Everywoman: Hijab Fashion

It seems that lately there is a lot of focus on hijab fashion. Not too long ago, I wrote an entry for MMW about this issue. Everywoman, a program produced by Al Jazeera English, did a piece on hijabi fashion. The program looked at the fashion choices of a group of hijabis in England in one of their episodes. The piece seemed rather odd, since it came right after a segment that focused on a Buddhist woman trying to gain ordination as a monk. But I digress.

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From the beginning of the segment, I found so many things that rubbed me the wrong way. The first was that good old dichotomy between “Western” fashion and being modest. The host, Shiulie Ghosh, introduces the segment by asking how Muslim women in the West combine the need to modest and the desire to be fashionable. When did “modest” and “fashionable” become antonyms? Hijabis stay “fashionable” the way all other women who want to be “fashionable” do. It’s not rocket science. Also, what is our definition of modesty? I know this point has been hounded, but we really do say a lot when automatically equate hijabis with modesty. Are Muslim women who don’t wear not modest?

Another reason why I find the “how do hijabis manage to be so fashionable?” inquiries so annoying is because they mostly otherize hijabis. I always get the sense the inquiries aren’t made out of a genuine sense of curiosity, but rather a sense of trying to wrap one’s head around the other.

Then the host of the segment, Amani Zain, asks what do you do when you’re in a society where the fashion is geared towards hot pants and strapless tops? This also made me pause. I didn’t know that every woman in the West wore this type of fashion. My mother didn’t wear hot pants or strapless tops even before she converted to Islam. Women in the West don’t all dress alike. Some wear hot pants and some like my mother wear long skirts. Why is there a constant need by many in the media to create this either/or dichotomy between “Western” women and Muslim women? I put Western in quotation marks because when we constantly compare Western women and Muslim women we assume that Muslim women cannot be Western, even if there are Muslim women like myself and most of the writers on this blog who were born and raised in Western societies.

Zain went shopping with one hijabi. She talked about how accessorizes her clothing and goes to shops that cater to hijabis. Most of what the woman said was not new, especially for other hijabis. In fact, as I watched, I kept wondering what the big deal was. I suppose it is hard for me to put myself in the shoes of a non-Muslim who may be watching the show, but I don’t know if a non-Muslim would really learn much from the show either. The same woman who spoke a few times about dressing in accordance with how her “Creator” commands her to dress. She seemed a bit oblivious to the fact that not all Muslims believe that the Qur’an mandates hijab. This is probably nitpicking, but I think statements like that do reinforce to a non-Muslim audience a homogenous thought about hijab that does not exist among Muslims.

Lastly, hijabi fashion stories reinforce the idea that all women care about being pretty and keeping up with the latest fashion trends. Hijabis are forced into mainstream ideals of beauty. On the website for Everywoman, one of the stated missions for the show is to “dig deeper to uncover the stories that women want told.” So stories like the hijab fashion piece reinforce the notion that women want to be told about how to be pretty. Some women may indeed want that. However, I question if that should be a on news show that is suppose to cover serious issues that women care about.

  • http://tesettur-hijab.blogspot.com Celeritas

    No surprises to me that the coverage of hijab on the Everywoman show rubbed you the wrong way. I was asked to feature on the show as a ‘convert’ even though I had been a Muslim for two years already. What they wanted me to do was to film me on my first hijab day, walking through a mall, going to University etc. They then wanted me to get my non-Muslim and Muslim friends and family together for the first time to see me wearing hijab. What the producer seemed to think was that the only important part of becoming a Muslim was to wear hijab, rather than the spiritual change. Also that they wanted me to turn this experience into international TV just baffled me. If wearing hijab in a country where only 0.1% of the population is Muslim isn’t hard enough they wanted me to do it for the first time while being trailed by cameras. The suggestion that I would want to have a big look at me in my hijab-fest for all my friends and family just to have it on TV was also really strange. I would have said no anyway because it was so creepily voyeuristic but I also had already been wearing hijab since I converted and I really didn’t consider it a big deal. The episode never got made because all the converts in the community refused to participate, we as Muslim women have the right to be seen as more than what we wear, whatever we wear. Islam is a far more powerful social, cultural, religious and political movement than the cloth on a woman’s body.

  • http://hijabstyle.blogspot.com/ Jana

    This episode for me ran in the same vein as Women in Black. I don’t know what Amani Zain’s obsession is with telling the world how Muslim women dress. Did you watch the Everywoman episode about the veil in Egypt? I posted it a while ago and there were a lot of strong opinions:

    http://hijabstyle.blogspot.com/2008/09/everywoman-veil-in-egypt.html

  • http://jamericanmuslimah.wordpress.com Jamerican Muslimah

    I posted this on my fashion blog a while back and I have to say, it wasn’t anything new to me either. I liked seeing Neelam’s (that’s the sister Zain went shopping with, I think) sense of style. Apart from that the same ole same. I agree with you about the east vs. west dichotomy and the assumption that Western women aren’t Muslim.

