Back in May, a friend posted this BBC article on Facebook.
Fashion is a form of self-expression. It’s all about experimenting with looks and, in many cases, attracting attention.
The Islamic headscarf, or hijab, is exactly the opposite. It’s about modesty and attracting as little attention as possible.
However, a growing number of Muslim women are successfully blending the two.
They are known as Hijabistas.
I commented immediately saying:
Sorry… That’s ridiculous journalism. Hijabistas? Really? And where have they been? We’ve been “combining the two” (hijab and “western dress”) for decades. Decades. Commercialism, and opportunistic journalism, that is all.
Other comments noted that there’s a growing trend in the Media to latch on to “fashionable Muslims” and tote them as practicing a different form of Islam, of being modern, and of being diametrically opposed to the Islam that “forces women into oppression with the burqa.” That the Media is playing one against the other.
Ever since 9/11 the Media has been looking for the “safe” Islam, the “no hijab Islam.” As an immediate response, I remember Anderson Cooper spoke with everyday Muslims on the streets, Oprah had an Islam 101 episode where she followed the day of a “normal Muslim woman,” (Muslim organizations did the same. “We” needed to separate ourselves from ‘Them.”) and how discussions on Sufism and its impact on US foreign policy were occurring alongside of fictional Media terms like, “Islamist.” (sufism being styled as a “safe” Islam to follow.)
Slowly, as Muslims became more prominent in the fashion world (more prominent? or more noticed? Being a Western Muslim seems to be a great criteria to have when writing a story on fashion, education, charitable works, politics — it’s even better if the subjects are identifiable with a big beard or headscarf), I began noticing articles on the Burkini, on Hijabi Olympic athletes and now fashionable hijabis.
The May BBC article annoys me because it assumes that there is no personal expression in Islam, and specifically, how Muslim women choose to dress. It ignores the historical and current differences in how women around the world style their hijab (or just don’t wear it!) — and especially, ignores the huge fashion scene in Muslim countries (although I can forgive that, because it is a rare article that will take a global perspective. But if you’re looking at the emergence of Western Muslim fashion, you can’t ignore the influence that the Muslim world has on it).
Recently, The Independent has come out with a similar article, Beautiful AND Islamic (because, you know, you can only be drab and boring in Islam), and the amazing ladies at Muslimah Media Watch have taken on this issue more brilliantly than I can.