2018 Cincinnati Music Festival

Source: Stephen J. Cohen / Getty

The city of brotherly love, Philadelphia, is best known for the Philly cheese steak, the Rocky steps, Joel Embiid’s reminder to trust the 76ers’ process, and, of course, beards.

Beards have become trendy in pop culture over the last few years as corporate culture becomes more lax and more actors and musicians begin to grow out their facial hair. But in Philly, beards aren’t a fad— they’re a fixture of history.

Beards were originally popularized in ancient times when men would grow them for warmth and intimidation. Facial hair also protected their mouths from sand, dirt, and the sun. And it was only a matter of time before utilitarianism became a style.

Most boys stare at the whispers of hair growing atop their lip and are ecstatic, but it’s even more so for the young men of Philly.

“I think men with beards have been synonymous with the city of Philly since I was a kid,” Cory Townes, a 31-year-old journalist born and raised in Philly, said. “From OGs I’d know from the neighborhood to some family members, I’ve grown up with seeing men with not just facial hair, but beards grown out to longer and very well-kept lengths.”

Most boys stare at the whispers of hair growing atop their lip and are ecstatic, but it’s even more so for the young men of Philly.

“It almost became one of those moments that you couldn’t wait for, when your beard finally came in, you felt like you reached a level of manhood, in a sense,” Townes said recalling the moment he finally started to see his beard come in.

But once the beard starts to fully take shape, it becomes an extension of yourself. While many beards become part of people’s personalities, religious affiliation might also play a role.

The Black Muslim population in Philly is one of the largest in the country. Some of Philly’s community leaders estimate that there are somewhere between 150,000 and 200,000 Muslim in the city. That makes up about 15 percent of the entire population. According to Cair, a book published in 2011, Philadelphia has 63 mosques which is the fourth most in the U.S., only behind Southern California, New York City and Chicago.

But once the beard starts to fully take shape, it becomes an extension of yourself.

While Muslims aren’t required to grow beards—or a Sunnah as its called in Philly—it’s recommended.

“Sunni” is derived from the term Sunnah, which is Arabic and generally refers to the practices or ways of the prophet Muhammad.

It’s believed that the prophet Muhammad had a beard. And those who grow one like him are said to be emulating the prophets actions and are creating themselves in his image. These rules aren’t included in the Koran, rather they are hadiths, or sayings.

One of those sayings, voiced by Muhammad in the Fitra, and kept alive by his brother-in-law Ibn Umer was, “Do the opposite of what the pagans do. Keep the beards and cut the mustaches short.”

Townes is a Christian who recognizes the beard’s importance and ties the spike in the number of Black Muslim men in Philadelphia with beards to a rise in Black men’s incarceration rates over the past few decades.

“…Philly has such a dynamic Islamic community, especially in the Black community which boomed in the ’70s and ’80s, when a lot of men who were sentenced to stints in prison found Islam while incarcerated, and brought the teachings and beliefs of the religion back home with them to their families,” Townes recalls.

While the lack of a mustache accompanied by a full beard was an easy way to distinguish those of Muslim faith from those who weren’t, the entire city of Philly has embraced the style.

In 2013, Newsworks spoke to Mike Monroe, who owns ESPM Hair Zone in West Philadelphia, about the evolution of the beard’s Muslim roots.

“…[N]ow you’ve got just regular people wearing the beard now because it’s a fashion statement,” Monroe said. “You know a lot of people approach people and say: ‘May peace and blessings be upon you,’ thinking that they’re Muslim. And they’re not.”

One of the most famed Philly beards belong to the rapper Freeway, who is known for his long, scraggly, beard with a thinned out mustache. He’s even capitalized off his signature facial hair by releasing a beard care line called Best Beard Cream.

Not only is the beard care culture on the up and up, but the beard culture is growing as well. But it will always have a special place in Philly.

As Townes reminded CASSIUS, “It’s 100% fact that no other place can ever duplicate the Philly Beard.”

In the city of brotherly love, the brothers love their beards.