A couple of months back whilst studying the jurisprudential discussion surrounding the impermissibility of completely shaving the beard in Sheikh Anṣāri’s Makāsib al-Muḥarramah, I remember going through some of the works of other jurists and contrasting the arguments that they put forward on this issue.
My eye was caught by the work of Ayatullah Syed Muḥammad Reḍa al-Sistānī, Buḥūth Fiqhhiyah, in which one of the chapters was dedicated to this topic. I found his work extremely beneficial and unique. He starts by extensively going through the history of beards in different civilizations and thereafter analyzes the different narrations on this issue. After reaching the conclusion that some of the narrations are complete in terms of chain of narrations as well as indication (dilālah), he then analyzes the argument from the perspective of Sīrah al-Mutasharri’ah (the custom of religious people). Whilst in the works of other jurists, the argument from the perspective of Sīrah had been severely critiqued and did not initially seem like a plausible argument, Syed Muhammad Riḍa goes through two of the most popular formulations of this argument and critiques them, before bringing, what was in my limited research, a novel formulation that he strengthens and adjudicates to be a worthy argument that can prove the impermissibility of completely shaving the beard.
The below is a translation of the specific section on using Sīrah al-Mutasharri’ah from his work. For those not aware of the way this discussion is framed, the general idea is that if religious people qua religious people (i.e., not due to some of their other identities e.g., their tribal or cultural facets) are performing an action in a certain way, and we are certain that this is something that has continuously been passed down, generation to generation, from the time of the infallibles, then we can conclude that the custom of these people emanated from a command from the Prophet (s) or Imams (s), even though we do not have that explicit command in our narrations. This is because the most rational explanation as to why religious people qua religious people would act in a certain way is because they are basing their actions on the commandments of the divine lawgiver. It should be noted that ‘shaving the beard’ in the below discussion refers to completely shaving the beard i.e., a clean shave.
The sixth method: the custom of the religious people
Allāmah al-Balāghī, may Allah elevate his status, says:
“There is no doubt that by observing the affairs of the religious people (mutasharri’īn), from the early days of Islam until today, we know that they consider shaving the beard to be from the forbidden acts in the religion of Islam. None commits this act save the one who follows his desires and passion, and does not adhere to the limits of sharīa’h and does not care about the rebuking of the people of religion.”1
And similar to what he has presented can be found in the words of more than one of the later scholars, such as Syed al-Ustādh [i.e., Ayatullah al-Khūi].2
I say: The argument from the perspective of sīrah (custom of religious people) can be formulated in several ways:
The custom of religious people is based on not shaving the beard and this custom spans from the time of the Prophet (s) and the infallibles (a) until close to our times. Shaving the beard has only become a recent practice and in the past, only a minority of people would shave their beards such as the effeminates and their like. And what has been proven in it’s required place in uṣūl al-fiqh (principles of jurisprudence), is that the custom of religious people that is connected to the era of the infallibles is authoritative (ḥujjah) and can be used to deduce from it, the existence of a religious law.
And the reply to this formulation is:
Firstly, the authoritativeness of the custom of religious people is specific to the case whereby religious people are distinct from the rest of the population in a matter such that it can be said that the only logical explanation for why only they have this peculiarity is because they have received it from the lawmaker (musharri’) even though they differ amongst themselves in their ways, customs and practices.
However, it was mentioned previously that honoring the beard and not shaving it was from the practices of the Arabs, even before Islam, and similarly a number of other communities. Therefore, it is not possible to deduce from the continuity of this practice from the earliest Islamic period until today, that this was necessarily due to a religious command from the Prophet (s). Rather, perhaps it was a continuation of that [pre-Islamic] custom and practice.
Secondly, if it is supposed that it can be attributed to commands from the Prophet (s) and the infallible Imams (a), there is still no way to deduce that the command was a type of obligation (wujūb) and not recommendation (istiḥbāb). This is because, sīrah has a practical nature and is not something verbal that tells us about the ways of its occurrence. How many a practice of the religious people is based on something religiously recommended (mustaḥab) such as the practice of adhān and iqāmah.
In conclusion, the custom of religious people of adhering to something does not indicate religious necessity (wujūb). Rather, it is also compatible with recommendation (istiḥbāb). Therefore, the most that can be deduced in this case from the custom of religious people is the recommendation of maintaining a beard and this is something so apparent that we do not even need to use sīrah to prove it. As for wujūb of maintaining a beard, then sīrah cannot prove it.
