Fashion is a form of self-expression. How we dress is a statement of our identity and the self-image we wish to project to the world. For many Islamic women, the approach to fashion is a different experience than one in the Western world – one that is often misunderstood and a subject of much controversy.
In order to preserve their modesty, Allah states in the Quran that women must “reduce [some] of their vision and… not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears”. Influenced by this, clothing must cover the entire body and only the hands and face may remain visible.
Other guidelines determine dress, including the material chosen and the loose-fit necessary. Clothing should not be worn for the sole purpose of gaining reputation or attracting attention. It is this statement that conflicts with my personal opinion of what fashion is, and strives to be.
|The Islamic hijab|
Speaking to Nur Zahidah Azhar Shapawi, General Secretary of UCD’s Islamic Society, and Sarina Kajani, a key player within the UCD Fashion and Design Society, I aimed to learn more of what the hijab (dress code) means to an Islamic woman in a Western world, and whether it is possible for them to achieve individuality.
Abiding strictly by the Islamic dress code, Malaysian-born Zahidah trusts that the “hijab means modesty and identity” and importantly, protects women from exploitation. Despite this, Zahidah believes that Muslim women “portray modesty, yet are fashionable. The Muslim woman dresses appropriately and not extrovertly”. She does not feel she has to expose herself in order to receive attention or gain recognition, and because of this, she achieves more and “is the most fashionable”.
Irish-born Sarina Kajani is a Sh’ia Ismaili Muslim – a modernised denomination of Islam, particularly in Western cultures. Kajani explains: “The world is ever changing and [although] the ideas and values from a mainly Eastern culture are upheld, there are some things that need to adjust to modern-day life.
“Personally, I don’t wear the [hijab]. I don’t need to. I think it’s a beautiful piece of clothing and can come in amazing designs with intricate details,” she says. “There are different styles, designs [and] materials, black hijabs with pretty sequined designs [and other] ones with floral and printed patterns.”
An avid fashionista, Kajani plans to open a retail unit over the summer, following both her parents into the fashion industry. Her business venture will be influenced less by her Islamic background, and more by the demands of the modern industry, but she notes: “Aspects of Islamic culture are integrated into the modern fashion world. Harem pants, long wavy skirts and even headscarves [are] all Islamic-inspired.
The West inherently misunderstands fashion in the Muslim world. Far from representing oppression within the context of male-dominated society, the hijab is seen by the women who wear it as more than just an expression of their identity, but an expression of intensely personal values. Kajani sums it up in a way that seems paradoxical to the contemporary Western assumption: “It is self-expression.”
Featured in The University Observer, April 2011