Answered by Shaykh Amjad Rasheed

Question: What is the position of the Shafi`i school regarding shaving and shortening the beard without any excuse ?

Answer:  In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate
I have been asked this question on many occasions, sometimes by people living in Arab lands, other times by people living in the Indian subcontinent, and other times by Muslims in the United Kingdom. At the top of the list of questioners is my dear brother, the great and noble shaykh, Faraz Rabbani, may Allah make him a long-lasting source of benefit. The questioners have asked me to clarify the position of our Shafi`i imams regarding this issue in order to put an end to the disagreement that is raging between opposing factions. I ask Allah to grant me success in conclusively explaining the correct position.

Introduction

It is important at the outset to know that: [ a ] keeping a full-length beard is an sunna that is established from both the practice and command of the Prophet [ Allah bless him and give him peace ], that [ b ] keeping a beard is a distinctive mark of Muslim men, especially the scholars and the righteous among them, and that [ c ] there is scholarly agreement that to completely shave off the beard without any excuse is blameworthy. I know of no Muslim scholar of any of the four schools’whether an early scholar or a late scholar’or of any other school who ever said that it is unconditionally permissible to shave one’s beard.

All of the above is all based on the following rigorously authenticated hadiths of the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) that command us to grow full beards in order to be different from the Magians and the polytheists. Imam Bukhari narrated from Nafi` from Ibn `Umar [ may Allah be pleased with both of them ] from the Prophet [ Allah bless him and give him peace ] that he said“Be different from the polytheists: let your beards grow full and shorten your moustaches.”

Imam Muslim narrated from Abu Hurayra (may Allah be pleased with him) that he said: The Prophet [ Allah bless him and give him peace ] said, Crop your moustaches and leave your beards alone [ in order to ] be different from the Magians.” Imam Muslim also narrates a hadith via the Lady `A’isha [ may Allah be pleased with her ] in which the Prophet [ Allah bless him and give him peace ] said, “Ten things are from the natural human disposition [ fitra ] .” One of the ten things that he mentioned was growing a full beard.

After agreeing that keeping a full beard is encouraged in Sacred Law, scholars have differed regarding its exact ruling. The majority of scholars have understood the above-mentioned hadiths?all of which command Muslims to grow full beards?in their immediately obvious sense, coming to the conclusion that it is unlawful to completely shave the beard. This position has been transmitted from the imam of our school, Imam Shafi`i [ may Allah be pleased with him and have mercy on him ] , and a number of Shafi`i scholars ‘both early and late’ have adopted it as their preferred position. Among the early Shafi`is who held this position are the two great imams, Qaffal al-Shashi and Abu `Abdullah al-Halimi. Among the late Shafi`is who held this position are the two imams, Ibn al-Rif`ah and Shihab al-Adhra`i.

The official position of the Shafi’i school

Despite all of the above, the two great verifying scholars of the Shafi`i school, Imam Abul Qasim al-Rafi`i and Imam Abu Zakariyya al-Nawawi, in accordance with the position of Imam Ghazali, have ruled that to keep a full beard is merely recommended, not obligatory, and that it is neither unlawful to shave it nor to shorten it, even when this is done without an excuse. It is, however, disliked to shorten or shave the beard because it contravenes the prophetic command to grow a full beard.

The role of Imam Rafi`i and Imam Nawawi in the Shafi`i school was to sift through and re-evaluate the various conflicting opinions of the preceding Shafi`is in order to determine the official position of the Shafi`i school. It is a well-known rule among the late scholars of the Shafi`i school that the official, relied-upon position of the Shafi`i school is whatever is determined as such by these two scholars of verification, even if other scholars disagree with them, no matter how high the rank of these disagreeing scholars may be. Whenever Imam Rafi`i and Imam Nawawi disagree, precedence is given to the recensions of Imam Nawawi. Because of their central role in the Shafi`i school, the Shafi`is who came after Nawawi and Rafi`i them gave the two imams the honorific title of “the two shaykhs” [ al-shaykhayn ].

