The Question of Keeping a Beard (2)
Islamic Customs and Etiquette
Question asked by .
Answered by Dr. Shehzad Saleem

After reading your answer on this issue, I am deeply interested in knowing the arguments of your viewpoint. Please furnish them at your earliest convenience.

Answer: class="Paragraph"> Before I present detailed arguments for my view point on this issue, I shall first allude to three important principles of understanding the Sharī‘ah.

I. The Almighty has blessed man with guidance in two ways. One of them can be termed as Innate Guidance and the other one as Divine Guidance.

As far as the sphere of Innate Guidance is concerned, it needs to be appreciated that man has been given certain faculties and abilities which are enough to guide him in deciding the right course of action. He does not basically need any external guidance in this regard. For example, his intuition leads him to the conclusion that there is a Creator of this Universe; his conscience very ably guides him about good and evil; his instincts pronounce that anal intercourse and homosexuality are some very blatant forms of sexual deviations; his taste tells him that beasts like lions and dogs and birds like eagles and vultures are not meant to be eaten; his common sense affirms that the difference in the external appearance between men and women should be maintained; his intellect says that taking drugs or intoxicants are bad habits. There may be slight differences in this sphere, but generally the dividing line is very clear.

The second sphere of guidance, Divine Guidance, generally pertains to areas where human beings are unable to decide the right course by themselves. So in order to complement and supplement the sphere of Innate Guidance, the Almighty has divinely guided man through His Prophets. The Qur’ān and Sunnah (the established practice of the Prophet (sws)) are the primary sources of Divine Guidance.

II. In both these spheres of Innate Guidance and Divine Guidance, deeds and actions do not merely belong to the two categories of the prohibited and the allowed, but have various other categories as well. For example, a thing may be desirable which means that if a person adopts it, he will be rewarded and if he does not, he will not be held liable to it.

III. As far as Ahādīth are concerned, they are not an independent source of Islam. They must have some basis in either or both of the two aforementioned categories: Innate Guidance or Divine Guidance. Consequently, if some Ahādīth do not have such a basis they cannot be accepted.

Now, in the light of these principles, it is evident:

1. The issue of keeping a beard is not discussed anywhere in the category of Divine Guidance. In other words, the Qur’ān and Sunnah are devoid of any such ruling.

2. As far as the category of Innate Guidance is concerned, some scholars place this directive in it and I would tend to agree with them. Of course, someone may differ.

3. Several Ahādīth and some historical reports however, clearly mention that men should keep beards. Consequently, if this directive is to be classified as a religious one, these Ahādīth must have a basis either in the first category (Innate Guidance) or in the second category (Divine Guidance).

If we collect and analyze these Ahādīth and historical reports, it can be said with considerable surety that this material is basically of the following three categories as far as its content is concerned:

(i) ‘Ā’ishah (rta) narrates from the Prophet (sws):

Ten things are from among [the attributes of] human nature: clipping of moustache, growing of beard, use of the miswāk; snuffing up water in the nostrils; cutting of nails; washing of joints; removing of hair under the armpits; shaving of pubes; cleansing the private parts with water [after relieving one’s self]. The narrator said: ‘I have forgotten the tenth but it may have been: rinsing the mouth’. (Muslim: Kitābu’l-Tahārah)

(ii) The celebrated historian Ibn Jarīr Tabarī, (d: 310 AH) while reporting the visit of two emissaries of the king Persia to the Prophet (sws) records:

… The two [emissaries] with shaven faces and dangling moustaches came to the Prophet. Disgusted to see their faces, he turned away from them. Then he faced them and said: ‘Woe be to you! Who told you to adopt such an appearance’. They replied: ‘Our Lord, the king of Persia bade us so’. The Prophet (sws) then remarked: ‘But my Lord has directed me to shorten the moustache and lengthen the beard [instead]’. (Tabarī, Tārīkhu’l-Umam wa Al-Malūk, vol. 3, (Beirut: Dāru’l-Fikr, 1979], pp. 90-1.

(iii) This category has three sub-categories which are very similar to one another. Except that the first one mentions the idolaters, the second one the Majūs (the Magians) and the third one, the People of the Book, the rest of the reported words are virtually the same:

a. Ibn ‘Umar narrates that the Prophet (sws) has reported to have said: ‘Do not follow these idolaters: Clip your moustaches and lengthen your beards’. (Bukhārī, Kitābu’l-Libās)

b. Abū Hurayrah reports from the Prophet: ‘Clip your moustaches and lengthen your beards and do not follow these Majūs’. (Muslim, Kitābu’l-Tahārah)

c. Abū ‘Umāmah reports from the Prophet: ‘Clip your moustaches and lengthen your beards and do not follow these People of the Book’. (Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hambal, vol. 5 p. 264 )

If all these three category of narratives are accepted as they have been reported, a look at their contents reveals:

1. The very words of the Hadīth reported by ‘Ā’ishah (rta) in the first category and the expression of dislike of the Prophet (sws) and his words: ‘But my Lord has directed1 me to shorten the moustache and lengthen the beard [instead]’ reported by Tabarī in the second category seem to relate the directive of growing a beard to the category of Innate Guidance. In other words, the Hadīth and the historical report say that growing a beard is from among the attributes of human nature. As such, they reinforce the view of the scholars who regard the directive of keeping a beard from this category.

