Theoretically, I’m guessing beards have been around since the time of Adam and Eve; and have potentially existed in every single culture and land across the world in some form or another.
However, post 9/11, the beard; an innocuous personal choice, took on terrorist stereotypes that have been hard to shake off. During this time, we were bombarded with images of Osama Bin Laden; a man with a long beard and turban. He was recognized as the cause of all evil; and his outwardly appearance compartmentalized with radical Islam and stark images of exactly what the enemy of the western world looks like.
Therefore, as a direct result anyone who bears a resemblance will consciously or subconsciously be met with caution from others. Increasing this caused many Muslims to resent the notion, that a symbol of their personal religious choice, regarding their appearance be subjected to prejudice, hate and sometimes even violence.
The caricatured imageries of bearded, evil men and oppressed women in hijab/niqqab (vail) still live in the minds of many people today. This causes many to alter themselves, their appearance, and their words in order to “fit in”. They are often afraid to express themselves because they don’t want to look like the terrorist on TV. Fears such as “What will others think?”, and “No one will employ me because I have a beard”, or “People will think I’m ISIS” play through the minds of many Muslim men.
I spoke to a young Muslim man about his choice to keep a religious beard; despite current pressures to blend in; and listened to his reasons why. I learned that freedom of choice can’t be contained and religious expression will always win over the attempts to suppress it. I also learned it’s time to reclaim Muslim symbols…
Tell our readers a little about yourself.
I’m a 28-year-old Muslim man born in Britain. I studied at a prestigious University in Scotland and achieved a double degree including a LLB for my efforts. I’m currently a working professional and simultaneously developing an online start-up. More importantly I’m what is considered, by the author of this piece, “A Modern Muslim Man” with a beard who can share his experiences. I want the readers to know that I am not a religious authority or a political expert in the matter of religion or beards. My answers are my own and developed through the accumulation of knowledge gained through life experiences, academic studies and independent research.
What motivated you to keep the Sunnat* beard?
It’s not something that was planned or premeditated. It was more of a natural positive progression towards being more connected with who I am as a person and the comfortableness of my appearance. When I was younger I used to have stubble, which was my passport into an adult world. It allowed me to enter into clubs despite being under age. Now, the thought of even going near a club makes me cringe. I think that’s the thing. Just like a beard grows, you grow as a person. The longer the beard gets the more time that has passed by, you either become wiser or you become more foolish.
My beard now keeps me steadfast in my Deen (faith). A turning point has been my Itikaf (Mosque seclusion) experience this past Ramadan. For 10 days, I was secluded from the outside world, everything that we all take for granted on a daily basis and forget ourselves in, was given up. In that utter submission to my Creator, having ample time to worship God made me realize that true peace is attained through prayer and connecting with Him. The Quran states, “And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me,” – Quran; Surat Adh-Dhāriyāt, 51:56. Allah has also advised Muslims to follow the example of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). There is great wisdom in everything the Prophet did. He was a man of absolute perfect character and part of his appearance was having a beard. As part of my commitment to being a better Muslim that continues to research and perfect my faith, I keep a beard. In addition to this, I like how it looks on me.
How does it make you feel?
My beard makes me feel more manly. I love the fact that you do not have to look at me twice to know that I am a male. I also feel protected, it’s a strange thing to explain and put into words but I feel protected in many different ways. I feel protected from people, bad energy and negativity and I feel I have a defense that cannot be penetrated. It might sound funny but it’s almost as if I have a shield between what I hold dear and close to my heart and all the negativities that the world tries to project onto me/people on a daily basis. We all do different things to try and maintain some form of stability, consistency and happiness. I like how my beard makes me feel and it’s not been an issue to anyone I’ve come across yet. I think there is a false stigma in certain people’s minds that if they keep anything more than a stubble then they will be perceived and received negatively by others. Yes, a beard is a religious act of obedience to Allah.
Is your beard a religious statement?
