By Mufti Zameelur Rahman

Dr. Ṣalāḥ Abu l-Ḥājj, a Ḥanafī researcher based in Jordan, has written a paper on the ruling of keeping a beard in the Ḥanafī madhhab, called Ḥukm Qaṣṣ al-Liḥyah wa Ḥalqihā ‘inda l-Ḥanafiyyah (The Ruling of Trimming and Shaving the Beard According to the Ḥanafīs).[1] He concludes that shaving or trimming the beard less than a fist-length is in principle merely undesirable,[2] and it will not be ḥarām (impermissible) or sinful on condition that one does not do so for purposes of imitating non-Muslims, and nor is a beardless face something regarded as exclusive to non-Muslims or women in society. The purpose of the following critique is to elucidate the correct position of the Ḥanafī madhhab based on the statements of its prominent early jurists, and to demonstrate that the major arguments on which Dr. Ṣalāḥ bases this conclusion are, upon inspection, of very little substance. It is not the aim of this critique to address all contentious points in his paper.

Dr. Ṣalāḥ Abu l-Ḥājj believes the opinion he cites to be the correct view of the Ḥanafī madhhab, and regards the view of it being in principle impermissible to shave the beard or trim it less than a fist-length as an erroneous attribution to the madhhab.[3] Moreover, he decries what he perceives as undue strictness (tashaddud) from certain quarters. Amongst the reasons for writing specifically on the Ḥanafī madhhab, Dr. Ṣalāḥ writes: “To come out of this strictness that is prevalent in the lands of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and South Africa, as well as masjids in Europe and America that are overseen by residents of these lands, on account of the prevalence of the ruling of the obligation of the beard and the prohibition of trimming it less than a handful, having been misled by the outward of the ḥadīths and some texts giving this impression, despite the presence of juristic texts (‘ibārāt fiqhiyyah) in the majority of the relied-upon books explicitly speaking of a handful that is recommended (masnūn) and not obligatory (wājib).”[4]

A further reason he mentions is: “Refuting the grounds on which the respected blessed shaykh, Muḥammad Zakariyyā al-Kāndhlewī, based his treatise on the obligation of letting the beard grow, since this treatise has had a great impact on the prevalence of such strictness from some Ḥanafīs; and this is a realisation of the famous proverb: ‘the slip of a scholar is [tantamount to] the slip of the entire world.’”[5]

While Dr. Ṣalāḥ touches on a number of secondary issues related to the discussion, as evident from the first quotation above, his primary basis for arguing that it is merely recommended to grow a beard in the Ḥanafī madhhab is that some texts refer to a fist-length beard as the “recommended length” (al-qadr al-masnūn). The earliest and most authoritative jurist to do so is the author of al-Hidāyah, Imām al-Marghīnānī. We will address this issue first to demonstrate that it is in fact Dr. Ṣalāḥ that has been “misled” by such texts; before looking at the explicit pronouncements of Ḥanafī jurists on the subject, followed by a critique of some further points made by Dr. Ṣalāḥ in his paper.

“The Recommended Length” (al-Qadr al-Masnūn)

Dr. Ṣalāḥ states: “The senior jurists in most of the books of the Ḥanafīs suffice with stating ‘the recommended length’ about the beard…Amongst the explicit texts on the recommended nature of a handful [beard] are [the following]: al-Marghīnānī (d. 593 H) said [in al-Hidāyah]: ‘One ought to not [oil the beard] in order to make the beard longer when it is of the recommended length, which is a handful (qubḍah).’”[6]

Dr. Ṣalāḥ then quotes Raḍī al-Dīn al-Sarakhsī (d. 571 H) stating: “The sunnah in it is a handful[7], which is that a man takes hold of his beard, and whatever of it is in excess of a handful, he cuts it, as Muḥammad mentioned in Kitāb al-Ᾱthār from Imām [Abū Ḥanīfah] and said: We adopt this.” He then quotes al-Zayla‘ī (d. 743 H), Ibn Nujaym (d. 970 H) and al-Sunnāmī (d. ca. 725 H) mentioning something similar.[8]

He uses these texts to argue that to grow the beard is in principle merely recommended, not obligatory.

However, when these jurists mention the “recommended length” as being a “handful” (qubḍah), they mean “trimming the beard to a fist-length is recommended.” They do not mean, as Dr. Ṣalāḥ misunderstood, that to keep the beard up to this length is merely recommended and not obligatory. Hence, the recommendation is not the length per se, but the act of trimming it to that length. Thus, some authoritative texts explicitly phrase this ruling as it being sunnah to trim the beard to this length (see below). Hence, there is no contradiction between referring to a “handful” as the “recommended length” and it being prohibited to trim it to less than that length.

