PAKISTAN - Close shave gives insight into Bin Laden Personality

25 Oct 2001

By David Fox

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Oct 25 (Reuters)

- There is never a good time to ask an Afghan with a cut-throat razor what he thinks of Osama bin Laden, but Nazirullah the barber gives an answer as sharp as the blade he wields.

"Osama is a leader and a fighter," he said in his hole-in-the-wall shop in the old quarter of Pakistan's border city of Peshawar on Thursday.

"He does not need luxury things or comforts. He is a man who can live a hard life for some time. He doesn't care about other things."

How does Nazirullah know this about bin Laden, the accused mastermind of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington and now the subject of the biggest manhunt in history? By looking at his beard.

"You can tell many things about a person from how he grows his beard," Nazirullah said. "All people cut their beard in a different way because of their tribe and who they are. It is important how the beard looks."

Nazirullah should know. He has been cutting hair and trimming beards for more than three decades and first learnt the trade amid the hair sweepings of his father's barber shop in Kabul, the Afghan capital.

"We have been hair cutters for some generations," he told Reuters. "But the conditions in Afghanistan became very bad and so I decided to bring my family here some years ago to find a new life."


Now Nazirullah serves as a touchstone for opinion and gossip among the vast Afghan diaspora in neighbouring Pakistan.

Three other customers sat waiting their turn in his single old-fashioned barber chair, complete with foot pedal to adjust the height.

The walls were plastered with pictures of the sub-continent's matinee idols and well-thumbed copies of old showbiz magazines lay scattered on a table. All that was missing was a red and white striped pole outside the door.

One of the first things a visitor to northern Pakistan or Afghanistan will notice is the rich diversity of facial hair on display.

From trim, French-style goatees to wild tangles of unruly curls, almost every style of beard can be seen in a walk of just a few blocks in Peshawar.

And each one tells a story, says Nazirullah.

"Now Osama, he does not look after it like a young man. He lets it grow to be natural and strong," he said. "Also, it has grey hair, which means he has some wisdom.

"See him," he said, gesturing with his cut-throat razor to the next customer in line, "he has a short beard and he shaves the top (moustache) off. It means he is very fussy and he likes clean things.

"Over there, that one, he is still a young man and so his beard is not strong. In some years it will have its own design, just like his mind."


Nazirullah has as much to say on beards and their meanings as Freud had to say on dreams and their interpretations.

"All Afghan men must have a beard. It is very important," he says. "You can shave for a funeral, or maybe for the first time with your wife, but otherwise you should grow a beard."

What of Mullah Mohammad Omar, the reclusive spiritual leader of the Taliban who has reputedly never been filmed or photographed?

After conferring with other customers, Nazirullah makes his judgment.

"I have heard he has a good beard," he says." But some people say it grows too high above the nose. Usually the religious people like to keep it below the nose."

(C) Reuters Limited 2001.