What does it mean to be a hijabi and a fashionista?

This all started when I saw this tw**t from Sarah Haider, co-founder of Ex-Muslims of North America:

. . . which referenced this Facebook post by Haute Hijab, a community of hijab-wearing fashionistas:


And what happened is shown in part below: Anniesa Hasibuan, a fashion designer who produces incredibly elaborate clothes for the hijab-wearer (see some of her designs here), had a fashion show in New York, and after the catwalk parade there was a standing ovation from a non-Muslim crowd:


This, of course, is something that would be—and probably has—been touted by PuffHo. Sarah was saying that the standing ovation was actually a celebration of women’s oppression—oppression in the form of the hijab, a scarf meant to cover the hair as a sign of women’s modesty dictated by some sects of Islam.

And at first I thought, “Maybe Sarah is being too harsh here. Maybe these women don’t wear the hijab to be modest, but simply (as Jews wear yarmulkes) to be “closer to God.”

But then I thought, “But Islamic scripture says that you’re closer to God not simply by wearing the headscarf, but because you’re covering the bits of yourself that could inflame men’s desires.” And if that’s the case, then we have not only hypocrisy—the combination of hair covering to enforce modesty combined with glitzy fashion designed to show yourself off (makeup, outline of the bosom, glamorous fabrics)—but Regressive Leftism, in the form of a liberal crowd applauding the women precisely because they’ve exercised this hypocrisy but kept their all-important hair under wraps.

And I think Sarah is right. Yes, women should certainly have a choice about whether to wear the headscarf, and I’m sure some of them do wear it by choice (though fewer than we think), and some do it not to obey religious custom, but to make a political statement. But even that political statement is deeply entangled with faith, for Islam is the most political of religions.

The fact is that there’s nothing in the Qur’an or hadith about covering the hair (see below), but there’s plenty about being modest (see here and here, for instance), and Islamic scripture is clear that women must be far more modest than men.  But there is no scriptural requirement to cover one’s hair, as noted in Wikipedia’s piece on “Intimate parts in Islam“:

And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their khimār over their breasts and not display their beauty except to their husband, their fathers, their husband’s fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. (Quran24:31).

You’re supposed to cover your intimate parts, but not necessarily the hair. What has happened in some Islamic countries—and this is recent—is that the hijab worn over the head has been interpreted as necessary for modesty, even if not explicit in Islamic scripture. It’s the interpretation of that scripture that has changed, so that in the last 40 years in places like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and Egypt, hijabs have become more and more common as a sign that a woman is a good Muslim. (Google image “Women Tehran 1970” and then put in “2015” to see the difference. Or substitute “Cairo” or “Kabul” for “Tehran.”)

For most hijabis, then (and I am guessing here from what I know), wearing the scarf is a religious signal, meant to show that you’re abiding by old Islamic dictates of female modesty and newer dictates on how the modesty is instantiated. But all of those dictates, new and old, were and are enforced by men; they’re part of the corrosive patriarchy that pervades Islam. If the hijab makes you feel “closer to God,” then it often does so by making you feel that you’re adhering more closely to an entire code of conduct designed to oppress and marginalize women.

So Sarah is right. Those hijabi fashionistas are simple hypocrites: they’re trying to obey the letter of Islam but violating the spirit. They’d immediately be whacked by the morality police if they appeared on the streets of Kabul in that garb! More important, they can’t have it both ways: hide your beauty under a headscarf in the name of modesty, but flaunt it below the neckline. Well, of course you can do that, as these women have, but let them flaunt their brand of modesty in Kabul or Saudi Arabia!

But what’s even worse is the New York crowd applauding this, not because the fashions are particularly spectacular, but because they’re topped with a hijab.

Yes, Sarah’s right: the crowd is applauding not the women or the designer, but themselves—their liberality, their open-mindedness, their show of support for what they see as an oppressed minority: Muslims. After all, Muslims are people of color. What the enthusiastic crowd doesn’t realize, though, is that it’s simultaneously applauding the oppression of women, symbolized by the very garment that elicited all this approbation.

h/t: Eiynah


  1. eric
    Posted September 27, 2016 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    Based on your description, it sounds like the applause was a bit overdone but not at all surprising in context. If I designed shoes, it should not surprise anyone if I got applause from shoe-show-goers for a line of avant-garde shoes. If I designed snorkels, it should not surprise anyone if I got applause from snorkel-aficionados for a line of avant-garde snorkels. And likewise, since Ms. Hasibuan designs entire lines of clothes for hijab wearers, it should not surprise anyone when hijab-aficionados attending her shows give her designs applause. Considering the context, its reasonable behavior. You don’t have to think someone’s hobby is sane or useful to accept that their hobby-decisions might be considered noteworthy by others with the same hobby.

