I have a confession to make: gorgeous apparel is my ultimate weakness. There are few things in life that beat the feeling of walking out of a store with that skirt I've coveted for the past couple of months. Although that feeling may be rather phantasmagoric, I occasionally can’t stop a bit of anxiety from creeping in.
You see, being a devout Muslim, who is also a self-proclaimed fashionista, is not without its trials. I need to wear what is known as hijab. Hijab can sometimes be a complex term to understand and is frequently the subject of intense controversy, with its many interpretations and manners of implementation.
To put it simply, wearing hijab involves covering your awrah, the parts of your body that according to Islamic rules can’t be exposed. For a woman, this means enclosing your entire body except your face, hands and feet.
You need to ensure that you simultaneously cover both your skin and body contours, without exposing even one strand of hair. Be warned: proceed with caution when thinking of donning anything that could possibly be described as sheer, tight or short.
This is not always an easy feat when living in a world where the hottest new threads are not typically designed to meet these criteria. I, with the help of some fellow Muslim women, give you three reasons why.
1. You need something to go with everything
I remember struggling to prevent myself from shrieking with delight as I picked a red dress off the rail at a boutique. After plodding through the mall for hours, I had at long last found my Eid outfit. It was a sophisticated, lacy number with a pleated chiffon skirt. Unfortunately for me though, it wasn’t a full-length skirt.
Read more: "Get off my skirt!"
This meant that I had to endure the rigorous search for a pair of pants to wear underneath the dress - a predicament I knew only too well. I was in a similar situation the year before, when I needed to find not only pants, but a top with sleeves - as bare arms are an absolute no-no.
Will I find the right colour? Is the fabric opaque instead of transparent? Even if it’s the perfect shade, a transparent top won’t do any good unless I find, yet another, sweater to wear beneath it. Who knows if I’ll ever come across that?! Those are just a few of the thoughts that race through my mind.
Thankfully, I’m not battling this alone. An old school friend of mine, Saadiyah*, told me about her Eid shopping pickle: “There have been many times when I end up buying, for example, two Eid outfits, because I couldn’t find something to match the first outfit, like a top underneath because it’s sleeveless. So if I really struggle, I tend to give up and buy another outfit entirely.”
Buying extra garb to compensate for the lack of fabric in existing frocks also creates a a large dent in my bank account. Rather than leaving the mall with just a dress, I leave with a bag of extras. I did not budget for this. Sigh.
2. Scarf pins are almost like sanitary towels
I’ve been fortunate enough to have the pleasure of receiving several beautiful scarves as gifts. Some of them are made out of silk, adorned with paisley patterns, and others have floral appliques. So what could be problematic about that, you may ask?
Sometimes, keeping the sleek cloth intact as it rests on my head is nearly impossible without a scarf pin. Depending on the scarf, I may use up to 5 pins! As you can imagine, it’s as imperative to have as a pack of sanitary towels. You simply can’t afford to go without either.
My neighbour Shazia* has also experienced this problem at the mosque. “If (the scarf has) a slippery fabric like chiffon, there has often been cases where during prayer it will come loose and I’ll have to re-drape (the scarf) while praying.”
Girl, I feel you. If there’s one place where scarf-related accidents are the least welcome, it’s the mosque.
3. Going to the beach is often, the worst
You can forget about sporting that sexy new swimsuit that hugs your curves in all the right places. Not even wrapping a sarong around it will be of any help. Clearly, what would usually be considered beachwear just doesn’t work when you’re aiming to clothe every inch of your body in 30-degree heat. You need to redefine beachwear.
To me, it seems as though the easiest option would be to slip on a kaftan. However, the dilemma arises when you fancy a dip in the ocean. Do you opt to just let the waves run over your feet or do you immerse yourself in salt water?
If you choose the latter, you run the risk of having your kaftan clinging to the sides of your body, displaying your womanly shape in all its glory. This is not exactly ideal. If you want to avoid this scenario, it would be best to stick to simply going for a walk on the beach rather than a swim.
Razaan*, one of my colleagues, understands that the struggle is real: “I usually find deciding what to wear when I go to the beach difficult, especially when I go swimming. I also want to enjoy sunbathing and cooling off on a hot day, but short clothes like bikinis and shorts are not options for us. I find the burkini similar to a wetsuit, which is quite tight, so I am not really fond of it.”
When all is said and done, pulling through the sticky situations of wearing hijab can be a rewarding accomplishment. In doing so, you prove that you don’t have to choose between fashion and modesty - you can choose both. To me, it illustrates your pride in your religion, and allows you to express your identity as a Muslim woman.
*Name has been changed.
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