You’ve got the right hijab wrapped in the right style with the right blouse and the right flowing skirt. Your makeup is subtle yet radiant. Your ensemble is missing something, though – a necklace would be too showy, but maybe if you painted your nails lavender you could really rock this look. Wait – is nail polish halal? And if it is, where can you get some?
The answer is on Hijablicious, a blog on modest fashion co-founded by sisters Samia and Adviya Khan. Apparently, their post on halal nail polish is the blog’s highest trending topic.
This is one example of how amid the politicising of Muslim women’s dressing – in Muslim and non-Muslim majority countries – Muslim women are taking charge of their faith and fashion sense. And with such style!
At the launch of Reina Lewis’s new book – Muslim Fashion: Contemporary Style Cultures – on 20 October 2015, the panellists showed how the growing hijabifying of fashion challenges multiple stereotypes about Muslim women’s dressing. Lewis, a Professor of Cultural Studies at the London College of Fashion, said that amid media panics in the West about “radical” Islam, Muslim women – here and beyond – are using fashion innovatively to express their religiosity and femininity.
Shelina Janmohamed, author of Love in a Headscarf and Islamic branding expert, said that some well-known clothing outlets are listening – for example H&M, with their first ever hijab-wearing model Mariah Idrissi. “We live in interesting times,” said Janmohamed, referring also to Nadiya Hussain, the bubbly hijabi (hijubbly?) who won the Great British Bake Off and charmed the nation’s socks off.
Janmohamed added that the Muslim Generation Y is coming of age, and they like seeing themselves reflected in brand identities. If they don't then they find ways to become visible, like the founders of Hijablicious.
As a Muslim man, I can attest to the range of awesome Muslim women I know, some who observe hijab and some who don’t. It matters hugely to me that the diversity of Muslim women’s experiences is represented fairly and accurately.
But I must admit I have not always viewed the hijab so enthusiastically. Being a Malaysian, I am still aware of the lechery and abuse that many non-hijabis face, especially on social media by purportedly pious Muslim men. We’ve had a national gymnast, a princess from the Johor royal family, a high-achieving student and a mere teenager all subjected to the most degrading insults simply for not covering their hair as Muslim women.
When I was seven, my first exposure to a hijabi who was not a relative was my ustazah (Islamic Studies teacher). She told me I was going to Hell because I made noise in class while she left us to perform Asar prayers. Then when I was nine, another ustazah told us that all non-Muslims would suffer eternal damnation, no matter if they were good people (because what’s the point in being good if you’re not Muslim?). They scared the daylights out of me.
I’ve also seen the flipside – when I was a student in Australia, a soft-spoken hijabi friend was subjected to racist abuse in the heart of Melbourne. Out of nowhere and in broad daylight, some white Aussie thugs spat on her tudung (the Malay for hijab) and screamed “go home”.
As a man, it’s not my place to speak for women – goodness knows that’s one huge problem with the politicisation of women’s dressing, Muslim or otherwise. But I hope it’s OK for me to say how much I admire Muslim women who take charge of their own dressing by choosing to wear or not wear hijab in their own inspiring ways.
Shanon Shah is a writer and researcher on religion, gender and sexuality and has a doctorate in the sociology of religion
(photo: panel discussion at the launch of the book Muslim Fashion: Contemporary Style Cultures by Reina Lewis, at the London College of Fashion, 20 October 2015)