“Facing Race: Muslims and Islam” Series: A Bit of Beard Rubbing on Beards

GOATMILK introduces its original and exclusive month long series entitled “Facing Race: Muslims and Islam” featuring diverse Muslim writers from around the world discussing race, ethnicity, prejudice, stereotyping and multiculturalism in the post 9-11 world.

A Bit of Beard Rubbing on Beards


M. Junaid Levesque-Alam

Some men have very ambivalent relationships with their beards.

Grow it out a bit, and you can pull at it in a philosophical sort of way, but at the risk of having a prickly, less-than-kissable face.

Rein it in, and you may win the favor of your wife, but you may also be left baby faced and feeling a bit naked.

This “dilemma” is complicated if your hair is black and your skin is bronze.

Few, after all, have failed to take notice of the glowering, dour and angry visages of Islamic extremists whose images might as well burn out bulbs behind television screens given their omnipresence. Unfortunately for some of us who like to maintain some facial hair—not a Santa Clause-sized beard, mind you—this connection between beards and bombs can elicit some unwarranted attention.

A regular New York City commuter, I’m often amused to see the small differences in the way people might look at me depending on how long my beard is or whether I have one at all. Are people staring at me? For how long? For what reason? With what expression? I tick off the questions and the answers instantly.

The number of unsmiling eyes I attract grows and diminishes like the ebb and flow of the tides depending on the length of my beard. This reaction is no cause of great consternation for me—though perhaps my own appearance is a source of some concern for more paranoid observers.

Sometimes, I take this into account in making other decisions. Are paranoid folks going to “see” my black headphones wires and my MP3 player as something capable of blasting more than music? Will I remember exactly what I’m carrying in my backpack, bulging with pamphlets and postcards on domestic violence, if a policeman stops me?

If my beard is full, am I going to pull out that book with the word “Islam” emblazoned in large font while riding on the train, or will I choose something more “disarming” like behavioral economics? On the other hand, if my face is clean-shaven, perhaps if people see a “nice young man” opening a book on Islam they will form a positive association? Or am I over-thinking this because I read too much on behavioral economics the other day?

Navigating the contours of my own mind—affected, in turn, by the content of media outlets beyond my control—is a daily task that has become almost as routine as respiration but never as effortless.

The whole affair might be solved with five minutes in the morning and a razor. But that, I think, would be too easy.

M. Junaid Levesque-Alam writes about America and Islam at Crossing the Crescent and has a column on American Muslim identity at WireTap Magazine. He has been published in a number of progressive and Muslim publications, including The Nation (online), CounterPunch, The American Muslim, and altMuslimah.com.


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