For a very long time, not only in fashion but the world, there has been a sort of disliking towards Muslims. A woman wearing a hijab signifies that they are Muslim. It is a large visible indicator that they cannot escape from. So, having them strut the catwalk in recent years is a big step into opening the minds of close-minded people. Such close-minded people view hijab women as oppressed from the men in the religion but also the religion itself. As a Muslim woman myself, I can confirm that this is untrue for most women. In Islam, women should only wear the hijab if they want to devote their love for God. If they are being forced, then it does not count in the eyes of Allah.
Models such as, Halima Aden, noted as the first pageant contestant to wear hijab, now struts the catwalk which is an important step for diversity. If people are able to see Muslims in a more “normal” light rather than seeing them as different then hopefully we can show close-minded people that they are no different to them. By normal, I mean no different to anyone else.
Where it all began
After September 11, 2001, the world saw Muslims differently. They saw them as simply terrorists. Some books I’d suggest reading to understand the treatment of Muslims after the twin tower tragedy are: Orientalism by Edward Said, The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid and Once in a Promised Land by Laila Halaby. The last two books are fictional, but they provide insight into a Muslim’s life in a gripping entertaining way.
The Media took control after 9/11 and blamed an entire religion for the wrong doings of a few. The whole world believed it. Nineteen years later and the world still believes it.
In 2011, France banned all face coverings including the burka. The burka or any religious clothing, symbols spirituality. It is a part of a person’s culture and identity. Therefore, who are we to order them not to express themselves? Even today, in the media, if a brown bearded man commits a crime; they are portrayed as a Muslim and a terrorist. These perceptions of Muslim men only further produced negative portrayals of Muslim women. On Good Morning Britain, two guests debate the impact on banning religious clothing in public areas and the work place. The debate is very interesting in understanding both sides of the argument.
The road to change
With all these negative perceptions of Muslims, the fashion industry is trying to combat this. At the end of 2017, Nike came out with a sports hijab. An inclusive move for Nike, providing sporty Muslim women with a stylish yet practical headscarf. The campaign photos showed hijab-wearing women boxing, running and even fencing. In 2020, Nike came out with a 2.0 version which was said to have taken the feedback from the first launch.
Last year’s New York Fashion Week featured Halima Aden, who walked the catwalk for brands such as Sherri Hill, Tommy Hilfiger x Zendaya and more. Mariah Idrissi, known for being in H&M’s “close the loop” campaign in 2015, shook the world. This particular hijab-wearing model then became an expert in ‘modest fashion’. She showed the U.K how beautiful Muslim woman are. Another one of Britain’s first hijab-wearing models, Shahira Yusuf, was recognised by Sarah Doukas who also discovered Kate Moss.
This is very important as it shows big names in the industry understanding that as consumers, we want more than models. We want real girls, who we can connect with, who give us hope and motivation and not just unrealistic and damaging standards.
All these examples for the road to change are incredibly important in providing a better image for Muslims around the globe. But of course, with change, comes controversy. A scholar at the University of Birmingham argues that the way these models portray themselves (with make-up and desirable clothing) defeats the point of modest clothing. The point is to not attract attention, according to Dr Haifaa Jawad.
To find a balance between the two remains a struggle for most Muslim women. But I believe that upholding faith and being attentive to your appearance should not be mutually exclusive. In a constantly changing modern world, we should evolve and become accepting of one another. Have courage and be kind.