Thursday, May 24, 2007

Hijabi Fashion or "Fashionable Fundies"

When I moved to Cairo, I noticed a lot of young women wearing the hijab. In the U.A.E. many of the Emirati women wear the abaya, with some of the older or married women completely veiling. But there it was described as a “traditional” practice, and during the holidays (Ramadan, Eids) you’d see more women wearing the abaya out of deference. In Baku, as time passed, I noticed more and more women wearing the hijab. In both those instances modesty was practiced religiously, so-to-speak. Here in Cairo, young women are wearing the hijab while dressing in skin-tight clothing, wearing make-up and a variety of hijab styles. When Number One Son visited in March, we had a discussion: Was it "in style / fashionable?" Was it a political statement?

Or as the Boss Man pointed out, was it a requirement set down by the parents? As one female co-worker told him, her parents demanded she veil if she had to work with “westerners.” If this is the case, the parents must be blind to allow their daughters to walk out of the house wearing revealing clothing and thinking a headscarf was sufficient protection.

Hey people - It’s not a condom and it’s not a chastity belt as attested to here:

Cairo street crowds target women, By Magdi Abdelhadi - Arab affairs analyst, 1st November 2006, BBC News:

Egyptians are horrified by the news that women have been assaulted by hordes of young men in the centre of the capital, Cairo.

The incidents were first reported online by Egyptian bloggers, some of whom saw large number of men harassing the women and ripping off their clothes.

It all happened over the Eid al-Fitr period starting on 23 October, as thousands of young men thronged the streets of central Cairo to celebrate the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

One blogger who took pictures of what happened dubbed the incidents "sexual voracity down town".

According to the bloggers, the attackers targeted veiled as well as unveiled women who happened to be on their own.

The state media ignored the incidents, but ordinary Egyptians where shocked when they heard for the first time eyewitness accounts broadcast on the private television channel Dream.

Two weeks ago, I found a book I hoped would clarify the situation. Instead, it just muddled things up. Then I started scrounging around on the Internets, only to be thoroughly amazed at what a hot topic the hijab has become. I say “hot” as in – what’s “in” and what’s “out.” And the hijab is apparently, very “in” right now, in certain circles, as in "fashionable," and "hot" as in a "hot topic" for news. That still didn't answer my questions, but at this point, I think I may just give up looking for definite answer. I've decided it's a combination of things: newfound religious beliefs among the young, pressure by parents and it is a fashion statement. What that statement is, is another question.

In, muhajababes: meet the new middle east – cool, sexy and devout, by Allegra Stratton, the author sets out to find the Haight-Ashbury type revolutionary happenings of the Middle East (channeling Jer-ry!) She tries to connect the music video scene with these “babes” and doesn’t connect the dots. She has some juicy, gossipy type tidbits and facts that are interesting, but as a whole, the book was lacking.

She eventually focuses on a group of young women referred to as "veiled again" ("born again") Muslims and who have been influenced by Amr Khaled, who was just named one of TIME 100 People Who Shape The World. Amr Khaled is a major influence on the “veiled again” phenomenon. Of course he’s the so-called Dr. Phil, Billy Graham, neo-televangelist of the Arab world and he’s got the merchandising to make him a new pop Islamic guru:

Khaled's fame has grown astronomically, particularly among well-to-do Arab women and youth, many of whom are struggling to reconcile their "Westernized" lifestyles with the powerful pull of a regional Islamic revival....

Khaled is exemplary of this new brand of "veiled-again" Islam that represents the most significant departure from classical approaches to Islamic television programming to emerge in the last few years, ushering in a "new wave" Islamism for a different generation of viewers.
Amr says:
“First you should know that ALLAH ordered all Muslim girls to wear hijab to protect them and to protect men from temptations "al fetan" and also to honor and respect her body from every eye and every instinct or lust.
The major problem about not wearing hijab is that you are being sinful by committing a "zanb" for every time a man looks at you.
So if a man looks at you he gets a zanb and you get one zanb but if a thousand men look at you each one of them gets one zanb and you get the thousand.
The worst thing is that every one of them can ask GOD for forgiveness because he knows he committed a sin by looking at you and ALLAH forgives him but you can't ask for forgiveness for all those zonoob as long as you still don't wear your hijab .Don't say i didn't tell them to look at me or my hair or my body.

