Being a Muslim fashionista might cause you problems

MODELS PRESENT CREATIONS FOR MUSLIM WOMEN DURING AN ISLAMIC FASHION FAIR IN ISTANBUL APRIL 11, 2010. (PHOTO: REUTERS, MURAD SEZER)
With the help of social media, “modest fashion” is being more recognized in the fashion world but at the same time is heavily criticized by some Muslim women.

For some, wearing the hijab is a matter of religious expression, while for others it may also be a way of expressing their fashion sense. The flourishing Muslim bloggers on social media and countless turban and headscarf tutorials on YouTube have created a lot of debate on how a Muslim woman should wear modest clothing. Some argue that modest clothing is no longer necessarily a symbol of religious behavior and that it has been transformed into a trend.

“No girl chooses to wear modest clothing because it is fashionable. They don’t choose to wear a scarf in the middle of the Turkish summer with its 45 degree heat simply because it is fashionable. But when they look in the mirror before heading out and try to figure out if their green scarf matches their green shoes, now that is fashion. But whether she chooses a yellow or a blue scarf is up to her and nobody else. If she just chose to wear what is fashionable or trendy, she would go to Paris fashion week and wear the latest skirt that is in fashion,” says Hülya Aslan, fashion editor of the İstanbul-based modest fashion magazine Ala Dergi, to Sunday’s Zaman.

Lack of modest fashion magazines

For Aslan, it is the lack of modest fashion magazines in the Middle East that contributes to the overwhelming boom of the turban and headscarf blogger. “The lack of modest fashion magazines for girls who wear the hijab is one of the reasons why there has been such a boom of bloggers. They would not have gone to those lengths if they had magazines they could use as inspiration. Personally, I think some of these bloggers’ styles are too much, and I’m talking about their choice of style, not whether they are dressed correctly in Islamic terms,” she says.

Ala Dergi, which was eventually born due to the lack of modest fashion magazines in Turkey, has faced criticism along with its growing success. Some critics argue that the magazine promotes modesty in the wrong way and that it is an obstacle to core Islamic values. Both Aslan and Gülsüm Çiçekci, the owner of Ala Dergi, agree that they did not expect the magazine to face such harsh criticism from others, and they especially did not expect that the majority of critics would be Muslim women themselves. They emphasize that the magazine is not an Islamic magazine that tries to refer to the Quran but that it is simply a modest fashion magazine written by Muslim women for other Muslim women who seek inspiration for their modest clothing. As for other turban, headscarf and hijab bloggers facing the same types of criticism, Çiçekci notes: “The critics have to remember that the girls they criticize because of their choice of clothing also have a life. They are human and can make mistakes, too. But the mistakes they are making are not part of a conspiracy through which they are trying to damage the image of Muslim girls. There is a difference between the religion of Islam and the culture they live in, and people often forget to distinguish between the two.”

The differentiation between religious and cultural choices is often what these girls are criticized for. Ascia, a blogger with “The Hybrids” and one of the most prominent bloggers in the Middle East, took the matter to her blog, writing in a post: “Yes. This ‘thing’ on my head is considered a hijab. I will not argue with you over the specificities of hijab, but I will tell you that how you wear it is cultural; that you wear it at all is religious. Do not confuse the two and then drag me into your beliefs. How I wear what I wear is between me & God. Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to tell me I’m wrong. You don’t even know what is right. It says nowhere in the Quran that I must take a scarf and wrap it around my head in a circular fashion twice with a scarf that has crystals on it. You made that style up yourself. Or you adopted it from the CULTURE around you.”

A similar incident happened when a video spread across the Internet in December of last year, as it showed young American-Muslim women, called “Mipsterz” (Muslim hipsters), wearing stylish hijabs with cool and colorful clothes while skating around urban areas. It not only created a lot of debate, but it also offended some Muslim women, who called the video provocative and condescending towards the identity of Muslim women. This was not only due to the choice of song, Jay Z’s “Somewhere in America,” in which he frequently raps, “Twerk, Miley, twerk.” The video created a lot of heated debate, as many from the American-Muslim community could not understand the point of the video. One of these criticisms came from The Islamic Monthly’s senior online editor, Sana Saeed, who wrote: “We’re so incredibly obsessed with appearing ‘normal’ or ‘American’ or ‘Western’ by way of what we do and what we wear that we undercut the actual abnormality of our communities and push essentialist definitions of ‘normal’, ‘American’ and ‘Western.’ In that process of searching for the space of normalcy, we create ‘normal’ and through that a ‘good’ Muslim. And in all of this, we might just lose that which makes us unique: our substance.”

Modesty is not only what you wear

The criticisms have not only come from Muslim women who found other Muslim fashion bloggers to be dressing inappropriately. There is also another pool of critics who are not very keen on hijab at all. Often a woman who chooses to cover herself also dedicates herself to a journey of constant questions regarding her choice, especially when living in a country that does not have a high tolerance of religious displays. Even in Turkey, this has been a problematic issue. From a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in January on how women from seven Muslim countries feel women should dress in public, it was found that 46 percent in Turkey preferred a woman whose hair and ears are covered in hijab but with the face still showing. But 32 percent, roughly a third of the Turkish population, were most open to no head covering for women, showing that Turkish people are still divided when it comes to the headscarf.

“Up until the beginning of 2000, 70-80 percent of the Muslim population was treated like second-class citizens. There was an elite consisting of 10 percent of the Turkish population that tried to rule the rest of the population in Turkey,” says Kemal Yılmaz from Armine, one of the leading modest clothing brands in Turkey.

Still, with a growing acceptance in recent years of a more visible identity for Muslim women in Turkey, there has been a demand for modest clothing that will appeal to Muslim women.

“We started Armine because we saw that there was a big demand and gap for modest clothing in Turkey that needed to be filled. When we create the pieces we design, we stay consistent with the Islamic vision by paying attention to the cuts and details. But how you dress and combine things is individual, and it is up to the customer whether she chooses to dress in a very brash color or a very natural one,” Yılmaz says.

He also remarks that women who do not wear the headscarf also purchase clothes from Armine, adding that modesty is not exclusive to women who wear a headscarf. “Modesty is also the way you act and carry yourself. You can’t determine whether a woman is religious solely on what she wears. There can be women who don’t wear the headscarf but who still pray five time a day and who may be closer to God than one who wears a headscarf,” he notes.

Source: Todays Zaman

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