When non-Muslims think of Islamic fashion, they usually imagine stark black dresses and plain white head scarves, or even burqas – uniform outfits that afford little room for originality.

But Saubia Arbab, like many of the city’s young Muslims, defies stereotype, making the look her own with a unique blend of old and new.

Arbab, the daughter of immigrants from Pakistan, went to an orthodox Muslim high school in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and now majors in social work at New York University. The 21-year-old must balance the world of tradition, religion and family with the fashion-oriented world of American pop culture.

Because of this, Arbab faces criticism from both sides: from non-Muslims, who don’t understand or fear her hijab (head scarf), to Muslims who believe she strays from tradition by, say, carrying a trendy bag. But Arbab said she agreed to talk to The Post in the hope it would help people understand her culture.

“My friends were worried for a number of different reasons,” she says. “They thought this was going to make Islam look silly. There’s a fear in the Muslim community that the world is out to get us.”

But, Arbab adds, “not shying away from the larger culture is the best way to inform people.” And “my family has always encouraged me to be open and do things like this.”

In fact, Arbab’s combination of clothing styles often invites discussion. “Totally! I mean, a girl sitting next to me in class might say, ‘Hey, I really like that bag, or those shoes,’ or whatever, and then we’ll start talking about the hijab. Yeah, the fashion definitely serves as an icebreaker.”

She even considers her unique mix of old and new to be a form of dawah (an Arabic term designating an invitation toward understanding Islam). “Dressing like this is in a very real sense dawah,” she explained, “it opens up dialogue, it humanizes.”


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