Just because Amr says so doesn't mean it's the only argument around. Take for instance a very recent proclamation by Ezzat Atiya, a lecturer at Al-Azhar Islamic University. According to The Daily Star Egypt:
Cairo's Al-Azhar Islamic University on Monday suspended a lecturer who suggested that men and women work colleagues could use symbolic breastfeeding to get around a religious ban on being alone together.
The lecturer, Ezzat Atiya, had drawn on Islamic traditions which forbid sexual relations between a man and a woman who has breastfed him to suggest that symbolic breastfeeding could be a way around strict segregation of males and females.

The Dubai-based channel Al Arabiya quoted him as saying that after five breastfeedings the man and woman could be alone together without violating Islamic law and the woman could remove her headscarf to reveal her hair.

Huh? That sounds a bit too kinky for me! The quest for hijab knowledge continues.

My Internets surfing led me to the following articles about the hijab and raising Muslim girls.

From the Fashion & Style Section of the New York Times:
We, Myself and I
, By RUTH LA FERLA, Published: April 5, 2007
The demands of faith, family and Western culture test the fashion identities of Muslim women in the United States.

Injecting fashion into a traditional Muslim wardrobe is “walking a fine line,” said Dilshad D. Ali, the Islam editor of, a Web site for spiritual seekers. A flash point for controversy is the hijab, which is viewed by some as a politically charged symbol of radical Islam and of female subjugation that invites reactions from curiosity to outright hostility.

In purely aesthetic terms, the devout must work to evolve a style that is attractive but not provocative, demure but not dour — friendly to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

“Some young women follow the letter of the rule,” Ms. Ali observed. Others are more flexible. “Maybe their shirts are tight. Maybe the scarf is not really covering their chest, and older Muslim women’s tongues will wag.”

Young Muslims in Cairo transform the hijab, By Jill Carroll | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor, From the May 16, 2007 edition

The head covering may be a sign of piety – but it can also be a declaration of identity and fashion sense.

Hijab salesmen – most are men – say that business has boomed in the past few years.
Hijab Chic, By Asra Q. Nomani, Posted Thursday, Oct. 27, 2005, at 4:38 PM ET
How retailers are marketing to fashion-conscious Muslim women.

The morning of the event, about 100 women—their hair covered by scarves, their bodies cloaked in abayas or burqas, and at least two of them with their faces fully veiled—pulled into the Tysons Corner parking lot in Volvos, BMWs, and Lexus sedans. In liberal Muslim circles, these women are sometimes derisively called "hijabis." The chicest among them—those who wear silk Hermes scarves and long Barneys jackets—are dubbed "fashionable fundies" (as in "fundamentalists"). The women call themselves "muhajabah," or "women of hijab."

Dhahran women push the veil aside
, By Betsy Hiel, TRIBUNE-REVIEW, Sunday, May 13, 2007

In Jeddah, the restrictions seem a bit relaxed.
Some women there refuse to wear veils. Clothing designers are reinventing the required long black robe in slimmer, form-fitting styles with colorful embroidery or sequins on the sleeves, hem and back. A shop sells designer abayas -- one with a sequined kitten in a cowboy hat playing a guitar, another with leopard-print sleeves and hood.

The meaning of freedom,
Muslims and the veil in the Economist, May 10th 2007 | ANKARA, CAIRO AND TEHRAN
From The Economist print edition
In every corner of the Muslim world, female attire is stirring strong emotions

In Pakistan last year, an assassin shot dead a provincial government minister, judging her gauzy head covering not Islamic enough. In January a clash between Tunisian police and Islamist rebels left 12 dead. The rebels said they were “defending their veiled sisters against oppression”, a reference to the fact that Tunisia's president dismisses the hijab as an alien form of “sectarian dress” and has sent police to toy shops to seize dolls with scarves.

Among most Muslims, who live between such extremes, two broad trends have emerged. One is a general movement towards more overt signs of piety, including “Islamic” attire. Within the past two decades, modern forms of head covering have become standard fashion in countries such as Egypt, Jordan, Malaysia, Morocco, Sudan and Yemen, replacing both traditional country scarves and the exposed coifs that were inoffensive to an earlier generation of city dwellers.