The basis of the “recommended length” is a narration from ‘Abdullāh ibn ‘Umar (Allāh be pleased with him) stating that he trimmed his beard to a fist-length. Imām Muḥammad quotes this in his Kitāb al-Ᾱthār as follows: “Abū Ḥanīfah reported to us from al-Haytham from Ibn ‘Umar (may Allāh be pleased with him) that he would take hold of his beard and then trim whatever was beneath the handful. Muḥammad said: We adopt this, and it is the position of Abū Ḥanīfah.”[9]

It is understood from this that Imām Abū Ḥanīfah’s position was that it is desirable to trim whatever is in excess of a handful. In commenting on the passage describing the “recommended length” in al-Hidāyah, Amīr al-Itqānī (d. 758 H) explains: “The basis of this is what Abū Dāwūd transmitted in his Sunan with his chain to Marwān: ‘I saw Ibn ‘Umar taking hold of his beard and cutting whatever is in excess of a handful’…Muḥammad mentioned at the end of Kitāb al-Athār: ‘Abū Ḥanīfah reported to us from al-Haytham from Ibn ‘Umar that he would take hold of his beard and then trim whatever was beneath the handful.’” (Ghāyat al-Bayān)

Another commentator of al-Hidāyah, Qiwām al-Dīn al-Kākī (d. 749 H), explains: “The length of the beard is to this amount (i.e. handful) according to us, and whatever is in excess of that must be cut.” (Mi‘rāj al-Dirāyah)

These commentaries clearly show that what is meant by “the recommended length” is the recommendation of trimming the beard to this length.

Dr. Salāḥ quotes the passage of Raḍī al-Dīn al-Sarakhsī via Radd al-Muḥtār, as follows: “The sunnah in it is a handful, which is that a man takes hold of his beard, and whatever of it is in excess of a handful, he cuts it…” However, Ibn ‘Ᾱbidīn in Radd al-Muḥtār does not include the phrase: “the sunnah in it is a handful” as part of the quote from Raḍī al-Dīn al-Sarakhsī. The phrase “the sunnah in it is a handful” is from al-Durr al-Mukhtār, the text Ibn ‘Ᾱbidīn is commenting on. Ibn ‘Ᾱbidīn quotes this text, and then explains the method and basis of this ruling from Raḍī al-Dīn al-Sarakhsī, who said: “which is that a man takes hold of his beard, and whatever of it is in excess of a handful, he cuts it, as Muḥammad mentioned in Kitāb al-Ᾱthār from Imām [Abū Ḥanīfah] and said: ‘We adopt this.’”[10] Hence, the first part of the quote of Raḍī al-Dīn al-Sarakhsī is in fact missing from Ibn ‘Ᾱbidīn’s citation. This is significant because the full quote of Raḍī al-Dīn al-Sarakhsī in fact begins with: “trimming is sunnah in it (i.e. the beard),” which he then explains as trimming it to a fist-length.[11],[12]

Hence, the original quote from Raḍī al-Dīn al-Sarakhsī makes it clear that what is meant by the “recommendation” or “sunnah” is the act of trimming the beard to a fist-length, and not keeping the beard to that length.

In short, what is being referred to by the “recommended length” is it being sunnah to trim the beard to that length based on the practice of Ibn ‘Umar which was adopted for practice by the early Ḥanafī imāms. It does not mean that to grow it or keep it to that length is merely recommended.

The fact that there is no contradiction between referring to a fist-length as the sunnah length and the prohibition of cutting it less than that length is also evident from one of the works Dr. Ṣalāḥ cited, Niṣāb al-Iḥtisāb, by al-Sunnāmī. In this work, al-Sunnāmī poses the question: “Is it permissible to shave the beard?” In response, he writes: “It is not permissible. It states in Jināyāt of al-Hidāyah and Karāhiyyah of al-Tajnīs wa l-Mazīd [by the author of al-Hidāyah]: The Messenger of Allāh (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) said: ‘Clip the moustaches closely and let the beards grow as they are’; meaning, clip the moustaches and leave the beards as they are, and do not shave them and do not reduce them from the sunnah length which is a handful.”[13]

Al-Sunnāmī is here quoting the author of al-Hidāyah, al-Marghīnānī. The same passage is quoted from al-Marghīnānī’s Tajnīs in al-Fatāwā al-Tatārkhāniyyah.[14] Hence, the author of al-Hidāyah quotes the ḥadīth on the topic, stating that it means that the beard is not to be shaved or reduced to less than the “recommended length”, which is a fist-length. Since al-Sunnāmī quotes this passage to prove that shaving the beard is “impermissible”, it is clear that he understood it to also mean that it is impermissible to cut the beard to less than this length as al-Marghīnānī describes both in the same manner. Hence, there is no contradiction between mentioning a “sunnah length” (to which the beard is to be trimmed) and the obligation of letting the beard grow to that length.

Perhaps the clearest discussion showing that the ruling of letting the beard grow to a fist-length is separate from the ruling of trimming it to a fist-length (which is sunnah) is that of al-Mawṣilī (d. 683 H) in his al-Ikhtiyār. He states: “Muḥammad reported from Abū Ḥanīfah that letting the beard grow (i‘fā’ al-liḥā) means to leave it until it becomes dense and plentiful; and the shortening of it is sunnah, which is that a man takes hold of his beard and whatever is in excess of his handful, he trims it.”[15]

This discussion shows very clearly that what the jurists mean by the “recommended length” or “the sunnah length” is the recommendation of trimming the beard when it is in excess of a handful. They do not mean letting the beard grow to that point is merely recommended. In fact, a statement of al-Marghīnānī (who was the first to mention “the recommended length”) from al-Tajnīs suggests that to grow the beard to a fist-length is obligatory, as was understood by al-Sunnāmī.

