When our Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) is described as having fair or white skin does this mean that it was literally white or would this indicate a light brown skin color? I have read in many narrations the word white but this does not make sense to me as the Arabs originally were a brown people ranging from light brown to dark brown or black.
The complexion of Nabi (sallallahu ’alayhi wa sallam) was undoubtedly fair/white. However, this white complexion was not plain. Rather Nabi (sallallahu ’alayhi wa sallam) had a reddish white complexion as is detailed in several Hadiths, among them is the following:
Sayyiduna Anas (radiyallahu ’anhu) reports that Rasulullah (sallallahu ’alayhi wa sallam) was of average height, no too tall, neither short, he was reddish white, not plain white (like lime), neither tanned…’
(Sahih Bukhari, Hadith: 3547 and Sahih Muslim, Hadith: 2330)
Hadiths like the above, leave no room for other interpretation. They clearly negate any brown or dark complexion. May Allah Ta’ala bless the Sahabah (radiyallahu ’anhum); they described our Nabi (sallallahu ’alayhi wa sallam) to the finest detail. One who studies the Hadiths of Shamail (descriptions of Nabi -sallallahu ’alayhi wa sallam-) is left dumbstruck by their attention to detail.
‘Allamah ‘Iraqi (rahimahullah) has stated that the complexion of Nabi (sallallahu ’alayhi wa sallam) has been reported by fifteen Shahabah (radiyallahu ’anhum), all of whom state him to be white/fair in complexion.
(Jam’ul Wasail, as well as ‘Allamah Munawi’s sharh on Shamail, vol.1 pg.15)
From those fifteen, see three of them in Shamail Tirmidhi, Hadith: 6, 11, 13.
Lastly, there are plenty descriptions in the Hadiths of some Arabs/Sahabah being white/fair in complexion.
And Allah Ta’ala Knows best.
Answered by: Moulana Muhamamd Abasoomar