When was the last time your clothes made a religious and political statement? For women who don the hijab, a head covering that some Muslims wear as a symbol of modesty, religion is front and centre in every fashion choice they make.
Muslim women may choose to wear hijab for any number of reasons, from strict observance to feminist statement—in her new book Laughing All the Way to the Mosque (Harper Collins Canada, 2014), Little Mosque on the Prairie creator Zarqa Nawaz writes that she first put on the scarf to rebel against her parents. But the head covering has also come under criticism for being a symbol of women’s oppression. The provocative activist group Femen have spoken out against hijab with their notorious topless protests. In France, women are banned from wearing headscarves (or any religious symbols) in state schools, and in 2013 the Parti Québécois proposed a similar controversial law for public sector workers.
Yet the world of hijabi style is growing—and this “modest fashion” revolution is thanks in no small part to women who proudly flaunt their chic headscarves and modest outfits on Instagram and YouTube. But these Islamic fashionistas have themselves come under scrutiny by some in the Muslim community, who argue that posting makeup tutorials and stylish selfies are not modest acts.
We asked five Muslim women who work in fashion how they experience wearing hijab in a decidedly immodest industry. Here’s what they told us.
Adlina Anis, 30
Occupation: YouTube personality, designer and fashion stylist for magazines and designers including Harper’s Bazaar and DVF
Instagram followers: 18,000+
www.adlinaanisselections.com; Twitter: @adlinaanis; Instagram: adlinaanis
“To date, I am the only hijab-wearing person in the mainstream fashion industry in Singapore. There’s a lot of prejudice and it’s really difficult for anyone wearing hijab to try to enter the fashion industry here. At first I was affected by it, but now I’m not because I’m proud of who I am. Styling on a fashion shoot is where I can express myself creatively; whatever I wear personally is who I am with God.”
“I don’t think there is a conflict between modesty and modeling. Modesty is what every individual makes of it. I don’t think there’s only one way of being a Muslim, just like there isn’t just one way to wear the hijab. Each person has to feel comfortable in the way they wear it. The way the women from my agency model is not provocative or sexual, and they’re all wearing Islamic clothing.”
Saman Munir, 33
Occupation: Hijab stylist, fashion blogger and YouTube personality
YouTube subscribers: 25,000
Hometown: Mississauga, Ont.
YouTube: makeuphijabs; Twitter: @makeuphijabs; Instagram: makeuphijabs
“Hijab is my Muslim identity. It can be hard to balance style and modesty; there are a lot of things I wish I could wear. But nowadays the clothes that I see at places like Zara and H&M are modest; they’re not too tight or revealing. There’s always a mix and match I can do, such as layering a blazer over a sleeveless dress. I wear whatever makes me confident.”
“The women in my family were the ones who taught me how to style my hijab. I remember when Salt N’ Peppa came out my older sister wore her headscarf asymmetrically. Some women pick their shoes out first, but I went through a stage where my outfits were styled around my hijab. Dressing modestly and wearing hijab has really made me so creative. If there’s a disaster on set, I think I’m one of the best people to have as a wardrobe stylist because all my life I’ve been working with clothing to repurpose or “hijabify” it, if you will.”
Occupation: Hijab fashion and beauty blogger and YouTube personality
Twitter followers: 73,000+
Hometown: Richmond Hill, Ont.
noratehaili.com; Twitter: @NoraTehaili; Instagram: noratehaili
“Girls who start wearing the hijab don’t know exactly how to put an outfit together. It was hard for me when I first started, but now that I’ve experienced wearing hijab for a few years, I can shed some light on how to style it. It’s unbelievable how many girls have been taking the hijab off, but not surprising considering how the media can make Islam look oppressive. That can take a toll on a girl’s confidence. I feel like we bloggers and YouTubers are giving Muslim girls confidence and making them feel that they don’t need to abandon their religion to do the things they want to do.”