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Old 08-16-2017, 11:26 PM   #1
djg
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Clarification on prohibition of shaving of the head

I understand that the prohibition on the shaving of the head is said not to apply strictly in the West at this time.

Nevertheless, for those that do choose to obey this exhortation even though it is not mandatory--

I have been assuming that what is referred to by "shaving of the head" is particularly the shaving of the scalp to the skin with a razor.

I have also been assuming that these two things are not prohibited:
  • Trimming of the hair to a short length (>2 mm) with an electric razor, sometimes referred to coloquially as "shaving"
  • Shaving of the cheeks, face, and neck to the skin with a razor

Is this accurate?
 
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Old 08-17-2017, 07:06 AM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by djg View Post
I understand that the prohibition on the shaving of the head is said not to apply strictly in the West at this time.

Nevertheless, for those that do choose to obey this exhortation even though it is not mandatory--

I have been assuming that what is referred to by "shaving of the head" is particularly the shaving of the scalp to the skin with a razor.

I have also been assuming that these two things are not prohibited:
  • Trimming of the hair to a short length (>2 mm) with an electric razor, sometimes referred to coloquially as "shaving"
  • Shaving of the cheeks, face, and neck to the skin with a razor

Is this accurate?
From what I've read, basically the short version is that in Persia, at the time of this revelation, hair style was meant to communicate status, with those in high-status expected socially to grow their hair out long, and those of low-status expected to wear their hair shorn.

Baha'u'llah's command is thus a prohibition on status-communicating hairstyles.

Thus, it is generally assumed that the law does not apply to cultures where hairstyle has nothing to do with status, as the purpose behind the law is about social status, and is not really about hair. In this case attempting a literal interpretation of this law would be a "vacuous" interpretation of the law, as it is always important to analyze religious law in the context of the culture, practices, and history of the time and place of its revelation.
 
Old 08-17-2017, 12:22 PM   #3
djg
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Ah. That is new to me. I had read something along the lines of the idea that head-shaving was performed religiously by some, such as monks, and that it was prohibited partially because it was an outward/superficial sign of devotion, which could perhaps be misleading, and ultimately do more harm than good, as a practice.

I would be curious to read in more depth the source(s) from which you derived your conclusions.
 
Old 08-17-2017, 12:34 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Walrus View Post
... it is always important to analyze religious law in the context of the culture, practices, and history of the time and place of its revelation.
I benefit so much from reading your posts, Walrus. They're always enlightening!
 
Old 08-17-2017, 01:18 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by djg View Post
Ah. That is new to me. I had read something along the lines of the idea that head-shaving was performed religiously by some, such as monks, and that it was prohibited partially because it was an outward/superficial sign of devotion, which could perhaps be misleading, and ultimately do more harm than good, as a practice.

I would be curious to read in more depth the source(s) from which you derived your conclusions.
The topic has interested me once more, so I did some digging to try to figure out where I specifically got that fact from. One thing to note: I mis-remembered slightly: This is not put forward in any official capacity as the definitive reason but is presented as a potential one.

Apparently I remembered this from an email-chain discussion on the subject of hair that I read. Specifically emails from R. Jackson Armstrong-Ingram, a Baha'i writer.

In this discussion, Jackson sent two emails, one reading:

Quote:
It is of interest that Haydar Ali records that 'Abdu'l-Baha told him to stop shaving his head as this was against the law of the Aqdas, yet there was an established 'Baha'i' hairstyle with long hair combed behind the ears. This style was not simply contemporary usage but group specific and identifying.

It is actually physically impossible not to have hair growing below the level of the ears without shaving the head to some extent.

One of the themes of the Aqdas is the abolishing of clerical/lay or 'estate' distinctions. I think this passage probably needs to be seen in the context of abolishing sumptuary expression of such social distinctions.
And the other reading:

Quote:
The text pairs this injunction with the one forbidding shaving the head. It has always seemed to me that a possible context for this is the general stress on eliminating clerical status and estate distinctions in society seen in the aqdas/writings. Dress and hairstyle were important indicators of estate (membership in one of the traditional 'classes' of society) in Persia. Shaving the head was associated with the ulama (and paradoxically with the lowest classes), and what were called in 17th century England 'lovelocks' were associated with the higher strata of the laity. The latter had actually gone rather out of fashion by the time the Aqdas was written (although they had been all the rage in Baha'u'llah's youth), but in iconographic usages the style was still used (along with dress) to indicate social standing..

