The Braids of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace)

Hanafi FiqhShafi'i Fiqh

Answered by Sidi Abdullah Anik Misra

Question: Recently in our weekly study circle I learnt that at one point the hair of the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him) was braided. Is there any more detail on how this was and when it is permissable to do?  At work my hair goes all over the place and because it is thick it will not stay in one place very easy. JazakAllah Khair.

Answer: Wa alaikum salam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,

May Allah Most High accept your intention to emulate the sunnah of His beloved Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him.

When the hair of the Prophet (peace be upon him) grew long, on occasion, it would be plaited into four braids. This was done mainly for the journeys from Madina to Mecca, when it was difficult to wash and maintain one’s hair. This was common for men in that time, place and culture.

A man can have any hairstyle as long as it is not:

(a) imitating women in style or length, or
(b) imitating non-Muslims in a style that is specifically attributed to them, or
(c) imitating a hairstyle that is immediately understood to be characteristic of sinful people.

However, beyond mere permissibility, one should look towards the customs and culture of the land they live in to see how braids are seen by the society, specifically in the opinion of the socially-aware scholars and respectable people. Also, braids must be undone at the time of the ritual bath (ghusl).

For work (and da’wah), I would suggest that if someone’s longer hair looks unkempt, simply cutting it to a neater, manageable length would be praiseworthy, still in accordance with the Prophetic command (see below), and reflect better on one’s overall implementation of the Sunnah.  Some details on braids follow below for those interested in learning more.

Braids in Light of the Sunna

Imam al-Tirmidhi relates in his book, the Shama’il (the Characteristics of the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him), from Umm Hani that she said:

“The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) arrived at Mecca on one of his visits having four braids [in his hair].” [Tirmidhi, Shamail; Sunan]

Imam al-Bayjuri comments that this arrival was for the Conquest of Mecca, one of the four visits the Prophet (peace be upon him) made to Mecca after the Hijra. The wording implies that the narrator, the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) cousin, did not see him with braided hair most of the time. The braids in this version were simply plaited strands of hair. [al-Bayjuri, Sharh al-Shamail]

Later, Imam Tirmidhi narrates another narration from Umm Hani that she saw the Prophet (peace be upon him) with four locks, either the same or another time, but the word used in this version implies that the braids were actually glazed with a resin or glue which would cause them to become stuck together, and Allah knows best.

Another narration in the collection of al-Bukhari occurs in a chapter specifically entitled “Braids”. It recounts the narration of Ibn ‘Abbas; in his childhood, the Prophet (peace be upon him) once moved him during prayer by pulling at the two braids in his hair. Ibn Hajr comments that, “in this act, there is indeed a tacit approval by the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) for the making of braids.” Ibn Abbas was a young boy, and not in a state of travel at the time. [Ibn Hajr, Fath al-Bari]

The Style of the Braids

It is rare to find any description of how those four braids were made on the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) blessed head. It obviously goes to show that the braids were not commonly made. However, al-Bayhaqi does say in his book, Dala’il al-Nubuwwah (the Indicators of Prophethood):

“[The Messenger], peace and blessings be upon him, would sometimes make his hair into four braids, the right ear coming out from between two braids that were surrounding it, and the left ear coming out from between two braids which were surrounding it. And the two ears would come forth with their whiteness from between these braids as if they were two brilliant stars lit up from amidst the blackness of his hair.” [al-Bayhaqi, Dala’il]

Imam al-Ghazali mentions that the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) hair could have been shoulder-length at these times, but most likely it was to the bottom of the ears, and that he would either let each ear show between two braids on either side, or put his locks behind his ears such that the earlobes would show forth like shining pearls.

May Allah Most High be praised for making His Messenger (peace be upon him) of such beauty!

Ibn Hajr mentions that each braid was made of 3 strands interwoven into each other, and also that they were said to be broad plaits, and not thin tresses. [Ibn Hajr, Fath al-Bari] Imam Anwar Shah Kashmiri even related the opinion that these were two conditions for braiding the hair according to the sunna.

Kashmiri also mentions that it was not a habit of the Prophet (peace be upon him) to braid his hair, and that perhaps the narrator who reported the details of the braids may have somehow seen under the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) turban on that occasion. This also shows that braiding or lengthening the hair does not imply that one’s head should be uncovered to show the braids (unless one is in ihram), as covering the head is a consistent sunna. [Kashmiri, al-`Urf al-Shadhi Sharh al-Tirmidhi]

The Reason for Braiding the Hair

It was quite clear that the braiding of the hair was done during long journeys, to protect against the build-up of dirt, when hair was difficult to maintain.

Imam Ibn Hajr says, “The upshot of the narration is that his hair (peace be upon him) grew until it became locks, so he braided it into four tresses, and this is interpreted to be in a state in which a long time passes without being able to care for his hair. This is in the state of being busy with travel and the such, and Allah knows best.” [Ibn Hajar, Fath al Bari]

The author of a commentary on Ibn Majah states: “Perhaps he (peace be upon him) did that to protect [his hair] against dust.” [al-Suyuti, Hashiya on Ibn Majah]

Glazing and permanently sticking together the hair’s tresses with gum, glue or resin was done during the pilgrimage journey (called “talbeed”) to prevent lice infestation and dirt build-up, requiring the head to be shaved completely upon completion.  This sunna has been reported by Bukhari in his Sahih, though the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) hair was always pure from lice.

