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Inside Hyde Park Barber Studio, Abdul Karim Shakir usually greets every customer with his friendly street-style embrace.
"What's up, brother? Come on, I got you right here," he says, slapping a black leather chair as a welcome.
As he turns on his electric clippers and tends to the cut, the free flow of conversation begins, ranging from intellectual topics in religion and politics to "Who's hogging the Cheese Nips?" and "What's for lunch today?" But at specific moments, the buzz of the clippers and the loud banter all stop for one thing: Muslim prayers.
At this historic barbershop, the latest incarnation of an 80-year-old operation that has groomed and shaved men from boxing great Muhammad Ali to the late Mayor Harold Washington, four of the five barbers are devout African-American Muslims who pray five times a day in the back room.
The shop, formerly known as the Hyde Park Hair Salon, was ousted last year from its old location on 53rd Street as part of a University of Chicago redevelopment plan, which led to a split and two barbers breaking away.
This fall, the business reopened in a new location and under a new name, but the shop retains its laid-back atmosphere and subtle spiritual dimension. The reborn business now fills an unlikely niche in which haircuts and faith combine to form a popular community space.
"It's amazing how the neighborhood has really embraced our business," said Shakir, 39, owner of the shop. "These are people that come to us and are comfortable with us. That's a positive aspect about Muslims you don't see. People have gotten used to the fact that we take breaks to pray, and they respect that.
"So, you come in here and hang with us and we just smash all these stereotypes that people have," he said. "Stereotypes about black men, about Muslims and about barbershops." (MORE)