This is the story of a brother who traveled to Russia for higher studies and what faced him next was a severe test of his Iman. He was asked to shave off his beard which he had been growing from an early age and non compliance with that order would lead to him being expelled from the University.
In his own words…..
It was around 10 in the night. I was waiting alone near one of the departure gates of T3 at Delhi Airport. I was feeling the anxiety and excitement that precedes some of the biggest moments of life. I was flying to Russia to finally start my journey as a medical student.
The days before the flight were spent buying winter wear, spices and utensils. I was moving extensively between Allahabad, Lucknow, Kanpur and Delhi. Meeting many relatives and acquaintances. Doing payments and paper work.
Those moments that I spent standing outside the airport, I was out of sync with a lot of what was going on. My mind was numbed by exhaustion. And as it turned out, I also had no clue of what was about to happen in the next one year.
Snowfall welcomed my group as we landed in Moscow. Newly-made friends were giggling at each other upon having landed in “pardes”(foreign land in Urdu). We were going to spend the next 22 hours sitting uncomfortably in a bus that would take us to our destination. The rules mentioned to us before boarding, as much as I can recall were: “Don’t shout, don’t jump and don’t scratch the bus!”. Like, seriously? We were tired, yes. But in no way did we resemble the chimpanzees we were mistaken for. To add to that, throughout the journey we had to bear a never-ending stream of Russian movies without subtitles. It was frustrating to not be able to read whatever we came across of signboards or advertisements. Although, all of us had by now, learnt one Russian word: Dawai – Come on!
Upon reaching the hostel, I was separated from the group. I was allotted a room with two Postgraduate students. Wow! 508 would be the room I would call home for the next one year. If I had to use one word to describe how my room mates initially felt about accommodating one more person with them, it would be ‘pissed’. That feeling changed soon when they realized how awesome I was. Actually they had been told they’d stay in a room for two. Just like my group had been told the bus journey would be half as long as it actually was.
After the initial hi-hello, what one of my room-mates said to me next, made my heart skip a beat and my stomach sink low… “Ye dadhi ka kya karega? Ye hatana padega.” (What are you going to do about your beard? You’ll have to shave it off). No, this wasn’t his command as a final year senior to me. The seniors were all too kind to act bossy or ever ‘rag’ the juniors. He was just making me aware of what would become the main reason I am now writing this.
What sir (as I like to call him) told me that morning, hit me hard. All the concern about what our university and teachers were going to be like, changed to how I was going to request for an exemption.
A lot of people might think that the beard is just an external accessory and having to remove it is a nonissue. Here’s a famous rhetoric that is sometimes thrown around– “Islam me dadhi hai ya dadhi me Islam hai? ” (Is the beard part of your faith, or does it contain your faith?).
I’d like to respond with this: I agree that my whole faith does not revolve around having a beard. There is a plethora of good deeds that my religion expects of me and I may be falling short in a lot of them. But that does not justify having to forsake this particular act that I have committed to. The beard in Islam is obligatory upon the men by consensus and there’s hardly any debate on it. Case Closed!
The hard part is not losing the external appearance. It is the compromise with the internal commitment that is hard.
The fact that I had consciously decided years back not to shorten my beard and wear my identity, made it hard to obey an instruction that would make me hurt myself. On an emotional level, shaving off the beard meant losing a part of my identity and something I had cherished for long.
I felt I should not have had to cease an act of devotion — that was not causing anyone harm or hindrance — just to please a bunch of pseudo-intellectuals. I could not comprehend how I was being pushed to shave-off in spite of citing religious reasons, when freedom of religion is among the most basic of rights in secular nations. “Your religion in your home”, is literally what I was told.
In the midst of all this, while googling articles and laws, I came across a case in the Indian Supreme Court where a similar ruling was pronounced. A student was told to comply with the instruction of his school and shave his beard off even if he had had it for religious reasons. Thankfully the decision was overturned when the student re-appealed. For multiple reasons, I did not approach the court in Russia.
Nevertheless, I still genuinely believed that respectful communication could solve a lot of issues. I didn’t know any better than a school kid. I still don’t. So obviously a chain of verbal and written communication with the administration took place. Nothing came out of all that.