2. The narratives of the third category clearly mention that men must grow beards and clip their moustaches. However, an analysis of the context of these Ahādīth reveals two important things.

Firstly, in all these narratives the directive of growing a beard occurs in tandem with the directive of clipping the moustache. This paired mention adds a certain stress to the whole directive. It has not been said: ‘Grow a beard’, in which case the directive would mean that as against the followers of these religious denominations, (who do not have beards) Muslims must grow beards; on the contrary, the addition of the second clause ‘clip the moustache’ adds the stress that if something is to be clipped it is the moustache and not the beard and if something is to be lengthened it is the beard and not the moustache.

Secondly, none of these narratives explicitly and unconditionally give these directives. Rather each of them begins with a negative note: ‘Do not follow …’ The addition of this note changes an explicit directive to a conditional one. The note shows that there is something wrong in some sections of the society in which it is being uttered and that the addressees of this note should desist from following them. Sense and reason entail three possibilities for stopping Muslims from following the people of other religions:

(1) Muslims are merely asked to make themselves distinct from the followers of other major religions present at that time. If the basis of this distinction is to fix a certain appearance for the Muslims, then this must have some basis in the two categories of Innate Guidance or Divine Guidance. It seems that there is no such basis, and if someone says that there is some basis then the onus of presenting it lies on him.

(2) The followers of other religions present at that time had adopted something as a religious innovation (bid‘at), and the directive of mentioned in these narratives actually reforms and corrects it. As an example of such innovations and subsequent corrective measures, consider the following Hadīth. (The third subcategory quoted above [iii(c)] is actually a part of it as well.)

Abū ‘Umāmah reports: The Prophet (sws) once came to some old men of the tribe of Ansār. These men had extremely white beards. Seeing them, the Prophet remarked: ‘O People of Ansār dye your beards in red or golden colours and do not follow these People of the Book’. They declared: ‘O Prophet these People of the Book do not wear shalwārs and loin cloths’. At this, the Prophet said: ‘Wear shalwārs and loin cloths and do not follow these People of the Book’. They declared: ‘O Prophet these People of the Book neither wear shoes nor socks [while praying]2 ’. At this, the Prophet said: ‘Wear shoes and socks and do not follow these People of the Book’. They said: ‘O Prophet these People of the Book lengthen their moustaches and shave their beards’. At this, the Prophet said: ‘Clip your moustaches and lengthen your beards and do not follow these People of the Book’. (Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hambal, vol. 5 p. 264 )

It is evident from the words of this Hadīth that some Muslims of the Ansār were following the People of the Book in some of their practices thinking that they were obligatory. Besides other things, they thought that it was necessary to lengthen the moustache and shave off the beard. The Prophet (sws) told them that this was no religious directive. On the contrary, this was a religious innovation; so if they wanted, they could lengthen their beards and clip their moustache instead. Similarly, refraining from dyeing one’s hair was no religious requirement. If they wanted they could dye their hair as well. In other words, this Hadīth is not asking men to grow beards; it is merely saying that keeping beards and clipping moustaches is not a condemned religious practice as certain people are contending. It is perfectly allowed in Islam. So, just as dyeing hair, wearing socks and shoes while praying have not become necessary directives as per this Hadīth, keeping a beard as an obligatory directive cannot be deduced from it as well.

(iii) The third possibility is that this directive has a moral basis. There was something morally wrong in the practice of the followers of other religions. Obviously, keeping big moustaches and shaven beards makes one look arrogant and haughty which is clearly forbidden by both categories of guidance. So these Ahādīth are describing to the Muslims the proper way of growing a beard and a moustache. Instead of having large moustaches and shaven beards, the appearance should be the other way round. In other words, the Ahādīth are not directing Muslims to grow beards and moustaches; what they are saying is that if they want to grow both, then the proper way is to lengthen the beard instead of the moustache and clip the moustache instead of the beard.

Consequently, the outcome of all these three possibilities is that none of the Ahādīth of the third category is asking Muslims to keep beards. This leaves us with the first and second category of Ahadith and as pointed out before these narratives classify the keeping of beard and as such place it the category of Innate Guidance present in a person. While being in this category, there can be two opinions about the nature of this directive. Someone can say that keeping a beard is obligatory in nature like some other directives of this category for example telling the truth or being honest. However, in my opinion, it does not belong to the class of obligatory directives. Rather it is a desirable thing, which will not hold a person liable if he does not follow it.






1. Obviously, here the verb ‘directed’ refers to a directive of the Innate Guidance. As an example of this use see the Qur’ān ( 2:222).

2. The fact that they considered not wearing shoes or socks while praying as an obligatory religious practice is evident from the following Hadīth:

Shaddād Ibn Aws narrates from his father that the Prophet said: Do not follow the Jews; they do not wear socks or shoes while praying. (Abū Dā‘ūd, Kitābu’l-Salah)

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