'Show me your beard and I’ll tell you who you are'


Whether they’re long, trimmed or dyed, worn for religious reasons or simply as fashion, in the Arab world, the beard often says a lot about the person wearing it. So in order to understand what each beard means, our Observers explain what different styles of beards represent in their countries.
 
You can also tell us how beards are worn where you live by sending photos and descriptions to observers@france24.com.

“Long, untrimmed beards used to be the hallmark of leftists. Now they’re worn by Islamists”

Saïd Djabelkhir is an Islamic researcher. He lives in Boufarik, 30 kilometres from Algiers, Algeria.
 
In the 1960s and 70s in Algeria, the beard was mainly worn by far-left sympathisers. It was often long and untrimmed. At the end of the 1970s, with the advent of Islamist ideology, more and more men started to wear one as well because the Prophet Mohammad wore one, and they wanted to do the same as him. On this issue, the Ulama (Muslim legal scholars) are divided. Some say wearing a beard is not a religious obligation, arguing that the Prophet wore it simply because it was the norm at the time.

Some religious texts also recommend shaving only the moustache. This has been interpreted in many different ways, the most common of which suggests that this was to distinguish Muslims from Jews at the time. Among the Muslim Brotherhood, which has a branch in Algeria, the beard must be short and trimmed.
 
Moustaches were very popular in Algeria until the 1980s. They have been disappearing slowly ever since president Chadli Bendjedid [in power between 1983 and 1992] shaved his off. At first, his choice came as a surprise and was mocked by some people because in Algeria, there’s an old saying that a man who doesn’t wear a moustache is a cuckold. But slowly, others started to imitate him: first his entourage, then some other important men, academics, intellectuals…
 
Today, the beard is fashionable, particularly among young men. They let it grow for a few days, shave it off and let it grow again. It’s not about religion; it’s just about aesthetics.
 

“When I go out with my friends, we bet on who’s hiding behind what beard”

Selim Ben Cheikh teaches plastic arts in Tunis, Tunisia.
 
Right now, the beard is very popular among young people who generally come from the upper classes, are educated and are involved in various causes (human rights, women’s rights, etc). Some of them have been contaminated by the hipster phenomenon. They stand out like a sore thumb with their big, full beard and their fashionable threads.
 
Photo posted on the Facebook page of Ayoub Jaouadi, a Tunisian far-left activist.
 
During Ben Ali’s rule [Tunisia’s president from 1987 to 2011], the presence or absence of a beard was often an indicator of that person’s social standing. Ben Ali himself, for example, shaved every day, as did most academics and doctors. On the other hand, the beard was already very common among religious circles.
 
We know that a beard is a code. It has a sociological meaning. It tells you who you’re dealing with before you even start a conversation. When I go out with my friends, we have fun by taking bets on who’s going to hide behind what beard.
 

“On the streets of Cairo, a type of goatee called the ‘Douglas’ is in fashion”

Ayman Ashraf is a teacher in Cairo.
 
In Egypt, beard styles vary according to religious affiliation. Salafists, for whom the beard is a must, wear very long beards, often without a moustache. Some of them dye it with henna [Editor’s note: the colour ranges from dark red to orange] in honour of the Prophet Mohamed.

Within the Muslim Brotherhood, it’s more flexible – everyone is free to have or not have a beard. Those who do have one take a lot of care. Often it is trimmed to perfection since it is supposed to showcase the face. Even if it’s religious above all, it’s also a sign of elegance.
 
Mohammed Morsi, former Egyptian President, who belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood.
 
Members of the Coptic clergy also wear very long beards but with a moustache.

Of course the beard is not confined to religious people. In civil society, numerous people have taken to sporting all types of beards. Right now, on the streets of Cairo, what’s fashionable is a type of goatee called the ‘Douglas’ because for us, it reminds us of American films.
 
A Coptic priest.

“Among young Saudis, the beard all depends on the mood at the time”

Mohammed Alsaeedi lives in Qatif in Saudi Arabia.
 
Among the Wahhabis [editor’s note: Wahhabism is a rigorous branch of Sunni Islam that forms the basis of the official state ideology of Saudi Arabia], the tradition was to let the beard grow because it’s a symbol of faith and respect for the Prophet. Among our political leaders, this often takes the form of a goatee with a moustache. But sometimes they just simply wear a long beard.
 
An untrimmed beard, popular in Gulf nations. Photo posted on Flickr.
 
Within the minority Shiite community, of which I’m part of, the beard is a synonym for respect. But it’s mostly older believers and clergy members who wear it. As for me, my friends and many young Saudis, it depends on the mood at the time. I can just as easily have a fine and closely-trimmed goatee – which is very fashionable – as have a clean-shaven face.
 
Mohammad Alsaeedi, a Saudi, has opted for a trimmed goatee.
 
Saudi Arabia's King wears a moustache and trimmed beard. 

“Everyone here has a beard, so it’s hard to tell people apart”

Ali Fakhry is a Lebanese human rights activist. He lives in Beirut.
 
In Lebanon, especially in large cities, beards are very fashionable now. Everyone wears them, so it’s sometimes hard to tell the person’s religious conviction.

This confusion actually led to a sad incident recently. A few days ago, the Lebanese rapper Hussein Charafeddine, also known as Double A the Preacherman, was arrested by police officers who confused him with a suicide bomber – this took place a day after a terrorist attack. His only crime was his bushy beard.
 
The rapper Double A after being freed. Photo posted on his Twitter page.
 
During the 1980s-1990s, the beard was worn almost exclusively by religious people. There are still differences between the types of beards, of course. Salafists wear it very long and without a moustache.
 
An Egyptian Salafist wearing a beard without a mustache.

“Young, fashionable men wear the ‘Frenchie’ beard”

Awab Alvi is a dentist in Karachi.
 
There are no hard and fast rules on beards in Pakistan but we can nonetheless separate them into three types. First are beards worn by religious people. Its length varies but it shouldn’t be too short. For example, beards that look like they are just three or four days old are unacceptable. Then, there are the small goatees, where the wearer is treading the middle line between Islamic norms and Western fashion. Finally, there are the beards you find on hip young people who live in large cities, notably the ‘Frenchie’ beard, which is a very closely trimmed goatee. The name’s origin remains a mystery.
 
A man wearing a long, trimmed beard in northern Pakistan. Photo posted on Flickr. 
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