For the first time since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, PA policemen will be allowed to grow beards in line with Islamic teachings.
The decision to allow the PA's security personnel to wear beards was taken on Sunday by new Interior Minister Said Siam, who is in charge of national security, sources close to the minister said.
The PA had banned its policemen from wearing beards and those who violated the order faced punitive measures, including fines and imprisonment.
Siam, a senior Hamas leader, issued the new order to Gen. Ala Hosni, commander of the PA Civil Police, during a meeting in Gaza City on Sunday, the sources added. The minister said the decision was aimed at defending the personal freedom of policemen.
"It's up to the policemen to decide if they want to wear beards," said one source. "We're not forcing anyone to grow a beard. On the contrary, we have only canceled the order that bans policemen from growing beards because we think it was unjust."
The Koran does not specifically refer to the importance of growing beards, but Muslim scholars have quoted several hadiths (oral sayings attributed to the prophet Muhammad) about the issue.
One hadith, narrated by Ibn Omar, quotes the prophet as having said: "Trim closely the mustache, and let the beard flow [grow]. Be distinguished from disbelievers, grow your beards, and shave your mustaches." In the hadith, the prophet related the reason for growing a beard to the necessity of distinguishing Muslims from non-Muslims. The non-Muslims referred to here are the Persians - fire worshipers - who used to shave their beards. The prophet wanted to teach Muslims how to be distinguished in their appearance and their behavior.
Sheikh Ahmad Nafarawi Maliki, a medieval scholar, states that "to shave the beard is without doubt haraam [forbidden by religion] according to all imams." Sunnan Imam Malik, another medieval scholar, says that among males the only ones to resort to this practice (of shaving) are the hermaphrodites (persons who possess both male and female features and characteristics).
However, some contemporary scholars made it lawful to shave the beard under the pressure of current conditions. They argued that the fact that the prophet Muhammad had a beard was a normal action but not a ritual one.