The Long and Short of Growing a Beard

By Moulana Muhammad ibn Moulana Haroon Abassommar
Posted: 27 Rajab 1424, 12 September 2004


Q.) I have heard different opinions about beard. Can you elaborate its real status and importance in Islam? Is shaving the beard a minor or a major sin? Or was it just a cultural issue that no more needs any discussion as so many neo-intellectuals in Islam shave? Please elaborate. [Nasar]

A.) In all schools of Islamic Law, it is considered wajib (mandatory) for a Muslim male to grow a beard. It is also wajib to let the beard grow a fist length. It is prohibited to cut or shave the beard. He who does so is a fasiq (sinner) and to shorten it less than a fist length is makrooh tahrimi (near haram). This is the view of the majority of scholars. (see Wujoob I'efaaul-lihyah of Shaykhul Hadith, Ml. Muhammad Zakariyyah and the footnotes of ex-grand Mufti of Saudia - Shaykh ibn Baaz). The opinions of the fours schools are as follows.

Hanafia: Allaamah ibnul Humaam (RA) has mentioned that nobody has permitted the trimming of the beard lesser than a fist length. (Fathul Qadeer; Shaami; Fataawa Mahmoodiyyah vol.5 pgs.93, 105, 108)

Shafi'eah: Allaamah Nawawi (RA) states, 'The correct view (according to the Shafi'ee Madhab) is to leave the beard to grow and it is makrooh to trim the beard whatsoever.' (al-Majmoo vol.1 pg.290; also see Sharh Saheeh Muslim vol.2 pg.143)

Allaamah al-Iraaqi (RA) states in his book entitled, 'Tarhu Tathreeb' (vol.2 pg.8): '. that the best is to leave the beard totally and not to cut anything from it at all, and this is the view of Imam al-Shafi'ee and his students.'

There are quotations from two great scholars of the Shaafi'ee Madhab that do not permit the trimming of the beard at all, not even beyond one fist.

Malikiah: Imam Abul-Waleed al-Baji al-Maliki (RA) states: It has been narrated from Imam Malik (RA) that he permitted the slight trimming of those hair that are overgrown and are outside the general growth of the rest of the hair, and that Imam Malik (RA) was asked about a beard that had grown extremely long, he replied that it should be trimmed a bit.'

Imaam Abul-Waalid adds, 'And it has been narrated from Abdullah ibn Umar and Abu Huraira (Radhiallaahu Anhum) that they trimmed beyond one fist.' Hence, this is what was meant by Imam Malik. (refer al-Muntaqa vol.7 pg.266)

Imaam al-Qurtubi al-Maaliki (RA) has also mentioned something similar to this in his commentary of Sahih Muslim. (see al-Mufhim vol.1 pg.513)

Hanbaliah: Imaam Samiri (RA) - who is an expert Hanbali faqih (jurist) - states:

And he should not trim any bit from the beard except if he wishes to do so beyond the extent of one fist. However, it will be best if he doesn't do so.' (al-Mustaw'ib vol.1 pg.260 - see Hukm al-Lihyah fil Madhaahibil arba'ah; Abdul-Aziz al-Nu'maani pg.50)

Another Hanbali scholar, Imam Shamsuddeen al-Maqdisi (RA) states, 'It is forbidden to shave the beard and it is not makrooh to trim what is in excess of a fist's length because this is supported by the practice of Sayyiduna Abdullah ibn Umar, Radi-Allahu anhu,.' (Kitaabul Furoo vol.1 pg.130; Ibid)

Similar verdicts are found in other sources of Hanbali Fiqh such as al-Mubdi of ibn Muflih, al-Insaaf of al-Maawardi; Kashful Qinaa, etc.(Hukm al-lihyah pg.50)

It is clear from all these quotations that it is permissible to trim the beard only beyond a fist length. No one has explicitly mentioned that it is permissible to trim the beard lesser than a fist length. In fact, according to some of these quotations, it will be better not to trim the beard at all.

Proof of Wujoob

There are various ahadith of Rasulullah Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam in which the keeping and lengthening of the beard have been ordered. We will just mention a few that prove the above claim.

