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Clean Cut, Clean Start – How Nasir is Helping the Homeless

December 25, 2014, in Articles > Baha'i Life, by
Clean cut clean start 2 - nasir sobhani

Zipping through the streets of Melbourne, Australia on his skateboard, Nasir is on the lookout for Melbourne’s less fortunate and homeless population, many of whom are living on the streets. Every Monday Nasir hits the streets seeking out those who are dealing with difficult times by offering them a free haircut.

Nasir’s a barber and a Baha’i, and so he’s passionate about two things: cutting hair and serving others. He calls his initiative ‘clean cut, clean start’, and he knows first hand about what it’s like to need a clean start in life because he went through his own battle with drug addiction in his early 20’s in Canada where he was raised.

Nasir’s like a little brother to me, so you can imagine how excited I was when I caught up with him again in Melbourne and found out about his wonderful service to others. He agreed to let me ask him a few questions about it all and to share it on Baha’i Blog.

Baha’i Blog: Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and why you started doing ‘Clean cut, clean start’?

I started cutting hair as a hobby and it became a passion of mine. I love it very much and I love serving others, so I decided to integrate both in an attempt to combine both of these passions. Growing up with a Baha’i background, I saw how important serving the community was. I would hear stories of how my parents both left Iran to serve the Faith at a young age and my mom always had a children’s class in our house growing up. so the Baha’i Faith has been very prominent and evident in my life since an early age.

Unfortunately things changed, and things began to move in a different direction for me. The Baha’i Faith was still very important to me, but I also got introduced to stupid things: and drugs were a part of that. I was hanging out with the ‘rough’ kids and drug dealers. One thing kind of led to another and I ended up really getting into drugs and it sucked because, you know, I really love the Faith, but it got overshadowed by substances, and although I had this burning desire for God in my heart, it got substituted by using drugs and being an idiot.

A lot of the time I was using drugs it was actually to mask the guilt and the emotion I felt based on the fact that I wasn’t really embracing the Faith. It led to a bad mindset where I felt like I wasn’t worthy and I was a shame, and I was someone that, [sigh] how do I say it, I was someone that was an embarrassment, and I just felt my ancestors, you know, people who are five generations Baha’i were just looking at me like I’m an embarrassment to the family. So basically my drug use got worse and worse and worse. Things were bad, but I still tried taking part in the Baha’i activities I could, but I was so stricken by drug addiction that it severely interfered with my service – I really couldn’t get off of it. My drug addiction was horrible, but my love for the Faith was still there as well.

A friend once told me that when you use drugs and alcohol, your soul freezes and it’s hard for it to progress, so I think that my love was still there but it was hard for me to progress in any way, shape or form. Anyways, one day – through the love of my family – I was able to check myself into a rehab center, and that changed things for me because I was able to really understand my addiction, why I was using it, and how I could work on it. When I came out of rehab, I decided after a few months that maybe it was time to move on with my life. Vancouver wasn’t doing much for me so I came to Australia to get a clean start. Before I left though, I remembered the story of how Shoghi Effendi banished himself to the Alps when he was appointed as the Guardian of the Faith because he wanted to conquer himself, because once he conquered himself, he could really serve the Faith to the utmost. Now I’m not trying to compare myself to the Guardian, not at all, but I’m just saying that that story really, really helped me realize that I had to conquer myself in the arena which was the most difficult for me – which was back home with all my friends and all of the environments and all of the triggers which affected my addiction. I had to basically make sure that I could do this back home before I could do this anywhere else.

It was actually in rehab when I decided that I wanted to start cutting hair as a living. But I was holding back for a while because I felt shame, you know, the same way I felt shame about who I was as an individual. I felt that cutting hair wasn’t a respectful profession and that I had to be a scholar or something to make my family proud, but it was stupid because with the loving support of my family – yes, they’re the ones who actually encouraged and pushed me into cutting hair.

So basically, while working in a barber shop in Melbourne, there was a heroin addict who used to wash windows right outside our barber shop for several years. One day I saw him and he told me he was off the drugs for a month – I couldn’t believe it! He wanted to get a haircut and his hair was very long and he had dirty dreadlocks in the back, and overall he just needed a complete makeover. I asked him to let me cut his hair, so we sat down together and we shared our stories about our past, and after I was done he went from looking really scruffy to looking like a gentleman. He loved the way he looked and his mom even came in and was taking photos and was in tears. It was a very monumental moment in my life, and it was at this point that I realized that if I could help encourage this change for a guy and all I’m doing is just what I love doing, then maybe I should keep doing it. You already have a newfound confidence when you get a haircut, and now imagine what it’s like for someone who’s really been in a bad place in their life.

The Baha’i Writings encourage you to educate yourself in a trade, and you are also encouraged to serve others, so as I mentioned earlier, these two just go hand-in-hand with what I’m doing with ‘clean cut, clean start’.

Baha’i Blog: Why do you think what you’re doing is so important?

