A story about living between worlds...
In my lifetime, the trajectory of the narrative around being a "Hijabi” (wearing Hijab), has undergone dramatic twists and turns. Despite so much more visibility, it's a story that leaves some empowered and inspired, but leaves just as many lost, confused and misinformed.
The story around being a Muslim or more specifically, a Muslim-American woman and our relationship with ourselves, others and how we engage with fashion, beauty, arts and media, has been shaped and evolved through geopolitical agendas, cultural, religious and feminist ideologies. As such, what we find more often than not, is that we Muslim-American women are being spoken about, rather than speaking for ourselves.We find our stories and identities being filtered through the cultures, histories and values of others and we are judged based on perceptions that carry layers upon layers of misunderstanding and confusion.
From my non-Muslim friends…
"But the Burkini Ban 'saves' women from oppression! How can you defend such a misogynistic practice that forces women to cover up on the beach?"
"That (famous Palestinian) Muslimah Hijabi activist is nothing but an oppressed hypocrite! How can we take anything she says seriously while she’s wearing that 'rag' on her head?"
"I don’t see what the big deal is about Hijab." (reader: this is the equivalent of the “I don’t see color” line of reasoning)
"The hijab and this 'extreme' form of patriarchal religiosity can be off-putting. Why can’t the other Muslims dress more like you, Shireen?"
"I’m glad they’re letting Hijabis play more sports now. But remember, the reason women dress in skimpy bikinis to play beach volleyball is because well, you know, that’s what WE wear to the beach."
Of course. (insert side eye roll while I grab my tea)
…and from my Muslim friends and family:
"The hijab is backwards. We used to be more 'modern'. What happened to feminism?
"The hijab is the word of God. No conversation to be had. No debate possible. We will pray for you Shireen."
But then there are are also these voices...
"I find the hijab so beautiful. Would you teach me how to wrap a scarf like I see them wear on Instagram, Shireen?"
"I want to include hijabs in my collection, Shireen, would you share more about how to do so without culturally appropriating this practice?"
"You look beautiful with Hijab, you should wear it all the time!"
And here I stand.
In between two worlds.
At the intersection of culture, generation, religion and roles.
I’m a mother. An educator. An artist. An advocate.
In this historic period of our collective societal awakening, as I see the yearning for more diverse, more inclusive representations of the broader world beyond the cis-white Eurocentric lens, I find myself searching for our story. But whose story, exactly?
I want to use my platform as fashion educator and artist, to support in sharing the story of my Hijabi sisters who are literally my cousins, my aunts, my neighbors, my friends, my world.
I am part of this sisterhood. They are my Family. My UMMAH (the Islamic term that describes our global community)
While we are (finally!) seeing and hearing from more Hijabi women in the arts, fashion and media as they share their images, words and narratives, it remains all too common in academic circles to find that the "Muslim/Muslim-American woman's relationship to our dress, our style, our faith and fashion, is either hardly existent or being crafted and told by non-Muslim "experts".
I want to change that.
But then there's also the matter of my story.
As a "Part Time Hijabi" (Hijab-adjacent? Hijabi-Fluid?), I wear the Hijab in religious or sacred spaces and yet in secular spaces, I am unveiled...but modest. "MODEST". Let's bookmark this term and idea that we could (and should!) spend lifetimes exploring. More later...
Where do we hear about my story of navigating and moving between identities?
When I think about Muslim/Muslim-American Women and Fashion, I ask myself “Can I rightfully speak for my Hijabi sisters while I myself am not a Hijabi”?
While I can never possibly know, understand or speak to the day to day moments of struggle, or pride, of the impossible (and unfair) challenge of "representing" Islam, I do know the experience of being a veiled woman.
When veiled in the West, I feel the glares of suspicion, misunderstanding and fear upon me. When veiled in Islamic countries, I feel part of something bigger, part of our history and culture, our struggles and victories. At times, restrictive (for me) and at other times, oh so beautiful.
When unveiled in the West, I go under the radar, I "blend". But in Muslim countries, as an unveiled woman, I carry the weight of being perceived as "resisting" and standing out.
I am and have always identified as Muslimah. And while I present differently in different spaces, I think my voice matters in the conversation around Fashion and the Muslim-American experience.
I think my lens and lived experience can lend valuable insights to forging empathy and understanding.
I want to speak for myself. I want to share my story.
I want to use my platform and years of working as a designer, artist, educator and cultural worker, to support my sisters (and by extension my Muslim and non-Muslim sisters alike).
I want to create spaces for us ALL to be heard, considered and hopefully, to feel better understood (by ourselves and others).
This is not a plea for others' to weigh in on what I should wear or believe.
This is a call to join me on my storytelling journey.
Join me as I think, write and draw about advocacy, diversity, fashion, beauty, art, identity, inclusion, education and representation. And more!
Our story(ies) continues to evolve...
Let's bring as many voices and experiences together as we can as we craft the next chapter...yalla, onward!
(rvsd. April 2023)