The cultural codes of facial hair

On whether beards get more respect with your peers and how to react to blasphemous videos.

Andrew Henderson / The National
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Dear Ali: When I go without shaving for a few days, my male colleagues look at me differently, in a good way. Am I just imagining this or does facial hair earn more respect here? MA, Abu Dhabi Dear MA: You have touched on a cultural code I would like to call Ali's Razor. But first, let me make it clear that Emiratis do not look down upon clean-shaven men. No one should treat you poorly just because you lather up every day. In fact, I have an expat friend whose wife won't kiss him unless he's clean-shaven, and I certainly don't want to advise a husband to give that up.

But in our culture, hair is viewed as a sign of maturity, because hair generally grows as you grow, it's a good sign. We also relate it to wisdom, because religious figures in all the religions are known for their beards: the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) and also the prophets Moses and Jesus. If I shaved my beard off, my family and friends wouldn't turn against me, but they would probably tease me to let me know of their disapproval, even if it looks good, which I'm sure it does since I'm so handsome. (That said, I've had a beard since I could grow one.)

Our preference for facial hair goes back to Prophet Mohammed, who advised Muslims to keep a beard no longer than a fist from the chin. You might see some men with long beards around town. We call these men muttawas because they are more devoted to religion. You might notice we have a lot of barber shops around town. We all carry a small shaving kit with us in our cars because we like to use our own equipment to protect us from any potential infection.

Again, I want to emphasise that we do not disrespect men without facial hair. Had you asked me this question 20 or 30 years ago, I would have said you might face weirder looks from people who might not appreciate the lack of a beard but this attitude has changed for the better.
Dear Ali: I saw a video on YouTube recently in which a westerner criticised Islam, holding a copy of the Quran while making fun of its content. How should Muslims react to internet videos that criticise and poke fun at our religion? SK, Kolkata, India

Dear SK: I know sometimes when we see such videos our impulse is to let our pride get the better of us and react aggressively. However, to do so would be to commit the same mistake as the person in the video. The first thing we should do is take a step back and look at the source of the blasphemous material. It's not as if these people are heads of state or important figureheads. They just have an ignorant opinion and want to express it. Their dream is that their video will become viral and get millions of hits. So I would suggest we stop clicking on these videos.

There are many haters of Islam, but then again there are many haters of Christianity or Judaism or almost any major world religion. We could fight back, but it seems the truly Muslim thing to do is to ask God to forgive this man. We could also create our own videos showcasing the beautiful values of Islam and correcting misconceptions. Many people opposed to a certain religion have probably never even met someone of that faith. So putting out positive messages and images can't hurt.

Finally, smile, my dear sister, and relax. I'm sure that such videos are not appreciated by true Christians or Jews or anyone who respects other cultures and faiths. May Allah bless us all.

Arabic: Akeed English: Sure Laura: Ali, are you coming to the workshop today? Ali: Yes, inshallah, what about you? Laura: Yes, I'm coming. Ali: Akeed? Laura: Yes, akeed. So next time someone confirms a date or a meeting, simply say, "Akeed" (for sure) and they will come back with, "Yes, akeed, inshallah". Don't you just love inshallah? It's up for everything, everywhere.