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

Polls Open in Scotland Independence Vote

As race to persuade undecided voters continues, 'No' voters say they believe life in Scotland will slowly improve, 'Yes' vote not worth the risk More

China to Invest $20 billion In India Amid Border Dispute

Border spat between armies of two countries in Himalayas underlines mutual tensions despite growing commercial ties highlighted by Xi Jinping's high profile visit More

Ukrainian Activist in Despair About Future of Her Country

IrIna Dovgan, accused of being a spy and tortured by pro-Russian separatists, is appealing to UN Human Rights Council to support her country 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.
A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Wateri
X
September 17, 2014 8:44 PM
Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid