Religion and Shaving - A Guide

Religion and Shaving

Some faiths require the removal of body and facial hair whilst others do not.

Hair removal may be mandatory in some religions for instance on reaching a certain age or at the death of a relative or spouse, whilst removal of hair is forbidden within others.


Throughout the Islamic world, hair removal is considered in the context of religious law. Amongst Muslims, hair removal is part of an impulse towards general purity and cleanliness and includes the trimming of nails and the removing of armpit and pubic hair. Both men and women should remove armpit and pubic hair at least every forty days. A beard is desirable for Muslim men and women can remove 'unnatural' facial hair but should not reshape eyebrows for reasons of vanity.

The Hanafi branch of Islam, which includes the Sunni Turks, demands that every part of the body - every part! - be free from hair. Therefore, at each hamam visit, women waxed their body with waxes made of sugar and various herbs.

Men preferred razor blades and hair-removing ointments.

During the Ottoman period, removing body hair was more important to Moslem men and women than it is in the modern world.

Hinduism and India

In India, head shaving is practised by many Hindus and seems to have more ritual significance than any other kind of hair removal.

Chudakarana Samskara: Head Shaving

Both Hindu boys and girls undergo a ritual at about four years old in which they have their heads shaved. Hair is seen as an adornment so by shaving the head, the child confronts his or her bare ego. It teaches humbleness and devotion. Children with shaved heads are seen as innocent and holy and are treated with great respect.

Shaving the head can also be seen as an act of humility for adults. For example, at the Kumbha Mela the first ritual observed by most pilgrims is the mundana ceremony, the shaving of the head. Hair is considered the symbol of vanity, and in order to receive the full benefits of a pilgrimage to a holy place, one must first give up vanity. Thus, the pilgrims believe that the hair should be shaven from the head in a gesture of surrender and humility.

Hindu men have their heads shaven only when somebody elderly dies in the house and women were shaven headed only when they are widows and not otherwise.


The Sikh religion forbids cutting or shaving any bodily hair. Orthodox Sikhs always carry a dagger with them, lest someone try to force them to do something against their religion. The dagger is considered one of the five "outer badges." The others are wearing hair and beard unshorn; wearing a turban; wearing knee-length pants; and wearing a steel bracelet on the right wrist."

Sikhs seem to have reacted against shaving and depilation, possibly because of its association with the Hindu caste system. This has led to what one writer calls an "anti-depilatory taboo" as a reaction to certain rites of renunciation or sannyasa that were prevalent throughout the Punjab (and indeed the rest of India) at that time. In the initiation rites undertaken by the Hindu sannyasi, he would, having found a Guru or spiritual teacher, have his beard, moustache, and head entirely shaved.


There is a head shaving ritual for boys in Burma, somewhat like the Hindu version.

Thai Buddhists have a head shaving ritual for purification of the newborn.

Head shaving is part of the process of becoming a Buddhist monk. The Head Shaving Ceremony is about renunciation from common mundane life and all its illusory pleasures. By renouncing not only one's old sense-desire based lifestyle but also all attachments, one enters into a monastic lifestyle aimed at the attainment of Buddhahood. The Buddha also renounced his home-life at a young age by leaving his palace and cutting off his long hair.

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