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Hair-raising haircut underscores our need to talk about Islam

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.

Hanadi Chehabeddine

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.


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Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Dennis Litfin on 11/12/2016 - 10:22 am.

    I am in my late 70’s and live on a small rural lake in North Central Mn., a good 200 miles from where this situation took place. I see and hear similar conversations as the one of the hairdresser and her client, probably more frequently. Here they are usually more disgusting than the one Hanadi experienced probably because there are no or few Muslims living in this area and because of the educational levels, experiences, among other things, of a good share of the local population. Saying that, there are also many people ‘up here’ who do not support that type of negativity and who will express support for people of other faiths in their church settings. However it is not as easy to do that here with the grace that Hanadi used as a good share of the negativity occurs in the local bars, cafes, etc.
    I appreciate Hanadi’s writing and wish that it would be re-published in the, .Park Rapids, Walker, Brainerd, and Bemidji papers.

  2. Submitted by B Carlson on 11/12/2016 - 11:22 am.

    Wonderful article

    Everyone should read this and think about it, thanks for writing it!

  3. Submitted by Mike Downing on 11/12/2016 - 11:47 am.

    Sharia Law vs Constitutional Law

    This article has a very positive and hopeful messge.

    However, upon my study of Sharia Law, it appears that Sharia Law is fundamentally incompatible with Constitutional Law. I suggest MinnPost independently study and then write an artcle on this very important subject.

    • Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 11/14/2016 - 07:36 am.

      Likewise for Christian Biblical law

      A lot of so-called Christians like to assert their “rights” to ignore certain secular laws that they don’t like. This isn’t just Kentucky clerks but congressional representatives as well. I suggest you study and then write an artcle on this very important subject.

      Maybe you could focus on “what’s the difference?”

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/14/2016 - 09:06 am.

      Why? And Other Questions

      ” I suggest MinnPost independently study and then write an artcle on this very important subject.” Why is that important? Maybe you could write it, seeing as how you’ve made a study of the subject.

      Since balance is all the rage, should there be a similar study of the ways Mosaic and Christian law are incompatible with the Constitution? Or are you suggesting that they, and they alone, are compatible?

      Are non-Muslims being asked to follow Sharia?

      Is there anything in Sharia law that the Minnesota Family Council would not advocate if they thought they could get away with it (apart, perhaps, from the rules about Halal food)?

  4. Submitted by Sue Halligan on 11/12/2016 - 01:04 pm.

    Part of the solution

    What a brave and lovely lady!

  5. Submitted by Jim Million on 11/12/2016 - 05:29 pm.


    Prejudice is rarely dissolved from within the mob, as it were. This story exhibits the greater need for vital communication to be personal rather than institutional. The hope in such success lies now in our classrooms, not from the front, from among the desks. I’m sure each of us has a personal story to that effect. It’s going to take longer than many want, but will likely then last far longer than many realize.

    Exemplary piece, MinnPost.

  6. Submitted by Carrie Anderson on 11/13/2016 - 02:16 pm.

    Beautifully written article.

    Thank you, Ms. Chehabeddine, for showing how to handle a horrible situation. I learn from you.

  7. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 11/14/2016 - 08:59 am.

    This brave woman’s compassionate approach

    …is not just for the matter at hand, it is fundamentally needed throughout our interactions with each other. It is so simple, anyone can do it: “I want to be your friend – can we talk?” Could it be more simple?

    It is brave because she tolerated making herself vulnerable to rejection – or worse, even ridicule. It seems clear she regards it as worth the risk.

    I just can’t resist suggesting an application of her value system here. It seems to me that if the Clinton supporters had adopted this approach to their political opponents during this last election season – I.e., simple, open-hearted, brave and direct, the election could very well have come out differently. It’s that powerful.

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