It was mentioned above that both these imams agreed in their recension that to shave or shorten the beard is disliked. Out of deference to their recension, this position was also adopted by the vast majority of late Shafi`i scholars. Below I quote from their works in order to prove that the relied-upon position of the Shafi`i school is that to shave or shorten the beard is disliked, and that the position of those Shafi`is who held that to shave or shorten it is unlawful is considered a weak position in the school.
1:

After quoting the statement of Imam al-Halimi in his Minhaj, “It is not permissible for anyone to shave his beard or his eyebrows,” the great scholar and hadith-master, Ibn al-Mulaqqin commented, “His position regarding shaving the beard is a wonderful position, despite the fact that the position that is prevalent in the school is that it is [merely] disliked. “[ Ibn al-Mulaqqin, al-I`lam bi fawa’id `umdat al-ahkam, 1.711?712 ]

2:

In the Chapter on `Aqiqa in his interlineal commentary on the Rawd of the Yemeni scholar, Ibn al-Muqri, Shaykh al-Islam Zakariyya al-Ansari said, and [ : it is disliked to prefer beardlessness and pleasant looks by ] plucking it  [ i.e. , the beard when it first sprouts ].

The author of the marginal glosses on this work, Imam Ahmad al-Ramli, who was one of the greatest Shafi`i scholars of his time, remarked on the above by saying,  Just as it is disliked to pluck the beard, it is also disliked to shave it. Halimi’s statement in his Minhaj that, “It is not permissible for anyone to shave his beard or eyebrows,” is therefore weak
3:

Imam Ahmad al-Ramli also stated this explicitly in his collection of legal answers. The Chapter of `Aqiqa in his Fatawa says, [ Question: “Is it unlawful to shave or pluck the hair on the chin or not ?” Answer: “For a man to shave his beard is disliked, but not unlawful. Imam al-Halimi’s statement in his Minhaj that ‘It is not permissible for anyone to shave his beard or eyebrows,’ is a weak position” ]
4:

Imam Ahmad al-Ramli’s son, Imam Muhammad al-Ramli’ whose works are relied upon by the late Egyptian Shafi`is for the issuing of formal legal opinion [ fatwa ]said in the Chapter of `Aqiqa in the “Nihaya” :  “It is recommended to part and comb one’s hair, and to comb one’s beard. It is disliked to pluck or shave the beard.”
5:

The great scholar, Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Hajar al-Haytami “whose works are relied upon for issuing formal legal opinion [ fatwa ] among most Shafi`is in the world” explicitly stated that it is disliked to shave one’s beard and that the position of its unlawfulness is a weak position in the school. His words in the Chapter of `Aqiqa in the Tuhfa are:  “…..Here  [ i.e., at the end of the Chapter of `Aqiqa ], scholars normally mention the actions related to the beard and other [ types of hair ] that are disliked. These [ disliked actions ] include plucking or shaving the beard or eyebrows. This is not contradicted by the statement of Halimi that this is “not permissible” because it is possible to understand his words as negating the mere neutrality of the act. As for the statement of Imam Shafi`i that is [purportedly] in agreement with [Imam Halimi’s words], if it was expressed using the words, “it is not permissible”, it is understood in the same way that Imam Halimi’s words were understood above. Otherwise, if it was expressed using the words, “it is unlawful,” it will be against the relied-upon position of the school.

It has been rigorously authenticated in a hadith narrated by Ibn Hibban that The Prophet [ Allah bless him and give him peace ] used to trim his beard from its bottom and its sides.’ This appears to be the basis of Ibn `Umar’s practice [ may Allah be pleased with him and his father ], who used to grasp his beard with his fist and remove the beard hair that was beyond a fistful. The command to let one’s beard grow copious [ i.e. to not trim it at all ] has, however, been established in the rigorously authenticated compilations of Bukhari and Muslim, and this command is given precedence over the above practice because it is more authentic, and because it is possible to interpret [ the practice in accordance with the command by understanding the Prophet’s [ Allah bless him and give him peace trimming his beard ] as an explanation of the fact that the prophetic command was merely to establish recommendation, [ not obligation ].

This latter interpretation is preferable to the interpretation that the [ prophetic and companion practice of shortening the beard ] applies to when the beard becomes unusually long because the immediate purport of the words of our [ Shafi`i ] imams is that it is always disliked to trim the beard [ no matter how long it grows ]. The claim of those who say that this spoils one’s appearance is rejected by the fact that one’s appearance is only spoiled when one does not wash or oil one’s beard [ not by merely letting it grow without trimming it ]. Adhra`i’s personal investigation led him to the conclusion that it is disliked to shave whatever is above the neck, and others said that this is permissible….”

