Men Without Beards Are Just Like Women and Provoke 'Indecent' Thoughts, Islamic Preacher Says

A man gets a shave from a roadside barber in Ahmedabad, India. Reuters

Men without beards "cannot be distinguished from women" and can provoke "indecent thoughts," an Islamic preacher in Turkey told the religious television station Fatih Medreseleri.

"Men should grow beards. [Beards are] one of the two body parts that separate men from women," Murat Bayaral said Saturday.

"For example, if you see a man with long hair from afar, you may think he is a woman if he does not have a beard. Because nowadays, women and men dress similarly. God forbid! You could be possessed by indecent thoughts," he explained, expressing fear that men might look at members of the same sex with sexual interest.

The talk comes as Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan takes the country down an increasingly religious path with a new version of Islamic nationalism. Since the founding of modern Turkey in 1923, the word "secularism" was enshrined in Turkey's constitution. but Erdoğan has increasingly recommended that religion become a part of public life. Over the past year, classes on evolution have been removed from public school curricula, and the government permitted girls to wear headscarves in school, something that was prohibited in the past.

A man waits for the arrival of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan near a mosque. Reuters

"Turkish debates on piety and modesty reoccur frequently," Magdalena Kirchner, a fellow at the Istanbul Policy Center in Turkey, told Newsweek. "Erdogan declared in 2012 his intent to raise 'devout generations,' and former Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arinç stated in 2014 that women should not laugh out loud in public."

Bayaral is a marginal figure in Turkey and does not wield much influence. But Kirchner said that statements like Bayaral's demonstrated efforts by the government and their societal base to create a "bottom-up pressure against [a secular] way of life without having to impose legal constraints."

Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan greets his supporters after Friday prayers in Ankara, Turkey. Reuters

A beard is often considered a symbol of devout Muslim men: The Prophet Muhammad is believed to have worn a beard, and religious Muslims try to emulate him. But many Islamic scholars argue that it is not obligatory for Muslim men to wear beards, and there is nothing in the Quran that suggests men must grow their facial hair. Rather, it is considered a recommendation taken from Hadith, or sayings that are attributed to the prophet and handed down through generations.

Extremists in countries like Afghanistan and Somalia, however, have demanded that their followers grow a beard, and threatened men who refused to do so. Turkey was traditionally one of the countries where it was possible to see even prominent religious scholars close-shaven.

Today, Turkey's leadership faces the daunting task of determining how to govern the more religious and the secular aspects of its society simultaneously. "The religious in the Muslim world have reasserted themselves in a number of divergent streams. This has inevitably energized the Muslim masses in Turkey," geopolitical forecaster George Friedman wrote in an April op-ed for Real Clear World. "The secular, European culture that had dominated the country is confronting the increasingly powerful claims of the religious. The fundamental political and social question is how to create a single polity built around two divergent cultures."