Beard Stories – Sam Elsokari

    I’m a 37-year-old man living in London in the UK. I’ve had a beard on off for the past 10 years although in the last 2 years it’s been a permanent fixture on my face and has become part of who I am. It’s not a style choice or a fashion/trend thing. It’s become part of my character. My wife, immediate family and close friends say they can’t remember what I looked like without it. My kids tug at it and run their fingers through it, my 18 month old son has never seen me with out it. I’ve devoted time to taking care of it and grooming it. Treating my skin better as a result. Worrying more about skin condition like skin cancer (#beardseason) than I ever did as a youngster when I felt bomb proof. To me it’s become part of me, to others especially those who know my origins it’s a symbol of suspicion, nervousness and in some cases down right fear.

    I’m originally from Egypt, my father moved to the UK in 1970 as a 25-year-old. I’m a practicing Muslim, but not in the way that people in the west may imagine what a practicing Muslim means. I pray 5 times a day, I fast and I try to treat others with the courteousness I wish to be treated with. I have Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and atheist friends. I’m not afraid of people questioning me on my religion and I constantly question it myself. One of my wife’s closest friends is a Greek Orthodox gay man, who I am proud to call a close friend. He’s a great guy who I love dearly. I guess you could call me a jumble of contradictions to most people.

    My desire to grow a beard had nothing to do with my religion. In my younger years I was simply too lazy to shave each morning, then I discovered the joys of traditional shaving, shaving soap, safety razors and badger hair brushes. But in the past two years I actively chose to let it grow and groom it right (thanks to Gavin and the guys at @murdocklondon for their skill in making me look good with a beard and all their great grooming advice). I don’t try to define my religion into liberal or fundamentalist. In the eyes of people who know me I fit the liberal Muslim mould but I don’t use this term. Simply because I was raised like this by my Muslim parents and both sides of my family are all like this. In other words we don’t see a difference between the term “liberal” Muslim and Muslim. Instead it is the rise of the fundamentalist or extremists who needs to be differentiated from the term Muslim. They grow their beards and in most cases shave their top lips. I have no idea if they do this to avoid getting their mustache hairs in their mouth when they eat or because they are actually following some edict that someone who claims to be knowledgeable in Islam told them they had to. Personally I have never come across this in the Quran. One of my favorite teachers from my school days told me Islam is the religion of instinct, if it feels right then it’s ok. My beard feels right to me, so does seeing my wife and daughters in swim suits on a beach in the middle of the Indian Ocean or cheering for Manchester United or watching Lewis Hamilton come in first. It’s a personal choice just as religion is and not something that should be prescribed to me by political leaders or authority figures. It’s something personal to me.

    My beard has evoked strong reactions from those I know and don’t know. People are afraid of it, my wife initially hated it but now loves it. My sister still hates it saying it fits the mould. I’ve been called names in Heathrow airport, I’ve been stopped and questioned suspiciously by immigration officers in the US and in Egypt – where in both countries it’s seen as a symbol of extremism. I’ve been called “brother” and greeted with the Arabic greeting “Al Salam alaikum” (the custom greeting between Muslims ironically translating to peace upon you, but now stirs up a lot of suspiciousness) by strangers whilst walking the streets or through the malls of Dubai. I’ve had Arabs stare at my tattoos then look at my beard with utter confusion.

    I’m just a guy with a beard and a few tattoos he loves, who also happens to be a Muslim saying beards are not scary.

    It’s time to reclaim the beard


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