Pi Attitude Zone: Ethics & Altruism

Beards, Hair And Prayer-Mats

All across the Islamic world, what you look like is a window into your beliefs.  Hair in particular, both facial (beards and mustaches) and tonsorial (head-hair) are the subjects of all sorts of faith-based or societal conventions.

In Iran, religious authorities recently released a list of approved haircuts, mostly short at the back and sides, in a stated effort to “counter a Western cultural invasion”.  For nearly a decade, men in North Korea have been under a state edict to ensure their hair is closely trimmed.  A television campaign with the theme “Let’s trim our hair in accordance with the socialist lifestyle” warned male citizens that “long hair saps the brain”.

It seems that authoritarian regimes feel a need to restrict their male subjects’ appearance to a rigid, clean-cut style.  (That’s if your hair is allowed to be visible at all, rather than bound up in a turban).  Small wonder that defying imposed convention and growing their hair is a point of pride for dissidents.

If you think rules on haircuts sound strict, wait till you hear about the edicts concerning beards and moustaches.  Islamic tradition in many places has for a long time accounted luxuriant beards a mark of piety, particularly when combined with a shaven upper lip.  There are countries whose adherence to the Islamic faith will permit no variation on that norm.  In the years when the Taliban held sway in Afghanistan, trimming one’s beard hair was strictly outlawed, and long bushy beards were everywhere.  When Hamas won elected office over Fatah in the Palestinian elections of 2006, their first official pronouncement was that previously clean-shaven policemen were now encouraged to grow beards. 

Not everywhere in the Muslim world are beard-related regulations entirely rigid.  Though long head-hair is frowned on, Iranian youths are allowed to decide whether or not they will shave or trim their facial hair.  As in many Western countries, there seems to be a generational pendulum-swing at work, with each new crop of young males adopting a different look from their elders, to assert their difference.

What are the determining factors behind these choices?  For Muslims in many places, pious imitation of the Prophet is considered a major reason for growing a beard.  Controversy still rages over whether, where and when beards should be mandatory.

The absence of face-hair, by contrast, can become a point of principle in places that oppose Islam, such as large parts of India.  A court there recently issued an opinion allowing a Christian  college to ban beards, on the basis that “We don’t want Talibans here”.

Zone: Ethics & Altruism Country: Middle East / Africa Product –