First objection: What about dissenting opinions in the Shafi’i school ?
In his marginal glosses on the above-quoted words of Ibn Hajar, Ibn Qasim quoted the following passage from another one of Ibn Hajar’s works, “…..The two imams, Rafi`i and Nawawi, said that it is disliked to shave the beard. Ibn al-Rif`ah objected to this in his marginal glosses on the ‘Kafiyah’ , saying that Shafi`i [ Allah be pleased with him ] said in his ‘Umm’ that [ to shave the beard ] is unlawful. Zarkashi added that this was also stated by Halimi in ‘Shu`ab al-Iman’, and by his teacher, Qaffal al-Shashi in his ‘Mahasin al-Shari`ah’. Adhra`i said, ‘The correct position is that it is unlawful to completely shave it without excuse as the Qalandari’s do’….”

In reality, Ibn Qasim’s comments do not contradict Ibn Hajar’s recension because he clearly begins by explicitly stating the recension of the two Imams ‘Rafi`i and Nawawi’according to which it is disliked to shave the beard. Only afterwards does he proceed to mention the opinions of the dissenting scholars. [ Someone who is trained in the terminology and mechanics of the Shafi`i school will immediately understand from this that the recension of Imam Rafi`i and Imam Nawawi ] is the official, relied-upon position of the school because the late scholars of the Shafi`i school explicitly state that the official position of the school is the recension of the two Imams, Rafi`i and Nawawi, and that the Shafi`i scholars who hold dissenting opinions are simply to be ignored.

It has even been transmitted from Imam Jamal al-Din al-Isnawi ‘who extensively objected to the recensions of the two imams on many issues’ that whenever he was asked to answer a legal question, he would [ submit to the authority of the two imams and ] answer according to the Rawda of Imam Nawawi, even when he had personal objected to Nawawi’s particular conclusion in the book Muhimmat. Similarly, Imam Sha`rani relates from Imam Suyuti that he said, “…..Even when I became qualified to independently determine the official, relied-upon position of the school, I refrained from going against the recensions of Nawawi, regardless of whether I personally reached a different recension …”

Such quotes should apprise you of the tremendousness of this great scholar [ i.e. Nawawi ] with respect to sifting through the positions of the school, and how even the greatest scholars after him submitted to this conclusions. The words of our late scholars in this regard are well-known, and I will therefore suffice myself with the words of Imam Ahmad al-Ramli in the last chapter of his collection of legal opinions, which are printed in the margins of the Fatawa of Ibn Hajar:

Question:

If a statement of Shafi`i that was made in the latter period of his life contradicts the recension of the two imams, Rafi`i and Nawawi, then which position is given precedence ? If you say, that Shafi`is statement [ is given precedence ] , then why do the scholars of our times object so strongly to whoever goes against the words or positions of the two imams ? Both these imams have stated that for someone who is not qualified to infer legal rulings directly from the Quran and sunna, the words of Imam Shafi`i are like a decisive proof [ from the primary sources ] , so how could they then ignore [ some explicit statements of their imam ] and adopt the positions of other Shafi`is ?

Answer:

It is well-known that the two imams exerted their utmost in sifting through the various positions in the school in order to determine the official, relied-upon position. This is why all the pious scholars who came after them concerned themselves with their recensions, and [ this is why ] the scholars of exacting verification who preceded us busied themselves with determining their recensions, adopting their conclusions with acceptance and submission, and adducing many proofs to support their position. When one of the two imams disagrees with the other, precedence is given to the recension of Imam Nawawi, the verifier of the school, which is only because of the purity of his intentions and his inward genuineness.

