Muslims Breaking Barriers

What do you know about Muslim women and the hijab? Do you understand what the hijab denotes or rather represents? Do you have misconceptions about it – and believe that it is rather a piece of fabric that takes away a woman’s confidence instead of enhancing it, or it is a symbol of culture? Many questions surround the hijab and the women around the world who either choose to or are forced to wear it.  It has become quite the hot topic in the western world where Muslim women – models, bloggers and entrepreneurs – are making a mark for themselves and changing the impression of what the headgear represents. It is about time we recognized a culture that has for many years been under-represented and misunderstood.

Firstly, the hijab is more than just sophisticated or a mere simple headwear; it is a symbol of modesty, and has religious and cultural significance in the Islamic world. Let’s be honest, the fashion and beauty industry have certainly not been known for modesty or diversity until quite recently. If you haven’t been a part of what’s going on in the western world at the moment, this article will give you a mini update.

Discussing diversity in the fashion and beauty industry was non existent, until a few years ago. Women of colour, age, race, ethnicity and even human preferences and behavior were not included in campaigns and even addressed in the least. Inclusivity certainly took its time to show up. But it here to stay and is now also enveloping women of Islamic, especially those who cover their heads.

The hijab appeared on the fashion runways for the very first time in the fall of 2018 (2017). Unfortunately however, the models were not Muslim themselves, which takes away from the honest representation of the culture. This brought upon little outrage but certainly made waves of attention and spiked the rise of Muslim models in the industry to take a stand for themselves. And a stand they certainly took. Halima Aiden is the first Muslim to have landed a Nike campaign. Kadija Diawara is a stunning model for many high end fashion brands. Mariah Idrissi was featured on the cover of Teen Vogue, Elle and Marie Clare. Ikram Abdi Omar walked the London Fashion Week runway.

In order to accept these diverse advances, it must be understood that beauty comes in all ages, sizes, skin tones, genders and religious preferences. Once that’s an accepted norm, the rest is pretty simple. Anyone from anywhere can personify beauty and fashion; and that is exactly how it should be. There’s no denying negativity that is encountered every today, but it is important to soldier on in this path in order to have a positive impact and make a change. Negativity and stereotypes exist because of lack of knowledge and understanding. Therefore it is vital to create awareness of the importance of inclusivity in all aspects of fashion and beauty.

Here also lies the opportunity to educate the world about what the hijab symbolizes. It isn’t an item to be sexualized. It is a part of the Muslim faith. The women who choose to wear it often feel strong, and beautiful and confident. They take pride in their sophisticated and stylish headwear, and instead of feeling demeaned, feel rather powerful.

Stand apart from the crowd

Aden once said that we are all born to stand out; that nobody is born to blend in at an interview and this certainly rings true. Her Nike campaign is set to hit shelves this year and has paved the way of other Muslim women who are in the modeling industry, to land great fashion and beauty campaigns. The world’s first Muslim modeling agency – Underwraps, was a recent addition amongst the thousands of others that do no represent women in hijab. For its founder, the journey hasn’t been easy but hard work definitely pays off. She understands that it is important to receive attention, dismiss and break barriers and any type or kind of negative association along with it.

Amena Khan was the first hijab wearing model to have been casted in a L’Oreal hair care campaign. Now, many might raise their eyebrows at this notion or even find it ridiculous but in interviews conducted with Khan, she admitted that even though she does cover her hair when outdoors, her hair is just as important to her as someone who does not. Like everyone else, she shampoos and conditions it, nourishes it with oils and hair masks and the campaign was meant to highlight diversity as well as inclusivity even if it were someone who covered her head in public. The campaign received plenty of attention and also got the ball rolling on other brands like CoverGirl, H&M, DKNY and Dolce & Gabbana giving women in hijab the opportunity to be featured and also creating collections meant for them.  

This goes to prove that there is a definite demand in terms of fashion and beauty for the Muslim fashionista. Collections by the mentioned designers and fashion labels above included modern looks with rules of modesty, and this is just the beginning. Hama Tajima is a British Japanese blogger and now fashion designer who is redefining the hijab with her workmanship. Her stylish lifestyle and take on modest fashion has thousands of others following in on her footsteps and recreating the same in their own way.

Question is, is it a passing trend or a powerful sense of style that is here to stay? Much like inclusivity in the makeup industry, this isn’t just a trend. This is a powerful representation that is becoming more and more recognized as we speak, and also proving to be an inspiration to others around the world, including Sri Lanka. The ideology is thought provoking and opens conversations about the stigma that surrounds the hijab and hopefully will break such misconceptions in time to come.

