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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 35 August 18, 2018

A Beard is Definitely a Matter of Identity!

Thursday 16 August 2018, by Humra Quraishi


Last week’s incident in Haryana’s Gurgaon, of a teenaged Muslim boy, Jaffaruddin, subjected to not just communal onslaught but also forcibly pushed into a saloon and his beard shaved off, left me shaken. After all, this incident cannot be viewed in isolation. This entire summer the Muslim population of Gurgaon was apprehensive and worried of offering the Jumma namaaz/Friday prayers. What, with Right-wing goons all set to hound them. In fact, in a couple of places they were openly attacked. As Muslims had confided: it gets difficult to walk down on the streets of this suburb, if you happen to look a Musalmaan! Bearded Muslims with skull caps on, could be thrashed and abused by the RSS-wallahs ...that’s why Muslims are walking around in small groups and seldom alone. There is fear amongst the minority community and this fear is growing by the day.

Yes, communal polarisation is worsening to such an extent that one has to think a hundred times before venturing out with one’s identity intact. And why on earth should I be scared to show my identity? I have every right to look a Muslim but, then, I could be attacked by Right-wing goons prowling around with perhaps the sole objective to hound a Muslim.

Till about a couple of years back, this hounding was limited to communal taunts. I recall one of the humiliating experiences I went through when the manager of a department store in Gurgaon threw away the green-coloured carry bag clutched in my hands, saying words along the strain that green is the colour of Muslims and Pakistanis so it’s dirty! ‘Chee, chee!’

Mind you, if one were to greet on the streets of this suburb, with the Muslim greeting—‘As-salaam-Alaikum’ or ‘Walai-Kum-Salam’ (may peace be on you), pedestrians will stop and stare at you ...un—moving focus on you. Perhaps, I’m a sari-clad Muslim woman so spared. Not sure of the treatment meted out to me, if I was a bearded Muslim man with a skull cap on.

If one were to focus on the so-called beard issue, though in Islam there is no compulsion at all, but, yes it’s definitely a matter of one’s choice and also of one’s Muslim identity.

Few years back when a Muslim school boy of Madhya Pradesh moved court because his school authorities came in the way of his growing a beard, his family hired one of New Delhi’s top most lawyers to fight his case. Somewhat surprised, I asked several young Muslim men why make beard such an issue; fighting a legal battle for a beard? I was told what might appear as a non-issue, is an issue for them: “Why should the authorities decide on our behalf; allow or not allow a beard! It is about the freedom or option to grow a beard or whiskers or a moustache or side-locks! How would you feel if you’re told you cannot plait your hair but chop them off! Why are only Muslim men targeted on this rather harmless thing as sporting a beard! Sikhs also grow beards! Why these double standards!”

And when, with the Supreme Court ruling, two petitioners, who happened to be personnel from the Indian Air Force, had lost their case of keeping their beards, a majority of Muslims commented it was question of identity for them. They argued: “If men from other minority groups are allowed to keep their identity symbols, like the Sikhs are allowed to grow beards and wear the turbans, then why not an Indian Muslim? Though it’s true that in Islam there is no compulsion to grow a beard but a large number of Muslim men have begun doing so as part of their identity!”

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