Q. I have heard some Muslim women reprimanding others for wearing nail polish. The reason, it invalidates their ablution (wudu). Therefore, some women perform wudu before applying nail polish. This way, they can perform subsequent ablutions without having to remove the nail polish, similar to people who wipe the socks. What is the Islamic position on this?

Also, at many Islamic functions including weddings, some Muslims say that applause in not proper Islamic etiquette, and is therefore forbidden. Does Islam accommodate these cultural practices?

A. The whole business of nail polish is one of ijtihad, and it should not be practiced by the people you mentioned. They can make Qiyas on the socks and shoes, wherein one can stay as a resident for one night or as a traveler for three days. These people try to split hairs, and forget that the aspect is not the nail polish, which was not present at the time of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.aw). Women use nail polish to be attractive in a permissible manner, so the nail polish takes precedence over the adherence to the letter of the law, as they understand it. Islam wants for us that which is easy, not that which is difficult.

Even if one argues that the socks and shoes are not in the same category as the nail polish, the fact that the latter is for cosmetic purposes, and is added to a part of the body which is essentially dead tissue, then it is allowable without any time limit. If a man puts pomade on his hair, does this pomade not prevent the water from touching it? How come we don't hear any argument about that?

Regarding clapping, people confused it with the hadith concerning the corrections to be made in prayer, where women were told to clap their hands, and the men to say "Subhan Allah" or make the necessary corrections, if the matter was one that pertained to recitation. There is therefore no relation between clapping as such, and the applause, so it is permissible. We may assume that the Arabs did not clap, but that both women and men yelled, with the former probably doing the ululating that is so famous. It is possible too, that the famous (and false) hadith about a woman's voice being a private part is behind this business about women not saying anything. As Muslims, we should not fall into conspiracies to silence the voices of those who number half of the Muslim population.

Posted November 27, 1998