Scholars’ Advice on Men Keeping Braids

Al-Bayjuri says in his commentary on the Shama’il:

“From the aforementioned hadeeth [of four braids], we can ascertain the permissibility of braiding the hair, even for men; it is not specifically for women only, even if that has become the culture in most countries in these times to specify it for women. Because there is no consideration given to that [restriction].” {al-Bayjuri, Sharh Shamail]

From this, we understand that saying the braids are only permissible for women, due to cultural preferences is not valid in light of the fact that it is proven from the sunna and thus cannot be made absolutely impermissible for men – as long as there is no imitation of women. However, culture and custom do play into whether it would be recommended or not for one to keep braids. We can see this cultural consideration in the statement of Ibn `Abdul Barr when he said:

“It has become in our times that our people have stopped tying up their hair [into plaits and locks], except for the soldiers who have shoulder-length or ear-lobe length hair. The people of righteousness and modesty and knowledge have turned away from this [braiding], to the point where the [avoidance of keeping locks] has become a distinguishing feature from amongst the features they are known by.

Shoulder-length hairstyles have almost become- in our times and in our culture (m: the author lived in Islamic Spain in the 5th century hijri) – a distinguishing mark of the foolish.  Indeed, it has been related from the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) that he said, ‘Whosever specifically imitates a certain group of people, then he is one of them, or he is gathered with them [on Judgement Day]…

… So that should be enough for you, and it is implicitly [exhorting one] to follow the guidance of the righteous people, in whatever state they are upon. Neither maintaining hair nor shaving it off will suffice you on the Day of Judgment one bit, and ones rewards are only based on intentions and actions. How many a man with a shaved-head is better than one with hair, and how many a person with hair is an upright man!…

…[however, there is] proof that the binding of long hair is better than shaving one’s head, because an act that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) actually did himself is better than an act that the people were doing without his forbidding them to do so. This is because he is, in every state specific to him, on the best of affairs, and the most perfect and most lofty of them, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him.” [Ibn `Abdul Barr, al-Tamhid]

In other times and cultures, longer hair and braids have only been worn by distinguished religious groups within a society, such as the righteous descendants of the Prophet (peace be upon him) or those who devote themselves to Islamic spirituality, and thus, that a layman imitates them such that he would be confused for one them had been disliked by the scholars of that time since the person would be giving a false impression about their level of religious learning, devotion or lineage.  [Ashraf `Ali Tahanawi, Laws of Hair in Islam]

Hence the ruling regarding braids for men changes across cultures and times. It depends on who is doing it, their background, their job, their intention, the purpose, the connotation and the message it sends. Braiding can also be considered customary for one ethnic group, and not another, even in the same land, as some Hanafi fiqh texts indicate [Ibn Nujaym, Bahr al-Raiq]. All of these elements factor into whether braiding one’s hair is recommended or not for a particular individual, especially if the intention is to achieve the sunna.

It is Best to Keep a Neat Hairstyle

It is related from Wa’il ibn Hujr (may Allah be pleased with him) that he said: “I came to the Prophet (Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) while I had long hair, and he (peace be upon him) said, ‘What misfortune!’ So I quickly left, and clipped off [my long hair]; then I went back to the Prophet (peace be upon him). Then he remarked, ‘I didn’t mean [that expression to be directed at] you, but in any case, this is best.” [Abu Dawud, Sunan]

Imam Tahawi comments on this narration by saying: “And in this narration of the Prophet (Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him), there is something that indicates that keeping the hair trimmed is better than growing it out long, because whatever the Prophet (Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) considered to be “the best”, then nothing can be better than that. It is a must to stick closely to that “best” and to leave what opposes it… since he was the foremost in all beautiful characteristics put together above all of mankind, even if he adopted this [view] only after his saying this was “the best”, leaving anything which he was upon before to the contrary.  And from Allah do we seek success.” [al-Tahawi, Mushkil al-Athar]

Thus, it is not praiseworthy to intend the sunna of keeping longer hair while one’s hair cannot be maintained to look presentable or neat. For this reason, in societies where neatness of hair and dress is what one’s message can be judged upon, perhaps it would be better to practice the other Sunnah hair-lengths which are shorter and neater, especially for the sake of da’wah.

However, if one does decide to keep longer hair, one should not pray with his hair tied into a ponytail, but rather he should release it so his locks can prostrate with him. He should also comb, maintain and wash it regularly to follow the command of the Prophet (peace be upon him): “Whoever has hair, then let him honor it.” [Abu Dawud, Sunan]


Abdullah Anik Misra

Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani

Sidi Abdullah Misra was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. He converted to Islam in 2001 and completed a degree in Business Administration. In 2005, he left Canada to pursue Islamic studies. He now lives in Amman, Jordan with his wife and two daughters, where he studies various Islamic sciences and concurrently serves as the Study Abroad Director at the Qasid Institute.