No, it’s not a religious statement. I am not out to make a religious statement in any way. I am practicing my religion, which is a personal journey that starts within. Statements are usually outward declarations for the benefit of others, that’s not what I am trying to do here. I’m not trying to prove a point that I am a religious man and overtly present myself in a showy expression of self-righteousness. I have a beard and it is part of me literally, physically and spiritually. I like how it looks, I like how it makes me feel, and I like that I’m following the Sunnah*. Again, it’s not a religious statement.
I have a beard and it is part of me literally, physically and spiritually.
Is your beard a political statement?
In some ways, yes, it is. I think some people live life in accordance with the expectations of external forces, institutions, sociological, political factors and fear of future outcomes that haven’t even been actualised yet. We cage ourselves in ‘what if’s’, worse case scenarios and fallacies which eventually lead to taking the stance of least resistance. In the time we live in, Muslims are politically persecuted in many ways as a diaspora across the wold. My beard is a form of defiance to the systems at be. Yes, having a beard is a reminder to me and those I come across that, I’m Muslim. Currently propagandic political discourse churned out in the media will have you think that a man with a beard could be a threat, because they have attached it to symbols of terror. I think this is complete nonsense, in that sense yes I want to be overtly identifiable as Muslim therefore my beard does become political. I am reclaiming the beard as a Muslim symbol and representing it as a liberal Muslim man.
Have you experienced any negativity as a result of keeping the beard while traveling?
I am very widely traveled and being a South Asian male I have been subjected to random searches, second searches, CID (Criminal Investigation Department) questioning, boarder control hold ups and much more; this is both before and after having a beard. Therefore, having a beard, I don’t feel is directly linked to the racial profiling Ethnic Minorities are subjected to at airports. I think the racial prejudices we face while travelling are more to do with skin color, ethnicity and unfortunately religion. Authorities won’t ever admit this but for them, it’s about targeting certain ethnicities that look Muslim or have Muslim names rather than beards per say. So yes, I have faced issues travelling because of my ethnicity and Muslim name rather than only because of my beard.
Would you classify the Sunnah Beard the male equivalent of the female Hijab?
In my humble opinion it’s a positive thing for a man to have a beard. Historically, in all culture,s men have had some form of noticeable facial hair. It’s often seen as a male rite of passage and a symbol of coming of age and maturity. The hijab has also existed in many forms, historically found in many cultures and religions for women. In their current practices, yes I feel they are comparable as male and female equivalents. There is a stereotypical conception that if a woman wears a hijab then by perceptive default she is religiously inclined and religiously more observant or an orthodox Muslim. Similarly, if a man wears/has a beard – the larger the beard the more religiously adherent he is by basic visual conclusion only. Therefore, yes a man with a beard and a woman wearing the hijab are comparable concepts, because they are outwardly representations and symbols of religion. However, I hesitate to comment too much on the hijab as I am not an expert nor am I female.
My beard is a form of defiance to the systems at be.
Is this a lifetime commitment now? As a girl/woman might commit a lifetime to wearing the Hijab?
Yes, I hope it is. I truly believe I’m a better person in appearance, emotional and physical health (there are scientifically proven health benefits to men having facial hair) and in religious peace than I’ve ever been. I enjoy having a beard. The fact others derive a visual pleasure from it brings me even more personal satisfaction and pleasure. It’s an inspirational reminder every day that as the beard grows, matures and changes, so does the individual who is attached to the beard. Maintenance is key and just like if you neglect maintaining your beard it will look unkept, coarse and unwelcoming/inhibiting. Such is life and personal development – if one chooses to neglect one’s own maintenance in working on goals nearest to them then similarly those goals will become inept, derelict and cast aside. I don’t think about my beard in terms of lifetime commitment because that makes it sound like I’m doing something extraordinary. The truth is I’m Muslim, I’m a man and I like having a beard because it makes me the best version of myself.
Any parting message for our readers?
Thank you for reading my answers to these amazing questions. I would say to anyone of any age who is considering growing a beard to absolutely go for it. I guarantee you that it will be one of the best decisions of your life. As the beard grows so will your confidence, and just like your confidence you will have good days and bad days but it’s about the journey and perseverance, not what others think you should look like in their world. Other than that, I pray that all the readers to achieve all their positive goals personally and for humanity at large.
*Sunnah/t – traditional teachings of the Prophet (PBUH)