Opinion

Of beards and hijab

NOV 19 — A colleague once asked: “How come, as a Muslim man, you don’t grow a ‘traditional’ beard?” I replied: “... thanks for informing me, but don’t impose upon me... “

As a Muslim layman trying to better understand the deen, “way of life”, of Islam, I, like many others, have more questions than answers. Many of the questions are based upon observations, conversations with inquiring minds, and the desire to get closer to the Creator.

It’s well accepted that the collective intelligence-cum-knowledge of the informed public (ijma, consensus of the Muslim community) is far more superior than any one member’s. Thus, in “e-thinking out loud” dialogue, debate, and discussions that raise the civilised conversation bar higher on the linkage between beards and hijab are hoped for.

However, there are many who may be “concerned”, i.e., from personal attacks to sentences to hell, when asking challenging questions about the headline. Surely, a religion of peace, as explained repeatedly to the West, cannot tolerate a climate of fear for asking difficult questions. 

Maybe it’s the Muslims? Query: does asking questions pose a threat to the incumbent’s “chair”? Asking questions is how we obtain information-translated-knowledge and wisdom, and Prophet Muhammad (SAW) has challenged us to seek knowledge; from cradle to grave.

Thus, all of us, at one time, have to become the “voice of the voiceless”, “hope for the helpless”, and remind (the forgetting) that we are here to “inform and not impose.”

Folks, Islam is about substance and not show and chairs.

Interfaith beards?

Almost all religions and way of life espouse middle-of-the-road modesty, be it in appearance, attitude or approach. And, it is that modesty which allows such “way of life and living” to not only survive, but thrive over centuries. 

In Islam, the Creator prescribes moderation as the ideal way in our dealings, and Prophet Mohammad encouraged Muslims to shun both extremes and to be moderate in every facet of life.

Pickthall: Thus we have appointed you a middle nation. 2.143

Yusuf Ali: Thus, have we made of you an Ummat justly balanced. 2.143

If we look at clergy from Islam, Judaism, (eastern orthodox) Christianity, Hinduism and so on, we find the men have a common trait: a beard. In Islam, we find several hadiths speaking about the beloved Prophet Muhammad concerning the “beard”. Below are equivalent translations:

● Aayesha (RA) narrates that Nabi (SAW) has said: “Ten things are fitrat (natural). To cut the moustache and lengthen the beard (are from amongst these ten things).” Muslim Vol 1 page 129

● Abu Huraira (RA) quotes the Holy Prophet (SAW) as saying, “Shorten the moustache and lengthen the beard.” (Muslim)

● Ibn Umar (RA) quotes the Holy Prophet (SAW) as saying, “Cut short the moustache and lengthen the beard.” (Bukhari and Muslim)

Thus, a common sight in the MENASA countries (Middle East, North Africa and South Asia) is generally men with beards, from chest long to fashionably groomed. In Islamic finance, we find the syariah scholars with a cross section of beards, also from (some have stated) bird’s nest long to impeccably groomed to goatees. 

In examining the (male) leaders of the 57 Muslim countries, we find many with trimmed beards (the UAE, Afghanistan, Egypt, Oman, etc), goatees, (Saudi Arabia, Brunei, etc.), moustaches (Malaysia, Turkey, Bahrain, Kuwait, etc) or clean shaven.

[Confession: I have a floating goatee, sometimes a goatee, sometimes a trimmed beard, and sometimes clean shaven, however, the focus for me, and many others, is on being a goodwill ambassador for Islam via substantive conduct.]

Obviously, there are certain ethnicities that cannot grow beards. Is it because of geography/climate-influenced DNA? For those ethnicities, say, the Chinese, or those in Malaysia, Indonesia and various parts of Africa who cannot grow a “full beard”, facial hair, the prohibition may be seen as “not to shave the ‘beard’?”

The beard

The following questions are from a compilation of conversations over time:

● Is a beard supposed to convey modesty and morality?

● Is a beard supposed to cover?

● Is a beard supposed to send a signal?

● In having a beard, does it imply certain other behaviours must be consistently aligned or code of [divine] ethics followed, including following the second most important pillar of Islam, establishing regular prayers?

● If a Muslim man can grow a beard and chooses not to grow one or shaves an existing beard, then, what?

● Can family, friend, colleagues impose upon a male to grow a beard or rather not shave?

● Typically, if the man has a beard, then his wife/wives wear hijab/abaya. But, what if the wife/wives have hijab/abaya and the man does not have a beard or refuses to grow one, then what?

After the haj, we see many Haji (men) growing beards, but within a short period of time some/many revert to pre-haj grooming habits and, sometimes, routines. Why?

