Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Lethal Haircuts

Extremists accuse capital’s barbers of violating Islam.
By Duraed Salman

Barbers offering western-style cuts or removing facial hair have been recently targeted by militants.


At least ten barbers have been killed since mid-March in Baghdad, and others - particularly in the al-Shalal market area - have closed their shops because they fear being targeted.


Jasim Abdulwahid, 23, quit his job after someone had spray painted on his door “Don’t shave beards or you will be killed.”


“Now I’ve lost my job, how am I going to live?” said Abdulwahid, who had been earning 25,000 dinars (17 US dollars) to 50,000 dinars per day. Now he stays at home.


Police Captain Suhad Abdulmunim, in charge of patrolling the al-Shalal market area, said his men are unable to stop the insurgents killing barbers.


“People feel afraid and are not cooperating with us to arrest those militants,” he said. “Besides they are moving quickly around different areas of Baghdad.”


Yassir Mohammed, 32, another barber in the al-Shalal market area, said the situation is terrible. “I’ve never known anything like this. Ten barbers dead – murdered by unknown groups,” he said.


The militants are targeting barbers because they feel the services they are providing - western-style haircuts and the shaving of facial hair - violate Islam. But Sheikh Mohammed Abdulsatar, of the College of Islamic Legislation, said the barbers’ work is not against religion as “those criminals allege. They just want to cause chaos”.


Insurgents have also targeted owners of CD shops and liquor stores, causing many to go out of business.


Even young adults with western hairstyles and clothing are being intimidated by the extremists. Sami Hamid, who had a goatee and long hair, was heading home a few weeks ago when three men in an Opel car pointed their guns at him. Fortunately, he was able to escape into the nearest home.


“The men said, ‘Do you feel relaxed with a goatee?’” said Hamid, 24. “I realised how serious the situation was and quickly told all my young friends in the area that they should [watch how they look] to protect themselves.”


Now Hamid, who has grown a beard, is preparing to go to Yemen or Lebanon to “get out of this hell”.


Reflecting a widespread view in the capital, Baghdad resident Saad Mokhtar said the insurgents were just trying to make people’s lives impossible.


“What’s the purpose behind killing barbers and ordinary people except to make a mess of things,” he said.


Duraed Salman is an IWPR trainee in Baghdad.