    • eric
      Posted September 27, 2016 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

      I should add that my point isn’t intended to give any credibility to the whole edifice. If a bunch of sexists gave an award for best sexist poem, it would still be sexist, and I would still oppose sexism. My point was only that the people attending an applauding probably weren’t thinking about ‘oppression’ at all; they were thinking ‘what an interesting cloth pattern she produced by stitching that silk to the back instead of the front’ or whatever. Although I guess this sort of thinking could count as a minor type of Arendt’s ‘banality of evil.’

      • jeffery
        Posted September 27, 2016 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

        From what I’ve seen of the “Fashion world”, these designers could have their models do the catwalk smeared with mud and dressed in trash bags and the applause would be wild….
        So far as the wearing of the hijab being a “religious signal”, it’s a signal, all right: it sends the message, “I’m conforming to your arbitrary, sexuality-fearing and woman- hating dress code; please do not beat me, throw me in prison, or kill me, OK?”
        Read accounts from ANY of the towns and cities liberated from the stranglehold of ISIS (or, in the past, the Taliban) and you’ll see accounts of large numbers of women gleefully shedding their burkas and hijabs.

        • eric
          Posted September 27, 2016 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

          I agree it typically sends that signal on the street. On the catwalk, the only signal it sends is “I’m getting paid a crapload of money to walk back and forth in someone else’s concept clothing.”

  2. Claudia Baker
    Posted September 27, 2016 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    Yes, imagine any of these models, dressed like this, walking the streets of Tehran, Kabul or Mecca. What a joke. This is as bad as the “wear the hijab for a day to support our Muslim sisters” bullshit that happened in Ottawa in February. Subjugation of women is now fashionable and cool? ffs
    Mary Wollstonecraft must be spinning.

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted September 27, 2016 at 2:39 pm | Permalink


  3. jibalt
    Posted September 27, 2016 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    This is a good example of how ideology can make people (like Sarah and Jerry) quite irrational.

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted September 27, 2016 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

      Could you expand on what you are trying to say here please? You think pointing out the latent creeping misogyny in certain garments is an ideology? Or irrational?

      • jibalt
        Posted September 27, 2016 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

        “You think pointing out the latent creeping misogyny in certain garments”

        That’s not what the article is about … it’s about applauding at a fashion show.

        And even in your statement, the misogyny is not in the garments, but in aspects of the culture that leads, indirectly, to the wearing of the garments. Treating all these things as the same thing is irrational, and driven by an anti-Muslim ideology. Imagine writing the same thing about applauding women wearing skimpy sexy outfits at the Olympic games … an argument can be made against the applauding if one is buried deeply enough in an ideology.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted September 27, 2016 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

          Women at the Olympics are cheered for their athletic achievements, not for their outfits. (Women at the Winter Olympics are also cheered, even though their outfits are hardly “skimpy.”)

          • Cate Plys
            Posted September 27, 2016 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

            I agree with Ken Kukec above, of course. As important, there was much writing during the recent Summer Olympics criticizing skimpy women’s athletic gear when that skimpy gear is 1) a required uniform; 2) not required of men; and 3), not necessary for the sport. I speak of course of the beach volleyball teams. People who criticize misogynistic Islamic female coverings absolutely also criticize the objectification and over sexualization of women in various aspects of Western culture and media. All the time. Criticizing hijab, burkas, burkinis etc. is not anti-Muslim, which would be against individual people; it is anti-Islamic, against ideas and ideology, and to the extent that Islam requires misogynistic covering of women.

    • Posted September 27, 2016 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

      Knock off the name-calling jibalt.

  4. jibalt
    Posted September 27, 2016 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    Applauding male models wearing suits is applauding oppression. Heck, applauding models wearing clothes at all is applauding oppression. Or: if you vote for Hillary, you support lying.

    Spot the fallacy. (Hint: Leibniz’s Law)

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted September 27, 2016 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

      Men’s suits are not rooted in misandry, making yours a false analogy, and thereby exempting it from Leibniz’s law.

