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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.
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.