A couple of weeks ago I was having a haircut in a Twin Cities hair salon. The staff was nice enough to accommodate my special need for a private place and a no-man zone during the time I have my haircut while my hijab is off. The salon has a higher, more private platform level in which I can have my haircut.
It was slightly busier than usual. I sat down and removed my head covering, placing it in my bag, then chatted away with my hairdresser. As we started working on a hairstyle, another hairdresser came back from the washing area with her client and settled in their station across from us. Neither of them had seen me coming in wearing my hijab before starting their conversation.
As I was flipping through a magazine and sipping my coffee, I heard the words, “Sharia law.” I saw another hairdresser looking at me as if she was aware of something I was not. I then overheard more of their conversation.
Hairdresser: “… them and the Sharia law they practice …”
Client: “Yeah. … Did you know they are implementing the Sharia law in our public schools?”
Then they continued discussing the practice of polygene, whereby a man can have “eight wives.” “It’s actually three,” the other corrected.
Texted for advice
I sank in my seat and listened. I reached out to my phone and texted my husband for advice. He replied back: “Do what you do best — after your haircut though.” So I did.
As I walked toward the checkout, I asked my hairdresser to call her colleague over so I could talk to her. She went to the other station and asked the hairdresser, then came back saying, “I am sorry she cannot come and speak to you. She is with her client.” I then asked my hairdresser to go back and ask her if I could come to her station and talk to her for few minutes. She did and came back with the same message. The other hairdresser was “unavailable.”
By then the assistant manager had noticed my attempts to engage in a conversation and asked if I wanted to leave a message for the hairdresser. Seeing no other option, I accepted. She gave me a piece of paper and this is what I wrote:
“Dear Friend, I overheard the conversation with your client talking about Sharia Law and Islamic practices. As a Muslim woman, I want to ask if you have a Muslim friend or an Islamic source where you get your information. I believe we need to be more informed in our conversations, making them part of the solution and not part of the problem. I would like to be your new Muslim friend. I really hope you’ll reach out to me to meet for a coffee or chat whenever you are free.”
I then left my name and phone number in the hopes that she would actually call. I am still waiting.
Later, an awesome conversation
A few days ago I was working out with my friend at the gym, which is located in the same building as the hairdresser complex. The assistant manager came up to me with a shaky voice and trembling hands, thanking me for my letter and gracious approach.
“Your letter brought a lot of people to tears and I want to apologize for what you had to go through in our salon.” I took her words as permission to give her a sweaty hug. Then we had an awesome conversation about unity, diversity and Lebanese food.
“Forgive my comment, but we are not really used to having people from your community come across with such grace,” she said. I couldn’t agree more.
“It’s my Islamic teaching that compelled me to reach out, modeling my prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him, in his mercy and compassion,” I replied. “Please tell that hairdresser I am still hoping she will call,” I concluded.
I know there are a lot of people in Minnesota and, indeed throughout the U.S., having similar conversations. My hope is that we will have the courage to talk about these uncomfortable topics and reach out to one another with nothing but love.
Hanadi Chehabeddine is a Muslim relations communication expert living with her husband and three kids in Eden Prairie. She is the Human Rights Awards recipient of 2016 from her city for her efforts to dismantle misconceptions and build bridges of unity. Chehabeddine is a published writer currently pursuing a master’s degree in international leadership from St. Thomas University.
WANT TO ADD YOUR VOICE?
If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at email@example.com.)