1) Imam Bukhari (Rahimahullaah) reports on the authority of Imam Nafi' [ra] who narrates from Sayyiduna Abdullah ibn Umar, Radi-Allahu anhu, that Rasulullah Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam said, 'Oppose the Mushrikeen (polytheists); lengthen the beards and trim the moustaches.'

Imam Nafi' (RA) further states, 'And ibn Umar, Radi-Allahu anhu, during Hajj or Umrah used to hold on to his beard with his fist and cut off whatever was in excess of that.' (Bukhari vol.2 pg.875; Kitab-ul-Libas no.5892)

Note: This hadith has also been narrated by Sayyiduna Abu Huraira [Radhiallaahu anhu] and he is also reported to have trimmed his beard beyond one fist.

The verdict of the growing of the beard being wajib (obligatory) is deduced from this hadith. That is because any explicit command of Rasulullah Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam will be regarded as wajib, if there is no apparent, clear reason/proof which states that that particular command is for istihbab (preference). This is an established fact in usool-ul-fiqh (principles of jurisprudence). Rasulullah Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam has commanded the Ummah to lengthen the beards. Allah Ta'ala has mentioned in the noble Qur'an, 'Those who disobey his (Rasulullah - Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam) should beware of a trial or painful punishment that will afflict them.' (Surah Noor 63)

Allamah Nawawi (RA) has explained that this hadith has been reported with various wordings:

The word, 'Waffiroo' is mentioned in Sahih Bukhari (Hadith5892). In another narration of Bukhari. The words 'Ufoo' is mentioned (Sahih Bukhari Hadith5893). The word 'Arkhoo' is mentioned in Sahih Muslim (Hadith602). The word 'Awfoo' is mentioned in Sahih Bukhari (Hadith5892) and Sahih Muslim (Hadith601). All these words imply the same meaning and that is to lengthen and to increase the growth of the beard. (Fathul Bari vol.10 pg.429, 431; Sharh al-Nawawi ala Saheeh Muslim vol.2 pg.143)

Hafiz ibn Jareer al-Tabari (ra) has stated that some Ulama have totally disliked that one trim his beard at all, while others have permitted trimming beyond a fist length. (Fathul Bari vol.10 pg.430)

2) When the two messengers of Kisra (Khusru - the Persian King) came to Rasulullah Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, they had long moustaches and shaved beards. Rasulullah [sallallaahu alayhi wasallam turned his face away in disgust and asked them, 'Who commanded you to do this (despicable deed)?' They replied, 'Our Lord, (i.e. King)' At this, Rasulullah Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam mentioned, 'But my Lord has commanded me to lengthen my beard and shorten my moustache.' (Tabaqaat ibn Sa'ad vol.1 pg.147; Taareekh Tabari vol.2 pg.267-266; Bidaaya wan Nihaaya)

3) In this narration, Rasulullah Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam has stated that to lengthen the beard is in fact the command of Allah Ta'ala Himself.

Furthermore, the Wujoob is further emphasized by the fact that Rasulullah Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam did practice this in his entire life. Know well that Rasulullah Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam did not trim his beard in his life. In fact, the beard of Rasulullah Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam was dense and almost covered his blessed chest. (Shamaail Tirmidhi Hadith8; Dalaail al-Nubuwwah of Imaam Bayhaqi vol.1 pg.235)

Actions of the Sahaba [radhiallaahu anhum] The narrator (Ibn Umar, Radi-Allahu anhu, himself trimmed his beard beyond a fist's length, this implies that the wujoob of keeping a beard is up to a fist length only (this will be explained shortly).

Furthermore, this (trimming beyond a fist length) has also been reported from Sayyiduna Abu Huraira, Radi-Allahu anhu, and other Tabi'een. (Tamheed of ibn Abdul-Barr al-Muntaqaa and Fathul Baari vol.10 pg.430). Bear in mind that Sayyiduna Abu Huraira [radhiallaahu anhu] has also narrated a hadith wherein we are commanded to lengthen the beards. (Sahih Muslim Hadith602)

Moreover, for the benefit of your knowledge, the sayings and actions of the Sahaba (Radhiallaahu Anhum) are a Hujjah (proof). This is also an established principle in usool-ul-fiqh.