The Ḥanafī Position on the Beard

The Ḥanafī jurists understand the act of leaving the beard to grow up to a fist-length as being obligatory, and regard it to be recommended to trim it once it has exceeded that length. Al-Kākī understood the report from al-Tirmidhī that mentions the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) would trim his beard as referring to a handful.[16] This is supported by the practice of Ibn ‘Umar and Abū Hurayrah (Allāh be pleased with them) that they would trim their beards to a fist-length. In fact, al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī (21 – 110 H) is reported to have made a general comment about the Companions: “They would consider it allowed to trim whatever of the beard is in excess of a handful.”[17] The implication of this statement is that they would not allow trimming it to less than that.

“It is not Permissible for a Man to Cut his Beard”

The most authoritative jurist (whose opinion has reached us) to explicitly mention the ruling of impermissibility for trimming the beard is Abū Bakr Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad al-Iskāf (d. 333 H), a jurist from Balkh who was a contemporary of Imām al-Ṭaḥāwī. ‘Abd al-Qādir al-Qurashī (d. 775 H) refers to him as: “a great imām of immense stature.”[18] Al-Qurashī also mentions a story demonstrating his greatness, in which Abū Bakr al-Iskāf derives a ruling that he then mentions to the great Ḥanafī Qāḍī of Shām, Abū Khāzim (amongst the teachers of al-Ṭaḥāwī), to which Abū Khāzim responds: “I was not aware of this!”[19] Abū Bakr al-Iskāf studied under the Balkhī jurist, Muḥammad ibn Salamah (d. 278 H), a student of Abū Sulaymān al-Jūzajānī and Shaddād ibn Ḥakīm, who were amongst the direct students of the disciples of Imām Abū Ḥanīfah. Abū Bakr al-Iskāf was the primary teacher of the famous jurist, Faqīh Abū Ja‘far al-Hinduwānī (d. 362 H)[20], and his opinions are quoted widely in later Ḥanafī works.

Abū Bakr al-Iskāf (d. 333 H) states explicitly, “It is not permissible for a man to cut his beard,” as reported by Faqīh Abu l-Layth in his Nawāzil.[21] In response to this, Dr. Ṣalāḥ argues that the Nawāzil is a work of fatāwā and Ḥanafī scholars have advised against relying on such fatāwā when they oppose the main sources of the madhhab.[22] However, in this case, there is no substantial basis to argue that this ruling is opposed to the main sources of the madhhab. Dr. Ṣalāḥ’s primary argument that a fist-length is referred to as “the recommended length” has been addressed above, showing that it does not contradict the ruling of impermissibility for cutting it less than this length.

In fact, since there is no explicit mention of the ruling of cutting the beard (when it is less than a fist-length) that has reached us, the statement of Abū Bakr al-Iskāf (and the subsequent jurists who quote him) will be the most authoritative text in the madhhab. Ibn ‘Ᾱbidīn quotes al-Ḥāwī al-Qudsī and Fatāwa Qāḍī Khān to show that when there is no transmission from Imām Abū Ḥanīfah or his disciples on an issue, it is necessary to adopt the view of the major early jurists.[23]

Abū Bakr al-Iskāf’s position was approved by several major jurists after him. Al-Sunnāmī in Niṣab al-Iḥtisāb quotes approvingly from Abū Bakr al-Iskāf that “it is not permissible for a man to cut his beard.”[24] In al-Multaqaṭ fi l-Fatāwā al-Ḥanafiyya, Nāṣir al-Dīn al-Samarqandī (d. 556 H), also mentions the same ruling: “It is not permissible for a man to cut his beard”[25], although he does not source it to Abū Bakr al-Iskāf. ‘Alā al-Dīn al-Ḥaṣkafī quotes the same ruling from Najm al-Dīn al-Zāhidī (d. 658 H) with the words: “it is ḥarām for a man to cut his beard.”[26] Hence, the clear and authoritative ruling of Abū Bakr al-Iskāf was quoted by other major jurists in their works.

Shaving the Beard is Mutilation and Altering Allāh’s Creation

Moreover, the author of al-Hidāyah describes the practice of shaving the beard for a man as “mutilation” (muthlah), comparing it to a woman shaving her head. Al-‘Aynī in his commentary notes: “mutilation is ḥarām.”[27] Al-Kāsānī (d. 587 H) also notes that shaving the beard for a man is mutilation.[28] Similarly, a tenth century jurist, Sinān al-Dīn al-Amāsī, explains that “shaving the beard is from altering the creation of Allāh.”[29]

There is thus a clear consistency that emerges from the writings of early Ḥanafī jurists, demonstrating that the ruling of the school is the impermissibility to shave the beard or trim it to less than a fist-length. Given this background, it is not difficult to appreciate why a person belonging to the Ḥanafī madhhab would regard it to be impermissible to cut the beard below a fist-length. It is not for being overly-strict, but based on a genuine understanding of what the Ḥanafī jurists have explained.