I don’t think I am doing anything particularly important. I just love God, and service to others is service to God because the Baha’i Faith states that work done in the spirit of service is worship. I really love this quote from Abdu’l-Baha which goes: “Let them at all times concern themselves with doing a kindly thing for one of their fellows, offering to someone love, consideration, thoughtful help. Let them see no one as their enemy, or as wishing them ill, but think of all humankind as their friends; regarding the alien as an intimate, the stranger as a companion, staying free of prejudice, drawing no lines.” 1

My friend whom I mentioned earlier, the guy who was washing the windows at the barber shop and who I did the makeover for, told me one thing that really got to me. He told me that when he was cleaning cars for the past few years, there was a difference between cleaning a regular person’s car and then cleaning a taxi drivers car because taxi drivers have long shifts and they’re usually all alone because they are driving people they don’t know, so they try and stay on the phone to stop themselves from going mad. So when you would clean the cab, you could see the joy of having an interaction with a human being who actually cared about them, they weren’t just using them for what they were doing, you know. It was an interesting conversation, I didn’t really understand it at first, but it kind of made me realize that he was just trying to say that someone taking time out to do something for someone else was what was needed.

So a homeless person doesn’t get the respect and attention needed. Money can be given, but something as meaningless as money is not going to do anything. Food, shirts, you know there’s a lot of places for them to eat food in the city you know there’s no way a homeless person’s going to go hungry in the city of Melbourne because the city has such an amazing system for the homeless, but I just figured a human interaction with them, companionship, from someone who just genuinely wants to know about them is going to really help them out. So letting them know that they are worthy of human interaction is actually the main thing here. Trying to create empathy not sympathy. I feel like we do that a lot for homeless people and the more sympathy you and I give them the more they’re going to feel worthless. Empathy is very different. I want to help them with something that’s going to help them get on their own two feet and just bounce up and be like, you know what, I can do this, I’m a new man, I’m a new woman, I’m a new whatever, and hopefully with that comes a change!

Baha’i Blog: What’s the most important thing for you while you’re out cutting peoples hair on the street?

The hope that with a clean cut and a fresh makeover, it will inspire them to a clean start in life with a newfound sense of confidence and a positive outlook. If they feel others value them, perhaps they will begin to value and respect themselves more than they already do.

Baha’i Blog: What message to do you have for those who want to do something to serve others but don’t know what to do or where to start?

Read ‘Nabil’s Narrative‘. Focus on the heroes of the Faith and the sacrifices they have made. Enlighten yourself with their stories and what they have done to spread the message of our beloved Faith with absolute selfless acts of courage and service.

Baha’i Blog: What’s been one of the most memorable moments while you’ve been doing ‘Clean cut, clean start’?

There was a homeless, pregnant lady who told me that recently she was told by a man on the street that she didn’t deserve to be pregnant. Soon after she started crying to me and told me: “Thank you very much for making me feel like I am a human being with emotions that matter”.

I also love everyone’s reaction after I show them what their new haircut looks like, that’s always heart warming.

Baha’i Blog: Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions Nasir and keep doing what you’re doing!

You can follow Nasir via his Instagram page: @thestreetsbarber


Footnotes & Citations
  1. Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha[]
Posted by

Naysan Naraqi

Naysan is passionate about using the arts and media to explore the teachings of the Baha’i Faith. Back in 2011, Naysan started up the Baha’i Blog project, channeling his experiences in both media and technology companies to help create a hub for Baha’i-inspired content online.

Discussion 20 Comments

Nasir’s story is so inspirational – how insightful of him to draw on the experiences of those wonderful heroes depicted in Nabil’s Narrative. Thank you for sharing his story.

Diana Threlfo (December 12, 2014 at 11:28 PM)

I just saw a segment on ABC about Nasir’s work. What valuable heart warming work you’re doing. How right is this! Congratulations for being a great role model.

Klara (July 7, 2015 at 9:22 AM)

Nasir, you are a rare gem. Your humility and honesty are sobering and beautiful. Your story is a testament to the power of faith in transforming a person, and turning even a difficult past into a asset for the future (rather than denying and hiding it). Heroism in our modern age must be something like that rather than dying by the sword. Somehow I feel Mullá Husayn would be proud of you too. 🙂

Sam (December 12, 2014 at 8:53 AM)

“He should forgive the sinful, and never despise his low estate, for none knoweth what his own end shall be.” What a magnificent example of this quote Nasir is (so far!) Best of luck, bro!

Kim Bowden-Kerby (December 12, 2014 at 6:02 PM)

Nasir’s moving journey of service deserves all the space devoted to it here with Naysan’s technical-Blog help because it transcends the vicarious stories often penned by Baha’i intellectuals, notwithstanding their value too, of course.

My own past as a one time pot-addicted alcoholic manager of a rock and roll band in the 1980’s is so checkered I dare not start to chronicle it at all. Nevertheless, I hope in consequence that I am never one to cast the first stone or the second……

What I found in my two utterly misspent decades until 1989 was an increasing attraction for atheism and-or certain dangerous cults on the part of young adults and youth who now, 25 years later, are possibly dead or maybe they’re upstanding citizens?

