I Am a Bearded Police Officer is a new coalition established by a group of Egyptian police officers who submitted requests to grow their beards to the Ministry of Interior, stirring much controversy over the right to a religious appearance in the workplace and raising concerns over possible parliament rows.
“I know that many Egyptians are keen to see police officers in Egypt grow their beards and follow the example of their prophet,” Captain Hani al-Shakeri, the official spokesman of I Am a Bearded Police Officer, wrote in the group’s page on social networking website Facebook.
Shakeri, who posted a picture of himself with a beard after starting the initiative, added that he is not going to change his position.
“At last I get to regain my humanity which I had lost during the oppressive regime,” he wrote.
Minister of Interior General Mohamed Ibrahim rejected the beard growing requests and stressed that no one will be allowed to violate the long established traditions of police officers’ appearance.
“Police officers are required to maintain a presentable appearance like all those working in sectors related to security,” Ibrahim told his senior aides in a meeting.
Amid talk about taking disciplinary action towards officers who insist on growing their beards despite the ministry’s disapproval, senior police officers warned the minister of a possible confrontation with the Islamist-dominated parliament in case the disgruntled officers decide to take the matter to legislators.
Scholars at al-Azhar, the world’s leading institution of Sunni Islam, disagreed on the matter. While some objected to wasting time and effort on the issue when the police should be concentrating on more important problems facing the country, others saw no damage done to the duties of policemen if they grow their beards.
“Growing a beard is preferable but it’s not obligatory,” said Sheikh Abdel Hamid al-Atrash, former head of al-Azhar’s Religious Edicts Committee.
Atrash added that police officers top priority should be maintaining security rather than their appearance.
“It is important that they maintain the appearance that goes with the status of the police even if this would make them go against a preferred practice in Islam,” he said.
Atrash explained that several scholars argued that if a warrior’s beard would make him less intimidating to his enemies then he shouldn’t grow it.
“The word ‘warrior’ applies to both army and police officers.”
On the other hand, Mohamed al-Berri, former head of al-Azhar’s Scholars Union, argued that refusing to grant police officers the right to grow their beards reveals the persistence of the same pre-revolution mentality.
“Why is it a problem if police officers or others grow their beards as long as this does not affect their performance?” he said.
Berri cited the example of Gulf nations and other Arab countries where there are many bearded officers in the police.
“However, I believe that performance should be the priority and that is why Egyptian officers should focus first on regaining the lost trust between the police and the people then think about their right to maintain the appearance they want.”
The demand to grow a beard is not, however, confined to the Ministry of Interior. Members of the prosecution and the judiciary, who are affiliated to the Ministry of Justice, formed similar pages on Facebook and also called for their right to grow beards.
(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)