“None have Permitted Trimming it when it is Less than a Handful”

In his commentary on al-Hidāyah, one of the major verifiers of the madhhab, Ibn al-Humām (d. 861 H), states: “As for taking from it when it is less than that [i.e. a handful], as some of the people from the Maghreb (western north Africa) and effeminate men do, no one has permitted it.”[30] Al-Shurunbulālī (d. 1069 H) quotes this in his marginalia to Durar al-Ḥukkām as: “Taking from it when it is less than a handful, as some of the people from the Maghreb and effeminate men do, no one has permitted it.”[31] It is also quoted by Ibn Nujaym, al-Ṭaḥṭāwī, al-Ḥaṣkafī and others.

Dr. Ṣalāḥ believes this passage has been misunderstood, and Ibn al-Humām only means that cutting it below this length is impermissible because it is a practice that at that time was exclusive to “effeminate men.”[32] However, Ibn al-Humām’s statement cannot be understood in this manner, as he is not mentioning the practice of effeminate men as the cause of the prohibition, but rather as an example of some people who are guilty of this prohibition. Hence, he also mentions “some people from the Maghreb”, and there is no prohibition of imitating people from a particular geographical location if the practice was in principle permissible. Hence, this is clearly a flawed interpretation of Ibn al-Humām’s passage.

“One Who Repeats this Forbidden Act will become a Fāsiq”

Based on Ibn al-Humām’s clear statement, Ibn ‘Ᾱbidīn (d. 1252 H) explains, “taking from the beard when it is less than a handful has not been permitted by anyone…and thus, when one repeats this forbidden act, he will become a fāsiq.”[33] Ibn ‘Ᾱbidīn mentions this while explaining the oversight in a fatwā by a jurist who lived in Damascus some hundred years before him called Ḥāmid ibn ‘Alī al-‘Imādī (d. 1171 H). The latter was asked: “Will the testimony of a person whose beard is shaved be accepted or not?” He replied: “I have not seen an explicit report on the issue, along with limited time and many engagements. If shaving the beard infringes on gentlemanly conduct (murū’ah) [in any given region], it will prevent acceptance [of his testimony]; and otherwise, it will not.” Ibn ‘Ᾱbidīn explains that this overlooks the fact that repeatedly committing a minor sin amounts to fisq and shaving the beard is a minor sin. Note, al-‘Imādī does not explicitly state that he believes shaving the beard is in principle permissible. It might be that he overlooked the fact that a persistent minor sin amounts to fisq as Ibn ‘Ᾱbidīn pointed out. Dr. Ṣalāḥ, however, feels al-‘Imādī does indicate shaving the beard is in principle permissible[34], and he favours this indication over Ibn ‘Ᾱbidīn’s clear explanation.

The Position of al-Sarakhsī

From the above, it becomes overwhelmingly clear that the correct Ḥanafī position on the beard is that it is impermissible to shave it or trim it when less than a fist-length.

Another argument that Dr. Ṣalāḥ presents is that the author of al-Mabsūṭ, ‘Allāmah al-Sarakhsī (d. ca. 490 H), says: “The sunnah is to clip the moustache and let the beard grow.”[35] However, al-Sarakhsī was not explaining the ruling of keeping a beard, but merely clarifying an issue in the context of a different ruling.

The point al-Sarakhsī is making in this passage is that the moustache together with the beard constitute “one entity”, and hence shaving the moustache on its own while in the state of iḥrām will not necessitate a blood-sacrifice (dam) as compensation since it is not one whole entity on its own. It is in this context that he says: “the most correct position is that it [i.e. shaving the moustache] does not necessitate a blood-sacrifice because it is a section from the sections of the beard; and it, together with the beard, is ‘one entity,’ although the sunnah is to clip the moustache and let the beard grow.”[36]

Hence, al-Sarakhsī is explaining that although in terms of violating the iḥrām, the moustache and beard are considered “one entity”, the correct practice in respect to the two is not the same: for the beard it is to let it grow and for the moustache it is to keep it short. The term “sunnah” here is therefore used in a more general sense of “right practice”, rather than the juristic ruling of “sunnah.” (There are other examples of jurists referring to a practice that is known to be obligatory as “sunnah.”) In this way, al-Sarakhsī’s comment is in line with the statements of all the other major jurists (Abū Bakr al-Iskāf, Nāṣir al-Dīn al-Samarqandī, al-Kāsānī, al-Marghīnānī, al-Sunnāmī, al-Zāhidī and Ibn al-Humām) who have been quoted earlier.

A Mundane Matter Related to External Appearance?

A final point that will be briefly touched upon here in relation to the Ḥanafī madhhab is Dr. Ṣalāḥ’s argument that the beard falls under mundane acts (‘ādāt) and external appearance (hay’āt), and the norm for Prophetic commands in these matters is that they fall within the category of etiquettes and recommendations, not obligations.[37] However, it is not the case that just because a command does not relate to rituals, but to mundane acts and external appearance, that it is automatically a matter of etiquette and not obligation. There are issues related to such acts that everyone would agree to be a matter of obligation; for example, not wearing gold (for men) and not wearing silk (for men).[38] Thus, we resort to the jurists of the school to give us the correct understanding of the madhhab in relation to any given command on such matters, whether it is one of recommendation or obligation.

