Growing beard and adopting appearance resembling Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) shows the extreme love and reverence of a Muslim to the Sunnah. Beared is considered as religious identity by many Muslims. However the history reveals that beared keeping is not restricted to Muslims only. Presently the people wear some specific symbols to display their religious identity.
A religious symbol is an iconic representation intended to represent a specific religion, or a specific concept within a given religion. The Christian cross has traditionally been a symbol representing Christianity or Christendom as a whole. Presently religious symbols include; Star of David for Jews. Crescent and star for Islam, Om for Hinduism. In appearance and dress Sikhs are prominent with long untrimmed beard and turban.
Beard- Short History:
Throughout the course of history, societal attitudes toward male beards have varied widely depending on factors such as prevailing cultural-religious traditions and the current era's fashion trends. Islam and Sikhism have considered a full beard to be absolutely essential for all males able to grow one, and mandate it as part of their official dogma. Other cultures, even while not officially mandating it, view a beard as central to a man's virility, exemplifying such virtues as wisdom, strength, sexual prowess and high social status.
The ancient Greeks regarded the beard as a badge or sign of virility (manhood); in the Homeric epics it had almost sanctified significance, so that a common form of entreaty was to touch the beard of the person addressed. In the time of Alexander the Great the custom of smooth shaving was introduced. Reportedly, Alexander ordered his soldiers to be clean-shaven, fearing that their beards would serve as handles for their enemies to grab and to hold the soldier as he was killed.
The "Philosopher's beard":
The highest ranking Ancient Egyptians grew hair on their chins which was often dyed or hennaed (reddish brown) and sometimes plaited with interwoven gold thread.
In ancient India, the beard was allowed to grow long, a symbol of dignity and of wisdom (cf. sadhu). The nations in the east generally treated their beards with great care and veneration, and the punishment for licentiousness and adultery was to have the beard of the offending parties publicly cut off. They had such a sacred regard for the preservation of their beards that a man might pledge it for the payment of a debt.
The Bible states in Leviticus 19:27 that "You shall not round off the corners of your heads nor mar the corners of your beard." Talmudic tradition explains this to mean that a man may not shave his beard with a razor with a single blade, since the cutting action of the blade against the skin "mars" the beard.
Iconography and art dating from the 4th century onward almost always portray Jesus with a beard. In paintings and statues most of the Old Testament Biblical characters such as Moses and Abraham and Jesus' New Testament disciples such as St Peter appear with beards, as does John the Baptist. However, Western European art generally depicts John the Apostle as clean-shaven, to emphasize his relative youth. Eight of the figures portrayed in the painting entitled The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci are bearded.
In Eastern Christianity, members of the priesthood and monastics often wear beards, and religious authorities at times have recommended or required beards for all male believers.
Although most Protestant Christians regard the beard as a matter of choice, some have taken the lead in fashion by openly encouraging its growth as "a habit most natural, scriptural, manly, and beneficial" (C. H. Spurgeon). Some Messianic Jews also wear beards to show their observance of the Old Testament.
In the Middle-Age Europe, a beard displayed a knight's virility and honour. The Castilian knight El Cid is described in The Lay of the Cid as "the one with the flowery beard".
Presently we find majority of Muslims not growing beard and their appearance is not different form the non Muslims. if we go back to the era of Makkah 1400 years ago, dress, appearance of Muslims and non Muslims was same. Growing a beard was considered normal and natural for a man at the time of the Messenger of Allah (saws), whether he was a believer or not. Even the enemies of Islam like Abu Jahl and Abu Lahab had beards!
The majority of Muslims have abandoned the practice of keeping beard, they could be categorized as follows:
- Consider keeping beared as obligatory [Fardh, Wajib]. while some keep beared, the others don't but remaining guilty of sin.
- Don't consider as obligatory, but optional. They think that the Prophet's commandment was related to the period of his time due to peculiar circumstance. In present ere it is does not remain symbol of Muslims, non Muslims like Sikhs keep it as religious obligation and many more as either religious obligation or just as a fashion.
"We have bestowed the Book on those of Our servants whom We have chosen. Some wrong their own souls, some keep half-way [between right and wrong]; some, by God's leave, excel others in good deeds. This is a great bounty of God: (Quran;35:32)
Under these circumstances if we start emphasising the "appearance" ask the Muslims to first grow their beards and hope they will become good Muslims consequently, may be too simplistic approach.
The evil practices have gone to such an extent that we find many people using Sunnah to deceive the people. They look very religious but indulge in bad practices, cheating, fraud etc. Even the religious political leaders are found to be getting illegal gratifications, undue favours form the rulers to vote in their favour to pass a law or constitutional amendment.
The biggest issue today is the weakening of Faith AYMAN. If a Muslim truly believes in the accountability on Day of Judgment, will he indulge in anti Islamic, immoral practices?
It was rightly said that Islam focuses on Person, Individual. If individual is reformed the society will be reformed. The individual be reformed form easy to difficult, step by step. Not form difficult to easy. A person who becomes strong in FAITH, EYMAN, will gradually start offering Salah, will start changing his appearance and finally becomes a good Muslim in Faith, in practice and in appearance. It could be slow process. Even if he does not adopt traditional Muslim appearance (due to any reason) but offers Salah, is morally sound, honest possessing all traits of good Muslims, we should not ridicule him. We should respect him and pray for him.
We know many people around us who are regular in prayer in congregation since decades, have been good all along but did not have beared, now they have grown beard. Some say "Beared is in Islam, BUT slam in not in beard". [Many people grow beard but they are not Muslims].
But if a believer does not want to sport a beard for whatever reason, the other believers should not make an issue out of it. What is important in Islam and in the sight of Allah is that one truly believes and does good righteous deeds. And when that happens, it is expected that the beard, appearance will follow soon after!
[Allah Knows Best]