The day my friend took off hijab was disappointing. While everyone was offering congratulations on the new look, I couldn’t help wonder if my friend was having a crisis of faith. And when I asked if everything was okay, I learned a secret truth that sent me reeling.
He never wore hijab in the first place.
Naive assumptions led me to stereotype my friend as the “type of Muslim” who sports a beard out of religiosity, modesty and a reflection of his spiritual commitment. But I can’t really be blamed for doing so, can I? He was president of the Muslim Students’ Association, led prayer, gave the occasional khutbah, took religious courses, and embraced being a recognizable Muslim.
And while his beard changed shape over the many years of our friendship – from a sleek Hollywood beard to a goatee and back again — it just seemed like a natural assumption that his beard was worn to follow the Sunnah. If he was outwardly “religious” in all other aspects of worship, shouldn’t his beard be a reflection of his inner hijab?
Nope. I was absolutely guilty of stereotyping a person based on their visuality.
It turns out he grew a beard “because.” Just because. Because he could. Because it was stylish, comfortable for his skin and something guys did. I imagine having a beard also helped my friend gain some kind of authenticity at the mosque and within the community — even though that probably wasn’t his intention in wearing one. And as he didn’t wear it out of religious motivation, shaving it off was no big deal.
In fact, after speaking to several colleagues with various opinions and styles of “beard,” it seems like any sort of facial hair, or lack thereof, can exist without much commentary from others.
Sure there are naseeha-concerned-advice-giving-types who correct people on prayer, police women’s clothing and comment on beard length – everything from “that beard makes you look like an extremist” to “it is haraam to keep a cleanly shaved face.” Some experience extreme social and family pressures regarding the hair growing powers of their beard follicles, or are shunned outright by communities for having baby smooth skin. And the stereotypical image of a bearded Muslim is often used to incorrectly represent extremism, terrorism, and overall make things very difficult. With grave seriousness, having a long beard is sometimes grounds for being insulted, harassed and viciously attacked.
But there is a huge discrepancy between the type of attention given to the “proper way to hijab” and the “proper way to beard” — especially when looking at the online narrative.
There’s sweet, positive and encouraging: