While Muslim women such as Hind Ahmas and Najate Nait Ali are making global headlines with their defiant battle against the French government for the basic right to don the burqa in France and some parts of Europe, those in countries with no such restrictions are taking their sartorial expression of faith to another level.
Bright scarves, embellished details and wedges are just a few key items many fashion-conscious South African Muslim women will be wearing this season as part of the global hijab style movement.
Hijab fashion lovers say the style is a fast-growing alternative for fashion-conscious Muslim women, who adapt mainstream fashion trends to Islamic wear without compromising their cultural values.
21-year-old Cape Town blogger Tasneem Jaffer explained the basic hijab requirements for women, adding that men also have their own requirements for hijab.
“The word hijab is commonly used to refer to the headscarf, although that is not the only meaning. The requirement of hijab is to cover your body in a way that does not reveal the shape of your body and that the clothes not be transparent. The body parts that are allowed to be revealed are the hands, face and feet,” she said.
Sameera Badsha, 24, who co-owns a Durban boutique with her sister, said wearing patterned and brightly coloured head-scarves is one of the simplest ways she discovered to individualise her look.
“I’ve always been one who loves fashion and when I began wearing the headscarf I still wanted to keep my personal style, so I adapted it in a more modest way. I started wearing more trousers as well as more blouses and also skirts and tops with 3/4 sleeves. I try to make it more fashionable with the mix and match trend by wearing stripes and maybe a brightly coloured scarf,” she said.
Jaffer, who said she first became aware of the movement when she started wearing a head-scarf in 2009, agreed.
“I think it would take me a full day to count how many headscarves are in my house. I have scarves lying around in shelves, drawers, hanging in cupboards and on rails. My best friend is a black headscarf which I wear often; it is one of my basic clothing items. When I’m in my house I seldom have a scarf on, but when I leave my house I’m rarely without a scarf. When I am at home around my immediate family and female friends, hijab is not deemed compulsory,” she said.
Although the abayaa – the traditional long, flowing and usually black dress worn by Muslim women – is the garment most associated with observing hijab, Jaffer said it is not the only option available to women.
“Adapting to hijab is much easier than one would imagine. To hijabify a mini dress I would add jeans and a cardigan or long sleeve top. The great thing about Hijab style is that we’re not wearing anything out of the ordinary. We are wearing clothing all females wear, just in a different way,” she said.
However, for those who more often prefer the abayaa, a whole range of fashion styles are also available, according to Johannesburg-based Silk boutique co-owner, Aneesa Omar. Omar said the women’s Islamic wear boutique was started as a family business seven and a half years ago when she, her mother and sisters realized that there was a gap in the South African Islamic fashion design market.
“We realised that ladies were becoming more religious yet wanted to remain trendy and fashionable. In the past, garments were basic and lacking detail so we added stylish cuts, exquisite embroidery and more detailing on the abayaa. Our designs change seasonally following international, catwalk trends, which we adapt to the modest garment,” she said.
Omar, who designs the boutique’s range alongside her mother, said the store uses Indian and Arabian imported fabric and haberdashery to produce locally made garments. This, she said, is to help customers keep up with international trends at local prices. She said customers can also design their own abayaa.
23-year-old Aishah Amin, a Malaysian architecture lecturer, is a 1355-fan strong style blogger on fashion blogging site lookbook.nu.
Amin, who was brought up in England and returned to work in Malaysia as an adult, said her mother had taught her to wear hijab at a very young age.
“Even though at the time I didn’t have any friends who wore the hijab, I still felt comfortable being in my hijab and staying true to my values. I started wearing the hijab permanently when I was about 11,” she said.
“Here in Malaysia, I can say that almost 70% of the Muslim women wear hijab. And from my observation, hijab style has been quite fast to grow on the women here. Maybe it’s because although a lot of them wear hijab, they don’t really filter it to suit the Islamic principles and follow fashion trends blindly. I see a lot of women wearing headscarves that expose the neck, chest and so on. From my opinion, some trends and style really don’t suit the Muslim dress code,” said Amin.
One of Amin’s hijab looks is an exquisitely put together “colour-blocking” ensemble. Her take on the current global fashion trend – which focuses on using at least 3 different bold colours in an outfit – includes a flowing, floor-length coral dress teamed with a lavender blazer, light coral head-scarf and a turquoise clutch. Even her traditional all-black abayaa outfit is given an individual twist with a black long-sleeve kimono wrap dress with a pink waist-band detail over black pants and a matching pink clutch.
Amin said hijab style began to gain ground in Malaysia with the collaboration of Muslim designer Hana Tajima- Simpson and Muslim Malaysian singer Yunalis Zarai, who goes by the stage name Yuna. Like Badsha and Jaffer, Amin describes herself as an ordinary girl who loves fashion but refuses to compromise her values.
“I think it’s quite obvious that hijab style was on the rise after the Yuna-Tajima collaboration. Hana Tajima was the “it” girl in hijab fashion and Yuna is the only well-known singer in Malaysia that wears hijab. Both of then had already had a huge a group of fans, so when they met and started to collaborate on projects, I can say that their fan base grew even bigger. I’ve met both of them a few times privately and it’s a bit funny because I admire both of them, yet they say they love my style!”
Amin advised those just starting out with hijab style to experiment first with their scarves.
“For beginners I think you should have maybe a few colours of the plain headscarf. I rarely wear printed headscarves because I think plain ones are easier to mix and match with, plus they are more modest,” she said.
“I’m quite chubby, so I love clothes that give me a good silhouette. So a must-have item would be a blazer. You can dress it up, or even dress it down according to what look your going for. Second must-have is a maxi skirt. Skirts are so comfy and very in fashion right now,” said Amin.
This article was re-published with the permission of the Sunday Times Extra edition, in which it first appeared.