Some Muslims give the impression that it is wrong to trim one’s beard or to keep it short. They let their beards grow as they would, leaving the beard to cover most of one’s face and grow to maximum length. They even suggest that taking off even a small portion is wrong. This is even recorded in books by some scholars. When something is given a religious aspect, it is important to know the correct ruling on it. If it is stated to be a Sunnah, or a practice recommended by the Prophet (peace be upon him), it calls for a proper look at the Prophet’s guidance concerning it. We must not accept a ruling that is not supported by textual evidence in the Qur’an or the Hadith. Therefore, it is important to ask about the Prophet’s conduct in such matters and how it was.
Anas ibn Malik reports: “God’s Messenger often applied lotion to his head and frequently combed his beard. He would then cover his head and his robes looked like those of an oil trader.” (Related by Al-Tirmidhi, Al-Bayhaqi and Abu Al-Shaykh.) Another version of this Hadith mentions that the Prophet very frequently used water to wet his hair when he combed his head. This Hadith, in its two versions, speaks of the Prophet’s habit which clearly indicates that he took care of his hair, often combing his head and beard and that he used lotions that were available to him in order to tidy up his hair. This is further clarified in the following Hadith reported by Jabir ibn Samurah, a companion of the Prophet: “Part of the front of the Prophet’s head and his beard had grown gray. However, when he combed the front of his head and his beard, using lotion, no gray hair was seen.” (Related by Muslim and Al-Tirmidhi.)
We are told in this last Hadith that the Prophet used some oil or lotion which made the few gray hairs in the front of his head and in his beard unseen. This only suggests that the Prophet took elaborate care of his hair. Lady Ayesha confirms this in the following Hadith: “God’s messenger used to wash his head with Sidr and then he would apply the Kadhi.” (Related by Abu Al-Shaykh.) The Sidr is a tree that gives small yellow fruit with slightly sour taste, and apparently its leaves or wood were used to provide some cleaning material. The Kadhi is oil that has a pleasant smell. Further clarification is provided in two Hadiths related by Abu Al-Shaykh. Ibn Umar reports: “I saw the Prophet using an oil that was not perfumed.” Ibn Abbas says: “The Prophet started on his way to Madinah after he had cleaned and combed his hair and applied a lotion of oil.” These two Hadiths clearly show how the Prophet took care of his hair, so that he would be in his best appearance.
A question may arise here about the way the Prophet combed his hair. We have reports suggesting different things, which means that the Prophet did not keep a particular style or length of his hair. He kept his hair at different lengths as suited him. Umm Hani’, the Prophet’s cousin, reports: “God’s messenger came once to us in Makkah when he had his hair in four plaits.” (Related by Abu Dawood, Al-Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah.) This Hadith suggests that the Prophet had long hair on this occasion, because he needed to tidy it up in four plaits.
Another Hadith is reported by Ibn Abbas, another cousin of the Prophet: “The Prophet liked to follow the practice of the people of earlier divine religions in matters on which he had no specific instruction. These people left their hair to come down, while the Arab unbelievers used to part their hair. The Prophet left his hair to come down over his forehead for some time, but later he parted his hair.” (Related in all six authentic anthologies.)
This Hadith suggests that the Prophet changed his hairstyle, doing first as the people of earlier religions so as to be different from the unbeliever Arabs. However, he went back to what his own people did in order to indicate its permissibility. Had he not done so, people might have deduced that to part one’s hair was forbidden. There is certainly no prohibition here apart from the general rule that in appearance, anything that is indicative of belonging to a particular religion is unacceptable because it confuses a Muslim’s identity and makes people think that such a person is not a Muslim.
Apparently the Prophet parted his hair in a particular fashion, as told by Ayesha, his wife: “When I parted the Prophet’s hair, I would make the parting in the middle of his head, and I would keep the front of his hair so as to drop over his forehead above his eyes.” (Related by Ahmad and Abu Dawood.)
From all these Hadiths we conclude that the Prophet took care of his hair, combing it frequently and applying lotion and perfume as was available to him. He did not stick with a particular hairstyle, thus indicating that there is no particular rule requiring us to follow a certain pattern. People may do what they like with their hair, but they need to observe the standards of propriety in their own communities.
A relevant Hadith in this connection is that reported by Ayesha: “I used to comb the Prophet’s head when I was in my period.” (Related by Malik, Al-Bukhari, Muslim and others.) This Hadith makes clear that a woman has no general impurity preventing contact with her when she is in her period. The exemptions she is given from prayer and fasting are meant to reduce the burden of fasting when she is physically weaker, and to offer prayer only when she is free of all impurities.