Wa `alaykum As-Salamu waRahmatullahi wa Barakatuh.
In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.
Answering your question, Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, a Senior Lecturer and an Islamic Scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, states:
The issue is not as black and white as many people think. For it has been a contentious issue from the very beginning. There is not one rather three views on it: one group considers it forbidden; another group as undesirable and not prohibited and still another group deem it as permissible.
The reason for the diversity of opinions is conflicting reports attributed to the Prophet (peace be upon him) on the issue.
On a closer examination of the evidence presented by each group, the third opinion seems to be stronger. The arguments in favor of it seem to be more persuasive; conform to both scripture and reason. Let us explain the point:
The first group considers it as forbidden. They base it on a report attributed to Umm Salamah, the wife of the Prophet (peace be upon him):
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “If the crescent of Dhul-Hijjah is sighted, those who intend to offer the sacrifice should not shave or trim or remove their hair or nails.”
Based on this, Imam Ahmad and Dawud al-Zhahiri and also Imam Ash-Shafi`i (in one report) consider it forbidden to do so. They take the evidence literally and consider it as an imperative; for the prophet’s order is general and should be followed. However, some of them view that it applies only to men and not women.
The second group is mostly Shafities and others who strike a middle position: they do not declare it as forbidden; only undesirable. If someone has to do it; they want to reconcile the two conflicting reports.
As opposed to the above, are those who consider it as permissible. They judge the narration from Umm Salamah as rather weak or questionable. They contrast it with a contradictory report from `A’ishah, the mother of the faithful, which is well attested.
Al-Bukhari and Muslim have jointly reported that `A’ishah said, “I placed garlands (to mark) the camels dispatched by the Prophet for sacrifice to Makkah and yet the Prophet (while remaining in Madinah) never abided by any of the restrictions (mentioned above).” When someone wrote to her that Ibn `Abbas was instructing people who offer sacrifices to abide by restrictions, she wrote to him telling him not to do it. When Mu`awiyah wrote to her on this issue, she wrote to him strongly disapproving of the above ruling of Ibn `Abbas.
Those who hold this view has raised many objections which seem to be far more convincing than the arguments against it: let me mention a few of them:
The report from `A’ishah is well attested and transmitted through reliable sources that no one can cast doubts.
As opposed to this, Imam Ibn `Abd al-Barr states most of the scholars consider the report attributed to Umm Salamah as weak. Imam Malik did not consider as worthy of transmission. Imam Layth, Imam Malik’s colleague who also studied under scholars in Madinah when asked about the same, “There is a report to that effect; however, we did not see people acting upon it.” He meant to say: The people of Madinah did not act upon it, which he considered as evidence against it. We may do well to remember that Imam Malik would look to the uninterrupted practice of Madinah as a definite proof to corroborate or reject isolated traditions.
An equally convincing argument of those who hold the above view is that those who consider it wrong to remove nails and hair find no harm in spousal relations or use of perfume, which are far more grave matters.
When the view prohibiting shaving and trimming of hair and nails was told to `Ikrimah, the student of Ibn `Abbas, and an eminent scholar he rightly asked, “Then why don’t they stay away from spousal relations and perfume as well?”
In other words, it does not make sense for the Prophet (peace be upon him) to prohibit clipping of nails and hair while permitting spousal relations and use of perfume when we know that such violations entail greater penalties in a state of Ihram.
There is yet another juristic principle also employed by those who endorse the last view:
In the absence of clear evidence to the contrary, the original rule of permission prevails.
Furthermore, the report of `A’ishah refers to a later period in Prophet (peace be upon him): precisely in the 9th year of Hijrah when he sent Abu Bakr as the Amir of Hajj on his behalf.
And they further point out that it is inconceivable for the Prophet (peace be upon him) to forbid something while doing it himself.
`A’ishah said about the character of the Prophet (peace be upon him): “If he were to forbid something, he would be the first to stay away from it.” It is one of the teachings of prophets in the Qur’an: “I would not be the one forbidding you something and then doing it myself.”
While saying this, I must point out that those who claim it is wrong to do so because they refer to the report of Umm Salamah: The Prophet must have done so because of a special privilege Allah granted him. However, this reasoning seems to be rather weak for there is nothing in the sources to indicate.
Before concluding let me point that those who hold the rule of permission include beside Abu Hanifah and Al-Layth the following eminent successors: `Ikrimah, `Ata’ ibn Abi Rabah, Salim ibn `Abd Allah, Tawus, Qasim ibn Muhammad, `Ata’ ibn Yasar, Jabir ibn Zayd, etc.
Ironically, this view is also has been attributed to Sa`id ibn al-Mussaayib who reported the hadith of Umm Salamah that the scholars of the first group rely on for their ruling.
It is, therefore, only reasonable for us to endorse this view.
Almighty Allah knows best.