Pin It
Hijab women hairdressers
Photography Solène Gün, Styling Omaima Salem. Dazed Winter 2023 issue

How hair salons are adapting to the needs of hijabi women

For many Muslim women who wear the hijab, hair salons have traditionally been a no-go zone. But slowly, spaces are being created for them

“I remember travelling what then seemed like a seven-hour journey, just to get to the hairdressers. We lived in a little town just outside of London, and so for every occasion from Eid to weddings, my sisters, my mum and I would take the train into Marylebone to visit the one hair salon my whole family went to,” Sarah Jamal tells Dazed. “At seven years old, I thought it was special. At 15, I thought it was simply annoying to travel over two hours to get my hair done, and by 22, I became frustrated as the realisation set in that there was no space for women like me in this world.”

For Sarah, a Black Muslim woman who wears the hijab, booking an appointment with the local hairdressers isn’t so straightforward. It involves navigating through the complexities of finding a hairdresser who understands their unique hair type, but also respects their modesty. Sarah isn’t alone – it’s a sentiment that comes up again and again among the women I speak to. “I wouldn’t feel comfortable just walking into a hair salon as a hijabi unless it was Muslim-owned,” says Salma. “I wish there were more options,” says Nusra. “I can’t help but feel unwelcome in all but a few high street hair salon chains,” Basma says.

For Muslim women who observe modesty, wearing the hijab is a part of their daily religious practice that extends beyond mere clothing choices; it shapes their interactions and experiences in various aspects of life, including visits to the hairdresser. The hijab is only a mere physical symbol of their practice, it’s an expression of a spiritual devotion. A Muslim woman would have to ensure that a hair salon has women who can work on their hair and that the space is secluded not only from staff and clients but the outside world too – no front-facing windows.

Beauty salons are often idealised as sanctuaries of not only relaxation and self-care, but also community and connection – a safe space for all. Yet, in reality, for many people, including Muslim women, it’s a space they’re excluded from. “I have become very well-versed at doing my own hair at home but I can only do so much; haircuts are my downfall,” says Sarah. “Plus, there is just something about having your hair washed by someone else that can’t be replicated at home.”

On a microscale, a network of Muslim hairdressers have taken the matter into their own hands. Retired hairdresser Maryam Mahmoud started off in her own living room, creating a makeshift hair salon for the Muslim women in her community. Maryam’s salon was a women-only space, from staff to clients. She also had a place for prayer and ensured that the area was completely secluded, including blinding out the windows. Eventually, demand exceeded the capability of her lounge so she opened the first Muslim woman-run hair salon in her neighbourhood to which women now travel far and wide.

It’s not just groundroots spaces that are reflecting this growing awareness of the need for inclusivity and accessibility. From Harrods to Aveda, established hairdressers are also creating space within their salons specifically designed for women who wear the hijab. “We got an email from a lady asking if we do hair appointments for women who practise wearing the hijab, and we realised what a huge failure it was that we didn’t,” says Iona Mathieson, operations director at east London-based salon Salt. “How could we call ourselves a salon for everyone when we couldn’t cater for such a huge portion of our local population?” As a result, Salt now offers regular days dedicated for women only, complete with only women staff, and extra measures to ensure everyone feels comfortable.

Instances like this send a message: salons can be modified to cater for all clients regardless of their needs. "We’re based in east London, which has one of the biggest Muslim communities in England. [Trying to be more inclusive] doesn’t just mean all hair types, it means all people,” Mathieson says. “Most of the hijabi I’ve spoken to have been cutting their hair at home for years and are excited about the prospect of coming to a salon, having their hair washed with a nice head massage, having someone else cut their hair and use premium hair products on them. It’s almost as much about having the option to be included in the experience that other women have as it is about the haircut itself.”

Designated women-only days at hair salons signal an evolution of what the salon experience can be like not just for Muslim women but for individuals with social anxiety or disabilities. “It’s not only Muslim women who booked with us; it was all women from different walks of life,” Mahmoud says about the clients who came to her salon. “The allure was that we were able to provide a safe and private space.”

Ultimately, for inclusion to be successful it will require Muslim women to be heard and solidarity from within the industry. For the nuances in how their hijab impacts their salon experience to be recognised, whether it’s assigned days or separate areas within the salon, Muslim women should be at the core of the conversation. “Now, more than ever, the importance of establishing inclusive and supportive spaces for everyone, and particularly Muslim women is evident,” Salma Abukar tells Dazed. “Just because you cover your hair, [doesn’t mean] that you don’t have hair care needs,” says Aisha Muhammed.

When Mahmoud wasn’t able to find a salon that catered to her specific needs, she opened her own salon. By placing value on the different needs of her clients, and her own, she was able to provide for a vast community, to create a space allowing Muslim women to tend to their haircare needs in the hands of a professional, just the same as other women do. “The dream is not having to travel to the opposite end of the tube line for a blow-dry,” says Aisha.

Download the app 📱

  • Build your network and meet other creatives
  • Be the first to hear about exclusive Dazed events and offers
  • Share your work with our community
Join Dazed Club