I’m a Muslim with a beard. What’s so scary about that?

November 3, 2014 11:35 am 14 comments Views: 44

Areeb Ullah with beard

At first, I would feel I had to justify it. But then I stopped. If I was a white guy with a ginger beard, no one would ask questions of me.’ Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

People stare. Sometimes, on the tube, they cross the carriage to create a space between us. There is something about me some people don’t like, or it makes them uneasy. It’s my beard.

My beard is about three and a half to four inches long now. I started growing it nearly a year ago; the result of a number of things coming together. One – if I am honest – was laziness. It also began not long after an incident at my university, King’s College London. Archbishop Desmond Tutu was guest of honour at a reception. I went along in traditional dress, thinking: “This is Desmond Tutu. He fought against discrimination and oppression. I can be myself because everyone will be welcoming and open.” Then I was stopped by security and they demanded to know if I had actually been invited. From then I just thought: “Why not?”

Slowly, I became more and more fascinated with having a beard. I can only liken it to the experience of black women who relax their hair and then one day stop relaxing their hair and find it opens up a brand new world to them. There are all these beard products, oils, shampoos, combs. People even blog about them.

Once I grew my beard, there was an immediate effect. Muslims are more open to me; others with beards notice me because they understand what I’m experiencing.

Of course, there is also the other issue that beards are big in mainstream popular culture. People started coming up to me and saying “Great beard”. Within my own community, it gives me a sense of solidarity; outside, there is a feeling of specialness. Some people ask: “Are you growing that for religious reasons or because it is fashionable?” At first, I would feel I had to justify it. I would say it was fashionable and then religious. But then I stopped doing that. If I was a white guy with a ginger beard, no one would ask those questions of me.

My mum is keen that I get rid of it. My dad thinks I should shorten it. Mum worries in the current climate about how people will perceive it. But for me it is quite empowering. I love it when another Muslim sees me and comes and says “Salam” on the street. It is a subculture I am tapping into; a sense of pride in my identity as a Muslim. Beards play a massive role as a key identifier of whether you are a Muslim or not. It gives a sense of community.

As someone who has a bit of a public profile because of the role I play at university, a beard can also help to normalise the presence of a visible Muslim. It helps me to demonstrate to people “If I can do it, you can do it; you can be yourself.” They see a Muslim outwardly practising.

There is an assumption in our communities that if you are in the public sphere, you sell out a little and lose the things that make you who you are. By growing my beard, I debunk that a bit. My face has been everywhere because of freshers week and the fact that so many Muslims have been coming up to me and talking about issues they were facing was really a milestone for me.

I think the benefits of having my beard – not least that it covers up my eczema – outweigh the disadvantages. Some people grow them for religious reasons, others because it is comfortable, others because they are hipsters. Who cares?

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  • Steve Gatward

    Typical follower, all you want to do is be part of a club and hang out with like minded people, that’s racial tension right there.

    • jaykayDX

      Same way as all those white bozos acting like some elitist ‘clique’ and ruining Dubai for decent people, eh?

      • Coffeee is not helping

        Shut up, and eat some more Humus:) That shit will improve your brain.

      • Patrick Klocek

        Then move to Sharjah or al-Ain and avoid the other infidels. Or better yet — move to KSA.

  • Sivramkrishnan Gk

    People are scared of terrorists in your religion. First try to treat everyone as a human – then no need for any scare.

    • jaykayDX

      You bloody Hin-doo doos cannot treat your own kind like humans, just wait until they (Americans) find oil in your land, then you will be declared ‘terrorists’ also (just like Gandhi and other freedom fighters)!!!!

      • Patrick Klocek

        Sorry — not going happen. There is oil in Canada and Americans don’t kill Canadians. There is oil in Norway and America has not declared all Norwegians to be potential terrorists. Hindus are good people. I live in India amongst them as an equal although I am a non-Hindu. The problems with terrorism is that almost al terrorists are Muslims. There have only been a handful of non-Muslim attacks over the last 30 years. There have been thousands of Muslim attacks from the Taliban, Boko Haram, al-Shebab, al-Qaida, HAMAS, and many others. The fact that Muslims REFUSE to admit that their religion calls for jihad against mishrikun like myself is disconcerting at it is the reason US drones are constantly flying around over Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Syria.

  • Shambhu Dutta

    Appearance like you remind us, instantly barbarism of Muslim Terrorist organisation who are killing thousands of innocence people irrespective of religions

    • jaykayDX

      Like how you bloody HIn-doo doo skilled so many innocents in Gujrat?

      • Patrick Klocek

        And how many anti-Muslim riots were there since 2001? How many Infidels have been killed by Muslims since then? I would say A LOT!

  • Coffeee is not helping

    Scary or not, it looks freaking dirty.

  • Patrick Klocek

    The beard is not scary. The fact that you are an “observant Muslim” is what is scary. That’s a Sunnah Beard. It means that, given the opportunity, I know you would gladly slit my throat and sell my wife into slavery. I don’t see that kind of behavior from Buddhists, Hindus, or even Jews.

  • Conquistador

    Its funny…from a country that prides itself in the freedom of speech and expression in all forms, practicing Islamic beliefs should not be a problem…but it is. Seems hypocritical to me.

  • all of you just shut up, and stop judging Muslims on the basis of some so-called religious organisations. Muslims are being killed ruthlessly across the globe, whether in Iran, Afghan, Palestine,Kashmir or Pakistan, still Muslims are being considered terrorists what a logic.