Young Muslim women from Cairo to Norway, Malaysia to the U.K have taken on the mainstream media by blogging about their experiences of wearing the hijab in the 21st century and people are taking note.
While most of the blogs were started as a way to pass on style advice to a section of society woefully ignored by the fashion press, they’ve managed to attract a loyal following of members eager to discuss their thoughts and feelings on the wearing of the hijab, one of the most contentious issues facing many women today.
The hijab blog, whose tagline is the tongue-in-cheek ‘with a passion for veiled fashion’, is run by Imaan Ali, a young Norwegian student studying in the US. Her blog posts news and updates on the newest designers producing clothes for the hijab-wearing woman. She also includes contributions from YouTube star Madiha MK an American-Egyptian whose ‘hijab tutorials’ on the website have made her a star amongst fashionable muslim women.
The hijab blog name checks designers such as Itang Yunasz and Reham Farouq and encourages feedback from its members on the articles posted and while the majority of postings are light-hearted and fashion-focused, Imaan is an eloquent advocate for the rights of Muslim women in the West, and more specifically, for their right to wear the hijab without suspicion or discrimination.
A recent ruling in Norway has banned the wearing of Hijab by Muslim policewomen, citing the potential for the ‘Islamisation’ of the police force. Imaan’s response to this — via the Hijab blog — was an illuminating piece on the difficulties facing Muslim women and their feelings of discrimination and persecution.
“The debate displayed a frightening attitude towards the hijab itself. The opposition to the proposal of allowing hijab in the police will lead to only one thing. People will have fewer scruples when it comes to discrimination on the basis of religious identity in hiring to any field, and this will result in even less opportunities for Muslim women choosing the hijab,” she said.
Imaan explains her disappointment at Norway purporting to be a nation committed to the individual freedoms of its citizens yet showing a distinct lack of empathy for a significant minority by banning the hijab. Other young women posting on the hijab blog forum are residents and citizens of the West and express their dismay at the ignorance and fear that their hijab-wearing provokes.
Another style-focused blog that has been making waves in the UK and beyond, Hijab style (www.hijabstyle.blogspot.com), is written by a young English student Jana Kossaibati who manages to take time out of her full time medical degree to write and post articles for young, fashionable hijab wearers about how to adapt clothing found on the British high street for more modest dressing.
She started the blog in 2007 in response to the lack of anything in the fashion media that was geared towards muslim women and has found the response has been overwhelmingly positive. She has gone on to contribute fashion pieces on Hijab dressing for the The Guardian newspaper and reported for Vogue.com from the Arabian Fashion World event in London this month.
Jana believes that the pervasive feeling among hijab wearers is one of being ignored or misunderstood and that her aim is to show fashionable Muslim women how to express themselves through their wearing of the hijab and raise awareness about what the wearing of the hijab really means. The articles and pieces on her blog show readers how to mix and match current styles from the high street as well as how to employ tactical layering to create a more modest look. She also introduces hijab-friendly designers from around the world including the UAE-based Rabia Z. The latest post discusses Dubai Fashion Week and the new Arab designers that showed there.
While hijab wearers in the Gulf may be lucky enough to enjoy a variety of options, modest dressing Muslim women in the West are still struggling to find a voice in the fashion community. According to Jana “There are many, many groups that are not paid enough attention in the fashion community — be it a lack of plus-sized clothing to a lack of darker-skinned models, the fashion industry still has a long way to go in terms of its inclusiveness.
“But that’s not to say that Muslim women need to be exclusively pointed out, because that in itself still leads to ‘otherization’ of the hijab, and the view that it is still something ‘foreign’. What would be good to see is Muslim women’s involvement in general fashion discourse, bringing their own approach to the table like any other women.’
Where fashion editors and advertisers may have previously felt that the market for modest dress wasn’t significant enough to address properly, young Muslim women are now a consumer force to be reckoned with. The problem now is with the mainstream media’s reluctance to tackle a subject about which they are ill-informed, which places even more importance on alternative media such as blogs.
While many in the west believe that hijab-wearing women are in some way ‘hiding’ themselves or shying away from self-expression though fashion, Jana insists that “Islam celebrates beauty and a pleasant appearance is not an exception to that.”Jana crossing over from blogger stylista to Vogue correspondent shows the influence that these women have over a market underrepresented. While subscribers to the hijab style blog are more than happy to carry on taking the fashion advice posted, it shouldn’t be long before the marketing men spy an opportunity and hijab-wearers are paid some long-overdue attention. Where the internet leads, the glossies follow; hijab fashion should be gracing a magazine near you very soon.