    “The same woman who spoke a few times about dressing in accordance with how her “Creator” commands her to dress. She seemed a bit oblivious to the fact that not all Muslims believe that the Qur’an mandates hijab.”

    I think she was speaking from her perspective. I know when someone asks me why I wear the hijab I share MY belief with them which is similar to the aforementioned quote. I don’t automatically launch into an explanation about other Muslim women who do not believe it is a command since we are discussing my belief system. If the conversation is a more expansive one then I will talk about the different perspectives. Just a thought…

  • http://muslimahmediawatch.org/ Fatemeh

    Faith, you hit the nail on the head! Spot on!

    @ Celeritas: There you have it! This makes it blatantly obvious that their purpose is to otherize Muslim women who wear headscarves by parading them around like they’re animals in a zoo.

    @ Jana: thanks for posting this link!

    @ Jamerican: that’s a good point; she could have been speaking about her personal perspective. The only problem with that is that I think her personal perspective is packaged in a way to make it seem universal.

  • laila

    Fatemeh I agree with you on her “personal perspective is packaged in a way to make it seem universal.” What’s wrong with telling people that not all Muslims believe in this mandate, and that not all Muslim women wear a hijab. It reinforces the idea that Islam is a monolithic religion— but there is wide diversity in this religion. Or that if you are a Muslim women you Must look like this ect.

    I know that as a hijabi, if a non-veiled/non-hijabed Muslim woman made a universal comment about the hijab not being mandated, I would get pissed off because she has no right to speak for me or my views on my hijab. In both ways it comes off intolerant of the OTHER. In both ways, are we showing a fear of the OTHER views?

    It just comes of too one dimensional. When someone asks me about an issue, I tell them my view from a stand-point of the others. For example, I see such and such from a traditional point or in this I’m an ultra orthodox , etc. It shows them a diversity of thought/interpretation.

    Do we want people to see only ONE side, and if so why do we want them to see it one way?

  • http://jamericanmuslimah.wordpress.com Jamerican Muslimah

    @ Fatmeh and Laila, clearly she said “for me” go back and watch the clip. I think you guys are nitpicking. It seems rather cumbersome to have to launch into detail about what other people’s perspectives are when the focus is on her and her style. I don’t wear abayas or pashminas every day but I’m not upset because the abaya and pashmina is her chosen style of dress and could possibly be viewed as “thee Muslim woman form of dress.”

  • http://muslimahmediawatch.org/ Fatemeh

    @ Jamerican: I didn’t hear the “for me.” That makes sense; as long as she’s got that personalizing preposition or qualifier, I’m happy.

    My problem is mostly with what laila termed “one-dimensional” representation. Though that’s the burden of the media, I still like it when we help represent ourselves as a diverse community.

  • http://muslimahmediawatch.org Faith

    @ Celeritas: that was creepy! Ugh! Hijab is such a small piece of being a Muslim. Wearing hijab for me is the easiest part of being a Muslim. In time, hopefully Muslims and non-Muslims will realize this.

    @ Jana: Thanks for the link!

    @ Jamerican: When I watched I didn’t hear her say “for me”. Sorry about that. I did think that I was bordering on the nitpicking. I’m going back in my memory bank to see how many times I say “I wear hijab because Allah said so” or “Because that’s what the Qur’an says”. You’re right. You don’t really think about it until pushed on it. Still, now I do try to be more conscious of it.

    @ Fatemeh: Thanks!

    @ Laila: IA that we have to be conscious and aware not to impose our views on others and not to create a monolithic view of Islam. That’s one of my problems with features in the media that only focus on one “type” of Muslim woman. There isn’t any diversity.

  • LimitedLiabilityGirl

    Something else not shown in that clip was women and girls who wear hijab but maybe with conservatively styled Western clothing: I definitely see school-aged girls in New York with scarves on and long-sleeved shirts and jeans! And women in tunics and pants and other loose-fitting clothing.

    Also I’m told girls are taking a lot of options for covering the head besides just the closely wrapped scarf; turbans, looser wraps, even one girl who wears a hooded sweatshirt and pulls the hood up every day (which I’d like to see!).

    The vid does seems like a very slender representation of the total options, although I don’t have the familiarity/expertise that the rest of you do in commenting on the specifics.

    PS: Nice to see your site back, MMW!

  • http://chocolatemintsinajar.com/ jessyz

    I watched it and felt it was interesting sort of. I am an Egyptian Muslim and I live in Kuwait. When I first moved here and could only find my way to shops like H&M, GAP and Mango “Western” franchises or the black Abaya shops and had trouble finding things I liked and were modest at the same time. So it was interesting to see what other people do in the rest of the world out of curiosity not that the show was enlightening just entertaining no more no less. Perhaps you took it personally so you didn’t like it that much?

  • http://filmnew.ru Nicholas

    mdyayayaya ….. * Many people think *…. the author thanks for the post!


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