Cathie Adams, former chairman of the Republican Party of Texas, stated recently in her speech “Radical Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood” that a beard is a sign of a man’s Muslim identity.
In the speech, which is posted online by the Far North Dallas Tea Party, Adams can be heard saying that Grover Norquist, a conservative Republican and founder of Americans for Tax Reform, is showing signs of being Muslim, citing his beard as evidence. Norquist is “trouble with a capital T,” Adams added, “As you can see he has a beard, and he’s showing signs of converting to Islam himself.”
Adams highlights an important stereotype: that having a beard means that you are a Muslim. I am frequently confronting this stereotype because while I am not a Muslim, I do have a beard. As a doctoral candidate who researches the experiences of young Pakistani men in Dublin, Ireland, and Boston, Massachusetts, I am often asked if my beard is a sign of my “Muslimness.” Even my family and friends have wondered if my ever-growing beard is a sign of my conversion to Islam.
A recent article in the Guardian by actor Alex Andreou sums up my experiences of having a beard. Andreou, who grew a beard for an acting job, wrote about an experience in getting on a bus, at which point passengers gave a collective “oh crap” roll of the eyes. One woman even pointed at him, leaned over and said: “Stop it, or I’ll call the terrorist.” Feeling like the “monster under the bed,” Andreou experienced emotions which many people with a “Muslim appearance” deal with regularly.
My beard, like Andreou’s, is not a sign of my Muslim identity, but rather a different identity. For me, it’s a Catholic identity. That’s right, my Catholic identity. In fact, there is nothing wrong with a Catholic or any other Christian man having a beard.
The Bible and other artifacts of Christian history show us the long history of the beard in Christianity. The most clear Biblical passage to condone beards comes from Leviticus (19:27): “You shall not cut the hair on the sides of your heads, neither shall you clip off the edge of your beard.” To cut off another man’s beard, according to Samuel (10:4) is an outrage.
According to Jeremiah (41:5), to shave or pluck one’s own beard was only appropriate during times of mourning. In other passage of holy scripture, Leviticus (21:5) states that “You shall not shave your beard for the dead [a pagan practice] with a baldness on the top, and they shall not shave their beard.” Moreover, Leviticus (19:27) also states “… to all men in general, you shall not make a round cutting of their hair of your head, nor disfigure your beard.”
Jesus’ apostles are also represented frequently as bearded men. One of the most revered figures in Christian history – Saint Paul of Tarsus – also wore his hair long. In Acts (19:12) we learn of Paul’s “head bands,” indicating his long hair which he had to tie back in order to keep in place.
Roughly two hundred years after the death of Jesus, Clement of Alexandra wrote that it is impious “to desecrate the symbol of manhood, hairness.” Writing in 195 AD, Clement also stated “But let the chin have the hair… For an ample beard suffices for men. And if one, too, shave a part of his beard, it must not be made entirely bare, for this is a disgraceful sight.” Even today Christian clergy in Greece, Russia, Romania and other Orthodox communities wear untrimmed beards and hair.
If we were to follow Adams’ theory, we should wonder if Abraham Lincoln, signer of the Emancipation Proclamation and 16th president of the United States, was a “secret Muslim” because he also had a beard. If we applied Adam’s theory to the entire U.S. Civil War era, many more American men would have been Muslim because the beard was a prominent facial feature during this time in American history.
There is nothing wrong with being a Christian and growing a beard. We must continue to work on transcending stereotypes by learning more about our own traditions.