The ruling of keeping the beard?
What is the ruling on keeping the beard?
The command for keeping the beard has come from various hadith such as, “distinguish yourself from the disbelievers, keep your beards and shorten your moustaches.” The jurists have disputed the nature of the command in this hadith, is the command used for an obligatory act, or a recommended act? The majority of jurists have ruled that it is obligatory, but the jurists of the Shafi‘i school have ruled that it is recommended. The Shafi‘i jurists have dealt with this issue extensively such as Zakariyya al-Ansari who stated, “it is reprehensible to pluck out ones facial hair once it grows it being preferable for it to grow giving one a noble face.” Imam al-Ramli has commented on this sentence by saying, “his statement ‘it is reprehensible to pluck out…’ meaning the beard and likewise shaving it. Therefore the statement of al-Hilmi in his Minhaj that it is impermissible to shave the beard or the eyebrow is weak.” Imam Ibn Hajar al-Haytami has stated, “Concerning the beard there are actions which are considered reprehensible such as plucking it, shaving it, as well as the eyebrow.” This has been confirmed by Imam Ibn Qasim al-‘Ibadi in his gloss on Tuhfat al-Muhtaj in which he states, “our teachers have stated that shaving the beard is reprehensible.” The noble scholar al-Bujayrmi has stated in his gloss on al-Khatib’s commentary that, “shaving the beard is a reprehensible act even from a man and it is not prohibited.” The reason he stated “even from a man” is not to be in contradistinction from a women, but rather it is in contradistinction to a young man as the original discussion revolves around the ruling of a shaving once the facial hair has come in, i.e. in a young man. The discussion follows that the initial growing of the facial hair is not a condition, and a grown man shaving his head also falls into the ruling.
The reprehensibility of shaving the beard is not just found amongst the Shafi‘i school. We find that al-Qadi ‘Iyad from the Maliki school has stated that, “it is reprehensible to shave the beard, pluck it, or burn it.”
As for those jurists who argued that keeping the beard is mandatory, they have taken another meaning from the aforementioned hadith. They are of the opinion that shaving the beard is a negative trait, and goes against the general appearance of a man during their times giving him a certain measure. Imam al-Ramli has stated in his discussion of castigation (t‘azir) that it should not be done by shaving a man’s beard as this is a form of deformation and his children will also be shamed by this.”
In legal matters if a command is attached to a custom the command changes from obligation to recommendation and this is attested to in many instances where jurists have taken hadith with clear commands but their commands were understood to be recommended acts not obligatory ones. An example of this is, “Change your grey hairs so you do not imitate your enemies, and the best change is henna and concealing.” As changing or altering one’s grey hair or not is not considered a negative act in society, the jurists have understood the command to be a recommendation and not an obligation. Accordingly have Muslim jurists dealt with such issues. Older jurists used to consider anyone who wore Western clothing as leaving Islam. However, when this practice became widespread and commonplace amongst Muslims they changed their opinions.
Therefore the ruling concerning the beard during the time of the pious ancestors, during which both Muslims and non-Muslims used to keep their beards, was one of dispute with the majority of jurists saying it was mandatory to keep the beard and therefore prohibited to shave it and the Shafi‘i jurists who said shaving the beard was reprehensible as keeping it was only a sunnah practice. Accordingly, we rule that especially today when customs have changed, we must adhere to the Shafi‘i opinion which states that shaving the beard is a reprehensible act and keeping it is a sunnah act that entails praise and reward as long as one keeps it well and is presentable. And God is most high most knowledgeable.