A number of scholars have objected to the recensions of the two imams [ and other scholars ] by saying that they contravene the explicit statements of Imam Shafi`i. These objections are being raised with increasing frequency, to the point that it has even been said that the words of Imam Shafi`i with respect to the scholars of his school are like the words of the Lawgiver with respect to Shafi`i and other mujtahid imams, and that it is not permissible to exercise legal reasoning in the presence of a clear text. This objection does not hold weight because it describes what a non-specialist must do [ when faced with explicit statements of Imam Shafi`i ]. As for a specialist who has deep knowledge of the Shafi`i school, he is qualified to exercise limited ijtihad [ ijtihad muqayyad ]. This was the case with the early Shafi`i scholars who extended and extrapolated the words of Imam Shafi`i [ ashab al-wujuh ] : such scholars reached a level of knowledge that enabled them to extend and weigh between various positions in the school. [ This is how the recensions of the two imams are understood. ] Whenever they abandon an explicit statement of Imam Shafi`i, they do so [ in full knowledge of its existence and leave it ] because it is weak or because it is an extension of a weak position. [ This is similar to the practice of many of the early Shafi`i scholars, who ] went against the explicit statements of Imam Shafi`i because they contradicted the general principles that he himself had established. [ Instead of acting according to the immediate purport of such explicit texts, they ] interpreted them figuratively .

One should therefore not object to the great Shafi`is for going against the explicit statements of their imam. It is also not acceptable to infer from the existence of explicit statements of Imam Shafi`i that go against the positions of such Shafi`is that they were ignorant of the position of Imam Shafi`i. To the contrary, [ their deep knowledge of the school dictates that ] they were most likely aware of such statements and abandoned their immediately obvious meanings because of some other proof. By doing so, they are still said to be following Imam Shafi`i, just as when a mujtahid imam goes against the immediately obvious meaning of a hadith or Quranic verse in light of some other proof, he is still said to be following the Quran and sunna. In this there is sufficiency for anyone who examines the matter in an unbiased manner.

Second objection: What about dissenting opinions outside the Shafi’i school ?

After understanding all of the above, you should understand that most scholars ‘even those who believed that it was obligatory to keep a full beard’ did not hold shortening the beard to be absolutely unlawful. Rather, they permitted the trimming of the beard from its bottom and sides. [ After agreeing on the permissibility of shortening ] they then differed whether or not there was a limit to the extent that it may be shortened.

Imam Nawawi said in his commentary on Sahih Muslim, “….Qadi `Iyad [ Allah have mercy on him ] said that to shave, shorten, or singe off the beard is disliked, but that to trim it from the bottom and the sides is praiseworthy, and that it is disliked to grow it so large that it attracts undue attention, just as it is disliked to shorten or crop it. He also said that the early Muslims disagreed whether or not there was a maximum limit to which the beard should be left to grow: some held that there was no limit, but that one should not let it grow so long that it attracts attention – and Malik disliked making it extremely long – whereas others limited the praiseworthy length of the beard to a fistful [ and that whatever is beyond a fistful should be removed ] , and yet others held that it is disliked to trim the beard except after Hajj or `Umra.

One of those who used to trim the beard from its bottom and sides was the great companion, our master `Abdullah b. `Umar [ may Allah be pleased with him and his father ] , who was famous among the companions for his scrupulousness in imitating the Prophet [ Allah bless him and give him peace ] in every matter. He is the one who related the above-mentioned hadith in Sahih al-Bukhari [ that commands us to grow full beards ] , and at the end of the selfsame hadith ‘with the same chain of transmission that is contiguously connected to Nafi`, as stated by the hadith master Ibn Hajar in his commentary on Sahih al-Bukhari’ it says, “When he did Hajj or `Umra, Ibn `Umar would grasp his beard with his fist and remove whatever was beyond a fistful.” Commenting on this hadith, the hadith master Ibn Hajar said, “Its immediately obvious meaning is that Ibn `Umar did not merely specify the prophetic command [ to let one’s beard grow ] with respect to pilgrimage, but that he interpreted the command of leaving the beard to grow as not applying to situations where the beard grows so long that it spoils one’s appearance by becoming excessively long at the bottom or at the sides.”  Ibn Hibban also narrates in his Thiqat from `Amr b. Ayyub b. Abu Zur`ah from his grandfather Abu Zur`ah b. `Amr that he said, “Abu Hurayrah used to grasp his beard with his fist and remove from it whatever was beyond a fistful…..”

It is clear from the above-mentioned quote from Qadi Iyad, from what Bukhari narrated from Ibn `Umar, and from what Ibn Hibban narrated from Abu Hurayrah, that large numbers of early Muslims [ may Allah be pleased with them ]  held that it was permissible to trim the beard from the bottom and sides, but that they disagreed whether or not there was a limit to the extent to which the beard could be shortened, and whether the permissibility of trimming merely applied to the pilgrimage or whether it was generally applicable to all situations.

