As Muslim men, we actually ask you not to grow your beard in the name of interfaith solidarity

The following is a re-written shorter version of an article that appeared in the Washington Post imploring non-Muslim women not to wear a headscarf for a day to show solidarity with Muslim women who have to face the brunt of increasing Islamophobia. In order to show how ridiculous the original article was, I’ve taken the liberty of changing it to address non-Muslim men. I find it odd how when it comes to religious symbols, bigots have always focused on the hijab. We never hear of calls for Muslim men to “shave their beards”…not until now!

Last week, three non-Muslim religious leaders — a Jewish rabbi, an Episcopal vicar and a Unitarian reverend — and an imam, or Muslim prayer leader, walked into the sacred space in front of the ornately-tiled minbar, or pulpit, at the Islamic Center in Some City, Some State. The men were smiling widely, their cheeks scruffy from not shaving, to support “Grow Your Beard” month.

The Some City Tribune published a photo of bright-eyed young men, who were not Muslim, in the audience at the mosque, their faces covered with beard scruff. XYZ TV later reported: “The lihya — or beard — is a symbol of masculinity and dignity. When Muslim men grow their beards, they are readily identified as followers of Islam.”

For us, as mainstream Muslim men, born in Agrabah and Abuddin, the spectacle at the mosque was a painful reminder of the well-financed effort by conservative Muslims to dominate modern Muslim societies. This modern-day movement spreads an ideology of political Islam, called “Islamism,” enlisting well-intentioned interfaith do-gooders and the media into promoting the idea that the “lihya” is a virtual “sixth pillar” of Islam, after the traditional “five pillars” of the shahada (or proclamation of faith), prayer, fasting, charity and pilgrimage.

We reject this interpretation that the “lihya” is merely a symbol of masculinity and dignity adopted by faithful male followers of Islam.

This modern-day movement, codified by Iran, Saudi Arabia, Taliban Afghanistan and the Islamic State, has erroneously made the Arabic word lihya synonymous with “beard.” This conflation of lihya with the secular word beard is misleading. “Beard” literally means “facial hair” in Arabic. It also means “sacred things,” ”suburbs of the chin” and “rebellious bristles” on someone’s face. It is never used in the Koran to mean beard.

In colloquial Arabic, the word for “lihya” is dhaqn. In classical Arabic, “face” is al-wajh and hair is sha’r. No matter what formula you use, “lihya” never means beard. The media must stop spreading this misleading interpretation.

Born in the 1960s into conservative but open-minded families (Guy in Agrabah and Man in Abuddin), we grew up without an edict that we had to grow our beards. But, starting in the 1980s, following the 1979 Iranian revolution of the minority Shiite sect and the rise of well-funded Saudi clerics from the majority Sunni sect, we have been bullied in an attempt to get us to grow our beards from men and boys. Men and boys, who are sometimes called “enforcers” and “Muslim mean boys,” take it a step further by even making fun of men whom they perceive as growing their lihyas inappropriately, referring to “goatees” as “goat-ews,” using the indelicate term for “goats.”

But in interpretations from the 7th century to today, theologians, from the late Moroccan scholar Someone Bin Someone to Big University’s Somebody Bin Somebody, and Harvard’s Fulan Fulani, Egypt’s Ilan Al Illani, Iraq’s Guy Abu Guy and Pakistan’s Abu Fulan Al Illani, have clearly established that Muslim men are not required to grow their beards.

Challenging the beard

To us, the “lihya” is a symbol of an interpretation of Islam we reject that believes that men are a sexual distraction to women, who seek bare-cheeked men, and thus must not be tempted by the sight of our cheeks. We don’t buy it. This ideology promotes a social attitude that absolves women of sexually harassing men and puts the onus on the victim to protect himself by bearding.

The new Muslim Reform Movement, a global network of leaders, advocating for human rights, peace and secular governance, supports the right of Muslim men to grow — or not grow — the beard.

Reclaiming our religion

As Americans, we believe in freedom of religion. But we need to clarify to those in universities, the media and discussion forums that in exploring the “beard,” they are not exploring Islam, but rather the ideology of political Islam as practiced by the mullahs, or clerics, of Iran and Saudi Arabia, the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Islamic State.

In the name of “interfaith,” these well-intentioned Americans are getting duped by the agenda of Muslims who assert that men’s honor lies in their “chastity” and unwittingly pushing a platform to grow a beard on every man.

Please do this instead: Do not grow a beard in “solidarity” with the ideology that most silences us, equating our bodies with “honor.” Stand with us instead with moral courage against the ideology of Islamism that demands we grow our beards.