Windsor barber has been offering free classes to young students for 2 decades

For more than 20 years, barber Muhammad Al Sultani has been teaching teens in Windsor, Ont., all about how to cut hair — and he's been doing it free of cost.

Al Sultani, 51, immigrated to Windsor from Iraq, and opened his first barbershop in 1997. Since then, he says he's taught about 50 students, many of them, new to Canada. 

He currently runs Babylon Barber Shop on Wyandotte Street E., which he opened in 2006.

"I make my shop like a family," he explained.

Tahmina Aziz/CBC

Al Sultani says the most rewarding part about teaching is seeing his students grow and develop their skills, adding that six of his former students now run their own shops.

Students typically learn about the shop and classes by word-of-mouth, and when they start off with Al Sultani, he typically lets them experiment on his own hair, before letting them snip away at customers. 

'Like a family'

Hanna Saka, 17, first asked to learn from Al Sultani about two years ago. Now, he has his own designated chair at the shop and a steady customer base.

"I didn't know [anything] before," said Saka, adding that he didn't even know how to hold a pair of scissors.

Al Sultani says Saka has been like a son to him.

Tahmina Aziz/CBC

Farooq Ahmed has been a customer of Al Sultani's for more than a decade.

"I come here all the time," he said, noting that every time he stops by, he notices a new barber-in-training.

"I see kids as young as 13, up to 17 years old. It's cool because it's a skill they can use for a lifetime."

Students are grateful

"Nothing is free," laughs Mandeep Kaler, who's been a student of Al Sultani's for a year.

And yet, he says, he's appreciative that Al Sultani is willing to teach him for "nothing." 

Having moved to Canada last year, Kaler now works part-time while juggling school full-time.

Tahmina Aziz/CBC

13-year-old Mujtaba Albazaz asked for training earlier this summer.

"I started with ... bringing a brush, cleaning hair, testing out on other customers, practicing the skill of a barber," he said, adding that he's passionate about the trade.

In addition to cutting hair, Al Sultani also teaches his students how to thread, wax, shave and style hair.

Tahmina Aziz/CBC

As for why Al Sultani likes to teach, he said he likes to help the community, but he's also motivated by wanting to guide young people on a positive path, and steer them away from things like drugs and alcohol. 

Al Sultani said he takes so much pride in his students, and what they've accomplished, and his door is always open for those curious to learn.