GRAND RAPIDS —, Satpal Makkar has never sat in a barber’,s chair or felt a razor blade across his face. Muslim beard styles.
As a member of the Sikh religion, Makkar believes honoring God includes never shearing any hair on his body. Doing so would mar the perfection of God’,s creation, he believes.
And like other baptized Sikhs, Makkar wears the “,dastar,”, or turban, which is mostly identified with Sikh males, although some Sikh women also wear them.
The turban is an artifact of faith worn to a degree to cover their long, uncut hair, which signifies virtues vital to Sikhs: spirituality and holiness, honor and self-respect, responsibility, piety and moral values, courage, friendship and relationship.
Such convictions are connected to the Five Articles of Faith, outward symbols Guru Godbind Singh ordered in 1699 as a means to profess the Sikh faith.
“,Basically he (Guru Godbind) said we are not allowed to cut the hairs on any part of the body from birth through death, and that includes mustaches and beards because you belong to God,”, said Makkar, an Ada resident and past president of India Link, a local nonprofit that provides a social, cultural, educational and entertainment platform for the local Indian community.
“,The turban is a symbol of honor that is literally considered a member of a Sikh’,s body,”, added Makkar, a Fulbright scholar who taught criminal justice and political science in the 1990s at Western Michigan University but left to become the owner of three area liquor stores.
“,You can take it off at home but it has to be respected,”, he said. “,That turban takes care of your hair.”,
There’,s a theology of tresses threaded throughout the world’,s religions that leads to one eye-opening conclusion: Hair is not something to trifle with.
The most recent example of the religious fervor over hair was displayed by a splinter Amish group —, some consider them renegades —, in Bergholz, Ohio that has been causing an uproar for their invasive cutting of some Amish men’,s beards over differences they’,ve had with some of that area’,s bishops over the handling of church matters.
Shearing Amish men’,s beards is considered an unthinkable, personal violation, an attack on their personal identity and religious teaching. The men charged with the shearing were out on bail but now have been arrested on federal hate-crime charges, according to the Cleveland office of the FBI.
In ancient Israel, hair signified important features of identity with respect to gender, ethnicity and holiness, said Susan Niditch, author of, “,My brother Esau is a Hairy Man: Hair and Identity in Ancient Israel.”,
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The Old Testament declares strongman Samson was “,set apart to God”, from the day he was born (Judges 13:5), which is why he never cut his hair. It was a reminder to people of his uncut commitment to God.
“,Hair plays an integral role in the way human beings represent themselves,”, Niditch writes. “,It is related to natural and cultural identity, to personal and group anxieties, and to private and public aspirations, aesthetics and passages.
“,Shaved, clipped or long and loose, wildly free or carefully shaped, tied, or tamed, hair may be a sign of youth or age, womanly charm or manly vigor, an indicator of uncleanness or madness of one’,s place in society, or one’,s removal from the social realm, and this list only begins to suggest the possibilities of meaning.”,
The New Testament weighs in on hair, too. 1 Corinthians instructs that every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. Likewise, the same passage in 1 Corinthians warns women who pray or prophesy with their heads uncovered dishonors themselves, equating it to shaving their heads.
Some theologians consider the woman described in the gospel of Luke as “,a sinner in the city”, who weeps on Jesus’, feet and wipes them with her hair as a prostitute, because her hair was loose in public. Jewish culture in Jesus’, day considered a woman’,s loose hair in public to have sexual connotations, according to the Journal of Biblical Literature.
Others, however, say her hair merely served as a makeshift towel. Still others argue it’,s a sign of her love and gratitude for forgiveness of sins and her unbound hair is an act that expresses humility and reverence.
Andy Smith, associate professor of Bible at Cornerstone University, remembers the restrictions male students were required to follow when he was a student in the early 1970s back when the university was Grand Rapids Bible College, later changed to Grand Rapids Baptist College after it added a liberal arts curriculum.
