Muslim organisations are up in arms over an alleged comment on Monday by a Supreme Court judge, who reportedly cited “Talibanisation” while turning down a Muslim student’s plea to sport a beard in school.
Now, the debate over the Muslim beard —- commonly considered an Islamic virtue rather than an immutable tenet — has come full circle. The Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, a Muslim mass organisation, filed a broader case last month in the highest court, angling for a far-reaching ruling to allow Muslims to keep beards unconditionally, like Sikhs.
The Jamiat case is likely to be one of the most fascinating courtroom duels over an Islamic emblem outside the Muslim world.
Here’s why. It is not often that an Indian civil case rests largely on the validity of anecdotes from the Islamic world. Evidence in support of the beard ranges from 1,000-year-old Islamic injunctions from the Hadith (Prophetic traditions) to the Hukum ul Islam, a famous treatise in Arabic. The English translation was specially procured from London’s Dar At-Tawheed Publications.
“Our contention is that it is essential for Muslims to keep a beard in the light of the texts and traditions,” Anis Suhrawardy, the lawyer representing Jamiat leader Arshad Madani said.
Just in case the court rules in favour of the Jamiat, India could become the first non-Muslim country to uphold the Muslim’s unfettered right to sport a beard.
Few Muslims think that keeping a beard could amount to supporting the Taliban’s extremist character. “I don’t dispute a particular judgement but if keeping a beard is akin to being a Taliban, I am proud to be one,” Jamiat leader Mahmood Madani told HT.
Two previous cases over a right to keep a beard, both involving employees in the armed forces, prompted the special leave petition filed by the Jamiat. In defence organisations, a person is allowed a beard if it was sported on joining service.
Most Muslims agree that the beard has great religious significance but it is commonly treated as non-essential.