannot be denied. However, with the growing popularity of tattoos, this statement from a religious leader has allowed many to take the leap they wanted, even if it's problematic in other ways.

“Several tattoo artists in Egypt say that the fatwa has only added to the growing popularity of tattoos amongst Muslim communities, as many saw the statement as permission to get one. Tattoo artist Simo, of Simo Tattoo Studio in Cairo says his clientele has increased by 50 percent since the fatwa, and Dalia Badr, a freelance tattoo artist in Cairo says she's now been getting orders from across the country.


Arabs are fond of using perfumes and fragrances. Perfuming guests as they depart is an old Arab tradition. One of the sunnahs says that men should perfume themselves. Men tend to spray the fragrance on their hands, rub their palms together and spread it on their cheeks. Perfume is important in desert where water is in short supply. Bedouins use a lot perfume, a traditional presumably that comes from not being able to take baths in the desert.

Many important Middle Eastern trade routes such as the Frankincense Trail were set up to supply aromatics and perfume ingredients. The art of perfume making practiced in the Greco-Roman was kept alive in the Arab world during the European Dark Ages and reintroduced to Europe. See Separate Article FRANKINCENSE TRAIL, PETRA AND THE NABATAEANS

Perfume is repeatedly mentioned in the Islamic hadiths, which record the actions and words of Prophet Muhammad, and it is reported that he himself never refused perfume, intensifying its significance for all Muslims.

Arab Fragrances

People in Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf and the Middle East like fragrances made with oud, a perfume resin from the agarwood tree, as well as sandalwood, amber, musk and roses. They have been used for over 2000 years and are still the dominant ingredients in local perfumes. The rose is an important symbol in Islam. Rose oil mixes well with water. Rose water is often present in mosques and is sometimes even mixed with mortar during construction. It is often an ingredient in dishes cooked in Islamic countries, especially in sherbets, desserts and pastries.

Muslims prized perfumes made with ambergris and camphor and used them in cosmetics and medicines. Ambergris is secreted in the stomachs of sperm whales to protect it from the sharp beaks of squids. Ambergris floats and is known for its ability to emit a sweet odor and prolong the smell of other fragrances. Its properties were discovered by Arab fishermen who found ambergris floating in their nets.

Musk has a special place in Arab and Muslim culture. It is said that Muhammad believed that the aroma of musk could awaken the spirit. Many Muslim say that the bodies men who dies martyrs smell like musk and do not decompose. Musk comes an Asian deer found primarily in the Himalayan area.

Perfume and the Persian Gulf

Martina Fuchs and Rachna Uppal of Reuters wrote: “Walk through any of Dubai’s immaculate, air-conditioned shopping malls, and the scent of spicy perfume becomes an integral part of the shopping experience. From boutiques to sales clerks offering samples, there’s no shortage of fragrances lingering in the air, part of a tradition dating back thousands of years. “I don’t count the layers my wife puts on every day, but her smell always blows me away,” says Mustafa al-Muhana, a Saudi Arabian visitor to one of the specialist perfume stores. [Source: Martina Fuchs and Rachna Uppal, Reuters, September 7, 2011+++]

“Per capita consumption of perfumes in the Gulf region is among the highest in the world. Men and women equally enjoy applying layer upon layer of scents which linger long after the wearer has disappeared from sight. “If a perfume doesn’t leave a trail, it’s not good enough,” says Abdulla Ajmal, deputy general manager at Ajmal Perfumes, a United Arab Emirates-based fragrance manufacturer. That belief is providing healthy sales for foreign makers of perfumes in the Gulf and also supporting a growing fragrance manufacturing industry within the region, which is struggling to diversify away from its traditional reliance on energy exports. +++

“Saudi Arabia is the Gulf’s largest regional market for fragrances, accounting for $827.5 million last year; the UAE was in second place with $205.8 million, according to consumer research firm Euromonitor International. By 2014, it expects fragrance sales to have grown 14.4 percent in Saudi Arabia and 16.5 percent in the UAE. Some predict even faster growth because of tourism and business travel to the region, in addition to rising competition as an increasing number of international players move into the Middle Eastern fragrance market, including Giorgio Armani, Yves Saint Laurent and Guerlain. +++

perfume seller in Tunis, Tunisia

“The growth of the Gulf perfume industry will be exponential,” says Shazad Haider, chairman of Fragrance Foundation Arabia, the regional outpost of the Fragrance Foundation, a group which represents the industry’s interests globally. “We will see a minimum twofold growth over the next three years.” “We have a strong line that uses other Western notes but the interesting point is that our European, American...customers are looking for the oriental notes, especially the oud oil,” says Shadi Samra, brand manager at Saudi Arabia-based Arabian Oud, which has flagship stores in London and Paris. In Dubai’s warehouse district, Ajmal Perfumes operates a $10 million, 150,000-square-foot (14,000-square-metre) factory that makes around 50,000 bottles of Arab and French fragrances a day. +++