Other Madhhabs

Before closing, I will briefly address the Shāfi‘ī and Mālikī schools since Dr. Ṣalāḥ has a section on the position of these two madhhabs in his paper.[39] The purpose is to show that, contrary to what he then concludes, it is not farfetched to assert that there is broad agreement across the schools on the impermissibly of shaving the beard or trimming it to less than a fist-length.

The Shāfi‘ī Madhhab[40]

It is generally argued that the official Shāfi‘ī position is that it is merely recommended to keep a beard, so to shave or trim it is undesirable, but not prohibited. This, it is argued, is the position of al-Rāfi‘ī and al-Nawawī, the two foremost refiners of the school. Dr. Ṣalāḥ presents this understanding, quoting the conclusions of contemporary Shāfi‘ī researcher, Dr. Amjad Rashīd.[41]

However, the major authorities of the Shāfi‘ī school in its first few centuries have clearly stated that to shave the beard is impermissible. This includes the founder of the madhhab, al-Shāfi‘ī[42], Abū ‘Abdillāh al-Ḥalīmī (d. 403 H)[43], al-Qaffāl al-Shāshī (d. 365 H)[44], al-Māwardī (d. 450 H)[45] and ‘Abd al-Wāḥid al-Rūyānī (d. 502 H)[46].

Imām al-Ghazālī (d. 505 H) may also be included in this list. In his celebrated Iḥyā’ ‘Ulūm al-Dīn, he mentions ten characteristics related to the beard that he regards as reprehensible (makrūh). In the context of his discussion, it is evident that al-Ghazālī uses the term “makrūh” linguistically and not in in its technical sense of the juristic ruling “makrūh tanzīhī”.[47] He describes these ten characteristics as “reprehensible” and explains that “some are more reprehensible than others.”[48] Thus, he describes one of these characteristics, “dyeing the beard black,” as being “prohibited” (manhī ‘anh).[49] Al-Nawawī explains that the correct Shāfi‘ī position is that dyeing the beard black is ḥarām (and not merely makrūh tanzīhī).[50] Thus, it appears al-Ghazālī was using the term “reprehensible” as anything disapproved, whether makrūh tanzīhī or ḥarām. He states while discussing one of these characteristics: “As for plucking [the beard] at the beginning of its growth, imitating a beardless youth, it is from the great abominations (al-munkarāt al-kibār).”[51] It is evident that something that is merely undesirable would not be described as a “great abomination (munkar).”

Al-Rāfi‘ī and al-Nawawī (in al-Rawḍah) quote these ten reprehensible characteristics from al-Ghazālī[52], but since they only summarised his list of “reprehensible characteristics”, most later Shāfi‘ī scholars understood al-Rāfi‘ī and al-Nawawī as having described the ruling of trimming and shaving the beard as makrūh tanzīhī, and not ḥarām. There are, however, very good reasons to believe that al-Nawawī considered shaving the beard to be ḥarām and not just makrūh tanzīhī. In his al-Majmū‘, al-Nawawī has a more detailed discussion on the ten reprehensible characteristics. The first of these, as mentioned above, is dyeing the beard black, while the fourth he describes as: “plucking it at the start of its appearance and lessening it with a razor, in preference of looking like a beardless youth and remaining young and having a nice face – this characteristic is from the vilest of them.” Al-Nawawī then explicitly states that dyeing the beard black is ḥarām.[53] Hence, this is a very clear indication that shaving is ḥarām according to him, since the characteristic he describes as being “from the vilest of them” (i.e. “lessening it with a razor”) is most likely in his view worse than dyeing the beard black, which is ḥarām. Similarly, al-Nawawī leans towards another of these ten characteristics, plucking the white hairs, as being ḥarām[54], which is thus another strong indication that the characteristic he regards as being from the “vilest” is ḥarām according to him.

Major Shāfi‘ī authorities after al-Nawawī said/argued that the view of shaving being ḥarām is the stronger or superior view, like Ibn al-Rif‘ah (d. 710 H)[55], al-Adhra‘ī (d. 783 H)[56] and al-Isnawī (d. 772 H)[57]. Ibn Ḥajar al-Haytamī in fact said the majority of the later Shāfi‘ī scholars adopted the view that shaving the beard is ḥarām.[58] Thus, there are very good reasons to believe that shaving the beard in the Shāfi‘ī madhhab is ḥarām and not makrūh as some regard to be its official position.

The Mālikī Madhhab

Dr. Ṣalāḥ cites the somewhat detailed discussions on the beard by al-‘Adawī (d. 1189 H) and Nafrāwī (d. 1126 H) in their commentaries on Ibn Abī Zayd al-Qayrawānī’s Risālah, and concludes that although shaving is ḥarām in the Mālikī madhhab, there are two opinions on trimming: one that it may be trimmed to a fist-length, and the other that trimming is permissible as long as it falls within the normal length that people keep it in society.[59] However, this is not what al-‘Adawī or al-Nafrāwī said.

