Articles: Young, Hip and Muslim

Islamic extremism is still at the heart of the media limelight and the call for integration and religious moderation is ever persisting. Muslims in the West are torn between a liberal society and a conservative religion. The image of Muslims specially that of Muslim women has caused debates all over Europe. In the midst of this dilemma, a generation of young women emerges with a modernized version of the Muslim image.

These women are adopting and adapting to today's fashion industry and giving it an Islamic edge. There are so many different ways to wear Hijab now that whole websites and shops are dedicated to the latest fashions. A market of young Muslim women hungry for modern clothing that would help them fit into a western society but doesn’t compromise their religious beliefs, is growing by the minute and the suppliers and designers are busier than ever.
This poses many questions however, is this a healthy development to a religious practice or a deviation from it? Why do young women opt for a more modern look rather than the traditional one? Does it change the way people look at them? Is it ok for a Muslim woman to wear fashionable clothes as long as she covers or does that make Hijab an accessory rather than an actual cover?

Shamima Akhtar Koli is a Graphics Information Student . I noticed right away that she'd made a conscious effort in matching her Hijab with the rest of her outfit which in itself was very modern and casual looking. I asked her about her outfit and she said " You know, being young, I like to keep it trendy. I like matching my Hijab to my outfit. I like looking good"

I asked her why she opted for the more modern version of Hijab wear rather than the original Abaya. She said " You know I'm young, Besides the West they look at us like we are oppressed, wearing black all the time and this is our way of telling them 'we can be Muslim and look nice and trendy' "

So it was more than fashion. It was a way to reach out to the western society they lived in. " Yeah,I mean, we want to fit in and say we can integrate in this society and still be good Muslims." Shamima told me. I asked her about the reactions she gets from her non-Muslim colleagues and friends. She said" a lot of them really like my outfits and tell me "oh you look really nice in this' but some of them don't really take notice and that's fine."

I then put my questions to someone who's at the heart of the modern Muslim wear industry. Noreen Aslam started her own label "Modest London" over a year ago. The line sports different looks of Abayas and Jilbabs that use modern designs and fabrics and that mirror high street fashion and adapt it to modest Muslim wear. She says the Jilbab and Abaya markets are booming in London at the moment and that young Muslim women are hungry for stylish and modest clothing.

"I'm using western fabrics and colors and making them into Muslim designs. We have the urban range now and I'll be launching the smart range as well." She told me. " The urban wear is basically the casual line, so we have nice comfortable Jilbabs made out of T-shirt material yet they are stylish enough for you to war them and go out with your friends or just go out and run errands during the day." She explained.

"The smart range is for a more professional look. So we're going to use suit material and make them into Jilbabs. So you can have a pinstripe suit Jilbab style." She continued. Noreen told me that right now some of the styles in the market are too old fashioned and do not cater for young hip Muslim women.
"Right now there are these really long jackets that they wear over Abayas. These are really eighties style and not trendy at all."

I asked her what started this whole project in her head. She told me it well went back to when she decided to wear hijab and sport the Abaya and Jilbab and found nothing to suit her style or that was presentable enough for her to go to work with. " I was looking and there was just nothing out there to suit my style. I'd also left my Job and wanted to start my own business and this was the perfect idea for me. I know there's a market out there."

So, what is the market exactly? Who is this line catering for? " Modest London is a fashion label that is aimed at the young and up and coming generation of the Muslim community in the UK and Europe." She said. This wasn't just about making a fashion statement , this was a lifestyle choice. Noreen said " there's a whole generation of women who want to practice their deen (religion) and still look professional".

Work aside Noreen told me that using western fabrics and colors was also about fitting in with your environment." We want to fit in without compromising our beliefs. We also want to show the west that we can integrate." This was very similar to what Shamima told me about fitting in. Integration is the million dollar word for the Muslim community, given the negative connotations associated with being a Muslim in the West these days.

Noreen continued, " If you wear black in a country like the UK, then you'll attract a lot of attention, so wearing color is a way of blending in with your surroundings and not looking odd." This brought me to my next point. Many critics strongly oppose the idea of modern Hijab wear and say that it is a deviation from the religious practice and that the use of color makes the hijab outfit inappropriate. She was quick in answering me, it seemed she'd been asked that question before.

" I really don't know where that black color came from!" She said. " There's nothing in the Quran that says that the hijab or the Jilbab or Abaya should be black. It said cover up it did not say cover up in black." She continued. " May be Prophet Mohamed's (peace be upon him) wives and the women in his time could only find dark colors, may black was what's available for them at that time, I mean this is only a speculation but I do know that Quran and Sunna said nothing about Hijab being black." She said.

She continued on her point," The idea is not to stand out. Well, if you wear black from head to toe, you will stand out here (in the UK) may be not in the Middle East or the Gulf but in Britain and Europe in general you will." I asked her finally of she believes that women can look modest and glamorous and she gave me a big assertive "Yes!"

(This article was written in August 2007 for Woman Today a Qatari magazine in English. It is one of two articles written for the magazine's Take Two edition about the Hijab, the other is called Cover Girls.)