This [ overwhelming agreement regarding the permissibility of trimming the beard ] goes against the immediately obvious meaning of the preceding hadiths, which seems to imply that it is impermissible to trim the beard at all. Their interpretation thus indicates that there is flexibility in this matter, and that the preceding hadiths are not interpreted in a general manner because of other evidences that indicate the contrary. [ If you examine this closely, you will see that the position of the Shafi`i school is not very different from the position of the scholarly majority because neither of them interpret the hadiths literally in a general manner. ] The only difference is that the scholarly majority went against the immediately obvious meaning of the hadiths by permitting one to trim the bottom and the sides, whereas our scholars ‘according to the relied upon position in our school’ went against the immediately obvious meaning by interpreting the prophetic command as a command of recommendation rather than a command of obligation.

There is nothing that more decisively establishes the non-literal interpretation of these hadiths than the above-mentioned action of Ibn `Umar, who is the narrator of the very hadith that is under discussion. For Ibn `Umar?despite his proverbial avidness is imitating the Prophet [ Allah bless him and give him peace ] in every respect?believed that the prophetic command to let one’s beard grow was not an unqualified command but that ‘as explained by the hadith master Ibn Hajar’ it was understood as applying to situations that do not spoil one’s appearance by one’s beard becoming excessively long at the bottom or the sides..

Another proof that the prophetic command in these hadiths is a command of recommendation rather than a command of obligation is that the hadiths command both [ a ] the growing of full beards and [ b ] the shortening of moustaches. In his commentary on Sahih Bukhari, the hadith master Ibn Hajar relates from the great scholar, the hadith master Ibn Daqiq al-`Id that he said, “…I don’t know of anyone who held that it is obligatory to shorten the moustache in and of itself…” If no one in the knowledge of Ibn Daqiq al-`Id ever interpreted the command to shorten one’s moustache in its immediately obvious sense of obligation, then it is perfectly plausible to extend this non-literal interpretation to the prophetic command to grow full beards by saying that the prophetic command to grow full beards is a command of recommendation, not one of obligation.

Third objection: Doesn’t the command to distinguish oneself from other religions imply obligation ? 
A possible objection that may be raised is that the hadiths command us to be different from people of other religions by lengthening the beard and shortening the moustache, which implies that it is unlawful to conform to them in their practices, and these practices include shaving beards and allowing moustaches to grow long. The response to this objection is that it has already been mentioned that ‘according to Ibn Daqiq al-`Id’ shortening the moustache is not obligatory by scholarly agreement. This indicates that scholars did not hold that merely conjoining a matter with a command to be different from people of other religions makes the command a command of obligation. If this is possible with respect to the shortening the moustache, it is equally possible with respect to lengthening the beard.

This is further evidenced by the scholarly disagreement regarding a different hadith that Bukhari relates from Abu Hurayrah, in which the Prophet [ Allah bless him and give him peace ] said, “Verily, the Jews and Christians do not dye their hair, so be different from them.” By commanding us in this hadith to be different from the Jews and Christians, the Prophet [ Allah bless him and give him peace ] is, in effect, commanding us to dye our hair, and the immediately obvious meaning of a command is one of obligation. Despite this, we find that major prophetic companions [ may Allah be pleased with them all ] differed regarding the ruling of dyeing one’s hair. The hadith master Ibn Hajar says in his commentary on this hadith: There is disagreement whether or not one should dye one’s hair: Abu Bakr, `Umar, and others dyed their hair ‘as mentioned previously’ whereas `Ali, Ubayy b. Ka`b, Salamah b. Akwa`, Anas, and a group of other companions did not dye their hair. Tabari resolved this difference in practice by saying that the companions who dyed their hair were those for whom dyeing was more appropriate because their white hair spoiled their appearance, whereas those who did not dye their hair were those whose white hair did not spoil their appearance.

