News / Europe

European Muslims Reconcile Cultures through Fashion

European critics deride the Islamic veil as a mark of female oppression. But for a new generation of young Muslim women, it is part of an emerging fashion that seeks to integrate European and Muslim identities.

On a cold evening, the Starbucks coffee shop in the Paris-area business district of La Defense, offers a welcome refuge. Twenty-nine-year-old Saadia Boussana is cradling a warm drink. Tall and striking, with a black and gold embroidered shirt and a glittering brown bonnet, she blends in easily with the trendy, after-work crowd.

In fact, it's hard to associate her stylish bonnet with a headscarf or hijab, the head coverings worn by devout Muslim women that are highly controversial in Europe. In France, the center-right government has banned girls from wearing headscarves in public schools. It is now considering legislation to ban women from wearing an extreme version of the veil, the face covering niqab, in public places.

But for young women like Boussana, communications director for a new Muslim women's magazine called MWM, or My Woman Magazine, the head covering is part of her fashion look.

Increasingly, Boussana says, observant Muslim women want to dress stylishly while remaining modest. Many like her head to mainstream department stories like Zara and H&M to create their outfits - partly for lack of fashionable Muslim shops.

Boussana is part of a new generation of educated, vocal and socially active women who are beginning to brand their European and Muslim identities through style. They layer dresses over pants, wrap headscarves into bandanas, match hooded kaftans with high-heeled boots.

They are turning their backs on fashions worn by their mothers - often first-generation immigrants from Pakistan, Turkey or North Africa. And they are showing that Islamic dress codes - which generally stipulate covering most of the body except for the face, hands and feet - do not have to be boring.

Emma Tarlo is a British social anthropologist and author of a new book, "Visibly Muslim: Fashion, Politics, Faith". She points to the hijab, or headscarf, as the most obvious manifestation of this fashion revolution.

"In a sense they're using fashion to try to contradict the idea of the hijab being just about politics, traditionalism or piety even. They are still associating it with modesty and the idea that a woman keeps part of her body private. But they're active in the public sphere and they're modern - and they want to be seen as modern."

Much of the fashion action is taking place in Britain, where cultural diversity is more tolerated than elsewhere in Europe. Up-and-coming designers like Sarah Elenany and Sophia Kara are even attracting a non-Muslim clientele with their edgy styles, bold colors and loose, full clothes.

But Tarlo has seen Muslim street fashion bubbling up in Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany - all countries where being "visibly Muslim" is not always appreciated.

"I think that's partly why people work all the harder to develop interesting hijab styles, to decorate the hijab...so that it actually becomes a sort of visual talking point, it attracts attention. And many young women welcome - if people ask about their dress - they welcome the opportunity to explain it."

France, with its estimated five to six million Muslims and an international reputation for fashion, appears to be a promising market. But Islamic wear collides with its staunchly secular creed.

In 2004, the center-right government banned pupils from wearing headscarves and other so-called "ostentatious" religious accessories in public schools. In the coming months, the government is expected to push legislation to ban or severely restrict the face-veil, or niqab, in public places.

Chahira Ait Belkacem is executive director of the Muslim women's magazine MWM.

Belkacem says unlike their counterparts in the United States or Britain, conservative Muslim women in France are afraid of making bold fashion statements. Being chic, she says, is still badly viewed within the Muslim community.

But that appears to be changing. In a sign of their growing social presence, Muslim women now have two new French "webzines," or Internet magazines, that directly target them. One is MWM. The other is titled Hijab and the City.

Twenty-two-year-old Mariame Tighanime co-founded Hijab and the City two years ago with her older sister Khadija.

Tighanime says the magazine wants to reach all Muslim women, not just those who are well-off and successful. Like MWM, it strives for a broad audience that includes Muslims and non-Muslims. Besides fashion, both Internet magazines have with sections that include beauty, health, family, environment, culture - and features on women who have made a difference in society.

Muslim veils - and Muslims in general - have also sparked strong emotions in the Netherlands, where the Dutch government considered but later discarded legislation to ban face veils.

Still "Muslima wear" is gaining a foothold among young, trendy Muslim women. Even a few, non-Muslim designers like Cindy van den Bremen are getting into the act. Van den Bremen markets a line of sporty hijabs mostly through her Internet store, Capsters.com.

She says many Muslim retail stores are not meeting the needs of the new generation.

"On the other hand, there's an increasing number of modern and fashionable shops on line which combine different styles. And there is an increasing number of Muslim women interested. But it's different from the shops their mothers would go to."

Women who assert their Muslim identities through fashion are not always well received. Author Tarlo says that when controversial issues involving Islam crop up in Europe, so do old stereotypes of Islam versus the West. And, she says, many European Muslim women feel incredibly frustrated by this.

You May Like

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Video Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid