In Western culture, when one thinks of fashion and style, imagery of a stylish Muslim woman wearing hijab rarely, if ever, comes to mind. Mainstream media has promulgated a view in the minds of many that Muslim women are the antithesis to intelligence, style and strength. Changing this perception through whatever avenue and tools we may have at our disposal should be on the to-do list for Western Muslim women. Many of us do this by putting our best foot forward in our communities, through our jobs, and some women do it through channeling their personal style into their religion.
We should never underestimate the power of a well-dressed woman in helping to change commonly held misconceptions of Islam. In fact, the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) stressed the importance of appearing well-groomed and clean when one steps outside of the home. In a sound hadith, the Prophet (SAW) was asked: “What if someone likes that his clothing and his shoes are beautiful?” The Prophet (SAW) replied: “Allah loves to see the effects of His grace upon His servant.” At-Tirmidhī (2819). In yet another narration: “The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) came upon a man with tattered old clothing and asked: “Do you have any wealth?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “What kind of wealth?” I said, “All that Allah has given me of camels and sheep.” He said, “Then show the generous blessings that He has given you.”” At-Tirmidhi (1929). From these ahadith and the numerous passages in the Qur’an that speak of the beauty that Allah has created within the heavens and on earth, we understand that part of being a well-rounded Muslim is to dress well while in public. Of course, we also know that it’s not enough to look modest; we must also conduct ourselves in a way that bolsters our outside appearance and there are many ahadith and ayahs within the Qur’an that stress this very point.
In addition, dressing well while in a public setting also serves as a form of dawah through visual perception. Seeing a well groomed, covered and classy Muslim women helps to convey the message of Islam to non-Muslims, which is the quintessential meaning of the word ‘dawah’. On more than one occasion, while grocery shopping at Whole Foods or visiting the mall, I’ve been approached, stopped and complimented on remaining covered in style. Usually, it opens the door for a conversation on the parameters for the Muslim woman in appearance and behaviour in Islam. As a hockey mum, being well groomed while taking my children to practice and conducting myself in a modest manner has led to conversations with people of all faiths and races. For many, they express that their idea of Islam and modesty has been changed through what I wear and those conversations we’ve shared.
Moreover, infusing your own unique personal style into the parameters of Islam also helps to motivate the children and teens in our community to be proud of and feel comfortable in their hijab. As a mentor and teacher, speaking to my students and mentees brought to light a need to show them positive, modest, and stylish hijabi role models active in all sectors of society. In addition, the very first role model our children, and in particular our daughters, are exposed to are their parents. As a mother of two little girls, I feel it is important for them to see me take great care in how we look before leaving the home and on the rare days that we are ahead of schedule, I’ll even allow them to help select a hijab to “match” mummy’s outfit. As a result, my oldest daughter has recently declared that she wants to wear a scarf every day. Hearing this declaration warmed my heart as it would seem that I’m helping her foster a love for hijab, modesty, and self-worth from a very early age. It is a concept that I wish had been fully developed within me when I was her age.
As a convert at 16, coming into Islam and transitioning into a higher level of modesty was a challenge at first. At the time, the choices and availability of modest but stylish clothing items were severely limited. There were times when I could go into several stores in a mall and not cross paths with one single tunic, kaftan, fashion scarf or long skirt. When one did come across a modest piece, it was best to purchase it in several colors as you never knew when the opportunity would present itself again. As time wore on, tunics became more common and then there was an explosion of maxi skirts and dresses that were a stylish Muslim woman’s dream. Purchasing hijabs has also become an easier task as H&M, Target, Burlington Coat Factory, and even Rite Aid (a pharmacy and convenience store) are in the business of selling brightly coloured wraps. In addition, you would be hard pressed not to find mainstream designers who do not draw inspiration from modest Islamic clothing. From the runways of New York City to Paris, London and Berlin, models are strutting down the runway in embellished tunics, kaftans, abayas, long maxi dresses and scarves that would fit quite easily into the wardrobe of a covered Muslim woman.
In fact, designers like Naeem Khan, Peter Dundas for Pucci, and Riccardo Tisci for Givenchy have all within the past few years created collections steeped in Middle Eastern and, by proximity Islamic, cultural traditions through the use of kaftans, modernised abayas, tunics and hijabs. Furthermore, the Middle East, particularly the UAE, has become home to some of the biggest fashion houses in the world which include Givenchy, Louis Vuitton, and Hermès. Homegrown designers like Huda Nuaimi and Sumayya Al Suwaidi located in Abu Dhabi and Dubai have also made a name for themselves by creating visionary and unique abayas that appeal to the stylish Muslim woman. There’s also Dr. Deanna Khalil’s Abaya Addict, which has become quite popular in the United States and offers more affordable abayas that are on trend, detail oriented, edgy and full of colour.
Alhamdullilah, the task of being a modest Muslim woman has become easier due to the evolution and influence of Middle Eastern/Islamic culture on global fashion. Now more than ever, we have a wide and diverse range of clothing to choose from which makes wearing hijab easier in Western society. It is important for us to take advantage and showcase what Islam has to offer through our style of dress as it helps change the stereotypes of Muslim women and encourages our young girls to continue to wear hijab with dignity, grace and in style.
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Keziah S. Ridgeway is a high school history teacher at Al Aqsa Islamic Academy, wife, mother of three children, and the creator of Philly Hijabis Killing It. She currently resides in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.