Ibn Abī Zayd al-Qayrawānī (d. 386 H) mentions in his famous al-Risālah: “The Prophet commanded that the beard be left to grow; made plentiful and not trimmed. Mālik said: ‘There is no problem with taking from its length when it is very long.’”

Both al-‘Adawī and al-Nafrāwī explain “very long” as “when it exceeds what is normal for the generality of people” (kharaja ‘an al-mu‘tād li ghālib al-nās)[60]. Al-Nafrāwī also explains that this is what is understood from the way al-Qayrawānī has worded his statement. He states: “The apparent statement of the author [indicates] that it is only permissible to take [from the beard] what exceeds that which is normal.”[61] By “normal”, they do not mean the normal length people keep their beards in any given society. They are not describing a social “norm” but a biological “norm”. As can be seen in al-Qayrawānī’s text, the default rule is for the beard to be left to grow and “not trimmed”. When this is done, there is a natural point at which the beard will stop growing. Moreover, there is a “normal” length beyond which most peoples’ beards do not grow. However, some peoples’ beards do grow even beyond this normal length. It is the beards of such individuals, that appear abnormal and unnatural, that is described as “very long”, and is explained as what “exceeds what is normal for the generality of people”. Hence, Imām Mālik said it will be unproblematic for a person to cut his beard when it becomes unnaturally long. Al-Nafrāwī explains that “unproblematic” here in fact means “recommended.”[62]

Al-Nafrāwī explains al-Qayrawānī’s statement: “The Prophet commanded that the beard be left to grow; made plentiful and not trimmed” as follows: “What comes to the mind from his statement: ‘commanded’ is obligation (wujūb); and it is so, because shaving it is ḥarām when it belongs to a man, and as for trimming, when it is not long, then it is the same [i.e. ḥarām ]. As for when it is very long, then he has alluded to its ruling.”[63] Al-‘Adawī similarly comments: “This [command] is for obligation when mutilation (muthlah) results from trimming, and for recommendation when it does not result in mutilation and is not very long.” Then under the statement “when it is very long”, he comments: “that is, not if it is not long or is a little long.”[64] Hence, al-‘Adawī describes three lengths: very long, long and not long. He then explains the ruling of trimming at these three different lengths. His full discussion, when scrutinised, gives a clear indication that trimming less than a fist-length is not permissible. A brief explanation of this can be found in the endnote.[65]

Statements of Consensus

Dr. Ṣalāḥ accepts that the apparent understanding of Ibn al-Humām’s passage quoted earlier is that it is forbidden by consensus to trim the beard to less than a fist-length. He however counters this apparent understanding as follows: “This understanding is extremely farfetched because the relied-upon position according to the Shāfi‘īs is non-obligation of a handful, and likewise in one of two views according to the Mālikīs, and it contradicts what is well-known in the books of the Ḥanafīs, stating that a handful is recommended, and not a handful that is obligatory, while based on this understanding [of Ibn al-Humām’s passage], a handful would become obligatory…and so this understanding is not acceptable.”[66] However, it can be appreciated from the discussion above that there is, in fact, a general agreement that shaving the beard and cutting it short is not permissible. Hence, the outward understanding of Ibn al-Humām’s passage is not in any way “unacceptable.”

There are moreover statements from several other scholars declaring consensus on the prohibition of shaving the beard. Ibn Ḥazm (d. 456 H) said: “They have reached consensus that shaving the entire beard is mutilation and impermissible.”[67] Imām Abu l-Ḥasan Ibn al-Qaṭṭān al-Fāsī (d, 628 H) said: “They have reached consensus that shaving the beard is mutilation and not permissible.”[68] Al-Nafrāwī (d. 1126 H) states: “What the army in our time is upon, of commanding the attendants to shave their beards and not their moustaches, there is no doubt in it being ḥarām according to all imāms.”[69] ‘Alī Maḥfūẓ (d. 1361 H), a recent scholar of Egypt, states: “The four madhhabs are in agreement on the obligation of making the beard plentiful and the prohibition of shaving it.”[70]


There is more that can be critiqued in Dr. Ṣalāḥ’s lengthy paper. However, in order to not become side-tracked or make the discussion overly lengthy, the critique was limited to the most substantive points in his paper. We can conclude that Dr. Ṣalāḥ Abu l-Ḥājj’s criticism of the scholars of the subcontinent as being unduly strict on the issue of the beard is an unfair criticism. (Please note that in the detailed discussion above, not a single scholar from the subcontinent of recent times was quoted.) His claim that they have been misled by some texts of the Ḥanafī jurists is also unfounded. In fact, what emerges upon a more critical inspection is that Dr. Ṣalāḥ is unjustifiably advocating a “liberal” position without any substantive academic grounds.


[1] The paper can be downloaded from the following link:

[2] Ḥukm Qaṣṣ al-Liḥyah wa Ḥalqihā ‘inda l-Ḥanafiyyah, p. 12

[3] ibid. p. 8

[4] ibid.

[5] ibid.

