CAIR: Muslim Women Balance Modesty and Style


CAIR: WE, MYSELF AND I

For Aysha Hussain, getting dressed each day is a fraught negotiation. Ms. Hussain, a 24-year-old magazine writer in New York, is devoted to her pipe-stem Levi's and determined to incorporate their brash modernity into her wardrobe while adhering to the tenets of her Muslim faith. "It's still a struggle," Ms. Hussain, a Pakistani-American, confided. "But I don't think it's impossible."

Ms. Hussain has worked out an artful compromise, concealing her curves under a mustard-tone cropped jacket and a tank top that is long enough to cover her hips.

Some of her Muslim sisters follow a more conservative path. Leena al-Arian, a graduate student at the University of Chicago, joined a women's worship group last Saturday night. Her companions, who sat cross-legged on prayer mats in a cramped apartment in the Hyde Park neighborhood, were variously garbed in beaded tunics, harem-style trousers, gauzy veils and colorful pashminas. Ms. Arian herself wore a loose-fitting turquoise tunic over fluid jeans. She covered her hair, neck and shoulders with a brightly patterned hijab, the head scarf that is emblematic of the Islamic call to modesty.

Like many of her contemporaries who come from diverse social and cultural backgrounds and nations, Ms. Arian has devised a strategy to reconcile her faith with the dictates of fashion -- a challenge by turns stimulating and frustrating and, for some of her peers, a constant point of tension.

Injecting fashion into a traditional Muslim wardrobe is ''walking a fine line,'' said Dilshad D. Ali, the Islam editor of Beliefnet.com, a Web site for spiritual seekers. A flash point for controversy is the hijab, which is viewed by some as a politically charged symbol of radical Islam and of female subjugation that invites reactions from curiosity to outright hostility.

In purely aesthetic terms, the devout must work to evolve a style that is attractive but not provocative, demure but not dour -- friendly to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. . .

But adopting the hijab also invites adversity. A survey by the Council on American-Islamic Relations last year found that nearly half of Americans believe that Islam encourages the oppression of women. Referring to that survey, Ms. Hussain, the New York journalist, observed, ''Many of these people think, 'Oh, if a woman is covered, she must be oppressed.' ''

Still, after 9/11, Ms. Hussain made a point of wearing the hijab. ''Politically,'' she said, ''it lets people know you're not trying to hide from them.''

 


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