Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Fashion, Muslims and Irony


The word  "fashion" usually conjures up images of  almost-naked women parading down catwalks, indulgent after-parties for the beautiful and elite, and covergirl  images so heavily Photoshopped even Hosni Mubarak’s plastic face looks more plausible.
It’s why you’re likely to get the “haraam finger” pointed at you when you talk about fashion in a “Muslim” context. The expression “Muslim fashion” seems to be as ironic as Lady Gaga calling herself a lady.
We generally accept fashion to be defined as a celebration of sexuality; the objectification of a woman; her empowerment through her 6 inch stilettos. But isn’t fashion just another word for “clothes”, and doesn’t everyone need to wear clothes? Yet, despite the rather simple definition of the latter, it is the more widely accepted former definition which informs the idea that Islam is at odds with “fashion”. As a consequence, Muslims who show an interest in fashion are deemed as unholy women, shallow and wasting their time with such pointless things. Rather than designers focusing on the challenging task of designing clothing which tick all the modesty boxes, whilst remaining relevant to the societies they live in, they’re too busy halal-ifying the very idea of modest fashion to the critics. Rather than trying to find solutions which allow Muslim women to have the same life choices available to them as they would do if they didn’t wear hijab, they’re too busy getting the approach to  modest fashion wrong. The confusion is threefold:

1) The “Sheek Awee” method.
Take one plain, modest outfit. Make the outfit appealing by modelling it in a sexual manner. Complete the look by wearing so much makeup it looks like you’re sponsored by Maybelline. 

2) The “Mu7tarram” method.
Take one plain black abaya. Get some nice plastic crystals and stick them to the abaya in a nice heart shape arrangement. Also, celebrate your Muslim identity by writing the word “Allah” in said crystals.

3) The “Filous kiteer” method.
Take one Emirati who condemns the hedonistic-bikini-wearing infidel to hell. Take the same Emirati who wears the Calvin Klein hijab –a brand which uses said hedonistic infidel to promote and represent their products. Forget about the irony of a luxury brand being used as a symbol for an anti-materialistic Islam: focus on the initial problem.

So what IS good “Muslim fashion” design? Maybe the operative word should be “design”. Maybe we start with a specification that defines what the product needs to do. Maybe the product prioritises empowerment and not how pretty a hijab can be made to look.  Maybe the product reflects the sentiment of liberation of being a Muslim woman. Maybe we reclaim the word “fashion” and coin it by our own definition.


  1. Bless you Sarah! It's so true. Many think you can't be modest and fashioable, without the fitnah. Le sigh.

    I never understood the hijabi splayed over a sofa whilst giving bedroom eye's to the camera either...