“And while Gulf Arab perfume manufacturers seek growth abroad, they face stiff competition from French and global players on their home ground. L‘Oréal Middle East, the regional arm of the French cosmetics giant, accounted for 9.6 percent of fragrance sales in the UAE in 2009, the biggest share, followed by Ajmal with 9.2 percent, according to Euromonitor International. The three largest domestic makers, Ajmal, Rasasi and Designer Shaik, together accounted for 21 percent. “Most of the international houses work very closely with consumers here in the region...They adapt and introduce something customised, or they modify some of their product ranges to fit the taste of the region,” said Mohamed al-Fahim, chief executive of Paris Gallery, one of the largest regional fragrance retailers.” +++

Most Luxurious Arabian Perfumes

The five the most luxurious Arabian Perfumes in the United Arab Emirates according to are: “1) Rasasi: For almost four decades in the Middle East and GCC, Rasasi has been combining oud and musk-based Arabian fragrances with European scents. The brand uses floral, leather and citrus aromas as constants in its perfumes. It has only just launched Boruzz, a collection of perfumes inspired by Oudh. So far, Rasasi has more than 165 showrooms across the Arab region. [Source:, June 24, 2015]

“2) The Fragrance Kitchen: Founded by His Highness Sheikh Majed Al Sabah, nephew of the Emir of Kuwait, TFK combines Middle Eastern scents and Eastern laboratory expertise. H.H Al Sabah has worked with the likes of Yves Saint Laurent and Tom Ford, the latter for whom he made a perfume included in the Tom Ford Private Blend Collection. Apart from Asian Oudh, Saffron, Cedar wood, and musk, the Sheikh’s perfumes allegedly contain fresh French and Bulgarian roses.

“3) Hind al Oud: Was established by businessman Mohamed Al Hilal. The brand uses distinctive elements in their perfumes such as patchouli, bergamot, cyclamen, and almond. It was granted the Best Traditional Niche Fragrances award by the Dubai Economic Department in 2004.

“4) Yas Perfumes: This UAE-based company is founded on the heritage of the earliest Emirati tribe, Bani Yas, from which both the Al Nahyan and Al Maktoum royal families descended. Its perfumes are a blend of Arabian and French fragrances. They include scents like red musk, agar wood, chili, cedar, and violet. Yas Perfumes has over 42 outlets in the United Arab Emirates and GCC countries.

“5) Swiss Arabian Perfumes: Was the first perfume manufacturing company in the UAE. It collaborated with Swiss perfumery brand Givaudan Roure to create “Swiss Arabian Perfumes.” All of its products are allegedly made with a base note of sandalwood, middle notes of Spanish saffron, Cambodian Agar wood, and Amber, with top notes of Turkish rose.

Halal Cosmetics

Halal cosmetics are increasingly becoming common in the Arab-Muslim world. Martina Fuchs of Reuters wrote: “The word halal, Arabic for permissible, is often used to describe meat slaughtered and prepared in line with Islamic law. Halal beauty products, which comprise $500 million of the $2 trillion global halal market, are made using plant extracts and minerals rather than the alcohol and pork ingredients that are banned in Islam but often found in cosmetics. [Source: Martina Fuchs, Reuters, October 6, 2010]

“The appeal of halal cosmetics mirrors a global trend for ethical beauty products that are not tested on animals and do not use animal derivatives, as well as booming demand for ranges based on natural ingredients that are kind to hair and skin. It is a trend that could appeal strongly to Muslims living in Europe, where a buzz already surrounds all things green. “It is part of the permissibility of cosmetics that they be safe. So substances that have heavy metal and other carcinogenic or otherwise harmful substances would be impermissible,” New-York based Islamic scholar Taha Abdul-Basser said. “Substances that are tested on animals in such a way as to cause unnecessary pain or that pollute the environment would be avoided by religious educated and conscientious consumers... There are significant overlaps between the halal consumer and the ethical and environmentally-conscious consumer.”

“Beauty World Middle East, a beauty trade exhibition, found in a survey that cosmetics, perfumes and personal care products account for a growing share of the $150 million annual market for sharia-compliant products in the United Arab Emirates alone. “Islam itself is a lifestyle and so the sharia-compliant lifestyle market represents massive potential in the next few years,” Paul Temporal, Director for Islamic Branding and Marketing at Oxford University’s Said Business School, said. “There will be many more new and existing brands that will focus on women’s cosmetics and beauty products.”“

