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Life Under Islamic State: A 'Secret' Beauty Salon


In the coming days, Safaa plans to open a new beauty parlor called "Salon for Girls and Women" in a neighborhood in Mosul that has been under the control of Iraqi forces since early January in Mosul, Iraq, Feb. 7, 2017. (H. Murdock/VOA)

A month after Islamic State took over her neighborhood, militants stormed 20-year-old Safaa's family salon, shutting it down and declaring the beauty parlor sinful. But under the guise of a tailor shop operating from a room in her home, Safaa continued to cut hair and apply makeup to women for two-and-a-half years, operating illegally, though not entirely in secret.

From a rented home in Iraqi-forces-controlled Mosul, Safaa tells VOA her story in Arabic, edited for clarity.

They didn't want to close our shop altogether, because someone needed to make up IS wives. But after IS took over our area, three militants with bushy beards and carrying pistols came to our shop.

"This salon is a sin," they announced. "Give us all of your things and shut it down. If we come here again and this salon is open, you will pay the consequences."

They took almost all of our makeup and hair equipment, but there was a little left that they missed. We closed the shop and took what we had to our house. We had a small room that was officially "my tailor shop." Women would come to me with clothes, pretending they needed them mended if anyone asked. But then we would cut their hair or beautify them before their weddings.

It was dangerous and I was scared. My hand was always on my heart. But we didn't have any other way to make money.

Safaa examines some of the beauty products she hid from IS militants before they came back to confiscate her possessions again while they were in control of her area in Mosul, Iraq, Feb. 7, 2017. (H. Murdock/VOA)
Safaa examines some of the beauty products she hid from IS militants before they came back to confiscate her possessions again while they were in control of her area in Mosul, Iraq, Feb. 7, 2017. (H. Murdock/VOA)

And it wasn't just the money. Under IS, women didn't have any other place to go to talk to each other freely. If you went anywhere outside, you had to have your father, brother or husband with you and if your veils were not just right, you could get into trouble.

One of my friends went to the market with a veil on her face, but her eyes were exposed. A militant saw her and grabbed the back of her neck and pushed her face toward the sewer water on the side of the road. They say it is sinful to touch any woman who is not your wife. And then they do that?

Most of the customers were not involved with IS. In fact, mostly what they talked about was the militants, and their dreams of being liberated.

A month after IS took over, my brother was chatting with 17 other men in his grocery store. They were talking about the militants, saying IS is not with Islam, their behaviors are not Muslim.

One of my brother's acquaintances was spying for IS. All of the men were arrested, and we never saw my brother again.

So, when the girls wanted to talk about liberation, or IS beliefs, I shut down the conversation. But you know how women talk. We have a lot to talk about.

Islamic State brides

We had many of the militants' brides come to us before their weddings. They did their hair and makeup like anyone else, except they didn't trim their eyebrows. They said it was sinful, but I don't know why. I didn't think it was attractive.

One day a woman brought her daughter to prepare for her wedding. The mother saw me and said, "I have four sons who all work for the Islamic State punishment office. I would like you to marry one of them."

My mother stepped in and said, "Sorry, but she is already promised to another man."

The woman was offended and said, "Is it because we are with Islamic State? Is it because we are with Daesh?"

Daesh is an insulting name for the militant group. She wanted to know if we were against them. My mother said, "No, you are most welcome here. She simply already has an engagement contract."

Other militant brides came in, and it was as if they didn't have to follow any of the same rules. One girl wore a dress that showed cleavage and she said she met her future husband because he was a new friend of her brother's.

"Isn't it a sin to fall in love with a stranger?" I asked. "Doesn't IS say your marriage must be arranged?"

When she was ready, she started to leave in her dress, with no veil on her face and her hands were exposed. She and her friends were trilling in celebration. It is our tradition at weddings, but IS forbade it.

"Isn't it a sin to go out like this?" I said.

She laughed and said, "I am with Islamic State. We can go out however we want."

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