Recently, my work schedule allowed me to go to London to visit my nephew. Serendipitously, I ran into a group of stylishly dressed Muslim women, from all over the world, in my hotel lobby. They were there for “London Modest Fashion Week” presented by Modanisa (a modest clothing shopping website from Turkey). They graciously invited me to attend the fashion show, where a breathtaking variety of modest styles were showcased. Although the majority of those in attendance were Muslim, the fashions are designed for all women wanting to dress modestly.
When I was learning about Islam and heard about the concept of dressing modestly, i.e. wearing hijab, I thought it was something made up by men wanting to keep women subjugated. But as I researched the passages in the Quran, I realized that covering up was something God, not men, directed women to do. To me, wearing hijab is a form of worship, something I do to please God.
Actually, dressing modestly can be fashionable. Muslim fashion isn’t something new, what’s new is that mainstream designers are starting to develop clothing appealing to Muslims. And hijab wearing women are becoming more visible. As my daughter put it, the women in the photo are “Internet famous”. While they are stylish fashionistas, they are also educated, creative, accomplished entrepreneurs, filmmakers, lawyers, nurses, photographers and journalists.
They, and others like them, serve as role-models empowering women to wear hijab proudly. Some of them appear in the new music video “Cover Girl (Rockin’ that Hijab)”, by Canadian duo, Deen Squad. One of the verses is:
This is for my sisters in the west 2017, she ain’t tryna’ be oppressed She represents peace and she got her own voice And She’s not forced to wear it, cause she made her own choice
For those who worry these are signs that Muslims are going to force everyone to wear hijab, please chill out. While there are a few cultures where women are forced to wear some kind of cultural cover, the majority of women, who identify as Muslim, don’t wear hijab. There are some very pious women who acknowledge it’s something God has directed women to do, but, for whatever reason, don’t wear it. For some, even in Muslim majority countries, wearing hijab is forbidden. Then there are those who deny it’s a requirement. For all of these Muslims, it’s important to remember that God is the judge and we cannot condemn those who have differing understandings.
Women who do wear hijab, like all women, are constantly being judged for how they look. On one end there are those who say too much emphasis is being put on fashion, make up and outward looks, while, others say dressing modestly is oppressive.
There are things women can’t control about our looks, but the choices we make in how we dress and present ourselves sends messages. Sometimes the message is, “I’m a devout, yet stylish Muslim” or it could be “I dropped the kids off at school and barely made it to work on time, I may not fit your definition of beautiful, but I am fully capable of doing my job.”
It’s tiresome when others try to dictate what’s acceptable for women to wear. Women should be free to wear what they want, according to their beliefs, without being harassed for their choices. It’s normal to make assumptions about others based on how they choose to dress. But even if one doesn’t like how a woman dresses; stylishly modest, frumpy, or even scantily clad, women should still be valued for their contributions and treated with civility.
(Originally published in The Charlotte Observer May 6, 2017)