This is how the Prophet’s [ Allah bless him and give him peace ] hadith in Sahih Muslim is understood where, upon seeing Abu Quhafah’s head as white as the thughamah plant, he said, “Change this, but avoid black.” . [ The thughamah plant is a plant whose flowers and fruit are both extremely white ]. For someone like Abu Quhafah, then, it is recommended to dye one’s hair because it does not comprise deceit. For someone unlike him, it is not specifically recommended to dye one’s hair, although it is superior for everyone to dye their hair because it comprises fulfilling the command to be different from the People of the Book .

It is farfetched that the companions who did not dye their hair, like`Ali, Ubayy, Anas, and others who closely kept the company of the Prophet [ Allah bless him and give him peace ] would not be aware of the fact that the Prophet [ Allah bless him and give him peace ] used to dye his hair and that he commanded Muslims to dye their hair in order to be different from the Jews and Christians. Despite this, we find that not only did they not hold dyeing to be obligatory, but they did not dye their hair at all, and this does not diminish their high rank in the slightest.

The position of our Shafi`i imams regarding growing a full beard is similar to the above. In other words, they hold that to grow a full beard is a confirmed sunna because of the Prophet’s [ Allah bless him and give him peace ] command to lengthen it and thereby be different from the Magians and the polytheists, and because it comprises imitating his blessed practice [ may the choicest of blessings and peace be upon him and his folk ]. Imam Nawawi even held the opinion that the sunna is to completely leave the beard alone and not to trim it at all, although if one does shorten or shave it, it is merely disliked and does not comprise any sin. It is clear from the above that large groups of scholars [ may Allah have mercy on them ] were aware of hadiths about beautification and cleanliness [ khisal al-fitra ] that were transmitted in the form of a command, and yet they did not understand that the command implied obligation. Instead, they understood that the command was issued in order to establish recommendation or to merely give advice.

Words of Caution

It is important to point out that someone who shaves his beard in order to turn away from the sunna, or with the intention of imitating non-Muslims or people of disobedience out of admiration of them, then this is completely unlawful without any scholarly disagreement whatsoever. Rather, if someone does this in order to mock the blessed and pure sunna of our Prophet [ Allah bless him and give him peace ] then ‘and Allah is our refuge’ this would constitute disbelief and would take one out of the fold of Islam. I am only drawing attention to this point because I see that many ignorant Muslims have been duped by un-Islamic cultural practices that have invaded their societies: such people should realize the danger of their ways and fix themselves by turning to Allah Most High in sincere repentance and by venerating the sunna and the Sacred Law of the Messenger of Allah [ Allah bless him and give him peace ].

As for someone who merely shaves his beard without any excuse, and without intending any of the above, then he has committed something that is disliked and thereby loses out on tremendous reward, but ‘according to the Shafi`i school’ he is not sinful. As for the statement of the questioner – may Allah grant him every success – that come scholars say that the relied-upon position in the Shafi`i school is that it is unlawful to shave or shorten the beard, its incorrectness has been explained above. It is a well-known fact that the relied-upon position of any school of law is taken from the reliable scholars of that school itself. Before a jurist [ mufti ] who is an expert in one school can convey the position of another school regarding a matter, he must first learn about the relative levels of the scholars of the school, about the scholars who are given precedence when there is disagreement, and about the books that explain the differences within the school and which of the conflicting opinions is strongest position in the school. Otherwise, the jurist will fall prey to error, spread strife among Muslims, and will merely be following his own desires.

It has been made clear above that the position that is deemed strongest by the two shaykhs, Nawawi and Rafi`i, is the official, relied-upon position of the school of Imam Shafi`i [ may Allah be pleased with him and have mercy on him ]. It has also been made clear that if anyone else objects to these two scholars, their disagreement is simply ignored. If, then, it is established that these two scholars hold shaving and shortening the beard to be disliked, and that their position is confirmed by the late Shafi`i scholars whose works are relied upon for conveying formal legal opinion [ fatwa ] [ whose words I have quoted above ] , there remains no doubt or uncertainty regarding the official position of the school regarding the matter. As for the fact that some great Shafi`i scholars held that shaving and shortening the beard was unlawful, this is cannot be denied, but it remains a weak position as far the school is concerned.

