Social experiment with long moustaches


By Bilal A. Malik

They lament; secularization has tarnished the youth- a generation marking the footprints for the next. There is a speedy increase of oddity-a kind of behavioural deviation from the normal prototype- among youth. Consequently, youth have a growing sense of repugnance toward the culture and tradition wherein they were brought up. They are doing away with the hold and guidance of religion; the sacred strength cementing our social attachments. They are throwing out the collar of duties and responsibilities assigned by religion. Eventually, they have become wilful slaves of modernization. And, satanic agencies- appearing in colourful shades- have possessed their hearts and minds. These satanic agencies are intoxicating them and invoking them to shed off all ethical and moral considerations. Subsequently, infusing them with the zeal of animalistic freedom insomuch that they feel empowered enough not just to violate but also to insult religious particularities publically. Alas! It is a beautiful rhetorical lament.

I believe lamenting, not accentuating the “core problem” through an organized rational argument, is more a form frustration- a pathological condition of an inoperable brain- rather than a part of the solution making process. Therefore, I won’t criticise lamenting per se. Preferably, I will try to trace the root cause; the medium where such attitude is developed. I mean, I will criticise the very basis of how religion and religious thinking is being understood, framed and applied. To do that, I will rely on the outcomes that I was able draw from, basically ‘unplanned and unstructured’ interactions; a random social experiment, to put it in a sort of technical method. Basically, what I did was quite a normal thing. I let my moustaches grow longer than the size that is, now I can define it, socialized as “culturally or religiously” normal; a kind of approved facial appearance. I did it as a motivation or, I can say, physical expression of my personal choice. Not playing hypocrisy, simply I did it, because I wanted to do it. Here, I will avoid of getting engaged into two things. First, I will avoid the discussion regarding the “exact size”, accurately measured, of moustaches from the religious point of view. I wonder if there is a sort of measurable scale of “exactness” related to it and does its size really need a “legal” position. Yes, I will make a simple point; it is a debatable subject. Second, I won’t go into the discussion regarding the socio-cultural context of the formative period of the Islamic society. Nevertheless, I admit the fact that the socio-cultural context of that period reasonably ‘justifies’ the preference of one “symbolic expression”-related to dress or demeanour- over other.

What I will do here; I will try to approach the underlying operative “pattern of thinking”; a conscious dynamic that controls the “phenotype of judgements” defining the boundaries of moral (right) and immoral (wrong). More importantly, the “pattern of thinking” of a society reflects its movement and orientation. Since this brief essay is about “phenotype of judgements”, therefore, I will approach the faculty of “internal judiciary”- which, I propose, is operating inside the human mind- responsible for recommending the lawful and unlawful in; actions, words and things. Based on intense observations, I propose this faculty has two characteristic abilities. First, normally, it accepts the ‘external’ influences; right or wrong “case pleading agencies” such as religion, culture, traditional wisdom, family etc. Therefore, very often members of a community exhibit a common pattern of judgments. Second, sometimes it might neglect the pressure of “case pleading agencies “and function as a subjective authority. Infact, it has a lot of complexity to deal with. Nevertheless, high similarity ratio of the responses made it, in a way, easier- something like quantifiable- for me to comprehend and reflect on.

In a short duration of two-three weeks, I got around 1200 reactions, which are enormous without any exaggeration. I can say, it is a workable sample size for any systematic research. Among the people who, basically were not asked, felt compelled-under the pressure of “internal judiciary”- to express their reaction on my moustaches included; my friends, relatives, strangers and even mere by-passers. The place- to give the judgment- was not a problem; it is a problem otherwise. The place would be my home, their home, shop, road, public car, office (institution) or any random space allowing two people to interact. The frequency of judgements reinforced by “previously held position” that taboos aren’t gender specific, as predominantly upheld in gender related theories. I experienced that there are certain taboos associated with the masculine exposure too. Since we don’t notice, it doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. And, there are reasons for noticing it unnoticingly. I won’t discuss them here.

The first reaction on my moustaches would follow a similar pattern. It would start with a question and would immediately end with a judgement. Question; “Why have you grown up your moustaches? And, judgement; it is haram (unlawful) and you are doing a haram thing. In this momentary court process, I was not given a fair trial to defend or clarify my position. Nevertheless, I would use the same approach as they did; express my opinion just because I wanted to express and not because I was asked to do so. Though it sounds absurd, however, this is how things, at times, really work in the transitional societies. My reaction to their judgement; well, you seem so concerned about religion, “lawful” and “unlawful” and all that stuff, right? Their response; ofcourse, we are Muslims and it is obligatory upon us to follow the religious regulations related to “lawful” and “unlawful”. After listening to their ‘judgements”, which were almost identical with slight difference of words, I would take the opportunity to trigger the “next level” of their religious consciousness- provided it exists- or at least to strike their ‘compromised religiosity’. The ‘compromised religiosity’, basically refer to the religious training which they had received in a particular socio-cultural context. I would try to invoke the sense that what they recognize as “religiously sensitive” is not sensitive at all. Emphasizing, sensitivity of unlawfulness or lawfulness is not related to the apparent volume or size of an action or a thing but to the “impact” that it can produce. Therefore, the condition of “impact” has a decisive role to play when it comes to categorization process on the basis of grading. Implying, an action having more ‘individual impact’ and less ‘collective impact’ is less unlawful than the action having equal or more ‘collective impact’ than ‘individual impact’ is more unlawful. The same principle is true about grading the lawful side of the equation.