The custom of religious people is based on not shaving the beard whilst having the mindset (irtikāz) that this is religiously prohibited. It is possible to deduce religious impermissibility (ḥurmah) from this mindset, for there is no logical explanation for it expect its terminating at the infallibles [i.e., there is no other logical explanation as to why religious people qua religious people have the mindset that shaving the beard is forbidden expect that they must have received this mindset through the commands of the Imams (a)].
And the reply to this formulation is:
The completeness of this formulation depends on ascertaining that the mindset of impermissibility did exist in previous times, until the time of the Imams (a), such that it was based on that which came from them (a), either a saying, or action, or tacit approval. However, with the possibility that this (mindset) is something that came about relatively recently, springing from the edicts of the later jurists, then this mindset has no value.
This formulation does not prove that the mindset of prohibition existed in the minds of the religious people contemporary to the Imams (a)
This is the relied upon one – during the early Islamic period, shaving of the beard was prevalent amongst some other communities and peoples, such as the Persians and Byzantines, and perhaps even the Turks, and others as well, as was discussed in the introduction to this discussion. From amongst these communities and civilizations, a large group of people became Muslims and what is certain is that they also then adhered to maintaining beards, like the Arab Muslims, just as they also circumcised after entering the folds of Islam.
And it seems highly farfetched, that this was merely to conform with the Muslims in their practices and traditions without being something religiously mandatory. For if such was the case, at least some of them would have remained upon their practice of shaving their beards. Rather, even the Muslims would have been influenced by their practice of shaving their beards, just as they [the Muslims] were influenced by the people of those civilizations in other areas such as food, clothing, being extravagant in their lifestyle, and many other matters that have been mentioned by historians.3
We observe that a substantial number of Muslims were not influenced by them. Furthermore, from those who converted to Islam, they did not fall short of adhering to the Islamic dress code in maintaining a beard and not shaving it off, even though it is quite difficult to maintain a beard for someone who is used to shaving. In fact, it is sometimes even substantially difficult. All this emphasizes that the basis for them not shaving their beard was because it was not permissible in Islam to shave the beard and not merely just a custom that had been handed down to the Muslims from the Arabs of the Jāhiliyah period which they only accepted Islamically as a recommendation (istiḥbāb).
And if those who entered Islam from the Persians, Byzantines and their like, had remained upon their tradition of shaving their beards, the books of history would have mentioned this. And if a sizeable number of Muslims had been influenced by the newly converted, the historians would not have neglected mentioning this and we would have seen signs of this throughout the ages, whilst we see no traces of this mentioned – so ponder!
And it is possible to support this by what has been mentioned in historical sources, that when the delegation of Christians came to visit the Prophet (s), the Prophet (s) rebuked them for shaving their beards and lengthening their moustaches. The reason why this has been brought as a support is because it was not appropriate in that setting to rebuke them for something disliked (makrūh) or abandoning a recommended act (mustahabb). Rather, what was appropriate was to rebuke them for something that was prohibited and had a significant degree of importance – so ponder!
And it is also possible to support this by what has mentioned by Allamah al-Majlisī al-Awwal [Muhammad Taqi al-Majlisi] that there have been no reports about the permissibility of shaving the beard from the Prophet (s) or the Imams (a) and if this was something permissible, they would have done it at least once to show its permissibility, as is the case with many of the makrūhāt. Or perhaps they would have given permission to someone to do it whereas what is known from them through tawāttur, rather even from their companions, is habitually trimming the mustache and maintaining the beard.4
However, an observation regarding what he – may Allah sanctify his soul – mentioned is that if shaving the beard was makrūh (detested), then it cannot be compared to the other makrūhāt in that the Imams (a) should have performed them to show that it is permissible. This is because, the beard – as was mentioned previously – had a great significance for the Arabs and it was only the effeminate and their like, who would shave it. How can it therefore be expected for the Imams (a) to have done it, even if for the sake of showing that it was religiously permitted?!
Furthermore, that which he has claimed is not proven, that the Imams (a) would perform some makrūhāt to establish that they are permissible.
As for them not giving permission to anyone to shave their beard, then this is not something that we can say with certainty, for it is possible that they did do so but the reports have not reached us, for this is not something that is impossible based on the accumulation of probabilities.
Abu Dujana is a student of the seminary since 2017 and an avid reader.