‘Pogonophobia’ is a word most of us would be unfamiliar with. It refers to the (oftentimes irrational) fear of beards. It’s an affliction all too common nowadays, depending on where you live of course.
The Fear Is Real
Much of the US suffers from it post-9/11, though there are glorious hipster exceptions such as Seattle, where I was recently, where a man can cross the street with a bushy beard and not draw any stares. However, even some ostensibly Muslim countries seem to have their case of pogonophobia which has yet to recede. For a moderately bearded individual such as myself, this can often be disconcerting.
There was a time, eons ago, when being hirsute was the norm, and the hairless chin was the odd aberration. Having no facial hair would draw questions over one’s masculinity (no offense intended to those unable to grow such fair).
Then came the colonial era, and the image of the clean-shaven Victorian gentleman was imported from Europe to the rest of the world, an image that sticks with stubborn resistance. The traditional bearded look came to be associated with the crude unwashed savages, the natives who didn’t seem to know better.
Of Beards and Being A Muslim
On a personal level, my decision to grow a beard was firstly religiously inspired. I saw the beard as a symbol that was part and parcel of the identity of a Muslim. I didn’t necessarily pour over the fiqh of whether growing a beard is an obligation in the Deen, but I couldn’t think of a good argument not to grow one, except for how people may react.
For centuries, Muslims would dress and present themselves based on their traditions without any inkling of insecurity. Now that Muslims are globally in a far more weakened state, we no longer hold the degree of pride in our distinctive appearance. Refraining from growing a beard to make my look more socially palatable didn’t strike me as a strong enough disincentive.
Of course, with the beard most certainly comes preconceptions and judgments. To expect that not to be the case is living in fantasy land. I faced some concerns about ‘Talibanization’ from family members. Some non-Muslims are especially curious when first meeting you, and it requires a bit of chit chat before their guard can be lowered.
Not all judgments are necessarily pejorative. Many Muslims may give you a measure of deference just for having a beard, as if it gives you a sheen of piety. I like to think that this respect is actually being given to the Sunnah of our Prophet (pbuh) rather than myself as an individual.
On the flipside, there are plenty of fringe benefits of our facial follicles that most people are unaware of. Studies have shown that beards can be associated with dominance and power based on recent social trends.
My all-time favorite though is the classic beard stroke; a casual caress of the beard during moments of quiet reflection may project wisdom, but it feels pretty darn good as well. Hail to the beard!