Why the Muslim Beard Bodes Trouble

While Egyptians instinctively understand how fealty to the Muslim beard evinces fealty, or at least acceptance, to all those other things Muhammad commanded, even in fuzzy Western op-eds the connection sometimes peeks out. Consider the following excerpt from a recent New York Times piece titled “Behold the Mighty Beard, a Badge of Piety and Religious Belonging”:

[A]ll over the Muslim world, the full beard has come to connote piety and spiritual fervor. It is such a powerful cultural signifier, in fact, that it inspires non-Muslims, too. ... Of course, the beard is only a sign of righteousness. It is no guarantor, as Mr. Zulfiqar [a Muslim interviewee] reminds us: “I recall one gentleman who came back from a trip to Pakistan and remarked to me, ‘I learned one thing: the longer the beard, the bigger the crook.’ His anticipation was people with big beards would be really honest, but he kept meeting people lying to him.” [emphasis mine]

The italicized portion speaks for itself. Whereas the Muslim beard represents piety, some people, mostly Westerners, are shocked to find that those who wear it are often “crooks” and “liars.” In Islam, however, outer signs of religiosity on the one hand, and corruption and deceit on the other, are compatible. After all, the same source — Muhammad, as recorded in the hadith — that tells Muslims to grow a beard also advocates deception and all sorts of other practices antithetical to Western notions of piety.

The hijab, or headscarf, which cloaks Muslim women, also on Muhammad’s command, produces the same symbiosis. Tawfik Hamid, a former aspiring jihadist and acquaintance of al-Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri, accurately observes that “the proliferation of the hijab is strongly correlated with increased terrorism. ... Terrorism became much more frequent in such societies as Indonesia, Egypt, Algeria, and the UK after the hijab became prevalent among Muslim women living in those communities.”

The question is simple: Why do some Muslim men wear the prescribed beard and why do some Muslim women wear the prescribed hijab? Most Muslims would say they do so because Muhammad commanded them to in the hadith.

Yet if such Muslims meticulously follow the minor, “outer” things of Islam simply because their prophet made a few utterances concerning them in the hadith, logically speaking, does that not indicate that they also follow, or at least accept as legitimate, the major, “inner” themes Muhammad constantly emphasized in the hadith — such as enmity for and deceit of the infidel, and, when capable, perpetual jihad?