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Horror of Hirsutism

INTRODUCTION

Hirsutism (in Latin hirsutus, meaning: shaggy, hairy): A symptom that sees excessive and increased hair growth in women in locations where it would normally be minimal or absent.

Often one will ‘hair’ (pun intended) Sikhs make utopistic boasts of how advanced their religion is over others by drawing comparisons between their theology and the post-modern socio-cultural theories of the western world. This is often touted by drawing alleged parallels under the umbrella of ‘equality’ (what should more appropriately and accurately be termed ‘blind equality’).

The argument is that Sikhism is a religion of “equality”; and since the secular-liberal west’s idea of “equality” is achieved through the relativisation of identity and knowledge, Sikhism declares itself to be the religion of the future. Informed Sikhs who accept the instantiation of absolute divine truth will refuse to jump on this doomed bandwagon; and we have already provided examples of why the above argument of “equality” fails to stand up.

Hence, let us examine Sikhism’s “modern” stance on hirsutism and compare it to Islam to determine the truth in this matter.

According to the Student BMJ, a subsidiary of the British Medical Association:

Hirsutism in women is the presence of unwanted coarse body hair in a male distribution. It affects 5-15% of women, [1] and it can have profound psychological sequelae [an after effect of disease, condition, or injury]. It undermines the woman’s confidence and self esteem, and its effect on quality of life should not be underestimated. Some women live apparently normal lives but may spend two or three hours a day using cosmetic or camouflage methods. Other women may become reclusive and only venture out after dark. In teenagers, hirsutism can be a cause of bullying, social isolation, and poor educational performance. By the time they seek medical advice, many women will have reached a point of desperation. [2] (bold, underline ours)

Only a woman can truly appreciate the psychological impact an abnormality such as hirsutism could have on her… and of course Allah.

Make things easy (for the people) and do not make it difficult for them, and make them calm (with glad tidings) and do not repulse (them). – Prophet Muhammad

‘WILL YOU MARRY A GIRL WITH A BEARD?’

An interesting question was posted on the Sikh Philosophy forum where someone inquired: “Will you marry a girl with a beard?” The question was a serious one as the questioner admitted he had no answer, and yet the replies varied from the embarrassingly comical to the harrowingly absurd.

The questioner went on to ask: “Girls of other religions get rid of them by threading, shaving or some cosmetic surgery, but in sikh [sic] religion removing hair from any part of the body is prohibited. So in such a situation what would a sikh [sic] girl do?
Why do then sikh boys don’t accept them as wives? [sic]”

The critical part to this question is the admission that in Sikhism’s modern worldview, removing any hair from any part of the body is prohibited – that includes the female of the species.

According to the orthodox and generally accepted view, Sikhs consider the removal of any hair from the male or female body as strictly prohibited and categorise it amongst the four cardinal sins (bujjar kurahit).

Kurahit: One of the four cardinal infringements of the Rahit [the Sikh code of belief and conduct]. These being: cutting ones hair, consuming meat, extra-marital intercourse and smoking. [3]

The enactor of this prohibition is the final Guru, Gobind Singh:

Sarbat sangat Kabul Guru rakhe ga

To the entire sangat at Kabul, the Guru will protect the Sangat
Tusa ute asaadee bahut khusi hai

I am pleased with you all
Tusi Khande da Amrit Panja to lena

You should take baptism by the sword, from the Five Beloveds
Kes rakhne…ih asadee mohur hair
Keep your hair uncut for this is a seal of the Guru
Kachh, Kirpan da visah nahee karna
Accept the use of shorts and a sword
Sarb Loh da kara hath rakhna
Always wear iron bangle on your wrist
Dono vakat kesa dee palna karma