Halal Cosmetic Business

Martina Fuchs of Reuters wrote: “Thursday evening at a luxury, Pharaonic-themed spa in Dubai. Emirati women, colorful eye makeup contrasting with their black robes, wait by a bronze statue of a smiling Cleopatra for their weekend beauty The mineral-based skincare range used at the spa is free of pork and alcohol derivatives. Supplier Charlotte Proudman hopes to register it as compliant with sharia, or Islamic law, tapping into a growing trend for “halal cosmetics” in the mostly-Muslim Middle East and among the world’s estimated 1.6 billion Muslims. “I really want to put this onto our packaging so that our clients can be reassured that our products are halal, and that they can feel consistent in their religious beliefs,” Proudman said at the spa, which uses the range she launched in 2008. “I really feel that halal cosmetics have a future. I don’t think that a Muslim man or a Muslim lady should compromise their beliefs for a skincare range that will work well for them.” [Source: Martina Fuchs, Reuters, October 6, 2010]

“Morocco’s Amys Group is another start-up that smells opportunity in the exotic fragrances of halal beauty. Its range is made in the Atlas mountains near Marrakech and includes exfoliating scrubs, hammam and sauna oils, as well as eucalyptus soap with Argan and sweet almond oil - products that combine the exotic appeal of North African steam baths with the ethical and religious appeal of sharia-compliance. “The halal business is at the level where the Islamic banks were 20 years ago,” Walid Mougou, general manager at Amys Group, said. “It observes double-digit growth every year and this trend will not go down at least during the next 10 years.”

“Amys Group plans to expand in the wealthy Gulf Arab region, Malaysia, Britain, the United States, France and Japan in the next three years, and is targeting 20 percent annual profit growth over the next 5 years. Those are ambitious targets. The total value of cosmetic-related sales in the Middle East reached $2.1 billion in 2009, analysts say.

“Despite the potential pitfalls, multinational firms, many of which already produce big-brand foods and beverages by Islamic rules, are also tuning in to the potential for halal cosmetics. Colgate-Palmolive Co already makes oral care products, such as toothpaste and mouthwash, with a halal stamp. Halal food and drinks account for $5.2 billion or 5 percent of Nestle’s annual sales worldwide, suggesting that there is potential for growth in sharia-compliant products.

“Whereas countries such as Indonesia, India or Pakistan are home to some of the world’s largest Muslim populations, impetus could come from Gulf states with tiny populations but major spending power or from high-earning Muslims living in the West. Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, is also the world’s largest oil exporter with per capita income above $20,000. According to Cayman Island-domiciled Al Masah Capital, Saudi businesswomen have cash savings of more than $11.9 billion in Saudi banks, and $2.1 billion of funds in investments. “The growth areas are naturally in those Muslim countries where there is greater purchasing power such as the Gulf. Here, it has been said that the beauty products market is growing in double digits annually, and that a woman’s average monthly spend on such products can be more than $100,” Temporal said. “Western brands have to prove their commitment to the Muslim consumer.”

Issues with Halal Cosmetics

Martina Fuchs of Reuters wrote: “One of the many problems that could restrict the growth of halal cosmetics is the lack of a unified global halal certification body to regulate the nascent industry. Halal products are usually approved by local, regional or national certification agencies to ensure they meet Islamic rules, but there is little to stop some producers from labeling their products halal without an official seal of approval. [Source: Martina Fuchs, Reuters, October 6, 2010]

“There are 138 different certification bodies around the world, according to the International Halal Integrity Alliance, a group based in the Islamic finance hub of Kuala Lumpur, which is also a magnet for firms seeking the halal stamp of approval. In Malaysia, the halal certification body is a government department, rather than a private body as it is in most of the world, which avoids the marketing nightmare of having one halal board approve your product and another reject it.

“Even in Europe, the European Halal Development Agency is trying to harmonize standards for halal certification. “It’s very hard to come up with a global standard as there is no single authority, there is no hope. The Muslim world itself is fragmented and there are various differences in interpretation of the holy text and modern technology,” Darhim Hashim, the chief executive of the IHI Alliance, said. “Those differences are unlikely to be resolved. If we are lucky, we might one day be able to live with three or four standards only.”

“And that leads to the next major problem for the industry; different interpretations of religious texts lead to radically different views on whether it is acceptable for a Muslim to beautify him or herself in the first place. Many Muslim women wear the veil in public. Some conservative scholars frown upon physical adornment of any kind. While most Islamic legal experts are more lenient, they differ by degree. “It is actually recommended... in Islam that both men and women do some kind of improvement to their appearance in order to look nice for their spouse,” Muddassir Siddiqui, a sharia scholar and partner at Denton Wilde Sapte law practice said. “The only thing that could be potentially not permissible is if make-up was used for the purpose of deception. And Islamically, women shouldn’t beautify themselves for the admiration of strangers, but rather for their own husbands.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons except the perfume and cosmetics images which are from commercial sites that sell the products

Text Sources: Internet Islamic History Sourcebook: ; Arab News, Jeddah; “Islam, a Short History” by Karen Armstrong; “A History of the Arab Peoples” by Albert Hourani (Faber and Faber, 1991); “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Metropolitan Museum of Art,, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The Guardian, Al Jazeera, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Library of Congress and various books and other publications.

Last updated April 2024

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