These days most guys who grow long, bushy beards get labeled as hipsters trying to morph into microbrewing lumberjacks from the 1890s. But the laughing wink and nod folks give to the hairy, Portlandia-style stereotype isn’t always extended when the men growing the beards are Muslim—or perceived to be Muslim.
Now, two ministers in predominantly Muslim areas of London are being praised by a prominent Church of England official for growing beards to signal solidarity across ethnic and religious lines in the community.
“Two of the most energetic priests in east London [have] recently grown beards of an opulence that would not have disgraced a Victorian sage,” the bishop of London, Richard Chartres, wrote in an op-ed in The Church Times on Friday. “The two priests work in parishes in Tower Hamlets. Most of the residents are Bangladeshi-Sylheti, for whom the wearing of a beard is one of the marks of a holy man. This view is shared among many Eastern cultures, but it was not so for much of the history of the West,” Chartres wrote.
The priests’ “desire to reach out to the culture of the majority of their parishioners can only be applauded, " he wrote.
In an interview on Friday with The Telegraph, one of the priests, the Reverend Adam Atkinson, who is the vicar of St. Peter’s church, explained that 85 percent of the people who live in the vicinity of his parish are Muslim.
“In our area there are three main groups, the poor, the ‘cool’ and the Muslims,” said Atkinson. He went on to note that “beards cover at least two groups reasonably well.”
Efforts to find commonalities such as this one seem long overdue in the U.K. After he grew a beard to play Socrates in a stage role, Greek actor and writer Alex Andreou wrote an op-ed for The Guardian in 2013 about understanding the discrimination “Muslim-looking” men face.
The olive-skinned actor described receiving suspicious, fearful looks as he walked the streets and tube stations of London—looks he said had never been directed toward him when he was clean-shaven. “It's a difficult time to be a foreigner anywhere and look it. The crime? Having a beard. The punishment? Public humiliation or worse. I will shave as soon as my engagement is over and feel peculiarly guilty for doing it,” wrote Andreou.
And as some men in Sweden found out last October, someone who happens upon a group of bearded white hipsters posing for pictures might think they’re witnessing a gathering of the Islamic State and call the cops.
Suspicious looks might not be all that someone "Muslim-looking" with facial hair receives. After the terrorist attacks in Paris last November, hate crimes against Muslims in the U.K. jumped 300 percent. Meanwhile, in the United States, 56 percent of Americans say the values of Islam are at odds with America’s values and way of life, according to a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute.
The results of a survey of 1,000 British Muslims last year found that about 30 percent reported feeling more distrust in their communities from non-Muslims than they did a few years ago. However, the response from the Muslim community in the East End has been positive, said Atkinson. “A Muslim friend said ‘I will lend you a hat and you can join me on Friday [prayers]. It was done in a jokey way but it was quite affirming.”
Related stories on TakePart:
Original article from TakePart