[6] ibid. p. 49

[7] We will explain below that the phrase, “the sunnah in it is a handful,” has been misattributed to Raḍī al-Dīn al-Sarakhsī, and his actual words are: “trimming [the beard] is sunnah”, which he then explains as a handful.

[8] ibid. p. 49-50

[9] Kitāb al-Ᾱthār, Dār al-Nawādir, p. 766-7

[10] Radd al-Muḥtār, Dār ‘Ᾱlam al-Kutub, 9:583

[11] al-Fatāwā al-Hindiyyah, Dār al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 5:438

[12] Hence, the full quote from Raḍī al-Dīn al-Sarakhsī is as follows: “Trimming is sunnah in it (i.e. the beard), which is that a man takes hold of his beard, and whatever of it is in excess of a handful, he cuts it, as Muḥammad mentioned in Kitāb al-Ᾱthār from Imām [Abū Ḥanīfah] and said: ‘We adopt this.’” (al-Fatāwā al-Hindiyyah, Dār al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 5:438)

[13] Niṣāb al-Iḥtisāb, p. 121-2

[14] al-Fatāwā al-Tatārkhāniyyah, Maktabah Zakariyyā, 18:211

[15] al-Ikhtiyār, Dār al-Risālah al-‘Ᾱlamiyyah, 4:151

[16] al-Bināyah, 4:72

[17] Muṣannaf Ibn Abī Shaybah, Shirkah Dārul Qiblah, 13:112

[18] al-Jawāhir al-Muḍīyyah, 3:76

[19] al-Jawāhir al-Muḍīyyah, 4:15-6

[20] al-Jawāhir al-Muḍīyyah, 3:76

[21] Dr. Ṣalāḥ believes the “Abū Bakr” mentioned in Nawāzil here is not Abū Bakr al-Iskāf but a slightly later jurist by the name of Abū Bakr Muḥammad ibn al-Faḍl al-Kumārī al-Bukhārī (d. 381 H). (Ḥukm Qaṣṣ al-Liḥyah wa Ḥalqihā ‘inda l-Ḥanafiyyah, p. 52) However, it is evident from a quick perusal of the Nawāzil that Faqīh Abu l-Layth is citing Abū Bakr al-Iskāf. In many places, he explicitly identifies the person he is quoting from when he mentions “Abū Bakr said” or “Abū Bakr was asked” as “al-Iskāf,” and in the introduction, he mentions Abū Bakr al-Iskāf amongst the major jurists, but not Abū Bakr Muḥammad ibn al-Faḍl al-Kumārī. While he does infrequently cite from the latter in al-Nawāzil, he invariably refers to him as “Muḥammad ibn al-Faḍl” or “Muḥammad ibn al-Faḍl al-Bukhārī”, and not “Abū Bakr.”

[22] Ḥukm Qaṣṣ al-Liḥyah wa Ḥalqihā ‘inda l-Ḥanafiyyah, p. 55

[23] Sharḥ ‘Uqūd Rasm al-Muftī, Maktabat al-Bushrā, p. 52-3

[24] Niṣab al-Iḥtisāb, p. 143

[25] al-Multaqaṭ, Dār al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, p. 102

[26] al-Durr al-Mukhtar with Radd al-Muḥtār, Dar ‘Ᾱlam al-Kutub, 9:583

[27] al-Bināyah, 4:274

[28] Badā‘i al-Ṣanā‘i’, Dār al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 3:101

[29] Tabyīn al-Maḥārim, p. 262

[30] Fatḥ al-Qadīr, 2:352

[31] Durar al-Ḥukkām, 1:208

[32] Ḥukm Qaṣṣ al-Liḥyah wa Ḥalqihā ‘inda l-Ḥanafiyyah, p. 52

[33] Tanqīḥ al-Fatāwā al-Ḥāmidiyyah, Qadīmī Kutub Khānah, 1:589

[34] Ḥukm Qaṣṣ al-Liḥyah wa Ḥalqihā ‘inda l-Ḥanafiyyah, p. 49

[35] al-Mabsūṭ, 4:74

[36] ibid.

[37] Ḥukm Qaṣṣ al-Liḥyah wa Ḥalqihā ‘inda l-Ḥanafiyyah, p. 9-11

[38] A further example of this in the Ḥanafī madhhab is to delay clipping the nails or removing pubic hair for a period of more than forty days. According to a ḥadīth in Ṣaḥiḥ Muslim, Anas (Allāh be pleased with him) mentioned that a maximum of forty days was stipulated [by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him)] for clipping the nails and removing pubic hairs. (Fatḥ al-Mulhim, 2:506) Ḥanafī jurists treated this as an obligation, and not merely a recommendation. Hence, al-Zāhidī quotes from three jurists, Shams al-A’immah al-Ḥalwānī (d. 448 H), Qāḍī ‘Abd al-Jabbār and ‘Alā’ al-Dīn (Muḥammad ibn Maḥmūd) al-Tarjumānī (d. 645 H), that “there is no excuse” for delaying clipping the nails and removing pubic hair “beyond forty days, and one will be deserving of punishment [for this].” (al-Qunyah, p. 175) The same is quoted by al-Quhistānī from al-Zāhidī with the words: “the one who exceeds forty [days] is sinful (āthim).” (Ḥāshiyat al-Ṭaḥṭāwī ‘āla Marāqī al-Falāḥ, p. 524) Qāḍī Khān (d. 592 H) states in his Fatāwā that to “excessively” delay clipping the nails is “makrūh” (al-Fatāwā al-Hindiyyah, 5:327), which judging by the above means makrūh taḥrīmī. Hence, these are characteristics of the fiṭrah related to external appearance that were deemed to be obligatory by Ḥanafī jurists, and not merely recommended.