On the streets of Cairo, the Egyptian capital, headscarved women form a very visible majority. In the Egyptian countryside, where women used to work the fields uncovered, veils are now universal. Even gloves are not uncommon. Wearing the hijab is now so popular that it has ceased to be a statement, says Hania Sholkamy, an Egyptian anthropologist. “In fact, it is getting hard to shop for what used to be ordinary clothes,” she says. “Islamic dress is cheaper and more available.”
From Marie-Claire Magazine:
Shopping In Dubai

What's it like to go shopping when your wardrobe consists of long, black robes? Two chic Dubai women took us on a fashion caravan to find out
By Carrie Sloan
Dubai doesn't have fashion police -- or religious ones. Bin Kalli and Al Hamly aren't required to wear these robes; they choose to. "We're proud to wear the abaya," says Al Hamly. "It represents our culture. We can look glamorous and good and still be covered up." "Dubai is an expanding city -- there are more expats than locals now," bin Kalli adds. "The abaya helps us differentiate ourselves from the nonlocals."
These two articles were part of the November-December Marie-Claire Magazine focus "Mecca Stars" and hijab style clothing. There are websites that have the photos, but the one with a vitriolic, reactionary bent had them all: Debbie Schlussel.

Debbie Schlussel:
Hijab-Encrusted: Feminist Mag Shows Women the New "Sexy"; Medieval Black is the New Black

By Debbie Schlussel

And now for the latest edition of "Reading Women's Mags So You Don't Have To--See What Your Wives/Daughters/Girlfriends Are Reading":

Marie Claire has done it again. The magazine which equates our female soldiers with female Islamic terrorists; the magazine which claims that Islamofascist TV broadcasts are liberalizing the Arab world (Ha!); the magazine which hates Christianity and loves women's lib--that magazine suddenly has selectively, yet again, discarded its feminist ethos to show us what it hopes will be a new fashion trend.

It's lovely how women who think they're so liberated they'll cheer anything anti-American, are embracing their future enslavers. Don't let the cover of December's Marie Claire fool you. Inside are not photos of Ashley Judd's breasts, like on the cover. Instead, lurking inside is a 13-page spread of Islamofascist fashion . . . and an article cheering a lawyer for Gitmo terrorists. Yes, this mag is full of chic . . . or full of something that sounds similar:
Needless to say, Debbie's got issues. Let's move forward in our search for hijab knowledge.
Which leads us to the question of, how does a "muhajababe" or a "fashionable fundie" learn about all of this?

Regardless of what Debbie says, if your parents are open-minded, you might want to check out Marie-Claire magazine, which seems to have taken up the issue of not just fashion, but also feminism in the Arab world.
The Revolution Will Be Televised
The fluffy precinct of girl talk and pop stars, Arab chat shows are changing the way women think in the Middle East. Will the real battle for hearts and minds be played out on the boob tube?
By Carla Power

On a softly lit set transformed into a chic, minimalist living room, five Arab women sit on orange and yellow couches, gossiping and laughing in front of a live studio audience. Another episode of the Arab world’s top-rated TV program, Kalam Nawaem—which roughly translates as Sweet Talk—is underway. Modeled on American hit The View, Kalam Nawaem, broadcast out of Beirut, is a potent mix of cozy chat and edgy issues.

Its four hosts include a Palestinian actress, a Lebanese TV veteran—their blue-jeaned, blowdried sleekness straight off Madison Avenue—and a maternal Egyptian self-help columnist, a sort of Muslim Dear Abby. Only one host—Muna AbuSulayman, a Saudi Arabian working on a Ph.D. in American literature—is veiled, her shimmering hijab the shade of moonbeams.

Veiling happens to be the topic for today’s show. “Congratulations on taking up the hijab!” AbuSulayman says enthusiastically, smiling at Kalam Nawaem’s first guest, actress Hala Shiha. Known for her sexy film roles and scanty outfits, the young Egyptian star stunned her followers by recently deciding to wear the veil. “I’m really at peace—wearing the hijab gives me true power,” Shiha says, her head swathed in a bright orange polka-dot scarf pushed back to expose her amber eyes. The audience’s women—most with carefully coiffed manes, some in shoulder-baring halter tops—applaud wildly.

If you're a Muslim-American teenage girl you can read: Muslim Girl Magazine, which even has a section called, "Style Your Hijab! Cool covers for hot summer days." It was a response to magazines directed at teenage girls, such as CosmoGirl that were considered shallow and risque, and did not address life for the Muslim-American teen girl.

Or, you might like to read:

Does my head look big in this?
2nd June, 2006
by Tanzeel Akhtar
Freelance Journalist
Amal Abdel-Hakim, a 16-year-old Palestinian-Australian, is about to begin Year 11. Suddenly she decides to take a big step and wear the hijab
Amal's journey is fictionalised in a new book by Australian lawyer Randa Abdel-Fattah (pictured). The 27 year old "Palestinian-Egyptian-Australian-Muslim," as she describes herself, has written 'Does My Head Look Big in This?' almost as a handbook for non-Muslims to understand the trials and tribulations of young Muslims coming to terms with their faith.

And if you're too young to read Muslim Girl Magazine, your parents can buy you a
Fulla Doll, described as,
A Girl's Dream Doll
Fulla-the little girl that wears modest outfits, her top priorities are respect for herself and all around her and being kind to her friends and peers. We take pride promoting virtues to help girls be the very best today so they will grow up to be the women who make a difference tomorrow.
Hmm. Do they mean like these women?

Needless to say, wearing the hijab is a woman's choice and should not be forced upon her, nor outlawed as is the trend in some European countries. It's a form of freedom of expression and freedom of religion; to some, a fashion statement, and to others something to fight against, such as what follows:

Police, Improperly Clad Women Clash In Tehran a post on The, shows a bloodied woman who was beaten by the police for not abiding by the "Islamic Dress Code."

Other signs of resistance:An iranian Badhijab girl hits a Bahijab policewoman!!!

Still a question facing many Muslim women.
On Being
Uzma Enayatulla: Talks about being First Runner-Up in the 2001 Miss India USA Pageant and her decision to eventually wear the hijab and dress modestly.
I'm really not a pageant girl. It was just, like, a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

Eid Adha & the Missing Hijab: Here a girl argues why she decided not to wear the hijab; but she wore it for awhile, then changed her mind, and maybe might wear it again. Suffice it to say the girl's got a dilemma, and she's not getting any help from the male Islamic interviewer.

For me, my questions are just out of curiosity. I'm sure the young women who have to make the choice to wear the hijab or not, have many more questions, deeply personal, pertaining to their faith and spirituality. Questions that put mine to shame. As
Uzma Enayatulla describes in her video, it took some time and a gradual phasing in of all the components. And, as evidenced from Eid Adha & The Missing Hijab video, it's a big step for many of these girls. Perhaps, some of the young women do find it in vogue to wear the hijab. That's fine. Perhaps a few of them are still working it all out and will eventually dress modestly. That's fine too. Unfortunately, depending on the circumstances, they're damned if they do, by reactionaries like Debbie Schlussel who would like to strike fear into the hearts and minds of people less aware, and damned if they don't, by the likes of the hijab police in Iran and others of a like mind, who use fear, as well - thoughts that probably play a role in their decisions. And these fears just complicate the issue even more.


  1. When the Islamic Repblic of Iran constitutionalized Hijab, my mother who wouldn't wear it at work lost her job, at the peak of her career!!

    Her logic was simple: "To waer Hijab is a disrespect to Men that I work with; and disrespect to my own identity as a woman."

    Hijab is the other side of the same coin: sexuality.

    It disgusts me that MEN force women into it, because the cannot CONTROL themselves!

  2. I was going to add a video with some guy in a tee lecturing women about "good hijab," but I thought that was over the top, plus, even though I didn't say it, I was bothered by the fact that this was really a patriarchal decision - thus the poster with Leila Khaled and Angela Davis. A statement, without really saying so. And, yeah, everything I've read (and I'm not a Muslim) basically says, "guys have no control over themselves, so you (women) are responsible and have to answer to Allah for their transgressions. In the meantime, they will go to heaven and have sex with 40 virgins and you...." I just think it's a woman's decision. I gave up on feminism a long time ago when it went down another road - one that does not relate to problems every day women, internationally, face, but the superficial and, of course, news worthy. So, I am not about to preach, but I agree with you and your mother's stance, totally. Obviously, since I am not Muslim, I do not wear a hijab, but I do respect women who have chosen to do so. I firmly believe, it's a woman's right to choose, in every facet of her life.

  3. I don't know who's less eloquent: the guy interviewing or the woman being interviewed. There is much debate as to whether the Quran explicitly states that covering one's hair is obligatory. Inferred vs. implied. As you know yourself living in Egypt, there are hijabis everywhere, but that cloth means so little to so many. My friend and I were on the metro when a niqabi pickpocketed her. Personally, I look for more in a person that that cloth. I've just seen it abused way too much to symbolise modesty or religious devotion.

  4. I personally think the guy doing the interviewing, cornered the girl. She looked like a normal everyday American girl and I think he was pushing it (if you wear the hijab you will have protection... - tell that to the girls out during Eid here in Cairo, November 2006.) And, yeah, we've seen girls in hijab, that literally look like tarts wearing a scarf. That's actually when we started wondering what it all was about - fashion, a statement, what? I think the girl in the video said it very well when she said it's what's within you and to not judge women as to whether or not they wear the hijab.

