Answered by Shaykh Hamza Karamali, SunniPath Academy Teacher
Could do you tell me the relied-upon position of the Shafi school regarding the beard?
1) Is it haram to shave the beard? Some people say that shaving the the beard is haram in all schools. I have heard it is only makruh, and this is the opinion of Imam Shafi and Imam Nawawi?. Is this the relied opinion? Which scholars have said what? What is the Maliki position?
2) Is it permissible to have a trimmed beard? What is the sunnah length?
3) What is the beard according to the Shafi school? I have heard if one grows some hairs on the chin (the ‘Goatee’), this is a beard in the school as well. Does this follow the sunnah and is it permissible? I also have heard that number of Shafi scholars have goatee’s and is a sound opinion as well, but this entails shaving the sides, which is haram I think?
In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate
Is it haram to shave the beard?
Imam al-Shafi‘i is reported to have said that shaving the beard is forbidden (haram). This is not, however, the position taken by the Shafi‘i school. The soundest position in the Shafi‘i school is that shaving the beard is disliked (makruh) and not forbidden (haram). This is the position of all the important figures in the late Shafi‘i school, such as Ibn Hajar al-Haytami, Muhammad al-Ramli, al-Khatib al-Shirbini, and Shaykh al-Islam Zakariyya al-Ansari (Allah be pleased with all of them). (I‘anatu’l-Talibin, 2.341). Ibn Hajar has mentioned that this was the position of both Imam Nawawi and Imam Rafi‘i (Hashiyat Shirwani, 9.376). Imam Nawawi explicitly mentions that it is disliked to shave the beard in his commentary on Sahih Muslim and also in his Rawdat al-Talibin. Anyone familiar with the works of the school will realize that the agreement of all these scholars seals the case as far as the position of the school is concerned.
What is the ruling of trimming the beard?
To trim the beard is also disliked. It is not forbidden, as can be inferred a fortiori from the ruling regarding shaving the beard (if it is not forbidden to shave the beard, how can it be forbidden to trim it?). Ibn Hajar says in his Tuhfa:
“The outword purport (dhahir) of what our imams say is that it is unconditionally disliked to trim the beard.” (Tuhfat al-Muhtaj, 9.376)
What is the sunna length of the beard?
The optimal length of the beard is to leave it uncut and not touch it at all, as mentioned by Ibn Hajar above. Anything less than this optimal length is disliked. Ibn Hajar foresees the objection that this would result in making one’s appearance ugly by saying that this would only occur if one neglected caring for one’s beard by not washing or oiling it. (Tuhfat al-Muhtaj, 9.376).
What constitutes a minimum beard?
I have heard through Shaykh Amjad Rasheed of Amman (who studied in Hadramawt), that the Shafi‘is of Hadramawt say that someone who grows hair on his chin is legally considered to have kept a beard. As such, a goatee would minimally fulfill the sunna of keeping a beard, although it would obviously be superior to keep a fuller beard. The level of disliked-ness (karahah) in which one is engaged is commensurate with one’s distance from the optimal (uncut) beard.
The way of caution
Other schools of fiqh are not as lenient regarding the beard. The Hanafis and Hanbalis both hold, for example, that keeping a beard is obligatory (I don’t know the position of the Malikis; perhaps one of the Californians could get a referenced answer from Zaytuna regarding this). Despite the fact that the official position of the Shafi‘i school is that shaving one’s beard is disliked, many prominent Shafi‘is (al-Halimi among the early Shafi‘is and al-Adhra‘i, Ibn al-Rif‘ah, Zayn al-Din al-Malibari, and Ibn Ziyad among the later ones) have taken the opinion that it is forbidden. As such, the way of caution in one’s religion would be to keep a full beard. Sidi Omar recently quoted Habib ‘Ali as saying that it does not befit a student of knowledge to shave his beard.
And Allah knows best.
Hamza Karamali and Mostafa Azzam.
 Those unfamiliar with the concept of a “madhhab” are often under the impression that to follow the school of a particular Imam means to follow all his positions “no matter what”. This is not true. Each of the four schools of fiqh consisted of hundreds of top-notch scholars who were experts in a wide range of Islamic sciences. Over the generations, these scholars checked and refined the positions of the Imam of the school and the positions of the scholars who came before them. The late books of each school represent the collective effort of a whole school, and it is not uncommon to find that the position adopted by the school is contrary to the position of the particular Imam that the school is attributed to. Someone who really understands this will appreciate how absurd it is for someone to come along in the twenty – first century and claim that something recorded in the late books of a school has no proof behind it. To make such a claim is to accuse a millennium of Islamic genius of being sub-par (or even worse) “blind-followers who turn away from the Qur’an and Sunna”.
 Posts sent out on this list are meant primarily for followers of the Shafi‘i school. It is forbidden (haram) to constantly seek out dispensations, and so I omit mentioning positions of other schools when they are more lenient than the position of the Shafi‘is. When these positions are stricter than the position of the Shafi‘i school, however, it is good to mention them, since the way of taqwa entails being precautionary in one’s religion by avoiding what any of the four schools have ruled as being forbidden. In fulfilling the stricter position of another school, one, of course, also fulfills the more lenient position of the Shafi`I school.