I’ve got one or two weeks before more students pour in and classes begin. I’ll try to make peace and get a written permission in this while. Shaving/trimming the beard will cause me more pain than anything else. Just can’t do it.
Days, weeks and months passed by. All my batch-mates knew my situation. The senior students, though very supportive, made it clear that it was “impossible to stay at this university and not shave” — just as my dean had told me the first time she saw me. The first semester ended.
During the short holiday that followed, I was reminded by a concerned brother that I could change my university. It would be a hassle but my credits would be transferred and I would not have to start all over. To my despair, I found out that this transfer worked only after having completed one whole academic year. I had to hide and survive for another 5 months.
Things started getting a bit warmer when rumors of fines of around 5000 Rupees being levied for going against the “rules” started to spread around. There was a constant fear of not being allowed in classes and worst case scenario being expelled for keeping the beard.
Allaah تعالى made it easy. Everyone I knew helped and supported me. I contacted a lot of people over the internet as well. Friends and Facebook-friends gave me all the advice they could.
My batch-mates would do a security check of the surroundings before I stepped out of the hostel or university. I couldn’t cross paths with anyone from the Dean’s office. I was known for my ‘mask’ that I had started wearing to hide my beard. Most of my teachers were understanding though. One of them would joke about the mask calling it my ‘uniform’.
On 9th September 2015, I moved to Kyrgyzstan. A new place with new people, and a lot to look forward to. By Allaah’s mercy I very easily got the transfer which a lot of students have found difficult in the past. The last one year taught me a few things but it didn’t make me bitter. I don’t hold a grudge now that I am in a happy space.
But did I do the most foolish thing ever and make a mountain out of a molehill? Do I have any guarantee that I won’t be forced to shave under some other future circumstance? Didn’t my family and friends undergo unnecessary mental stress because I was being adamant?
I really don’t know. Let’s just say I was too weak to inflict pain on myself. And the most important people in my life (starting with my mother) stood by me in the pertinacity. I can’t thank my family and friends enough who put up with my rants all the time.
While in Russia, I remember having a nightmare once, that the dean was inspecting all the rooms of the hostel and I had to somehow hide my beard from her. I woke up scared, and funnily enough, found myself burying my face in the pillow to hide. It took a moment to come back to sense and realize I wasn’t being hunted. I felt relieved. That’s the relief I now feel here walhamdulillah.
At the end of the day it is the help of Allah that takes us past any ordeal. When Allah says to trust him, he will take care of our affairs just as the bird that goes out in the morning hungry not knowing if it will find food and it comes back in the evening with an empty stomach by the mercy and blessings of Allah.
If you hold on to the rope of Allah, Allah WILL make a way out of it for you no matter how absurd or impossible it sounds because for Allah there are no restraints and all that it takes is a command from him and it happens. Sincere dua and complete belief in the power of Allah will help you overcome any difficulty by the permission of Allah.
All I say to my brothers and sisters who are struggling with their beards and their hijabs. Strive on! By Allah, the happiness and rewards at the end of the tunnel promised to us by Allah is worth it!
For those who haven’t joined in yet, what are you waiting for. The Sunnah The Better!
– Essam Fasih
(Guest Writer for Ink of Faith)
Beard in Islam
- Ibn Umar narrates that Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم has said: “Oppose the Mushrikeen (idolaters) and lengthen the beard and shorten the moustache.” [Bukhari]
- Abu Hurairah narrates that the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه و سلم has said: “Trim the moustache and lengthen the beard (let the beard hang). Oppose the fire worshippers.” [Muslim]
- Ibn Abbas reports from Aisha that the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه و سلم has cursed such men who imitate women and such women who imitate men. In one narration it stated that such people should be thrown out of their houses. [Bukhari]
- Many scholars have stated that shaving the beard is changing the creation of Allah. Allah mentions in the Holy Quran the promise of Shaitan, “Indeed I will order them (Mankind) to change the nature created by Allah” (4:119). In effect, the one who shaves his beard is obeying Shaitan.
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