Saturday, August 30, 2014

Reclaiming the Beard on Behalf of Christianity

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, Mass., 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.


For those of my readers who are Orthodox, beards are always present. Our clergy usually have beards as do some of our laity. It has pretty much always been this way (not including that one time in Russia). It was part of Christian culture to have a beard. If you look at icons of our saints most men are sporting beards (with some notable exceptions). We are accustomed to seeing beards on Christians because the earliest Christians had beards.

For my non-Orthodox readers, Christians have always worn beards (except that one time in Russia). I know that you aren't use to the sight of beards on men. It's ok. I know that beards are coming back into fashion (or perhaps falling out? I don't really keep up) so it's going to be a little more normal to see beards on men than a few years ago. But just know that in the West there was this cultural phenomenon where beards were not ok for some reason, so they were done away with. Clergy as well as laity are usually clean shaven. This gave rise to a fear of all things bearded back when the war on terror started; I remember my brother telling me a story of how a priest in Florida was mistaken as a terrorist and beaten.

I wish I could say that beards are just one of the many things that Muslims stole from Eastern Christians (like prostrating for prayers, praying at certain times, chanting, facing a certain way whilst praying, etc.) But truth be told that wearing a beard is part of the overall culture of the area where Christianity and Islam both grew it's roots. I mean obviously Christians did it first as we were around before the Muslims were, but it's part of the culture. That culture became part of Christianity and also Islam.

Wearing a beard does not make one a Christian or a Muslim, it just means the man has good sense. That shouldn't hinder Christians from wearing them as we have always done (except for that one time in Russia).
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