The Muslim beard paradox: tale of my beard

I always knew that one day I will keep beard, even when I was a little kid. When during my 8th grade I made my first website even then it was based around a man’s bearded face with navigation buttons around it. And no it wasn’t that I was influenced by my surrounding. My father is still a clean shaven man – and before me I cannot even recall cousin or Uncle who kept a beard.

Though I wasn’t “born” with a beard but started shaving as soon as I got a few hair on my face, like a ritual to enter the adulthood while my father trying to tell me that hey you can avoid few more years of misery if you stop shaving and just stick with a trimmer. But well a boy needs to do things his way to be a man. It was only quite later when I finally realised for myself what an annoying cycle it becomes to shave every morning.

Around end of my second semester during my undergraduate I decided to keep a goatee (to be told that I look like a Qadiyani!), then a line beard (to be told that I look like a Jew!) to finally a proper small beard (to get more criticism). The series of misplaced criticism including on my small beard was that it is not good enough – the length is short and I should be keeping a longer beard, at least a fistful! Interestingly the criticism on my hair which cover my face always came from people who were clean shaven and practically had no experience of keeping a beard. Perhaps even more interestingly one of the most common question I got from my peers was if my parents are okay with me keeping beard.

There were however some fun moments along which provided a moment of social reflection, like time when a friend of my father mentioned my then long hair and beard and said that I look more like a student of an Arts rather than an Engineering college, to which my father jokingly replied yes I worry him too. When a son is chasing girls or getting in fights he is growing up, but when he keeps a beard then he is on to  something you need to worry about.

During all this there was another interesting element. I was being “scared” by “more religious” people. One thing I was being “made aware of” was that now that I have kept a beard I should never shave it otherwise I will commit a grave unforgivable sin (something which I haven’t found any reference to till now). Another of course was a social pressure from not so religious people who expected me to be a different person because I was man with a beard. Please note that my beard never increased more than half an inch during all that period.

Part of growing up as a Pakistani man also means finding yourself in interviews where someone is probing you for the purpose of “rishta” (marriage). Last summer I found myself in one such situation and unfortunately for them I was again with slightly long hair and a beard. I spent good 20 minutes listening to him telling me why not to be an extremist in religion and why not to be politically active. When my level of courtesy reached it’s full I finally told them just some of my religious and political views (just a trailer), and the shock on their face was so profound that I cannot forget the expressions. So yes the beard allowed me to be mistaken for someone else in most of the social encounters, apart from at the airports which is another fun story for some later time.

Now comes the most interesting part, I actually went back to goatee style towards end of 2010 and I got criticised again. In fact to put it straight I got some very serious criticism. All of sudden it seemed that I have offended a large number of people, many of them who were not even on more than just a “cursory hello” level of acquaintance with me. They all believed that I have committed a grave sin and a great unfortunate act on myself. Interestingly they are still clean shaven themselves.

Due to my routine in last two months I have not even trimmed my beard. Which at the moment might run at 2 inch, the longest I have ever had. Looking in the mirror I have decided to have it fixed soon so the result will be that I have to prepare myself for another wave of criticism. But I did realise that down the line I do want to keep long beard. It might be hard for me to explain but I do believe on personal level that men should keep beard and that is a manly thing to do. I unlike many others do not find any religious meaning in beard but for me it is somehow very spiritual.

For my father, he continues to be clean shaven even though he said he will consider it after Hajj. His next milestone is apparently my marriage (for some reason), but maybe that is just one of his tricks like the way he made me eat spinach by making me like Popeye the Sailor man. There is one thing which he does say sometime and I shamelessly quote him everywhere, “beard is in Islam, but Islam is not in the beard”. I understand that pretty clear, but I hope others can make sense of it too.

(Image credit: Expanded Beard Type Chart)

Unedited draft version: 12/08/2011