Beards, Braids and Moustachios: Exploring the Social Meaning of Hair in the Mediaeval Muslim World

by Petra M. Sijpesteijn


“The way the hair is worn, by whom it is cut and in what context, either voluntarily or under compulsion – as a ritual necessity, as punishment or in retribution – carries, needless to say, important symbolic charges. The exact force of these charges, however, is notoriously hard to identify. The visual prominence and plasticity of (head) hair imbue it with unusual decorative potential, and ensure for it a typically critical place in the formation of an individual’s persona and the organisation of his or her self-representation. Yet hair’s mutability, the impermanence of its stylings, its resistance to structure and its dispensability, despite its intrinsicality, make its status oddly ambiguous and its meanings fluid and unstable – and hence continuously open to contestation.”

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