Many Muslim scholars argue that apart from practising the fundamentals of religion1 which unify the Muslims as one body, another fundamental and obligatory element of the Muslim identity is for adult males to keep a beard and that shaving the beard is deemed impermissible according to the Sunna of the Prophet. Many scholars assert that the Prophet stipulated that males must keep a beard as a sign of maintaining a “Muslim” identity and to distinguish them from non-Muslims of his time. Therefore, the question that arises is: Is it obligatory in the present-day context for a Muslim to keep a beard as a distinguishing factor from non-Muslims?
According to various narrations attributed to the Prophet, he deemed it necessary to instruct Muslim men to keep a beard in order to distinguish themselves from the Jews (who shaved their beards and grew their moustaches long) and from the idolators. The Prophet emphasised that Muslims must not imitate non-Muslims. For instance:
Abd Allah ibn Umar narrates that the Prophet said,
“Be different from the idolaters. Let the beard grow and trim the moustache.” Whenever Ibn Umar, performed the Hajj or Umrah pilgrimage, he would grab hold of his beard and cut what was beyond his grasp.”2
Abu Hurairah reported that the Messenger of Allah said,
“Trim closely the moustache, and grow beard, and thus act against the fire-worshippers.”3
Anas ibn Malik reported that the Messenger of Allah said,
“Trim moustaches, lengthen/leave beards and do not imitate the Jews.”4
As a result, many scholars have opined that it is impermissible for a man to shave his beard and therefore it is obligatory (wajib) to keep a beard.5 However, a less popular opinion among scholars is that shaving or trimming a beard less than a fist length is undesirable, but it is not impermissible (haram) or a sinful act provided that a Muslim man does not shave or trim their beard for the purposes of imitating non-Muslims.6
With regards to the majority opinion that states that it is impermissible for a Muslim man to shave his beard, it can be argued that the impermissibility of shaving (and therefore the obligation of keeping a beard) was context based and in the present-day context is no longer applicable. As mentioned, the Prophet wanted Muslims to distinguish themselves from the Jews and the idolators and thus emphasised the need of keeping a beard. However, in the present-day context, keeping a beard is no longer a distinct sign of being a Muslim; in fact, keeping a beard has become more of a fashion statement and thus apart from Muslims, Jews and idolators also keep beards. In essence, although keeping a beard was obligatory at the time of the Prophet, the obligation was contextual and it does not bear the same significance or resemblance in the present day context. It is important to note that if there is a context where non-Muslims are identified by distinct features such as keeping a moustache or shaving a beard, then in line with the Prophetic Sunna, it is obligatory for Muslims who reside in such contexts to keep a beard in order to maintain a distinct Muslim identity.
 Praying, fasting, giving in charity, performing Hajj and Shahada (declaring you are a Muslim).
 Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj al-Qushayri, Ṣahih al-Muslim, hadith 260.
 Abu Jaafar al-Tahawi, Sharh Maʻaanii al-aathaar, 4/230.
 Scholars such as Muhammad b. Hasan Shaybani Muhammad Amin ibn Umar Ibn Abidin, Radd al-muḥtār ʻala 'd-Durr al-muḫtār li-Ibn-ʻĀbidīn; and Imam al-Disūqī, Hashiyat ad-Dasuqi 'ala ash-Sharh al-Kabir, Chapter Taharah. Amongst the Shia scholars there is a shared view that based on obligatory precaution it is haram to shave the beard (and that keeping the beard was the way of the ahl al-bayt). Sayyid Khamenei, Sayyid Sistani, Sayyid Hakeem