Keep your hair clean and comb it twice a day
Sarbat sangat abhakhia da kutha
Do not eat Halaal meat
Khave naheen, Tamakoo na vartana
Do not use tobacco in any form
Bhadni tatha kanya-maran-vale so mel na rakhe
Have no connection with those who kill their daughters or permit the cutting of their children’s hair
Meene, Massandei, Ramraiye ki sangat na baiso
Do not associate with Meenas, Massands and Ram-raiyas (anti-Sikh cults)
Gurbani parhni…Waheguru, Waheguru japna
Recite the Guru’s hymns; meditate on “The Name of our Wonderful Lord”
Guru kee rahat rakhnee
Follow the Sikh code of discipline
Sarbat sangat oopar meri khushi hai
I give the entire sangat my blessing

Patshahi Dasvi
Jeth 26, Samat 1756

Signature of 10th Guru

Jeth 26, 1756 Bikrami 23rd May 1699 CE [4]

There are some Sikhs, however, who have contended that the prohibition of removing/ cutting/ trimming hair is only restricted to the hair on the head and not the whole body. However, we have shown that this is not an absolute rule. On the contrary, there seems to be a difference of opinion in this regard with many prominent Sikh scholars holding that the removal/ cutting/ trimming of hair includes all hair of the body. [5]

In answering the question of why Sikhs do not cut their hair, the Khalsa Council answered:

There are many reasons why Sikhs don’t cut their hair. First, hair is a gift from our Guru. When the 10th Master Guru Gobind Singh gave us our identity, he told us to keep all our body hair unshorn. Keeping “kesh,” as hair is called in the Punjabi language, is one of the “5 Ks” of the Rehit, or code of conduct given by the 10th Master. For many observant Sikhs, observing this part of the code is all the reason they need to keep their hair uncut. [6]

According to Sikhism, this prohibition has been justified with incredulous explanations that border on the absurd.

SAMENESS OF APPEARANCE

Do not go to extremes in your religion. (Qur’an 4:171)

One justification given for the commandment of women to keep any and all hair follicles is due to the importance given to their “bana“. Bana or ‘form’ is:

The personal appearance of a Sikh, [and] is one of the foremost ways that a Sikh maintains his or her consciousness as the Guru intended. The Guru has given his Sikh specific instructions to keep his or her natural form as created by God. Thus, all hair is maintained, uncut, and untrimmed. [7] (bold, underline ours)

The sameness of appearance is an important feature for Sikhs and one will find many Sikh philosophers and apologists constantly emphasising this. This obsession with sameness of appearance stems from Blind Equality where Sikh’s attempt to equalise the sexes both in terms of their gender roles as well as their appearance, which has led them to accept the extreme position of hirsutism. This incredulous obsessiveness towards the sameness of appearance is summed up alarmingly as follows:

The Gurmat or the Sikh way is one which accepts no dichotomy between man and nature as is enjoined upon Sikhs by Guru Nanak in Bara Maha and Guru Gobind Singh in Akal Ustat and both these Banis serve as the foundation of the Sikh oral and orational practices. ‘Hair Power‘ is the out come of the first attitude and as such is ever charged energizing battery for the human machine. [8] (bold, underline ours)

It does not stop there since the justifications for this rule become ever more bizarre and nonsensical with the notion of “The Sacred Hair”.

THE SACRED HAIR

The Gurmukh meditates on the Lord with every hair of his body – Sri Guru Grant Sahib

For all Sikhs, hair is sanctified and apparently regarded as the “highest importance in the Sikh religion”, and cutting it is “dishonouring one’s hair”.

A Sikh doesn’t disfigure their hair from head to toe because Guru jee told us to keep the sanctity of the Kesh (hair). Nothing else matters. A Sikh does what their Guru told them to do, subduing their own ego and self-willed thoughts. [9]

This is a clear form of extremism in life and we will further delve into this subject in the next chapter, God-willing. However, for the moment, let us further explore what Sikhs mean by the Sacred Kesh by turning to the Khalsa Council, which elaborates:

One of the tenets of the Sikh faith is that the body is a temple created by God, and therefore, it is perfect as it is… There are also, however, a number of practical, scientific reasons for keeping hair uncut… There are a number of yogic reasons for keeping body hair. [10]

The ideology becomes ever more intriguing! But why has “nature (Wahe Guru) put every hair on your body for a reason”, apart from its obvious functions such as its important role in regulating body temperature? Sikh apologists have forwarded a remarkable number of strange pseudo-scientific reasons in their defence, which not only further opens this Pandora’s Box, but along with it a huge can of worms:

The Kesh act as the identity for a Sikh as well being a spiritual and practical tool that helps the body… The practical functions of human body hair are for example… Facial hair absorb ether energy… When one meditates the hair on our body vibrate energy/ Naam.

The hair is sacred due to the fact that Naam abides within each and every pore of hair on the body. The Kesh are like electrical wires, which preserve, carry and vibrate energy. When one does Naam Japnaa (meditation on the Lord) the hair acts as a spiritual tool, vibrating and absorbing Naam. Gurbaani (the Divine Word) says: “On each and every hair, the Lord abides.” (344)

“The Gurmukh meditates on the Lord with every hair of his body.” (941) [11] (bold ours)

While the Khalsa Council inexplicably asserts:

The hair of the legs regulates the glandular system and stabilizes a person’s electromagnetic field. The hair under the armpits protects the very sensitive area where the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems come together; this affects the brain and your energy level. Eyebrows protect the eyes from sun and sweat. Facial hair on men covers the moon center on the chin and protects them from excessive moon energy… Hair is your antenna to receive a picture of the subtle world around you, to tell when people are lying, to feel things before they happen, etc. [sic] …

It has been proven scientifically that people who have long hair tend to be less tired, more energetic and less likely to become depressed. People who have long hair also conserve energy and don’t feel the cold of winter the same as people with short hair. A person who has shorn hair wastes his body’s energy. A person who cuts his hair over his lifetime forces the body to grow 22 meters of replacement hair. A person who keeps his hair only produces 1.5 meters of hair over his lifetime.

Think of the story of Samson and Delilah in the Bible! He lost his strength when she cut his hair! …

In addition, plucking the eyebrow hairs interferes with a woman’s ability to have a full and deep orgasm. [12] (bold ours)

Of course, any one endowed with sound common sense will perceive two problems here: Firstly, unscientific reasons presented in the garb of science; and secondly, the mixing of categories through the cunning attempt of overlapping science with pseudo-science in a desperate attempt to justify their absurd acceptance of hirsutism for Sikh women. 

Overall, the point here is not the functionality of hair and its role in maintaining and regulating the body’s correct working order, nor the irrelevant debate concerning the difference between hair and nails or whether hair is lifeless or not, but rather the rationale behind the complete prohibition of removing extraneous hair?

HAIR RAISING PROBLEMS FOR THE KAURS

Allah wishes for you ease and He does not wish for you difficulty. (Qur’an 2:185)

A woman having a moustache or hair growing on her cheeks, there is nothing wrong with removing this, because it is abnormal and is disfiguring to the woman. – Shaykh ‘Uthaymeen

Allah has told humankind that “the male is not like the female” (Qur’an 3:36), and nothing is more discernable of this fact than the following general rule: there exists defined and distinguishable external physical attributes for both sexes which clearly demarcate the male of the species from the female. Furthermore, it should be noted that although qualities appropriate to or usually associated with either sex, namely masculinity and femininity, differ in degree amongst members of the same sex, this does not violate the aforementioned general rule. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. In regards to these exceptions, Allah may test some of His servants by way of their physical attributes. However, Allah, the Most Merciful, has provided, under the umbrella of “removing difficulties” (takalluf – overburdening), the means by which these exceptions can be remedied, provided He has made the remedy available. [13] In the case of hirsutism – a physical test for women – the remedy has always been available since the inception of Islam, and with the progression of technology and science, this has been made easier (although not necessarily easy) to administer.

Despite this, Sikhism’s take on this subject is at best bemusing and at worst extremism.

Indeed, among the goals of the divine laws of Islam is the “removal of difficulties” to facilitate humankind’s natural proclivity (fitrah) in correctly worshipping their Creator in order to grow spiritually. The importance of this principle is oft-repeated in the Qur’an:

Allah wishes for you ease and He does not wish for you difficulty. (Qur’an 2:185)

Allah does not burden a soul with more than it can bear. (Qur’an 2:286)

Allah wishes to lighten the burden for you, for man was created weak. (Qur’an 4:28)

He did not make any difficulty for you in the religion. (Qur’an 22:78)

The companion of Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah), Anas ibn Maalik, said:

“We have been prohibited from takalluf.” (Bukhari)

The Prophet (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah) himself was naturally disposed in choosing the easier of two paths, as long as it was not sinful. And this is what he taught and inculcated in his followers; for example, before the dispatchment of the Prophet’s governor to Yemen, he instructed him:

“Make things easy (for the people) and do not make it difficult for them, and make them calm (with glad tidings) and do not repulse (them).” (Bukhari and Muslim)

Islamic legal scholars unanimously consider this concept an indisputable fundamental principle followed by God in the enactment of laws.

It was mentioned in the Introduction above that hirsutism will most likely have a profoundly negative psychological impact on women. It should be noted, however, that “unwanted coarse body hair in a male distribution” [14] is a subjective and relative term and women will invariably differ over what this comprises. As has been demonstrated above, this relativisation has been taken advantage of by some Sikh apologists who have attempted to try and justify and defend the ‘modern’ Sikh position on hirsutism.

But, there is a line to be drawn between that which is reasonable and moderate, and that which is unreasonable and extreme.

As previously stated, Allah has facilitated ease by removing difficulties that could potentially be unnecessary obstacles in humankind’s most important pursuit of all: the true and correct worship of their Lord. Hence, although both Islam and Sikhism agree that the law on hirsutism is divinely legislated, their respective conclusions are irreconcilable.

It is impermissible for a Sikh woman to cut/ trim/ remove any hair from her body. The Khalsa Council emphatically responded to the question, “Is it OK for women to remove their leg and armpit hair, or to pluck their eyebrows?” by declaring:

Hair is hair. It’s all there for a reason. For Sikh women who are committed to observing the Rehit (code of conduct) cutting or removing any body hair is prohibited because the Gurus, who were Yogis themselves, understood this… We do not cut or remove the hair anywhere on our body. [15]

While Panthic Weekly Columnist, Yashpal Kaur, observed:

Many Sikh women do not realize the consequences of hair removal from the body… A person who surrenders themselves completely to the Guru should obey every hukam (command) to the best of his or her ability. Only a person with such understanding realizes the consequences of stepping back and following the orders of self-willed Manmukhs. [16]

Although this call to strict observance is admirable, the more pertinent question is: Is this not taking things to an extreme?

ISLAM’S SENSIBILITIES TOWARDS WOMEN

The Shari’ah (Islamic legislation) recognises the dangers of relativising this issue. In today’s society, one will find many women shaping their eyebrows, and cutting their hair in all sorts of peculiar and often distasteful styles. Hence, unlike the extreme views of Sikhism, Islam has permitted the cutting of women’s hair, including the option of shaving legs, threading arms, plucking of the eyebrows, and other safe methods (this is unlike the mandatory removal of pubic and armpit hair, the purpose of which is to maintain cleanliness), but has laid down strict conditions in certain areas of hair removal so as to cut off the possibility of going to extremes. [17] This is in keeping with the Shar’iah’s all-encompassing ethos that caters for all necessary aspects of human life:

And We have revealed to you a Book that is an explanation of all (necessary) things: it is a guidance, a mercy and glad-tidings for those who have submitted themselves. (Qur’an 16:89)

The Shari’ah was, thus, revealed as a clear guidance towards maintaining a balanced way of life and avoiding extremes:

Thus We have appointed you as a middle nation (‘wasat’, means: just; of high standing; middle in rank or location). (Qur’an 2:143)

Do not go to extremes in your religion. (Qur’an 4:171)

Abu Hurairah narrated that the Prophet (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah) said:

Religion (Islam) is very easy and whoever overburdens himself in his religion will not be able to continue in that way. So you should not be extremists, but try to be near to perfection and receive the good tidings that you will be rewarded; and gain strength by offering the prayers in the mornings, afternoons and during the last hours of the nights. (Sahih al-Bukhari)

The scholar Muhammad ibn Salih al-‘Uthaymeen demonstrated this ease as follows:

With regard to hair which is abnormal, because it grows in places where hair does not usually grow, such as a woman having a moustache or hair growing on her cheeks, there is nothing wrong with removing this, because it is abnormal and is disfiguring to the woman.

The Standing Committee was asked about women removing facial hair, and they replied as follows: “It is allowed for a woman to remove hair on the upper lip, thighs, calves and arms. This is not the same as plucking (eyebrows), which is forbidden.” [18]

Hence, Islam, for example, has prohibited al-namas – the removal of eyebrows, as the Prophet (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah) said:

Allah has cursed the woman who does tattoos and the one who has them done, the woman who plucks eyebrows (al-naamisah) and the one who has it done (al-mutanammisah), and the one who files her teeth for the purpose of beauty, altering the creation of Allah. (Sahih al-Bukhari and Muslim)

Imam an-Nawawi further elaborated:

The naamisah is the woman who removes hair from the face and the mutanammisah is the one who asks to have that done. This action is haram (Islamically forbidden), unless a woman develops a beard or moustache, in which case it is not haram to remove it, on the contrary it is mustahabb (highly recommended) in our view. [19]

The stern warning in this context is against what is defined as the eyebrow, and it is in order to stop women from going to extremes. Hence, anything that is not considered the eyebrow, such as hair that grows across the brow; then some scholars have declared it permissible to remove. Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen said:

What I think is that you should not remove anything from the eyebrows at all, unless there is hair outside of the line of the eyebrows, such as if there is a mole from which a hair is growing. This may be removed because in this case it is removing a kind of fault or deformity, not in order to look beautiful. And Allah knows best. [20] (bold ours)

How far away is the balance of Islam in this context from what Yashpal Kaur states?

A Sikh who bends to the pressures of society will also experience a downfall in their spirituality which can eventually lead to severe depression and a sense of confusion.[21]

A woman does not choose to suffer hirsutism. The growth of hair, as is the case with all things created by Allah, is under His Will and Power. One could quite easily sympathise for a woman who “experience[s] a downfall in her spirituality” for having to accept an absurd edict that forces her to resemble and look like a man. And any pressure from society in this regard would thankfully not only indicate that that society is not Sikh, but it would also show the presence of sound minds that reject such an absurd proposition.

Yashpal Kaur then attempts to muddy the waters:

Although many men who aspire to be Sikhs face discrimination by keeping a full beard, it is just as equally challenging for women today. [22]

This hilarious remark misses the point. Is she implying that it is just as equally challenging for today’s women to keep a full beard? We give her benefit of the doubt; and yet, the angle of her approach is still incredibly worrying.

The general rule for men is that they grow beards and the exception to the rule is that a small minority of men cannot. The opposite is true for women, although the exception to the rule in this case is so much smaller. It would, therefore, be completely understandable for people to view a woman with coarse facial hair strangely because it goes against the natural pattern established by Allah.

With her lopsided take on this matter, it is unsurprising for Yashpal Kaur to then contemptuously question the common sense of those parents who are struggling to find a suitor for their ‘bearded’ daughter:

Parents who fear they will not find a suitable match for their daughter if she has facial hair need to ask themselves a few common sense questions. Firstly, realize that by removing hair we prove to ourselves that we do not have full faith in our Guru. How will we ever know if our son-in-laws are truly Sikhs at heart if we never give them the opportunity to see our daughters with their God-given natural face? [23] (bold ours)

What is so natural about a woman who refuses to remedy a curable symptom that isolates her from normality because her religion instructs her that this is unnatural? If a facially disfigured woman born into a Sikh family considers a cure through a simple skin grafting procedure, would Sikhism consider her a “self-willed Manmukh” who “do[es] not have full faith in our Guru” because she has rejected her “God-given natural face”?