The curriculum may have had a focus on liberal arts but the required appearance of male students was anything but, Smith said. Male students were not allowed to have hair grow over their ears or collar and sporting facial hair was an automatic “,no way.”, It was all meant to convey students were “,set apart”, from worldly temptations, Smith said.
“,Cornerstone’,s roots is in Baptist fundamentalism, and it associated long hair with the hippy movement and rock and roll bands,”, Smith said. “,In the eyes of some people, those were questionable lifestyle issues. The emphasis was we want to be Christian and not like the world.
“,I can remember some of my fellow students were tapped on the shoulder and told they need to get a haircut. It was not always a popular rule, but it was a rule nonetheless.”,
Today, now that Cornerstone is an interdenominational, evangelical college, those early restrictions on hair have been lifted, plus a few others such as drinking alcohol and public dancing, Smith said.
Now when Smith walks the university’,s campus and sees dreadlocks, beards, mustaches, shoulder-length hair, crew cuts and mohawks, he believes the university is in a better place than it was when he was an undergraduate and seminary student.
“,It allows us to focus on issues that really matter rather than cultural remnants,”, Smith said. “,We’,re free to work with the student more in their relationship with Christ and in respect to others and not to worry about the hair on a student or for wearing a beard.”,
Rabbi Yosef Weingarten, director of the Chabad House of Western Michigan in Northeast Grand Rapids, said some branches of Judaism require men to not only grow beards but forbids them to remove their sideburns even by means of plucking or with scissors.
This is because the Torah —, the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures —, forbids one to destroy the hairs or to shave it. But there is some leeway.
“,Having long hair would be an obstacle to the male phylacteries (small boxes strapped to the forehead containing Scripture) every morning, so therefore, we do not have long hair,”, Weingarten said. “,It’,s more of a common sense.
“,Jewish law plays a certain leniency: If it’,s an obstacle for marriage, or to one’,s livelihood,”, Weingarten said. “,But somebody who’,s an observant Jew will try to keep that because of the image of God or godliness. It’,s in honor of how God created man.”,
Sharif Sahibzada, imam of the Islamic Center of West Michigan and Mosque of Grand Rapids, said some Muslims grow beards to be closer to the lifestyle of the prophets, which according to the Quran, includes but is not limited to, Moses, David, Jesus and Muhammad.
Thus, men who wear beards want to be closer to the lifestyle of the prophets, Sahibzada said, but Islam does not require men to grow facial hair.
“,You grow a beard in honor of all the prophets and their closest righteous disciples, as prophet Aaron mentioned in the Quran had a beard,”, Sahibzada said.
“,The tradition is carried on, but it’,s not required to have a beard to be a Muslim. The majority of Muslims don’,t have beards. It is not a religious requirement of faith. There is no concept of holiness for the follower of our religion to have a beard. Our religion is based on faith, how you believe and act accordingly.”,
But, there are some who want to embrace some of the optional rituals of the Islamic faith a little closer.
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“,The lover will do everything he can to please his beloved,”, Sahibzada said.
Sahibzada said there are some Muslims from the conservative or “,extremists”, bent who demand males grow beards, but that’,s true of most of the world’,s religions, he said. The minority is not a reflection of the 1.6 ,billion Muslims in the world or 10 million in the United States, he said.
“,Similarly, in Islam, there are people who are conservative and want to interpret the Quran to meet their own aims and goals,”, Sahibzada said. “,Only a tiny number are misguided, who try to derail from the truth and righteous path. Satan works 24/7.”,
It also depends on which culture and part of the world Muslims live in, Sahibzada said. Those who live in Africa typically have short and naturally curly hair. In Asia, it’,s usually kept long. Some are required to wear burqas, a garment that covers a woman’,s entire body, including the head and hair based on a principle of female modesty.
Customs of the time, place, and social class of the woman influence what she might wear. Some options include the hijab —, modest, loose clothing and a scarf over the head and under the chin —, while others wear the burqa, a more complete covering of the head, face and body. Others wear scarves over the heads or veils but no face covering.
“,What’,s important to Muslims is Deen, or submission to God,”, Sahibzada said.