Tuesday 8 December 2015

Mama Feeling Fierce: Hijab Fashionista’s and Role Model’s

One thing I love about my relationship about Little Lady is that we have great conversations. These are mainly about books, films, family, school, food and more books. But sometimes they are just about life and our perspective on things.

One recent such conversation came about because she had been watching lots of hijab tutorials. I had asked her to take these with a pinch of salt and with the reminder that modesty comes before fashion and that whatever she wears she must ask herself if Allah (SWT) would be please with her and whether it was fit to pray in. After watching these tutorials on YouTube for a few days, she came marching in one day and announced she was a bit fed up of them all. The thing that was bothering her was the enormous amount of make-up all of the YouTubers she was watching wore. She just wanted to see what they looked like without make-up and in ordinary clothes – i.e. somebody that she could relate to.

That was it, my moment right there. All my concerns regarding the hijab bloggers and the potential to influence her that were on my mind came to the fore. You couldn’t shut me up after that. I did try to be benevolent. I did explain that they wore so much make-up because of the camera’s and because if you don’t wear make-up you look worse than normal on video rather than normal. But that was barely an aside. I explained to her that we all have to find the thing that we are passionate about and that becomes are purpose in life and the medium through which we try to help others. For some this is hijab blogging and helping others to learn how to wear hijab and be modest without feeling frumpy.

I wanted to move the discussion away from hijab bloggers (that’s one for another day!). I asked her to think about whether the most important thing about a woman should be the way she looks, her make-up and what she wears. I asked her to think about what are the things that are most valuable in us. I wanted to talk about some of the amazing women who have inspired me and left me awed because of their compassion, ability, talent and intelligence. I suggested also that some of these women are beautiful in a way that defies stereotypical ideas of beauty.

One example I gave her was of the Indian author and activist Arundhati Roy, I love the passion and lucidity found in her writing (The God of Small Things is a must read) and the fact that she stands up for some of the most vulnerable people in her country in the face of immense criticism and hostility. Her beauty shines through her writing and work. Saying that she is naturally and effortlessly beautiful.

We talked about Angelina Jolie – people might criticise me because she is not Muslim or because of her job, but I remember when she went to Pakistan she dressed modestly and covered her hair out of respect. A few years later (2010) she spoke up to ask people to donate to Pakistan following an earthquake and severe flooding at a time when I recall some influential people were coming out to say these people don’t deserve help and there was talk of donor fatigue (this was at the same time as the devastating Haiti earthquake). She has spoken assertively at UN assemblies about the humanitarian and refugee crisis resulting from the war in Syria , going back again to try to hold the organisation to account and ask why nothing has changed. I like that she makes films about things that matter: the Bosnian war, Japanese POW’s. Again naturally and effortlessly beautiful without six inches of make-up and fake bits.

I explained to Little Lady that she was beautiful but that that was a gift not an achievement to be proud of. I reminded her that as Muslimah’s we need to focus on improving our character more than our looks. Allah (SWT) has done that work for us, he has made us in the best form and we look exactly as He wants us to. But he also made us weak:

Allah would make the burden light for you, for man was created weak. ~ Quran (4:8)

and when we are held to account it is our character that will weigh heaviest on our scales – so what should we be putting our effort into and how?

The best way to improve ourselves I believe is through service to others. The suffering of others puts our lives in context and makes us grateful. Finding ways to help others turns us into problem-solvers and people who take action and make a difference. Fake eyelashes, finding just the right shade of lipstick and having the handbag that all of the other fashionista’s have don’t generally improve your character and make a difference.

I asked her to think about what legacy she wanted to leave for the world – whether as a teacher, scholar, artist, journalist or lawyer (all things she is interested in), how will she use the path she chooses to serve others and please Allah (SWT)? I reminded her we needed to think big – not about hijab and make-up, those were small fry, they were so superficial they weren’t even part of the conversation any more, we should be done with those, we know where we stand and what our obligations are regarding modesty and covering our hijab. We had to move on and aim higher and for greater things than that.

I loved speaking to her about Rabia al-Adawiyya (RA), Rabia of Basra was not beautiful. She was poor, she was a slave and therefore lacked status. Her love for her Creator was so powerful it consumed and overtook everything else for her. Despite her lack of beauty, status and wealth she is admired and remembered centuries later for her asceticism and spiritual devotion, an amazing legacy in a time where the world seems to value money and beauty above anything else.

