‘I hate this beard. By God, I hate it’: Iraqi men celebrate their freedom by shaving

By Ahmed Twaij for The Guardian

Four hairdressers from Erbil have travelled to the Hassanshama camp to shave the men there. All photographs by Ahmed Twaij

The civilians of Mosul in Iraq have lived the past two and half years under the barbaric rule of Islamic State (Isis), with the fear of death looming over their lives.

Isis implemented numerous absurd policies, often claiming their strict rules to be rooted in Islam. These included bans on smoking, watching football and wearing clothes with logos, as well as enforcing compulsory beards for men.

Mahmud Sabah, 20, from Mosul.

“I had to follow their rules,” says Mahmud Sabah, a 20-year-old from Mosul. “I grew a beard and everything, but I never took a selfie. I want those memories erased.”

A barber busy with a razor.

As the Iraqi security forces proceed through Mosul, meeting resistance as they liberate Isis-controlled areas, civilians flee to secured Iraqi internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in order to avoid further conflict. For most of the men in the camps, this freedom means the chance to shave their scruffy, unkempt beards.

Hani Mahmood Amin says: ‘Even just a beard shave feels good.’

To provide for the needs of the IDPs, four young hairdressers from nearby Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan have travelled to the Hassanshama camp, sponsored by the Kurdish media group Rudaw. “I have come here as a volunteer,” says Dyar Stayl, a 25-year-old barber who runs his own shop. “This was illegal in Mosul and we are here to help.”

Dyar Stayl at work.

Having fled Mosul the night before, Hani Mahmood Amin says shaving his beard is symbolic of his freedom: “ destroyed our lives. I am so annoyed with this beard. I feel relaxed now. Even just a beard shave feels good.”

The logo on Maysar Jasim’s Portugal shirt was ripped off.

Maysar Jasim from Saddam district in Mosul arrived at the camp two nights previously. “I want to look like David Beckham!” he says, pushing his way to the front of the queue, unable to contain his excitement. He’s wearing a Cristiano Ronaldo Portugal football shirt that, his friends point out, has had the Portugal logo ripped off. “I want a goatee,” he says. “I hate this beard. By God, I hate it.”

‘When the Iraqi army came in, all I wanted to do was hug the soldiers.’

Despite the camps being surrounded by rubbish, and many IDPs possessing only the clothes on their back, the joy at finally being given the opportunity to shave is clear.

Of course, recapturing Isis-held areas means much more than citizens no longer having to abide by rules: it also brings liberation and life without fear.

“I cannot describe the happiness,” says Sabah. “When the Iraqi army came in, all I wanted to do was hug the soldiers.” For many, shaving off their long-resented beards is a small symbol of a return to normal life.


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