So concerned am I about the dangers of atheism, especially vis-a-vis impressionable young minds, that a chapter is devoted to it in ‘Making World Peace Real’, a work on another subject free on line to access which passed the arduous requirements of Baha’i review about a decade ago at the NSA of Australia Inc.

Pages 118 – 129 (Does God Exist?) provide short and long proofs from Baha’i texts answering this all important question above which if responded to in the negative leads the young into a wasted life.

Actually, it’s child’s play for Baha’is to prove from an intellectual frame of reference the existence of God because the Son has returned in the Glory of the Father to lead us into all truth and to reveal that which Christ’s generation could not bear to hear. John 16:12. You see, atheism hardly existed at all during the Dispensations of previous Manifestations of God and ergo They revealed little to counter it.

Baha’u’llah renders atheism untenable – if only we’ll dispense the cure

Pages 57-59 depict proofs inter alia from a lay person’s scientific stand point.

Baha’i love

Paul

Paul Desailly (December 12, 2014 at 10:48 PM)

I really admire how deeply he’s thought about this service and linked important concepts like having a profession, redemption, nobility, and love. And the fact that he can really relate to the people he is serving must be so much more galvanizing.

Andrea Hope (December 12, 2014 at 9:16 AM)

Dear Nasir, your story deeply touched my heart and is a great lesson … Thank you for sharing your story, I hope it will inspire many. Wish you all the best.

Darina (December 12, 2014 at 9:25 AM)

This is something that ALL BAHA’IS need to do…

I see others putting us to shame because we do not get involved with the homeless and the destitute…
I know we are forbidden to give money to beggars but… Give them a hot meal for their physical needs and some friendly advice…

Terry (December 12, 2014 at 4:05 PM)

Thank you Nasir, so inspired! This is such a beautiful example of how love for God generates incredible service to fellow human beings.

But the story also raises some big development areas in family culture…it is so tragic that it was Nasir’s feelings that he was an embarrassment to his family that drove him deeper into addiction as he tried to mask this feeling of shame. I know of others who have got into very dangerous places with drugs due to fear of their family’s reaction.

Maybe it would be beneficial to create a sense in our children and in our communities that love will always prevail over judgement, that no matter how awful we feel we have been, we can share this with our parents/communities and seek support, knowing that they will respond with nothing but total love, respect, empathy and belief in our essential beauty.

I feel that often we do bad things but that what really drives us away from the light/potential for healing is our social shame, not the bad thing its self!

Poppy (December 12, 2014 at 3:24 AM)

Inspired, thank you for the post .

Iman (December 12, 2014 at 11:31 PM)

How refreshing and touching this story is! Thank you for having the courage to share your story it resinated with me and helped me to realise a thing or two about myself.

Samar (December 12, 2014 at 11:39 PM)

Great story! Thank you! Translated into Russian: http://bahaiarc.blogspot.ru/2015/01/blog-post_2.html

Archivarius (January 1, 2015 at 9:15 AM)

Nasir, you are amazing and inspiring. We need more of this in the world.

Teary Eyed (January 1, 2015 at 1:11 AM)

May Baha’ul Abha shown bountiful blessings on Nasir! His story is heart touching, full of lesson for those who don’t know the purpose of their lives. We believe in abundance of deeds and not words. If your heart is enlightened with the Glory of Al-glorious, you can better serve the humanity. God bless you Nasir with more strength to serve the humanity.
With warmest Abha gretings,
riazshirazi

Riaz Ahmad Shirazi (January 1, 2015 at 6:30 AM)

Nasir, You beautiful soul. It was you who I saw and connected with very well on Haifa Baha’i Pilgrimage in January 2009. The one young man I met that I will never forget. You put a smile on my face everyday and seeing what you do for the community puts an even bigger smile on my face now. I was in tears reading this blog and remembered the warm heart of the joyful soul that I met several years back. I am sorry for hearing for what you went through and am glad that you were able to re-lift your spirit with the help of your amazing family. Good on you for everything that you are doing and always keep that wonderful smile on your beautiful face.

With sincere Love,
Riaz & Houriya Haghiri

Riaz Haghiri (January 1, 2015 at 8:56 AM)

Dear Nasir,
Your story is a great teaching for me, thank you so much – how through this simple act of service – cutting hair – you are able connect with those on the street who feel worthless and stuck in shame. I know it is because you have true empathy and respect for them without judgement. So your own sufferings have been turned into joys.
God bless you!
Sue

Sue Bushnell (March 3, 2015 at 9:41 PM)

Hi, NaSir you are truly a gem! The instagram account doesn’t seem to work. An update please?

Thanks and Much Love!

Wilma (March 3, 2015 at 10:08 AM)

Hi Wilma, Nasir has since changed his username, which is why the link didn’t work. (We’ve edited the link in our article now. Thanks!) His instagram username is @thestreetsbarber

Preethi (March 3, 2015 at 3:29 AM)

I am listening to your interview now on BBC. Inspiring. Thank-you.

Mike (July 7, 2016 at 11:40 AM)

Excellent service of Nasir is bringing hope to our fellow human beings. Love his ideas and his belief.

Jamshid (November 11, 2016 at 6:35 AM)

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