Hijab

There are three levels of hijab, according to the important treatise by Shaykh Mufti Muhammad Shafi Usmani (Rehmatullah) which he called Tafsilal-Khitab fi Tafsir Ayat al-Hijab, which is a section from his Ahkam al-Qur’an (3:393-483):

● Hijab of the persons (ashkhas) of women in houses and walls, private quarters and howdahs, whereby foreign men do not see any part of their persons, garments or external or internal adornment, or any part of their body, including the face, the hands and the remainder of the body.

● Hijab with burqa’ and jilbab, whereby nothing from the face and hands, the rest of the body and the clothing of adornment are shown, and so nothing is seen besides their concealed persons from above the head to the foot.

● Hijab with jilbabs and items of clothing that resemble them, while exposing the face, the hands and the feet.

Thus, to the ill-informed the hijab represents a symbol of repression and conspiracy to keep the Muslim woman “barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen”, and to others it represents a symbol of freedom (life, pro-choice), style and modesty (inward to outside). Thus, provocation associated with the hijab is in the eye of the beholder and their agenda.

Much like a Muslim man growing a beard (or not shaving), many girls and women wear a hijab in the Muslim and non-Muslim world (at times more challenging), and it has worked well. However, flare-ups against Muslims by the ignorant few (stirred by select media), especially against those representing “symbols” of Islam, typically arise when there are acts or near acts of terrorism on Western soil. 

However, the mighty dollar over-rides. For example, France declared itself to be an Islamic finance hub to tap the oil surplus liquidity, yet the veil/hijab is not only a politically charged issue among politicians, but has risen to become a national security issue.

Pressures

One of the common observations encountered is when a school-aged girl is “pressured” by family to wear a hijab in the non-Muslim world or a woman (after the haj) is “strongly suggested” to wear a hijab by family members.

For career women, even in the Muslim world, does wearing a hijab jeopardise career opportunities for promotions and progression? It is well-documented that women are under-represented, as proportionate of population, at senior management positions, including board representation. Thus, is it fair to put forth the choice between religion (as represented by a non-pillar of Islam, hijab) and career?

What about Muslim women leaders of the recent past; have they worn a hijab? Well, their interpretation of the hijab is influenced by national culture; the late Benazir Bhutto (Pakistan), Tansu Ciller (Turkey), Sheikh Hasina (Bangladesh), etc. Even former first ladies either did not wear a hijab or made the hijab a fashion statement, like Suzanne Mubarak of Egypt, Queen Noor of Jordan (wife of the late King Hussein), Sh Moza al Misned of Qatar (second wife of the Emir of Qatar). The common denominator among most of these women was their leadership was defined by conduct, whether one agrees or disagrees with their political views is a conversation for another day.

The question then becomes, should there be compulsion (for an adult woman) to wear a hijab when they have never worn a hijab? Islam clearly prohibits forced conversions, “... there is no compulsion in religion ...” (2:256). Then, logically, does it follow that a Muslim cannot force (by pressure, be it subtle, familial, etc) another (adult Muslim) to wear a hijab or grow a beard?

Where is the free will we often hear about? It is well accepted that religion is a private matter, between you and the Creator, and when the heart (intention) is ready the rest (body) will follow, i.e., it is about choices with understood consequences.

Again, Islam is about substance and not show.

Conclusion

Now, if we insert hijab where beard is mentioned above, does it change the dimension of the answer? Should it change the answer?

Sometimes, I wonder if we emphasise, by way of heated debates at times, too much on the pressure to wear a hijab (for non-hijab wearing women) instead of the five pillars of Islam. Yes, each has a certain conversation air-time.

I always believed as man/woman are the most perfect creation of the Creator, our job is to inform and not impose. As imposing implies judgment, and that job is already taken, correct?

“No more is the Apostle bound to do than deliver the Message (entrusted to him). And God knows all that you do openly, and all that you would conceal.” (Quran 5:99, translated by Mohammad Asad).

Are some of us (with incumbent chairs) error prone in following the “subjective interpretation and selective enforcement” school of thought? Can it be said that some have become “self-righteous religious” and regard all those who do not subscribe to our ideas, as lesser beings?

The Creator commands us to enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong. Thus, are such people, by inducing fear (perceived or actual), overstepping the authority given to us by Him by humiliating and hurting the feelings of those who see and interpret things differently?

When we speak about inter-faith dialogue, we are moving the conversation away from conversion to convergence.

We also need to have intra-faith dialogue on informing versus imposing.

* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.

 

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