I would do it by turning attention of their “internal judiciary” toward relevant and immediately available events or actions. Let me explain it by some examples. For the person who passed his judgment on my moustaches in a public car, I said, ok, I accept what you said about my moustaches. But, why did you kept silent when the driver took wrong side and created obstacle for the other side traffic? Don’t you realize that my moustaches aren’t creating a physical trouble for anyone but the wrong driving does? My moustaches are just blocking my mouth, but wrong driving blocked the road? Which one is more perilous; moustaches or wrong driving? Then I quoted my favourite religious maxim; the golden principle of “no-harm”, which says, “There is no harm-taking or harm-inflicting in Islam”. In short, “don’t take harm and don’t give harm”. Then, I tried to make it relatable; moustaches aren’t inflicting a physical harm but wrong driving is. So recheck your judgement and recheck your scale. Similarly, for the clerk (in university), I said, ok, I accept your judgement. But, tell me how much dedicated are you to your work. I often see you, being a student there, giving lazy excuses and neglecting your work. You don’t even work for the due working hours you are paid for. Don’t you realize that your laziness and using working time as “leisure time” is “hurting” students emotionally and financially? My moustaches, as you said, touch my food and make it “haram”. Still it is an individual matter. But, your laziness and negligence is making your salary “haram” and everything you do or buy with it shares that ratio of “haram”.

My neighbour passed a similar judgment on my moustaches. I said, ok. But, tell me, don’t you see that your relative encroached the link-road. But, you didn’t spoke a word. Is that normal, I mean, is there nothing like “haram” and “halal”. He blocked the entrance, a large vehicle won’t pass. The people living there deal with apple industry; they need this link-road for large trucks. I take your argument that long moustaches don’t suit on a Muslim’s face, but, tell me, for God sake, does it suit for a Muslim to encroach the road and put his/her own community into trouble. I will trim my moustaches and doing so won’t take me a minute. What about the encroachment, who will demolish it? Don’t you feel that “haram” of my moustaches is negligible as compared to the “haram” of road encroachment? You noticed it unnoticingly, may be, you are afraid of being asked about your own corruption. Responding to one of my relatives, I said, I accept your point that moustaches give a bad or dirty look to my face. But, is it worse than throwing the waste- which include plastic bags also- into the stream running outside your house. Is it even worse than draining your filthy toilet waste into it? Please, have some mercy on your religiosity. My moustaches don’t pollute water, but throwing waste and draining toilet sumps into water does pollute it. My dirt is attached to my face, but your dirt is spread everywhere around. It troubles everyone; it troubles nature and it troubles people.

I got a much similar response from one of my “practicing religious” friends. I said, ok. I accept that it is a kind of similarity (tashbih) or closeness with the people of other (non-Muslim) communities. But, tell me, is tashbih bigger “haram” than excommunication (takfeer). With some exceptions, ulama, I have reservations to give them this huge title, have divided our society. They have become catalysts of deep disintegration process; turning their subordinates blind against each other. They are the major reason of “social chaos” rather than “social coherence”. My moustaches might give me an unorthodox look, but it doesn’t provoke me to abuse and humiliate other people. To extend it, the animosity among diverse religious schools of thought is not because of ‘different’ sizes of moustaches; rather it is because of the greed of ulama for fame, popularity and power. Why you aren’t vocal against such “unlawful” attitude of ulama. Moreover, these so-called ulama have maintained a “criminal silence” on core socio-cultural issues. Similarly, when it comes to “structural violence”, they behave as deaf and dumb.

I suppose these few examples are sufficient to substantiate my argument. The argument is; we swiftly apply our “internal judiciary”- moulded by “pseudo-religious emotions”- only in “soft situations”. Basically, we are cunningly choosy about it. When circumstances demand our sacrifice or test our courage, we “withhold” our judgements. We frame excuses and apologies to satisfy our irrationality; a disgusting hypocritical reality of our behaviour. Our personal benefits, relations, and expectations corrupt us. Miserably, the corruption is not linear- from point A to point b- rather it is cyclic and spiral. One cycle of corruption ends with originating the other cycle of corruption. On the contrary of religion controlling us; the reality is we are controlling the religion to meet our interests. Ofcourse, religion provides a milieu of change, but it has it has own list of priorities. It has its own mechanism, approach and method. Remember, next time, if you feel compelled to give a “religiously motivated judgement”, first see if there is anything that needs me, not only my verbal judgement but also my action, on priority basis. Let’s rejuvenate our “thinking pattern”; the solution to our multi-layered crises.


Bilal A. Malik is a Research Scholar Centre of Central Asian Studies at University of Kashmir



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