Much like every Afghan woman, 26-year-old Yurish Jawad is no stranger to street harassment, experiencing catcalling, mockery, and abuse during even a short walk on the streets of central Kabul. Except that Jawad isn’t an Afghan woman. He’s a hairstylist in the capital city of Afghanistan, and he wears his own style with élan and pride, much to the disapproval of the conservative Afghan men who hold dear a strict interpretation of values in Islam.
“They believe that fashionable looks and hairstyles are against the religion, and they criticise me for it,” Jawad tells Racked while working at his Kabul salon. His luscious, full hair, bleached blond, falls beautifully over the side of his face. He boasts a full beard, designed to emulate New York hipsters. His client, a young man in his 20s who did not wish to be identified, nods in agreement. He has similar hair and beard styles, matched by an upturned mustache. “We can go for a walk around the block and you can see the harassment for yourself,” Jawad says. We take his word for it rather than pull him away from the trendy salon’s clients, including a groom awaiting a bridal makeover.
Hair salons like Jawad’s that provide styling services are gaining immense popularity in Afghanistan, with its young population eager to experiment with new and trendy styles from around the world. Disapproval and criticism from the conservative crowd have been little deterrent to the growing population of fashion enthusiasts. However, this zeal for hair fashion in particular has a history that is rooted deeply in the country’s troubled past.
Not too long ago, the Taliban regime that controlled Afghanistan imposed sharia-compliant haircuts and long beards on Afghan men. “Those in violation were punished and forced to get a haircut that the regime approved of,” says Jawad who was a child during the repressive years. “That’s how they controlled the men.” As a result, keeping stylish haircuts under one’s turbans became a form of defiance — a silent revolution among men.