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Dyeing the hair

Another aspect of beautification relates to dyeing the gray hair of the head or the beard. It was reported that the Jews and Christians refrained from dying the hair, regarding such beautification and adornment as contrary to piety and devotion, and not befitting rabbis, priests, and ascetics. The Prophet (saw) forbade Muslims to imitate these people or follow their ways, in order that Muslims might develop their own distinctive and independent characteristics in appearance and behaviour.

Al-Bukhari, on the authority of Abu Hurairah, reported the Messenger of Allah (saw) as saying: “The Jews and Christians do not dye their hair, so be different from them.” This is, however, not a command but only a recommendation, as is evident from the actions of the sahabah, such as Abu Bakr and Umar, who used to dye their hair, while others, such as Ali, Ubay ibn Ka’ab, and Anas did not.

The question now remains as to what type of dye is to be used. Should its color be black or can there be other colors? Or should black be avoided? If a man is of a very advanced age, with white hair and beard, it would hardly be appropriate for him to use black dye. On the day of the conquest of Makkah, Abu Bakr brought his aged father, Abu Quhafah, carrying him until he had seated him in front of the Prophet (saw). On seeing Abu Quhafah’s snow-white hair, the Prophet (saw) said: “Change this, but avoid black.” (Fath al-Bari).

However, if a man is not of such advanced age or feebleness as Abu Quhafah then was, there is no harm in his using black dye. In this regard al-Zuhri said: “We dyed our hair black when the face looked young, but discard it when the face became wrinkled and the teeth decayed.” (Fath al-Bari).

Some of the early Muslims, including some sahabah such as Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas, Uqbah ibn Amr, al-Hassan, al-Hussain, Jarir, and others permitted the use of black dye. Some scholars, on the other hand, do not consider the use of black hair dye as permissible except during time of war, when the enemy might be impressed by the fact that all the soldiers of the Muslim army look young. Abu Dharr narrated the hadith: “The best thing with which to dye gray hair is henna and katm.” (Fath al-Bari).

Henna makes the hair red, while katm, a plant from Yemen, colors it black tinged with red. Said Anas: “Abu Bakr dyed his hair with henna and katm, and Umar dyed it with henna only.”

Letting the Beard grow

The growing of beards is also related to our topic. Al-Bukhari, on the authority of Ibn Umar, reported the Prophet (saw) as saying: “Be different from the polytheists (mushrikeen): Let the beard grow and trim the moustache.”

The purpose here, as the hadith states, is to be different from the polytheists, who, in the particular instance cited, were Zoroastrians, the worshippers of fire, whose practice was either to clip or shave their beards. The Prophet’s command to be different from them was intended to train the Muslims in developing an independent personality, distinct in its inner reality as well as in outward appearance, in substance as well as in form. At the same time, shaving the beard is an affront to the masculine nature, as it is an attempt to resemble women, while the beard is an integral part of masculinity and a distinctive feature of the male sex.

However, letting the beard grow does not mean letting it grow wild or so long that it becomes a nuisance. One should certainly trim it in both length and breadth. This has been recommended in a hadith reported by Al-Tirmidhi; moreover, the Muslims of the first generations did so. Said Ayyad: “It is makrooh to shave the beard or to drastically cut or shorten it, but it is mustahabb (commendable) to remove something from its length and breadth if it grows big.”

Abu Shamah voiced the complaint that “Some people have started shaving their beards, and that is step further than the Zoroastrians, who used only to trim them.” (Fath al-Bari). In my view it is regrettable that at the present time the majority of Muslims shave their beards in imitation of the foreign elements who have occupied their lands. It is an unfortunate fact that the conquered always imitate their conquerors. Today’s Muslims have ignored the Prophet’s command that they be different from non-believers and avoid imitating them. Indeed, anyone who “imitates a people is one of them.” (Abu Daud)

 (To be continued)

by Prof. Dr. Yusuf Al-Qardhawi