Mufti Zameelur Rahman explains that when fuqahāʾ in ḥanafī fiqh talk about “al qadr al masnūn” (recommended length) for the beard, they do not mean that trimming less this length (one-fist) is merely contrary to a recommendation. Instead, quite the contrary, the wordings in the mutūn are discussing the recommendation of trimming a beard that is in excess of one-fist down to one-fist. This excerpt from Mufti Zameel’s longer critic of Sheikh Ṣalāḥ is a prime example of how a matn text can be misconstrued without proper context.
“The Recommended Length” (al-Qadr al-Masnūn)
Dr. Ṣalāḥ states: “The senior jurists in most of the books of the Ḥanafīs suffice with stating ‘the recommended length’ about the beard…Amongst the explicit texts on the recommended nature of a handful [beard] are [the following]: al-Marghīnānī (d. 593 H) said [in al-Hidāyah]: ‘One ought to not [oil the beard] in order to make the beard longer when it is of the recommended length, which is a handful (qubḍah).’”
Dr. Ṣalāḥ then quotes Raḍī al-Dīn al-Sarakhsī (d. 571 H) stating: “The sunnah in it is a handful, which is that a man takes hold of his beard, and whatever of it is in excess of a handful, he cuts it, as Muḥammad mentioned in Kitāb al-Ᾱthār from Imām [Abū Ḥanīfah] and said: We adopt this.” He then quotes al-Zayla‘ī (d. 743 H), Ibn Nujaym (d. 970 H) and al-Sunnāmī (d. ca. 725 H) mentioning something similar.
He uses these texts to argue that to grow the beard is in principle merely recommended, not obligatory.
However, when these jurists mention the “recommended length” as being a “handful” (qubḍah), they mean “trimming the beard to a fist-length is recommended.” They do not mean, as Dr. Ṣalāḥ misunderstood, that to keep the beard up to this length is merely recommended and not obligatory. Hence, the recommendation is not the length per se, but the act of trimming it to that length. Thus, some authoritative texts explicitly phrase this ruling as it being sunnah to trim the beard to this length (see below). Hence, there is no contradiction between referring to a “handful” as the “recommended length” and it being prohibited to trim it to less than that length.
The basis of the “recommended length” is a narration from ‘Abdullāh ibn ‘Umar (Allāh be pleased with him) stating that he trimmed his beard to a fist-length. Imām Muḥammad quotes this in his Kitāb al-Ᾱthār as follows: “Abū Ḥanīfah reported to us from al-Haytham from Ibn ‘Umar (may Allāh be pleased with him) that he would take hold of his beard and then trim whatever was beneath the handful. Muḥammad said: We adopt this, and it is the position of Abū Ḥanīfah.”
It is understood from this that Imām Abū Ḥanīfah’s position was that it is desirable to trim whatever is in excess of a handful. In commenting on the passage describing the “recommended length” in al-Hidāyah, Amīr al-Itqānī (d. 758 H) explains: “The basis of this is what Abū Dāwūd transmitted in his Sunan with his chain to Marwān: ‘I saw Ibn ‘Umar taking hold of his beard and cutting whatever is in excess of a handful’…Muḥammad mentioned at the end of Kitāb al-Athār: ‘Abū Ḥanīfah reported to us from al-Haytham from Ibn ‘Umar that he would take hold of his beard and then trim whatever was beneath the handful.’” (Ghāyat al-Bayān)
Another commentator of al-Hidāyah, Qiwām al-Dīn al-Kākī (d. 749 H), explains: “The length of the beard is to this amount (i.e. handful) according to us, and whatever is in excess of that must be cut.” (Mi‘rāj al-Dirāyah)
These commentaries clearly show that what is meant by “the recommended length” is the recommendation of trimming the beard to this length.
Dr. Salāḥ quotes the passage of Raḍī al-Dīn al-Sarakhsī via Radd al-Muḥtār, as follows: “The sunnah in it is a handful, which is that a man takes hold of his beard, and whatever of it is in excess of a handful, he cuts it…” However, Ibn ‘Ᾱbidīn in Radd al-Muḥtār does not include the phrase: “the sunnah in it is a handful” as part of the quote from Raḍī al-Dīn al-Sarakhsī. The phrase “the sunnah in it is a handful” is from al-Durr al-Mukhtār, the text Ibn ‘Ᾱbidīn is commenting on. Ibn ‘Ᾱbidīn quotes this text, and then explains the method and basis of this ruling from Raḍī al-Dīn al-Sarakhsī, who said: “which is that a man takes hold of his beard, and whatever of it is in excess of a handful, he cuts it, as Muḥammad mentioned in Kitāb al-Ᾱthār from Imām [Abū Ḥanīfah] and said: ‘We adopt this.’” Hence, the first part of the quote of Raḍī al-Dīn al-Sarakhsī is in fact missing from Ibn ‘Ᾱbidīn’s citation. This is significant because the full quote of Raḍī al-Dīn al-Sarakhsī in fact begins with: “trimming is sunnah in it (i.e. the beard),” which he then explains as trimming it to a fist-length.,
Hence, the original quote from Raḍī al-Dīn al-Sarakhsī makes it clear that what is meant by the “recommendation” or “sunnah” is the act of trimming the beard to a fist-length, and not keeping the beard to that length.
