نحمده ونصلى ونسلم على رسوله الكريم
When the great Prophet Moses descended from Mt. Sinai, he witnessed the corruption of his people who had taken to worshiping the idol of the golden calf. Prophet Moses approached his brother the Prophet Aaron, who was divinely designated as the former’s Minister, and whom Prophet Moses had appointed to take charge of the nation during his 40 nights absence. The Holy Qur’an mentions the fact that Prophet Moses seized his brother by the hair of his head and by his beard:
قَالَ يَا ابْنَ أُمَّ لَا تَأْخُذْ بِلِحْيَتِي وَلَا بِرَأْسِي
He (Aaron) said: O son of my mother! Seize (me) not by my beard, nor by (the hair of) my head.
This passage in the Holy Qur’an is highly significant in that it is among the rare Verses which give us some detail of the physical description of the ancient Prophets. We come to know that the hair in the Prophet Aaron’s beard and on his head was long enough that it could be grabbed by someone’s hand. While there is no direct imperative in the Holy Qur’an for men to keep beards, there are several Ahadith from the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) commanding the males of his blessed community to grow beards, for example:
عَنِ ابْنِ عُمَرَ رضى الله عنهما قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم انْهَكُوا الشَّوَارِبَ، وَأَعْفُوا اللِّحَى
Narrated Ibn Umar: Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said: Trim the mustache and leave the beard (Sahih al-Bukhari)
In another Hadith, the Prophet (peace be upon him) explained that growing the beard is among the ten acts of the Fitra (innate disposition of man). The other acts are trimming the mustache, brushing the teeth (with Siwak), rinsing the nose with water, rinsing the mouth, trimming the nails, washing the finger joints, removing the hair in the armpits, shaving the pubes, and cleansing one’s private parts with water (Istinjaa).
So the importance of growing a beard for a male has been put in the same category as these ten essential habits. That is sufficient to prove the religious obligation of growing a beard, and that it is a sin for a man to shave off entirely his beard. Nevertheless, some Muslims including scholars assert that growing a beard is only a praiseworthy or encouraged thing, but not necessarily a religious obligation. But this is incorrect as the Prophet (peace be upon him) clearly commanded his male followers to grow beards, and even included it among the essential acts of the Fitra, about which no one can dispute that they are merely optional. Furthermore, it is narrated that when the wretched and cursed Sassanian emperor ordered the arrest of the Prophet (peace be upon him), two emissaries were sent to Medina for that purpose. When the Prophet (peace be upon him) saw these Iranian emissaries he was repulsed by their appearance, for they had shaved or trimmed down extremely their beards while keeping large, flowing mustaches.
أَنَّ مَجُوسِيًّا دَخَلَ عَلَى النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم ، وَقَدْ أَعْفَى شَارِبَهُ ، وَأَحْفَى لِحْيَتَهُ ، فَقَالَ : مَنْ أَمَرَكَ بِهَذَا ؟ ، قَالَ : أَمَرَنِي رَبِّي . قَالَ : لَكِنَّ رَبِّي أَمَرَنِي أَنْ أَحْفِيَ شَارِبِي وَأَعْفِيَ لِحْيَتِي
The Prophet (peace be upon him) asked: Who ordered you to do this? He answered: My lord (emperor) ordered me. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: Rather, my Lord (Allah) has ordered me to trim my mustache and grow my beard.
These days, many Muslim men shave off their beards entirely. They do so because of the corrupt influence of European colonialism, whereas the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
مَنْ تَشَبَّهَ بِقَوْمٍ, فَهُوَ مِنْهُمْ
Whoever imitates a people, then he is from among them (Sunan Abi Dawud)
Similarly, another angle from which the prohibition for men to shave off their beards completely is established is the fact that it is an act of imitation of women, since the difference of the beard is one of the most obvious differences between the sexes. Islam teaches that men should be masculine and women feminine, and that the gender lines and expressions should never be blended or obfuscated:
عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم أَنَّهُ لَعَنَ الْمُتَشَبِّهَاتِ مِنَ النِّسَاءِ بِالرِّجَالِ وَالْمُتَشَبِّهِينَ مِنَ الرِّجَالِ بِالنِّسَاءِ
The Prophet (peace be upon him) cursed women who imitate men and men who imitate women.
Yet the main reason for men to grow the beard is out of love for and imitation of the Prophet (peace be upon him) who said:
فَمَنْ رَغِبَ عَنْ سُنَّتِي فَلَيْسَ مِنِّي
So whoever turns away from my Sunna is not from me.