Moreover, how many men with a correct grasp of reality firmly treading the path of moderation would ever find a woman with facial hair attractive? Certainly not many, unless of course they find bearded people attractive; which, in turn, would lead to questions over their sexuality!
So let us repeat the all important question: “Will you marry a girl with a beard?”

More importantly, however, and in light of all of the above, let us ask the final question:

Which religion is closer to a balanced way of life? Sikhism, which states that any and all hair, including abnormal growth, is sacred and must not be cut; or Islam, which states that women are allowed to cut and remove certain hair types, but within the reasonable boundaries set by their benevolent Creator?

[1] Azziz R., The evaluation and management of hirsutism, Obstet Gynecol 2003;101: 995-1007.
[2] http://archive.student.bmj.com/issues/06/10/education/360.php
[3] http://www.info-sikh.com/PageGloss3.html
[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hukamnama
[5] We have refuted this stance in our response to Paramdeep Bhatia, a member of Project Naad.
[6] http://www.khalsacouncil.org/clients/khalsacouncil/Is_it_OK_for_women_to_remove/
[7] http://www.sikhnet.com/sikhnet/Bana_Appearance_&_Form/
[8] http://www.sikhiwiki.org/index.php/Uncut_Hairs
[9] http://www.sikhiwiki.org/index.php/Five_ks
[10] Op. cit. khalsacouncil.org
[11] Op. cit. sikhiwiki.org, Five Ks
[12] Op. cit. khalsacouncil.org
[13] There are certain things that Allah tests His servants by for which a remedy is already available; it is only a case of knowing where to look. However, part of the test may also involve the temporary unavailability of a remedy in order to determine the amount of patience a servant has or to assist the servant further develop this praiseworthy attribute. The condition for its availability will be the amount of patience the servant will have to exercise before the Most Merciful makes the remedy available as a reward in this life. However, if Allah chooses to withhold a remedy indefinitely, then this is the Creators prerogative; but, He has instructed His servants to remain patient in the face of any adversity or hardship encountered and has guaranteed for the patient ones abundant reward.
[14] Op. cit. Student BMJ
[15] Op. cit. khalsacouncil.org
[16] http://www.panthic.org/news/133/ARTICLE/1573/2005-07-24.html
[17] For example, Islam has permitted that women cut their hair in appropriate ways, i.e. as long as it does not resemble the hairstyle of males due to the prohibition where: “The Messenger of Allah cursed men who imitate women and women who imitate men.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)

Similarly, Islam allows women to cut their hair short since Abu Salamah ibn ‘Abdur-Rahmaan said: “The wives of the Prophet (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah) used to cut their hair until it came just below their ears.” (Sahih Muslim). In regards to this Imam an-Nawawi said: “This indicates that it is permissible for women to cut their hair short.” However, the condition is that it not resemble the popular hairstyles of disbelieving women due to the Prophet (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah) emphasising the importance of Muslims maintaining their own distinct Islamic appearance when he said: “Whoever imitates a people is one of them.” (Reported by Imam Ahmad)

Islam has also not permitted the shaving of the head except in cases of necessity because of the following Prophetic tradition in which, according to ‘Ali, the Prophet (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah) forbade women to shave their heads. Al-Khallaal reported from Qutadah from ‘Ikrimah who said: “The Prophet (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah) forbade women to shave their heads.” Al-Hasan said: “This is mutilation.” Al-Athram said: “I heard Abu ‘Abdullaah asking about a woman who was unable to take care of her hair properly and whether she should remove her hair according to the hadeeth of Maymoonah. He asked, ‘Why does she want to remove it?’ He replied, ‘She cannot put oil on it or anything else that will make it look better, and she has a bad infestation of lice.’ He said, ‘If it is the matter of necessity, I hope that there is nothing wrong with doing so.'” (Sunan at-Tirmidhi and an-Nisaa’i)
[18] Fataawa al-Lajnah al-Daa’imah, 5/194, 195
[19] Sharh al-Nawawi li Sahih Muslim, 14/106
[20] Fataawa Manaar al-Islam, vol. 3, p. 832.
[21] Op. cit. panthic.org
[22] Ibid.
[23] Ibid.

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