Prohibitive dislikedness vs non-Prohibitive dislikedness

As for the statement of the questioner that some scholars say that the Shafi`is who say that shaving or shortening the beard is disliked actually mean that it is prohibitively disliked [ makruh tahriman ] , it is incorrect. This is because whenever a Shafi`i scholar says that something is disliked [ makruh ], he means that it is something that the Lawgiver has non-firmly asked us to refrain from, such that someone who refrains from it is rewarded, but someone who performs it is not punished. In other words, when a Shafi`i describes something as being disliked, he means that it is non-prohibitively disliked [ makruh tanzihan ] and that performing the action does not entail any sin.

The concept of prohibitive dislikedness [ karahah tahrimiyyah ] belongs to the nomenclature of the great and respected scholars of the Hanafi school, as has been explained in the books of legal methodology [ usul al-fiqh ] , but it is foreign to the nomenclature of the Shafi`i school. Although some Shafi`is have described certain actions as being prohibitively disliked [ makruh tahriman ] , they do not mean what the Hanafis mean when they use the term. According to the Hanafis, a prohibition that is established by probabilistic evidence is termed prohibitively disliked [ makruh tahriman ] whereas a prohibition that is established by definitive evidence is termed unlawful [ haram ]. When the Shafi`is use the term “prohibitively disliked”, they mean something quite different: they are merely trying to join between conflicting scholarly statements when a scholar says at one point that something is unlawful and at another point that it is disliked. In order to prevent him from contradicting himself, they interpret his describing something as “disliked” as being “prohibitively disliked”. This does not mean at all that when they describe something as being disliked it is, in fact, prohibited and sinful, as is the case with the Hanafis in certain sections of their law manuals.

The great Hanafi scholar of exacting verification, Ibn `Abidin al-Shami said in his Hashiya in the Chapter on Disliked Matters in Ablution, It says in the book Bahr in the section of disliked matters in prayer, “Disliked matters in this chapter are of two types: [ 1 ] matters that are prohibitively disliked – this is how their words are understood when then they simply describe a matter as being “disliked”, as mentioned in the chapter of zakat in Fath al-Qadir – and [ 2 ] .”  [ This is how the Hanafis understand the term ]. As for the Shafi`is, when a ruling is described as being simply “disliked”, then what is meant is “non-prohibitively disliked”. This is what is established in the books of methodology and law of the Shafi`i school. The great scholar of legal methodology, Qadi al-Baydawi, said in the “Minhaj” of legal methodology, by way of explaining the five rulings according to the Shafi`is: “…. the disliked [ makruh ] is that whose leaver is praised but whose doer is not blamed ….” Here is an example of a section from the works of the Shafi`i jurists that corresponds with the above explanation of the meaning of prohibitive and non-prohibitive dislikedness in the Shafi`i school.

Imam Khatib al-Shirbini said in al-Iqna` fi hall alfaz abi shuja` in the Book of Fasting, – It is disliked to fast on a day of doubt  – ( i.e. , non-prohibitively disliked. Isnawi said, “This is well-known, explicitly mentioned [ in the works of the Shafi`is ] ,  and the position of the majority [ Shafi`is ]. The relied-upon position in the school, however, is that it is unlawful, [ cf. Rawda, Minhaj, and Majmu ] because of the saying of `Amman b. Yasir, “Whoever fasts a day of doubt has disobeyed Abul-Qasim [ may Allah bless him and give him peace ].” Note: It is possible to interpret the [ usage of the term “disliked” ] by the author as “prohibitively disliked”, whereby his words would correspond to the relied-upon position of the school. ) 

Play close attention to how he explains the meaning of “dislikedness” in words of Abu Shuja` as meaning “non-prohibitive dislikedness”, which is the default meaning of “disliked” whenever the word is used without further qualification. Then, after mentioning that this goes against the relied-upon position of the school, he alerts us to the possibility of interpreting “dislikedness” in the words of Abu Shuja` as referring to “prohibitive dislikedness” with the aim of forcing the author’s words to agree with the relied-upon position in the school on the issue. This is further confirmed by the words of the author of the marginal glosses on the work, the great scholar Sulayman al-Bujayrimi, who commented on Khatib al-Shirbini’s words, “it is possible to interpret the words of the author .” by saying, “He said this because whenever something is described as being ‘disliked’ without further qualification, it means that the matter is non-prohibitively disliked.”