In short, what is being referred to by the “recommended length” is it being sunnah to trim the beard to that length based on the practice of Ibn ‘Umar which was adopted for practice by the early Ḥanafī imāms. It does not mean that to grow it or keep it to that length is merely recommended.
The fact that there is no contradiction between referring to a fist-length as the sunnah length and the prohibition of cutting it less than that length is also evident from one of the works Dr. Ṣalāḥ cited, Niṣāb al-Iḥtisāb, by al-Sunnāmī. In this work, al-Sunnāmī poses the question: “Is it permissible to shave the beard?” In response, he writes: “It is not permissible. It states in Jināyāt of al-Hidāyah and Karāhiyyah of al-Tajnīs wa l-Mazīd [by the author of al-Hidāyah]: The Messenger of Allāh (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) said: ‘Clip the moustaches closely and let the beards grow as they are’; meaning, clip the moustaches and leave the beards as they are, and do not shave them and do not reduce them from the sunnah length which is a handful.”
Al-Sunnāmī is here quoting the author of al-Hidāyah, al-Marghīnānī. The same passage is quoted from al-Marghīnānī’s Tajnīs in al-Fatāwā al-Tatārkhāniyyah. Hence, the author of al-Hidāyah quotes the ḥadīth on the topic, stating that it means that the beard is not to be shaved or reduced to less than the “recommended length”, which is a fist-length. Since al-Sunnāmī quotes this passage to prove that shaving the beard is “impermissible”, it is clear that he understood it to also mean that it is impermissible to cut the beard to less than this length as al-Marghīnānī describes both in the same manner. Hence, there is no contradiction between mentioning a “sunnah length” (to which the beard is to be trimmed) and the obligation of letting the beard grow to that length.
Perhaps the clearest discussion showing that the ruling of letting the beard grow to a fist-length is separate from the ruling of trimming it to a fist-length (which is sunnah) is that of al-Mawṣilī (d. 683 H) in his al-Ikhtiyār. He states: “Muḥammad reported from Abū Ḥanīfah that letting the beard grow (i‘fā’ al-liḥā) means to leave it until it becomes dense and plentiful; and the shortening of it is sunnah, which is that a man takes hold of his beard and whatever is in excess of his handful, he trims it.”
This discussion shows very clearly that what the jurists mean by the “recommended length” or “the sunnah length” is the recommendation of trimming the beard when it is in excess of a handful. They do not mean letting the beard grow to that point is merely recommended. In fact, a statement of al-Marghīnānī (who was the first to mention “the recommended length”) from al-Tajnīs suggests that to grow the beard to a fist-length is obligatory, as was understood by al-Sunnāmī.
 Ḥukm Qaṣṣ al-Liḥyah wa Ḥalqihā ‘inda l-Ḥanafiyyah, p. 49
 We will explain below that the phrase, “the sunnah in it is a handful,” has been misattributed to Raḍī al-Dīn al-Sarakhsī, and his actual words are: “trimming [the beard] is sunnah”, which he then explains as a handful.
 ibid. p. 49-50
 Kitāb al-Ᾱthār, Dār al-Nawādir, p. 766-7
 Radd al-Muḥtār, Dār ‘Ᾱlam al-Kutub, 9:583
 al-Fatāwā al-Hindiyyah, Dār al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 5:438
 Hence, the full quote from Raḍī al-Dīn al-Sarakhsī is as follows: “Trimming is sunnah in it (i.e. the beard), which is that a man takes hold of his beard, and whatever of it is in excess of a handful, he cuts it, as Muḥammad mentioned in Kitāb al-Ᾱthār from Imām [Abū Ḥanīfah] and said: ‘We adopt this.’” (al-Fatāwā al-Hindiyyah, Dār al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 5:438)
 Niṣāb al-Iḥtisāb, p. 121-2
 al-Fatāwā al-Tatārkhāniyyah, Maktabah Zakariyyā, 18:211
 al-Ikhtiyār, Dār al-Risālah al-‘Ᾱlamiyyah, 4:151
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