The Baha'i community surrounding Baha'u'llah had developed its own sartorial indicators among which was a distinctive hairstyle for men: longish to long hair carefully combed behind the ears. Haydar-Ali records in his memoirs that he had become used to shaving his head while in exile in the Sudan and that one day 'Abdu'l-Baha came across him while he was doing it. 'Abdu'l-Baha asked him why he was shaving his head as this was forbidden in the Aqdas and he records that he then stopped. Obviously 'Abdu'l-Baha had no problem with the traditional Baha'i hairstyle as he wore it all his life. By the late 1800s many Baha'is in the Holy Land (as many educated and/or higher social strata middle easterners generally) had adopted Western hairstyles and clothes. However, the idea that a western mens hairstyle of c.1900 is legislated by the Aqdas cannot be sustained either on historical grounds nor because of the simple logic that the average human hair line extends below the lobe of the ear no matter how short the hair is cut _unless_ at least part of the head is shaved...and thus we come full circle.
And in re-reading this I have realized that my current haircut, the haircut I have worn since four years before becoming a Baha'i, is apparently the haircut that men of the early Baha'i community commonly wore.

Here's a thread that has the full email chain if you want to read more people's thoughts on the topic: Question about hair length? - Baha'i Library Forum

Also, judging from the thread, it seems the laws on hair have caused misinformation among the early Western Baha'i community, at the very least. It seems like Western Baha'is used to assume the law meant everyone should wear a Western, short-hair style, though that seems easily disproven by the longer hairstyles of the early Baha'i community including Abdu'l-Baha himself. Though it seems whatever misinformation there was has passed, as I've never been hassled for my hairstyle since I converted.
 
Old 08-17-2017, 08:18 PM   #6
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It is my understanding, that this prohibition stems from the Muslim practice of shaving the head for the Hajj (pilgrimage). It is, therefore, similar to the prohibition of kissing hands, which does not mean that you literally should not kiss the hand of, say, your spouse, but that we may not kiss hands in the sense of seeking absolution of sins from a priest. I believe that a perusal of the notes section of the Aqdas should clarify this for you.

Cheers
 
Old 08-20-2017, 03:48 PM   #7
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lice

Quote:
Originally Posted by Fadl View Post
It is my understanding, that this prohibition stems from the Muslim practice of shaving the head for the Hajj (pilgrimage). It is, therefore, similar to the prohibition of kissing hands, which does not mean that you literally should not kiss the hand of, say, your spouse, but that we may not kiss hands in the sense of seeking absolution of sins from a priest. I believe that a perusal of the notes section of the Aqdas should clarify this for you.

Cheers
I suspect that the shaving of the head for Pilgrimage was for the health concerns of lice spreading disease to all parts of the world as a result. Also, in the monasteries, where lice could be a problem, the shaving of the head was possibly a health matter.

We have access to modern medicine which means that the drastic measure of shaving one's head is no longer necessary.

It would be a wierd and unnatural world to see al kinds of creatures with shaved heads. Lions, tigers, and bears... Oh my!! Why has God adorned His creatures in the manner He has, and why would people go against this adorning?
 
Old 09-16-2017, 08:22 PM   #8
djg
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I'm not sure the writings support the above interpretations.

Kitab-i-Aqdas, section 44:

Quote:
Shave not your heads; God hath adorned them with hair, and in this there are signs from the Lord of creation to those who reflect upon the requirements of nature. He, verily, is the God of strength and wisdom. Notwithstanding, it is not seemly to let the hair pass beyond the limit of the ears. Thus hath it been decreed by Him Who is the Lord of all worlds.
In Section 68 of the notes:

Quote:
In some religious traditions it is considered desirable to shave one's head.
The shaving of the head is forbidden by Baha'u'llah, and He makes it clear that the provision contained in His Suriy-i-Hajj requiring pilgrims to the Holy House in Shiraz to shave their heads has been superseded through this verse of the Kitab-i-Aqdas.
It seems to me while Section 68 of the notes makes it clear that NOT EVEN pilgrims are permitted to shave their heads, Section 44 of the Kitab-i-Aqdas presents additional reasons for the prohibition of the shaving of the head, beyond the social and cultural contexts above discussed. Specifically, the phrase "the requirements of nature" seems to indicate a reason for this law which is entirely independent of culture.
 
Old 09-17-2017, 12:32 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by Walrus View Post
From what I've read, basically the short version is that in Persia, at the time of this revelation, hair style was meant to communicate status, with those in high-status expected socially to grow their hair out long, and those of low-status expected to wear their hair shorn.

Baha'u'llah's command is thus a prohibition on status-communicating hairstyles.

Thus, it is generally assumed that the law does not apply to cultures where hairstyle has nothing to do with status, as the purpose behind the law is about social status, and is not really about hair. In this case attempting a literal interpretation of this law would be a "vacuous" interpretation of the law, as it is always important to analyze religious law in the context of the culture, practices, and history of the time and place of its revelation.
I totally agree. Baldness was a sign for slavehood, whereas the only persons allowed to wear long hair were the Siyyids, the descendants of Muhammad. So they were cognizable as such and were frequently offered gifts to invoke the Prophet's favour. Long hair is forbidden, too, out of this reason. Bahá'u'lláh clearly said that his family would not have right to foreign property unlike the Siyyids in Islam. Therefore they were forbidden to show their lineage by wearing long hair.
 
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