A Misconception

Some individuals acknowledge that it is wajib to keep a beard, but then argue that there is no mention of any specific length in the hadith. Hence, if one has a bit of hair on his face - irrespective of the length - it would be permissible, because this is also called a beard.

They also argue that to keep a beard up to a fist's length is the act of a Sahaabi [- Sayyiduna Abdullah ibn Umar - radhiallaahu anhu - and Sayyiduna Abu Hurayra - Radhiallaahu anhu] and it is not the command of Rasulullah Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam. Hence, the one who chooses not to do so will not be contravening any command of Rasulullah Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam.

This is a result of a lack of understanding of the actual wording of the hadith. First, in the hadith we have quoted, Rasulullah [sallallahu alayhi wasallam] has commanded us to lengthen the beard and not just to 'keep' a beard. The difference between the two is quite clear. If one just 'keeps' a shortened beard, he will not be fulfilling the command of Rasulullah Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam.

Therefore, the one who intentionally keeps a trimmed beard will not be fulfilling the command of lengthening the beard. The lengthening is wajib, not just having any sort of a beard.

Second, the hadith is general and does not specify any length of the beard. The words, 'u'ful lluhaa / waffiroo-lluhaa' in the hadith command us to lengthen the beards, which will (literally) mean, 'it is wajib to let the beard grow' up to whatever length it reaches. If we did not have the narration of Nafi' that Sayyiduna Abdullah ibn Umar, Radi-Allahu anhu, did trim his beard, then this would have been the case.

However, the narrator himself (Sayyiduna Abdullah ibn Umar and Sayyiduna Abu Hurayra - radhiallaahu anhuma) as well as other Tabi'een (Radhiallaahu Anhum) did trim their beards beyond one fist's length, the Ulama have deduced that this means that the wujoob (obligation) of lengthening is only up to a fist's length. Neither can we say that it is not permissible to trim it at all - resulting in the accusation of the Sahaba (Radhiallaahu Anhum) of contradicting the explicit command of Rasulullah Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam and especially the narrator, (Sayyiduna Abdullah ibn Umar and sayyiduna Abu Huraira - Radhiallaahu Anhuma). Nor can one claim the permissibility of trimming it to leave less than a fist's length, for there is no proof for this in the Shari'ah.

Hence, if a person is to trim his beard beyond a fist's length it would be permissible and if he leaves shorter than a fist's length, he will be going against an act which is wajib and this is not permissible, and if he chooses not to trim it at all, this will also be permissible.

The practice of the Sahabi [radhiallaahu anhu] here is used for 'permissibility' of cutting up to a fist's length, because - being the narrator - this is what he understood to be the intended meaning of Rasulullah Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam. In other words, the Sahabi [radhiallaahu anhu] had understood that the command of Rasulullah Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam of lengthening the beard only applies up to a fist's length and not more. That is why they (the Sahaba concerned - Sayyiduna Abdullah ibn Umar and Sayyiduna Abu Hurayra radhiallaahu anhuma) used to trim what was in excess of one fist. It is not wajib to follow them in doing so. What is wajib in this situation is to let it grow, and the action of the Sahabi is used only to explain that wajib and restrict going against that.

Severity of the Sin

One should ponder over the narration that we have quoted concerning the two messengers of the Persian King. How Rasulullah Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam turned his blessed face away from them in disgust. Remember these were disbelievers. Imagine if Rasulullah [sallallahu alayhi wasallam] turns his face away from a Muslim on the day of Qiyamat because he did not have a proper beard! Imagine the plight of that person, Allah forbid.

Furthermore, as for the act of clean-shaving, by doing so, one is actually imitating the appearance of women. Rasulullah Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam has cursed those males who aspire to resemble the females and vice versa. (Sahih Bukhari)

After all, what is it that stops us from at least adopting the outer features of Rasulullah Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam? Why is it so difficult to make our faces resemble in some way the blessed face of our beloved Nabi Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam?

There is an Arabic couplet that says: 'And resemble them if you cannot be identical. Verily the resemblance of the noble ones is also a form of success.'

And Allah Ta'ala Knows Best