I hope I inspired her, I hope that I put the seed of a thought in her that takes her away finding the prettiest hijab style to finding the best way to use her strengths to fight for and serve others.

Indeed, the Muslim men and Muslim women, the believing men and believing women, the obedient men and obedient women, the truthful men and truthful women, the patient men and patient women, the humble men and humble women, the charitable men and charitable women, the fasting men and fasting women, the men who guard their private parts and the women who do so, and the men who remember Allah often and the women who do so - for them Allah has prepared forgiveness and a great reward. ~ Quran (33:35)

"...I will not suffer the work of any worker among you to be lost whether male or female, the one of you being from the other..."(Holy Qur’an, 3:195) .

“My value as a woman is not measured by the size of my waist or the number of men who like me. My worth as a human being is measured on a higher scale: a scale of righteousness and piety. And my purpose in life-despite what fashion magazines say-is something more sublime than just looking good for men.” ~ Yasmin Mogahed, Reclaim Your Heart: Personal Insights on Breaking Free from Life's Shackles

"I've got two daughters who will have to make their way in this skinny-obsessed world, and it worries me, because I don't want them to be empty-headed, self-obsessed, emaciated clones; I'd rather they were independent, interesting, idealistic, kind, opinionated, original, funny a thousand things, before 'thin'." ~ J K Rowling (source)


  1. I think your daughter might like my friend's instagram: https://www.instagram.com/aksemahk/

    I find her outfits very approachable and accessible and her makeup is minimal, very natural looking.

  2. Assalamalaikum! Loved this post, it was exactly what i needed to hear and soooo inspiring mA!

    Id like to say you should extend this article beyond beauty and do a piece on gender relations and how it relates to or can benefit our contemporary society. What i mean to say is people fail go realize why islam has guidelines on gender relations and how learning them is not only practical but beneficial for the times we live in.

  3. Very interesting post. Just one question - why would you be criticised for admiring Angelina Jolie, because she isn't Muslim?

    1. I suspect it would be because of the facts the she has appeared in nude scenes an because she met her husband when he was still married to someone else.
      Then there are other people who would say that the only people we should admire are the amazing Muslim women that came before us and that they should enough.
      Personally I beleive that we can learn from and be inspired by all different kinds of people.

  4. Thank you for responding to my question and that is a great answer

  5. I am not Muslim though I am a blogger. Out of curiousity I'd Googled "Muslim bloggers" and a few fashion sites came up which I took a look at. How refreshing to find your perspective and beautiful heartfelt post after that! :)

  6. As-Salaamu 'alaikum,

    A while ago I was having a conversation with a Muslim lady I know on Facebook, and she mentioned that a lot of women were wearing "hijab" but with clothing that was otherwise unsuitable, e.g. tight trousers and/or short skirts or dresses. She believed "hijab" (as in the headscarf) was too common (although she still wears it herself, usually in combination with loose Kenyan or Somali style clothes, as that's where she's from).

    I believe that if the headscarf becomes a fashion, it makes it easier for women who are religious and wear it to please Allah to do it, and that it's better if a deed that has merit, let alone is mandatory, is normal rather than a rare thing that can raise awkward questions or even hostility. There is a hadeeth which refers to a nation where righteousness is normal, and when people hear fisq, they tell the fasiq to shut up, which turns into the opposite -- clearly the first is preferred. We only have to look at what has happened in France, where the "hijab fashion" didn't catch on. I think people who are used to living as a minority do not like it when observing the deen stops becoming a struggle (in some respects), or think it should be the same struggle for others as it was for them.

  7. A great post. Thanks for sharing.

  8. One of the BEST posts youve written. JAZAKALLAH KHAIR for this post and blogging, you have massively benefitted your readers thru ur writing MA! I definitely needed this, because I am constantly judged for dressing and wearing my hijab modestly vs being a stylish hijabi and having my makeup artfully done.

    I am glad there are people who understand the struggle and can validate those like me. JAZKALLAH KHAIR!

    1. Salaam Dear Sis,
      you don't need anyone's validation, least of all mine. The fact that you are true to what you believe rather than what people think, says it all to me.