Muslim men in Egypt demand to wear beards
The morning shave used to feel less soothing than sinful to Ahmed Hamdy, an observant Muslim police lieutenant in southern Egypt. Letting his whiskers grow was a duty to God, he believed. But working clean-shaven was the unwritten code at almost any government job.
"Every day when I shaved, I used to ask God for forgiveness," said Hamdy, 26.
And so in February, a year after the fall of Hosni Mubarak, Hamdy decided it was time to wear his religious identity on his chin. One morning after a vacation, he arrived for work as a bearded policeman and immediately became part of Egypt's messy struggle to redefine its relationship with Islam in the postrevolution era.
All over the country, Muslim men are demanding to wear beards - and Muslim women the hijab hair covering - in police stations, banks, airliners, television news programs and other places where they have long been banned by law or custom.
For many, it's a blooming of self-expression that was dangerous under a regime that equated Islamic piety with terrorism, when having a beard was enough reason to be pulled over by state security officers or to draw extra attention at the airport.
For others, it's part of the rise of Islamist governments in the wake of the Arab Spring and a disconcerting intrusion of religious identity into the public sphere. (...)