Muslim women are a hot topic. What we wear, why we wear it, and now, which brand we're wearing. Designers from Dolce and Gabbana to H&M have branched into Muslimah friendly fashion. This has created an ongoing conversation around the motives of expanding into “Muslim fashion,” but we also think that there's another one to be had about the portrayal of the hijab, both on and off the runway.
At first, there is definitely an idyllic picture here: with the emergence of this movement in the fashion industry, Muslim women have another option or two to consider for an Eid outfit. Muslim models like H&M's Maria Hidrissi are publicly killing it. Many Muslimahs welcome the recognition of modest fashion as merchandise with genuine utility, and something that should be incorporated into more mainstream brands. There are definitely perks to this movement, but if only that was the whole story.
Because in reality, glamorous models wearing designer scarves colour-coordinated with name-brand handbags doesn’t change the experience of the Muslim woman beyond Fashion Week. Wearing the hijab still makes us a target, whether your abaya is D&G or otherwise – because bigotry doesn't care about brand names. Our personal decisions to cover or uncover are still dehumanized, misrepresented, and used as talking points in larger, often ignorant discussions about women globally.
What has been created as a result of the collision of these realities is a space where Islam and 'Muslim symbols' are two separate entities. You can compliment the way that we wrap our scarves, while invalidating our agency in doing so. You can buy yourself a piece of traditionally Muslim attire while hating the religion on which it is based. A corporation is still a corporation at the end of the day; it is the profiting off of the image of Muslim women, but unfortunately whilst they are still otherwise largely discriminated against.
Much of the controversy around the hijab in the first place comes from the distortion of sex-positive feminism. Aspects of this theory perpetuate the idea that women are not free until and unless they are sexually liberated. There's no issue with the role of sexual liberation or feminism as a whole. But the problem arises when sexual liberation becomes the definition of liberation in its entirety – rather than acknowledging that choosing not to make your sexuality a public commodity is in and of itself a form of freedom.
"Muslim fashion" factors into this conversation about feminism because it alters what sells. In Western society, sex has been and continues to be the commodity in everything from cars to clothes. The modest woman doesn't buy into this narrative – literally. Tapping into this market requires selling (one of the many versions of) modesty, and Muslimah targeted apparel is one of them.
Moves towards the normalization of the hijab and the women who wear it are critical to changing problematic narratives around Muslimahs. But this needs to be coupled with the normalization of modesty as not just the religious choice of Christians, Muslims, and Jews alike, but as a choice of women that does not negate their control of their own bodies. Marketing modest clothing exclusively towards an 'other' demographic continues the perception of the same demographic as being 'others' in their everyday lives.
Bottom line is that if corporations and brands really wanted to cater to Muslim women, they might consider creating a line of safe spaces to go with that scarf.
Main Image by Elle Dhanani