  5. But he's seemingly a convert, so he must know better than she! ;-)

  6. I thought this may be of interest to you: this is an excerpt from a new dress code in a university hospital where I work. (This is in the HEART of a western (French-liberal) democracy, by the way!)

    Personnel are invited to adopt a suitable and neat clothing style, respectful of the patients, partners and colleagues. Here are some clothing articles that are prohibited at the Hospital X:

    - Dirty or damaged clothing;
    - Sports clothing such as "Adidas" or other clothing that could identify you to a group;
    - Short pants (shorts);
    - Sundresses;
    - Low-cut blouses (tops), held by strings (spaghetti straps);
    - Camisoles and tops that expose the abdomen;
    - Transparent blouses (tops);
    - Tight pants;
    - Low waist pants (tolerated if abdomen is covered);

    There is something in the feminin beauty that is VERY threatening to "a" society. Our history of literature is full of tales of beautiful witches burnt at stake, because of the charges of (spiritual) seduction!

    Considering that the prophet of Islam, Mohammad, had difficulty keeping his hands off of women (since he married 8!)it is understandable he knew what was turning him (and the rest of ummah!) on!

  7. Cairogal:
    Usually converts are the most zealous about their new religion.

    Yeah, I think you're right about Mohammed and his wandering eye (that's most polite way to put it) and don't you typically have to wear a uniform or lab type jacket in a hospital anyway? Who cares, as long as your clean?

  8. "Usually converts are the most zealous about their new religion."
    Absolutely. There is also some unspoken rule that they should be better Muslims than those who are born into it.

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  10. Thank you for your comments. This is exactly the sort of debate I wanted to promote on my blog. I look forward to hearing from you again.

  11. I loved your blog. I think its always interesting to hear people's opinions about the Hijab, especially since it has and seems to always be such a controvercial topic.

    Being a "Palestinian-American-Muslima", my parents never pushed me to wear it. I wore it on my own. I must confess that Amr Khaled was a big influence. But as some of the examples you used, I wear makeup but I still make sure that my clothing is modest and not revealing.

    I think its hard to seperate women from wanting to look good. Ofcourse there is a difference from looking appealing and looking sexy. I grew up in a western country where wearing the hijab is not exactly what every man wants to see. But, I also realize that its critical not to contradict oneself. It seems that modern day muslim women need to find a balance between modesty and enjoying the beauty of being a woman.

    But again, Thank you for your interesting post!!!

  12. Oh and by the way, I hate the jewelry analogy. I have heard it so many times, and I think it is a horrible way to personify the hijab. He just seemed to make the young lady feel very uncomfortable!

  13. out of place: We lived in Abu Dhabi for 5.5 years which is a real mix (spaghetti straps, heels, minis vs. beautifully dress locals in very expensive abayas - those are the two extremes). Here in Cairo there are quite a few girls / women who wear the hijab, and others taking up the niqab. I've heard this has been "a trend" here in Cairo for the last 5-6 years, as not so long ago girls could be seen in miniskirts. Since we've moved here, I've found the reasons why the hijab is becoming popular are as varied as any other "trend". Personally, I think it's up to the individual.

    I would like to do a follow up to the post but, lately I have been too involved in what's going on with the Democratic primaries to do much more than just get my weekly Funkengroovin Wednesday post together. If you check out my blog you'll see who I'm favoring, cause I voted for him, and it is driving me craaaazy! I really need to "get a life!"

  14. I lived in Dubai for 3 years and so very similar differences. While in the Palestinian Territories there is also a large contrast in dress code between urban settlers and those in the suburbs.

    Yes, these primaries are interesting. My biggest fear is that regardless of a republican or democrat we may see little change!! Enjoy the primaries, we shall see what happens soon!!

  15. At the end of the day, wearing the hijab or not wearing the hijab is temporary. Just as this life is temporary, unlike the life of the hereafter which is eternal. So, whoever wants to succeed they will want to do anything to do so, and whoever that doesnt obey the commands of Allah swt, they are aware of the circumstances. So at the end of the day, its you to your self and me to myself, because we will have to answear to ourself. and no one on this earth who have an opinion about us wearing the hijab, can either harm us or benefit us, once we have departed from this life. It will only be just you and Allah swt.!