The great scholar of exacting verification, Jalal al-Mahalli, said in his commentary on the Minhaj in the Book of Fasting during his discussion on the matters that are recommended for a fasting person to avoid, “…. and for him to refrain from cupping [ and bloodletting because they weaken him ] and kissing [ based on ] -regarding the one whose lust is thereby aroused – the Muharrar’s describing it as disliked without any further qualification, which is understood as referring to non-prohibitive dislikedness….” [ Note how he explains that when something is simply described as being “disliked” without any further qualification, it means that it is non-prohibitively disliked ].

Something that further indicates that the “dislikedness” meant by the imams Nawawi and Rafi`i in this case in particular means non-prohibitive dislikedness is that the scholars of the Shafi`i school who transmitted this position from them explicitly mention that Imam Halimi’s saying, “It is not permissible for anyone to shave his beard,” is weak [ as mentioned above ]. They did this in contradistinction to the two imams’ position of dislikedness. Had they understood from the two imams’ usage of the term “dislikedness” that the dislikedness was a prohibitive dislikedness, they would not have described Imam Halimi’s position as being weak, for something that is prohibitively disliked can correctly be described as “not being permissible,” and Imam Halimi’s statement would therefore not be weak, but correct. This clearly indicates that the two imams’ meant that shaving the beard is non-prohibitively disliked, not prohibitively disliked.

The upshot is that the relied-upon position of our school, which is the position of the two shaykhs, Nawawi and Rafi`i, and confirmed by the late Shafi`is whose works are relied upon for issuing formal legal opinion [ fatwa ] is that growing a full beard is a confirmed sunna for men, not an obligation. Therefore, anyone who shaves or shortens his beard without an excuse will not be sinful, but will have committed something disliked because of his contravention of the prophetic command that has been established in rigorously authenticated hadiths, and his contravention of the established practice of the Prophet [ Allah bless him and give him peace ]. According to the Shafi`i school, someone who does something that is disliked – like someone who leaves something that is recommended – is not thereby sinful, as was established from the previously mentioned words of Imam Baydawi. Such a person does, however, miss out on great reward. As for someone who shaves or shortens his beard because of a legally valid excuse, such as an illness, or fear of a tyrant who threatens him because of his growing a full beard, he is completely blameless because of Allah Most High’s saying, “He has not placed any hardship for you in your religion.”

The impermissibility of commanding the right and forbidding the wrong in matters of disagreement

I would like to conclude this answer by mentioning that the rulings of commanding the right and forbidding the wrong only apply to matters that are agreed upon among scholars as being obligatory or unlawful. As for something that is differed upon, such as the issue under discussion, it is not permissible to condemn someone for doing it. It is, however, recommended for one to give sincere advice to such a person and to encourage him to adopt the more religiously precautionary position by extricating himself from the disagreement of the scholars. The great scholar, the Proof of Islam, Imam Ghazali said in the Ihya during his discussion of the integrals and conditions of commanding the right, “…The fourth condition is that the matter being condemned be something that is condemnable without being subject to scholarly disagreement. Commanding the right and forbidding the wrong does not apply to anything that falls under the realm of scholarly disagreement. It is therefore not permissible for a follower of the Hanafi school to condemn a follower of the Shafi`i school for eating a lizard, a hyena, or meat upon which the name of Allah was not pronounced [ even though such matters may be unlawful in the Hanafi school ]..”

Imam Nawawi said in his commentary on Sahih Muslim, “….Scholars only condemn what is agreed upon [ as being unlawful ]. As for something that is differed upon, it may not be condemned because either [ a ] the conclusion of every mujtahid is correct – and this is the position adopted by many [ or most ] of the scholars of exacting verification – or [ b ] only one of them is correct but we don’t know with certainty which one is incorrect and [ whoever he may be ] he is not sinful [ for reaching his incorrect conclusion ]. However, if one encourages such a person to extricate himself from scholarly disagreement by way of giving sincere advice, then this is a good and praiseworthy thing when done with gentleness. This is because scholars agree that is encouraged to extricate oneself from scholarly disagreement when doing so does not result in contravening a sunna or falling into another disagreement…”

And Allah Most High knows best what the correct position is and to Him is the final return

[Shaykh] Amjad Rasheed

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"Whoever guides someone to goodness will have a similar reward"-- The Prophet (Peace and Blessings Be Upon Him)