One of the most visible outward identifiers of a person is his hair. Many religions have prohibitions against men cutting their hair, whether for spiritual, religious or cultural reasons. The prohibition is widespread across a range of religions with diverse belief systems, although the foundations for the practice are often shared.
In Judaism, the traditional side curls worn by Orthodox Jewish men are known as payos or payot. The Bible book of Leviticus 19:27 states that a man should not cut the hair at the side of his head or round off the corners of his beard. Deuteronomy 20:19 compares a man to a tree and suggests that as a tree grows leaves, a man grows the hair at the sides of his head. In contemporary society, payos represent both the Orthodox Jewish resistance to contemporary society and modernity, and the sense of community cohesion created by a visible signifier of identity.
In the Rastafari belief system, hair is traditionally worn in dreadlocks, or coils of hair intentionally formed and grown. Dreadlocks have several layers of meaning. First, as in Judaism, they refer to the biblical prohibition against cutting hair. Second, they represent the lion's mane, symbolizing Africa and the Lion of Judah. Dreadlocks also serve to differentiate the Rastafari from the look of the white man and the establishment. Finally, they are associated with strength, with Rastafari men believing that, like Samson, their strength lies in the length of their hair.
In Sikhism, hair is traditionally not cut or trimmed in any way. Sikhs believe that hair is a gift from God, so they should not alter that gift. In 1699, Guru Gobindh Singh commanded Sikhs to wear long, uncut hair at all times. This directive was reinforced by Sikh martyr Bhai Desa Singh, who added a theological component to the prohibition, explaining that God fashioned the world, and then he made men with beards, mustaches and hair on their heads. To follow God's teachings, men should adhere to these characteristics. Recently, Balpreet Kaur, a Sikh woman, asserted her adherence to her faith after being photographed with facial hair. She explained that even for women, hair is one of the five tenets of Sikhism, and that she kept hers in order to submit herself to the divine will.
The Amish Beard
In certain religions, there are no proscriptions on the way a person wears the hair on his head, but there are stipulations or traditions regarding facial hair. In the Amish religion, for example, an unmarried man is clean-shaven while a married man keeps his beard. The distinction between a beard and a mustache is significant. Amish men believe that many passages in the Bible, such as Psalm 133:1,2, mention beards. Mustaches, on the other hand, are associated with the military, and are therefore forbidden.
- getkempt.com: Grooming for God: The Payos
- jewishanswers.org: Side Curls II
- bible.cc: Online Parallel Bible
- religionfacts.com: Rastafari, Rastafarianism
- kwintessential.co.uk: A Brief Introduction to Rastafarianism
- jamaican-traditions.com: Rastafarian Dreadlocks
- sikhwiki.org: Kesh
- nydailynews.com: Sikh woman defends facial hair with graceful response
- amishreligiousfreedom.org: Amish FAQ
- Scott Olson/Getty Images News/Getty Images