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

Somalia: No Popular Elections in 2016

In interview Wednesday with VOA, President Mohamud says 'one person, one vote' elections will not be possible due to continuing insecurity More

Scientists Predict Climate Change Will Increase Child Malnutrition

Public health expert in Germany says that by 2050, 25 million more children's lives will be put at risk because of lack of nutrients tied to climate change More

Erdogan in China Amid Tensions on Uighurs, Missile System

Turkey's president has criticized China's heavy-handed policies toward Uighurs in violence-plagued Xinjiang region, where China says it is fighting foreign-backed separatists 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.
Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponentsi
X
Henry Ridgwell
July 28, 2015 9:53 PM
A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video Special Olympics Athletes Meet International Friends

The Special Olympics are underway in Los Angeles, California, with athletes from 165 countries participating in an event that gives people with intellectual disabilities the chance to take part in an international competition. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that for athletes and their families, it's also an opportunity to make new friends in an international setting.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs