On Keeping the Moustache

The hadiths of the Messenger of Allah (may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) have to be understood properly by scholars who know all the other relevant traditions, the Arabic language, and the practice of the salaf of the Ummah, the early generations of Muslims and their scholars.

Even as early as the time of the Imam of Madina, Imam Malik ibn Anas (93 AH – 179 AH) – may Allah be pleased with him – innovations began to creep into the religion by people who acted upon Prophetic traditions without understanding them properly. That is, because they did not consult learned scholars on their proper meanings.

Ibn Wahb said: “Anyone who knows a hadith but does not have an imam in fiqh is astray, and if Allah had not saved us through Malik and al-Layth (the imam of Egypt) we would have gone astray.”

An example of this is the interpretations of the hadiths on the moustache. The different hadiths use the Arabic words “Qass“, “Ihfaa“, and “Inhaak.” There is a wide spread phenomenon today: people who misunderstood the two latter words, thinking that they mean that one should completely shave off the moustache. But the early scholars of the salaf and those who followed them in later generations, understood their proper meaning, which was “Qass“: to shorten by cutting. They understood that the two latter words are to be explained by the first.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said in a hadith narrated by imams Ahmad, at-Tirmidhi, and an-Nasa’i who declared it authentic: “He who does not take from his moustache is not one of us.” (At-Tirmidhi said: Hasan Sahih).

Shaykh Muhammad Zaki Ibrahim said: “This hadith is clear in that what is meant by  ’Qass,’ ‘Ihfaa,’ and ‘Inhaak,’ is to simply take a little away from the moustache, meaning: to reduce its thickness, and this is the shared amount between all the hadiths on this topic, and it is what is suitable to taste, harmony, the fitra, and what the balanced creations of Allah are used to.

That is why the Muhaddith of Upper Egypt (the mujaddid of the Seventh century, and master of the Maliki and Shafi’i madhhabs), Imam Ibn Daqiq al-’Id said: ‘I am not aware of anyone who said that the entire moustache is to be cut and removed.’

Shaykh Muhammad Zaki Ibrahim added: “That is why the fuqahaa have all chosen that the edges of the lip must appear from under the moustache. Meaning: that there is a moustache, but it does not come down on the mouth. And the coordination between the moustache and the beard creates a sense of awe, and that is why the scholars made it a condition for the sides of the moustache to connect to the beard.”

For Imam Malik especially, a hadith must be understood according to the practice of the scholars of Madina, beginning with the Companion and second Caliph, sayyidna Umar ibn al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) and his son Abdullah ibn Umar. Their understanding of the Sunna, and that of the rest of the Companions, was preserved by the generation that came after it. They saw the Companions and took from them. Malik inherited the fiqh of Umar ibn al-Khattab  and his son Abdullah through his “golden chain” of Isnad: Malik from Nafi’ from Ibn Umar. Al-Bukhari considered it the most accurate isnad in existence.

Imam Malik used to grow his moustache, only cutting off its edges, and would let it grow long from the two sides. He said that he was following the way of Umar ibn al-Khattab, who was known to twist his moustache when any matter concerned him. No one at his time knew the Sunna of Umar ibn al-Khattab more than Imam Malik.

It is also narrated by at-Tabarani from ‘Aamir bin Abdallah bin al-Zubayr that: “Amir al-Mu’mineen Umar ibn al-Khattab, if he got angry, would twist his moustache and blow.” The scholars said: it means that he twisted the “sabbalayn,” the two sides of the moustache. And no one knew the Sunna of the Messenger of Allah, salla Allahu alayhi wa Alihi wa sallam, than the four caliphs, may Allah be pleased with them all.

Muhammad ibn Hilal said: “I saw (the imam of the Tabi’een) Sa’id ibn al-Musayyab. He did not shave his moustache too short, but only took from it a good amount.”

And yet, people who came from other parts of the Muslim world and did not see the scholars of the salaf in Madina as Malik did, nor understand the proper meaning of the words of the hadiths, began to shave off their moustaches completely. Imam Malik about the shaving off of the moustache: “This is a bid’a (innovation) that has appeared among the people.”

Ashhab said: “I asked Malik about those who shave their moustaches. He said: ‘My opinion is that he should be beaten painfully.’ ” This means that for Imam Malik, the removal of the moustache was a disobedience and innovation that necessitated a painful punishment.

Furthermore it has been related that both Malik and al-Shafi’i said: “The removal of the moustache is muthla (mutilation).” And any form of mutilation of the body is strictly forbidden.

Yahya bin Sa’eed said: “I heard Malik say: ‘One must cut from the moustache so that the edge of his lip appears, and that means to cut off the hairs surrounding the lips. But one must not cut it too short and thus mutilate himself.”

Ibn Abi Zayd al-Qayrawani said:

“Malik was asked about one who shaved off his moustache completely (ihfa) and he said, “He should be beaten painfully. This is an innovation. The ihfa which is mentioned in the hadith means trimming the moustache, and it means trimming the ends of the hair. Umar used to twist his moustache when something distressed him, and if it had been removed entirely he would not have found anything to twist.”

The Maliki scholars said: That the cutting of the moustache is a light sunna (sunna khafeefa), and the command to do it is not obligatory.

The Shafi’i scholars said: That the meaning of “ihfaa” means to cut very shortly, but is only meant for the hairs that have come down on the lips. Thus only the hairs that have come down on the lips, and the edges of the moustache, are to be cut short, but not the actual root of the hairs.

The Hanbali scholars said: That the Sunna is to cut the hairs around the lips, or to cut its edges, but that the “ihfaa”, which is to cut very shortly, takes priority by way of the literal meaning of the hadith.

Shaykh-ul-Islam Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani said in Al-Ghunya, which is based on Hanbali fiqh: “As for shaving it with a blade, it is disliked (makrooh) for what was narrated by Abdullah Ibn Umar, may Allah be pleased with them both, that the Messenger of Allah, salla Allahu alayhi wa Alihi wa sallam said: ‘He is not one of us who shaves his moustache.’ And because it is mutilation, and removes the dignity and the beauty of the face. And in keeping the roots of the hairs of the moustache is beauty and adornment, and it has been narrated from the Companions, may Allah be pleased with them, that they used to cut their moustaches short.”

As for the Hanafis, their later scholars said: That the Sunna is to cut the moustache. The King of the Scholars, Imam al-Kasani, said: “And it is the correct position.” As for al-Tahawi, he said: “Cutting is good, but shaving is better, and it is the position of our three scholars.” However, the Hanafis said that it is encouraged for the warrior fighting in non-Muslim lands to grow his moustache, as it creates a more fearsome appearance.

However the position of the early Hanafis to shave the moustache must be understood according to imam Ibn Daqiq al-’Id’s statement that no scholar says that it must be removed completely. What they meant is to cut it short and reduce its thickness, as was the position of the Hanbalis. And Allah knows best.

May Allah forgive us all and guides us to following the Sunna and avoiding the bid’a.

Dream Vision

The Imam of the noble Azhar Mosque, Shaykh Salih al-Ja’fari said:

“Once I was at the barber, and he cut my moustache from here (and the shaykh, may God be pleased with him, pointed at his moustache).

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) came to me and said: ‘Why did you go against my Sunna?’

Oh Allah, send blessings upon him!”

Sources:

  • Muhammad Abu Zahra, Malik: Hayatuhu wa ‘Asruh, Araa’uhu wa Fiqhuh
  • Al-Sheikh Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, Al-Ghunya li-Taalibee Tariq al-Haqq
  • Yasin Dutton, The Origins of Islamic Law
  • Al-Sheikh Muhammad Zaki Ibrahim, As-Salafiyyah al-Mu’aasira: Ilaa Ayn? Wa Man Humm Ahl al-Sunna?
  • Ibn Abi Zayd al-Qayrawani, Kitaab al-Jaami‘, translated as: A Madinan View on the Sunnah, courtesy, wisdom, battles and history, by Abdassamad Clarke.
  • Abdel Haleem Mahmoud, Imam al-Tabi’een: Sa’id ibn al-Musayyab
  • Shaykh Salih al-Ja’fari, The Friday Lessons, vol 1, p. 54.

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