Although the obligation of growing a beard for men has clearly been established, there is a controversy regarding the minimum length of the beard in order for it to fulfil the religious obligation. Obviously, a man cannot be held accountable if his beard is naturally sparse or short. But what of those men who trim their beards short, i.e., less than one-fist length? As the Holy Qur’an has made clear, the length of the Prophet Aaron’s beard was such that it could be grabbed by a fist. Hence the fistful length of a beard is from the Sunna of the Prophets. Some Hadith literalists, particularly among the Ahlul Hadith sect, put forward the bizarre view that the beard is never to be touched no matter how lengthy it becomes. Many members of this sect are distinguished by their excessively long beards, grown down to their bellies or even further! It is obvious that such lengthy beards are against both the letter and spirit of the Shari’a and the Sunna. Rather, such lengthy beards are a resemblance of certain Haredi Jewish sects and the Amritdhari Sikhs. To grow such a long beard is certainly not the Sunna of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) or the other ancient Prophets of God, rather it is the Sunna of the Kafir Sikh tenth guru Gobind Singh. Growing such lengthy beards is a cause for ridicule, and the wearer of such a long beard becomes a comical figure. If such people are identified with representing Islam and the Sunna of the Prophet, it would be tantamount to ridicule of the Sunna, a grave matter in the Sight of Allah! Furthermore, such lengthy beards if never cut in accordance with the strange view of the literalist Ahlul Hadith will go against the imperative of Tahara (hygiene and cleanliness) emphasized by Islam, since it would be difficult for the wearer of a long beard that exceeds below the navel of a man to answer the call of nature and not have his beard soiled by filth in the process.
The literalist Ahlul Hadith argue that the general wording and purport of the Hadith ’’Leave the beard’’ is proof that it should never be trimmed no matter what length it reaches. However, the truth is that the Sahabi who has narrated this Hadith is Abdullah bin Umar (Radi Allahu anhuma), who himself used to trim his beard when it exceeded the fistful length. This means that despite narrating the wording of the Hadith, Ibn Umar was aware that it was not meant to be acted upon according to the literal wording, due to his superior Fiqh and Fahm (understanding) of the matter than the foolish modern-day Ahlul Hadith literalists.
Some Ahlul Hadith literalists argue that while some Companions may have trimmed or shortened their beards, the Prophet (peace be upon him) himself had a large and lengthy beard, and it is not proven that he ever trimmed it. However, the truth is that the Prophet’s beard has never been described in any authentic Hadith as extraordinary lengthy. Rather his blessed beard is described as being thick, rich, and that those praying behind him could see the movement of his beard from behind due to its width (not its length) while he was praying and speaking to his Lord.
The Prophet’s beloved companion, Ibn Abbas, describes the length of the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) beard as reaching down to his Nahr (throat):
قَدْ مَلَأَتْ لِحْيَتُهُ مَا لَدُنْ هَذِهِ إِلَى هَذِهِ وَأَشَارَ بِيَدِهِ إِلَى صُدْغَيْهِ حَتَّى كَادَتْ تَمْلَأُ نَحْرَهُ
The prescribed length of the beard is a matter of Ijtihad since there is no explicit Hadith from the Prophet (peace be upon him) informing us of what is the necessary length to fulfil the religious obligation of keeping a beard. We do not know if the Prophet’s beard, though thick but not exceeding in length below the uppermost part of his chest (where the throat meets the chest), was due to him either trimming it or whether that was its natural length. It appears that the latter possibility has the most weight but Allah knows best. There is a Hadith in Tirmidhi about the Prophet (peace be upon him) trimming from the length and width of his blessed beard, but it is not authentic. But since the Prophet’s Companions trimmed their beards, we can infer that the Sunna is to maintain one’s beard at a fistful length, and not to leave it so that it grows extremely long and becomes a liability.
As for trimming the beard shorter than the prescribed Sunna of a fistful length, it appears that this is Makruh (disliked) but not explicitly Haram. As long as a man can be said to be ’’bearded’’ in common parlance he has fulfilled the religious obligation. But if he trims and cuts his beard so short that it can no longer be considered a beard, such as a French cut and other modern styles, then it cannot be said that he is fulfilling the religious obligation of growing a beard, though that is obviously superior than completely shaving off the beard which is certainly Haram.
Finally, the reader should beware that in the Ayah of the Holy Qur’an describing the hair of Prophet Aaron (peace be upon him) it has also been mentioned that the length of the hair on his head was such that it too could be grabbed. This proves the superiority for men not to shave their heads (with certain exceptions such as Hajj and Umra). Furthermore, the Sunna of the Prophets is, generally speaking, to have lengthy hair to the extent that it can be seized with one’s hand, i.e., fistful length minimum, and that regularly keeping extremely short hair is not the Sunna.
The length of the hair of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was kept lengthy regularly, such that at it reached down to and touched his shoulders.
حَدَّثَنَا أَنَسٌ، أَنَّ النَّبِيَّ صلى الله عليه وسلم كَانَ يَضْرِبُ شَعَرُهُ مَنْكِبَيْهِ
Narrated Anas: The hair of the Prophet (peace be upon him) used to hang down to his shoulders. (Sahih al-Bukhari)