[39] Ḥukm Qaṣṣ al-Liḥyah wa Ḥalqihā ‘inda l-Ḥanafiyyah, p. 45-8

[40] The discussion on the Shāfi‘ī position is based on a detailed explanation by ‘Abdullāh Ramaḍān Mūsā in al-Ijmā‘ ‘alā Taḥrīm Ḥalq al-Liḥyah (al-Dār al-Nūrāniyyah, p. 63-94)

[41] Ḥukm Qaṣṣ al-Liḥyah wa Ḥalqihā ‘inda l-Ḥanafiyyah, p. 46-7

[42] al-Umm, Dār al-Wafā’, 7:203

[43] al-I‘lām bi Fawā’id ‘Umdat al-Aḥkām, Dār al-‘Ᾱṣimah, 1:322

[44] Ḥawāshī al-Shirwānī wa Ibn l-Qāsim al-‘Abbādī ‘alā Tuḥfat al-Muḥtāj, Dār Ṣādir, 9:376-7

[45] al-Hāwī al-Kabīr, 13:426

[46] Baḥr al-Madhhab, 13:158

[47] He uses the term “makrūh” following the author of Qūt al-Qulūb, Abū Ṭālib al-Makkī, who was a famous ṣūfī but not a jurist (unlike al-Ghazālī). Al-Makkī was the first to describe these “ten reprehensible characteristics.”

[48] Iḥyā’ ‘Ulūm al-Dīn, Dārul Minhāj, 1:526

[49] ibid. 1:527

[50] al-Majmū‘ Sharḥ al-Muhadhdhab, 1:345

[51] Iḥyā’ ‘Ulūm al-Dīn, Dār al-Minhāj, 1:532

[52] Rawḍat al-Ṭālibīn, Dār ‘Ᾱlam al-Kutub, 2:503; al-Muhimmāt fī Sharḥ al-Rawḍah wa l-Rāfi‘ī, 9:55

[53] al-Majmū‘ Sharḥ al-Muhadhdhab, 1:343-5

[54] ibid. 1:344

[55] Ḥawāshī al-Shirwānī wa Ibn l-Qāsim al-‘Abbādī ‘alā Tuḥfat al-Muḥtāj, Dār Sādir, 9:376-7

[56] ibid.

[57] al-Muhimmāt fī Sharḥ al-Rawḍah wa l-Rāfi‘ī, Dār Ibn Ḥazm, 9:56

[58] Tuḥfat al-Muḥtāj, 9:178

[59] Ḥukm Qaṣṣ al-Liḥyah wa Ḥalqihā ‘inda l-Ḥanafiyyah, p. 47

[60] Kifāyat al-Ṭalib al-Rabbānī, 4:331; al-Fawākih Dawānī, 2:497

[61] ibid.

[62] ibid.

[63] ibid.

[64] Kifāyat al-Ṭalib al-Rabbānī, 4:331

[65] Al-‘Adawī explains that when the beard is “very long,” trimming is “no problem,” as Imām Mālik stated, since this is in order to bring it back to a normal length. When it is “not long,” he states trimming amounts to “mutilation”, and is therefore not permissible. But when it is just “long,” then trimming is undesirable (khilāf al-awlā) but not impermissible. By “long,” al-‘Adawī has in mind a length that is more than a fist-length. This is clear from the subsequent discussion, as he discusses a disagreement in the madhhab over how much should be cut when the beard is “very long”. The dominant view is that it should be trimmed until the appearance returns to normal, and another view is that it is trimmed to a fist-length. Al-‘Adawī explains that the latter view entails that the disagreement would not be limited to the situation that the beard is “very long”. (Kifāyat al-Ṭalib al-Rabbānī, 4:332) That is, it will also apply to the situation that it is just “long.” This proves that “long” according to al-‘Adawī describes a length that is more than a fist-length. Hence, a beard that is less than a fist-length would not be described as “long” according to al-‘Adawī, but as “not long”; and since trimming a beard that is “not long” is impermissible, it follows that trimming a beard less than a fist-length would be impermissible according to al-‘Adawī’s explanation.

[66] Ḥukm Qaṣṣ al-Liḥyah wa Ḥalqihā ‘inda l-Ḥanafiyyah, p. 52

[67] Marātib al-Ijmā‘, p. 157

[68] al-Iqnā‘ fī Masā’il al-Ijmā‘, 2:299

[69] al-Fawākih al-Dawānī, 2:495

[70] al-Ibdā‘ ‘ālā Maḍārr al-Ibtidā‘, p. 384