Me and my hijab

I started wearing the hijab right after I performed Hajj. For those who do not know what Hajj is – it is a religious pilgrimage that is performed in the holy city of Mecca. It is a compulsory rite to every Muslim to at least perform it once in a lifetime. For the most part, it was assumed that I would automatically start covering my head after I got back home. For the month that I was away, I kept asking myself if I was ready to do this and if I really wanted to go ahead with it or not. Sometimes I feel like the greatest battles we fight are not with others but with ourselves. When I got back home, it is customary to greet family members who visit with ‘salaams’ and the head covered so for some time, I did cover my head. Other times at home and elsewhere I had my scarf around my neck as usual.

My husband didn’t approve of me doing this. Every single time we left the house to go out to see a friend or for a cup of coffee, he’d confront me about covering my head. “Why isn’t it on your head?”, “did you forget to put the scarf on your head?” were common questions. They were asked in the manner which made me feel like I had done a great sin and had a sinking guilty feeling inside me. I’d look at him in a pleading way and almost expect him to understand where I was coming from but he never did. I’d reluctantly then cover my head.

I don’t mean any disrespect to those who do wear the hijab and do it so well, but I was very uncomfortable doing this. I didn’t feel like because it was not coming from within me and I was simply doing it because I was told to. I wasn’t asked to; I was told to. This went on for a few weeks and it came to a point where one day my husband said to me, “I’m telling you as your husband to wear the hijab,” and that was that. A command. I’m someone who won’t easily bow down to anyone unless my heart was in it. But my husband and I had been arguing over the subject for some time and I just wanted it to end and wanted to be able to go out without instigating yet another argument over covering my head.

I told myself that I’d do it for him. Not God, but for him. I told myself that I’d try my best to keep at it; to make peace with the notion. I told myself that if I ever felt like I couldn’t do it, I’d still make an effort to plaster a smile on my face and get on with it. I did it for five months. When it came to a point where I felt like I was being a hypocrite, I sat my husband down one day and I told him I wasn’t happy doing it.

He looked back at me shocked. “I thought you were happy doing it,” he said. “How could I be when it wasn’t my choice in the first place?” I asked back. “Because you are doing it in the name of God Almightly.” “I’m not; in my heart I’m not doing it for Him, I’ve been doing it for you. For you so that we won’t argue all the time and fight about it.” “You need to make yourself be okay with it and do it for His sake.” “I don’t know if I can.” “Try.” “I am trying.”

The conversation went nowhere.

I thought I should put more effort and heart into covering my head. But a year and a couple of months later, here I am, still covering my head not for the right reasons. Muslims argue over the topic; some claiming it to be a choice others claiming it to be compulsory. I’m not one to argue. It is meant as a sign of modesty of women; but my argument is, does it mean I am not modest when I am not covering my head? What is modesty in today’s world anyway? Men look at you no matter what you are wearing; be it the abaya or a mini skirt and crop top. I believe that modesty lies in what’s in your heart. My faith does not confine women to shun themselves from the world. My faith celebrates women and whatever it may be, I know that I am a good Muslim whether I cover my head or not. What will prevail in the Hereafter because of my actions and choices is up to God.

My husband knows I am not happy covering my head even to this day. I’ve brought up the subject once more in recent times and I was yet again left with no choice. People can argue over it being my choice and I should defy my husband over this. Believe me, I’ve tried. But what is there to gain of it arguing over it when life almost becomes unbearable with the constant fights?

But the choice should be mine, right? What is better – to argue constantly or let things be? I can’t seem to decide. I’m tired of being pulled apart in this manner. I’ve lost sight of who I am because of it. I feel like I have no identity. I feel like a hypocrite every time I step out of the house. Yes, I also think in a practical manner and the heat has been killing me. It’s hot around my neck and all I want to do is shove my scarf down a drain. I miss my long hair and being able to style in so many different ways. I cut it almost like a boy because I didn’t see the point in having long hair and covering my head. I cried over it in the bathroom. My husband does not know it upset me that much. And yet, when I step outside this afternoon to meet a friend, I will carefully pick a scarf that complements my outfit and wrap it around my head and go out for a bite. I’ll pretend like everything is fine when inside me, I am unhappy. I’ll laugh about an incident that happened a day ago and adjust my scarf well if it happens to slide down. We’ll spend an hour or two catching up and I will go home, where I will immediately discard my scarf. The day comes to an end and I will sleep and then wake up to yet another day that I will do the same – wear the hijab not because I want to, but because I was asked to.