      • eric
        Posted September 27, 2016 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

        Not misandry, but certainly western men’s clothes show our culture’s sexist roots. Men’s suit jackets and shirts have the button on the right side (as you wear it) and the hole on the left because men needed to be able to unbutton their clothes while holding a sword in their right hand. Women’s clothes traditionally have the button and hole pattern reversed, because they weren’t allowed/expected to fight; the man who controlled them did that.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted September 27, 2016 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

          There’s certainly sexism involved in the comparative wear of men’s and women’s western clothing. And the requirement to wear clothing at all in every circumstance is an outgrowth of sexually repressive western puritanism. But that doesn’t make the suits worn by men the product of gender oppression or otherwise comparable to hijab as jibalt claims.

        • Posted September 27, 2016 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

          I do not find it sexist to think that males are better at fighting.

          • eric
            Posted September 27, 2016 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

            But that wasn’t the justification. If it was, then woman-on-woman duels would’ve been acceptable, but they weren’t. The origin of men fighting for women in the west has its basis in viewing woman as a form of property. Pretty blatant sexism.

  5. Flemur
    Posted September 27, 2016 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    Sometimes a scarf is just a scarf – with a marketing name – and perhaps the models have cancer and that’s why they’re so scrawny.

  6. Kevin
    Posted September 27, 2016 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    The hijabs and the models are very attractive. Unfortunately today, hijabs represent oppression, either voluntary or involuntary. Maybe someday there will be no affiliation of a hijab and religion, but right now our civilization is laden with no substitute for what they advertise: the subjugation of women.

  7. John Harshman
    Posted September 27, 2016 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    Well, at least the hadith gives women the right to uncover themselves in the presence of their eunuch slaves. That’s something.

  8. Posted September 27, 2016 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    Maybe I’m being overly analytical or reading more into something than is actually there or otherwise falling into some mental trap.

    But I watched the video, and it seemed to be powerfully dehumanizing and objectifying of the models.

    (And I strongly suspect this might be the case of many similar fashion shows.)

    What I saw was a bunch of bored women being nothing more than animated clothes hangers. Not a single person in the audience gave a damn about the women themselves — not even to lust after them. The women were invisible, despite being right there in plain sight. There is not a single aspect of the show in which the woman under the clothes is even hypothetically relevant, except insofar as her complete and utter degradation is made plain. It’s like millionaires lighting their cigars with $100 bills.


    Whatever objections regressive liberal feminists might have about pornography (and at least some of those objections are valid), this is worse.

    The clothing on display is clearly and theologically intended to render women invisible automata. What better way to accomplish that goal than in the manner shown here?



    • eric
      Posted September 27, 2016 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

      What I saw was a bunch of bored women being nothing more than animated clothes hangers.

      This is different from any other fashion show…how?

      AIUI, the reason fashion designers use skinny models is specifically so that their clothing hangs the way the designers want it to. ‘Animated clothes hanger’ is pretty much the job description.

      • darrelle
        Posted September 27, 2016 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

        From Ben’s comment . . .

        “(And I strongly suspect this might be the case of many similar fashion shows.)

        From that I get that Ben is trying to communicate that he is not particularly familiar with fashion shows and that he doubts that this one is any different from typical other fashion shows regarding the observations he made. I don’t think any but the last two sentences of his comment were about the hijabs.

  9. wiseape108
    Posted September 27, 2016 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    Is there not a larger issue to concern us here?

    “or the slaves whom their right hands possess”

    Anyone know of a religious creed that outright rejects slavery?

    • Posted September 27, 2016 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

      I think it is the business of the site host and the commenters to decide what concerns them, and for those who find that it does NOT concern them, there is a BACK button.

  10. Diana MacPherson
    Posted September 27, 2016 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    I had a friend that would freak out if she saw a woman in a fancy hijab because she had experienced a holier than thou attitude many times from hijab wearers and fancy hijabs were the complete opposite of humility.

    • eric
      Posted September 27, 2016 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

      Start with a moral principle. Develop it into a normative law. Adhere to the normative law even when it violates the principle. Isn’t legalism grand?

  11. Randall Schenck
    Posted September 27, 2016 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    The whole business seems counter productive. If women are suppose to be and maintain modesty at all times why a fashion show with designer clothes. Does the designer clothing not draw attention to you if you buy it and wear it? Is that not the intent of the clothing. But no, if we all wear the Hijab we are all doing the appropriate thing and showing this western audience how we roll. And what if it were a hair design show – forget it.

  12. Bill
    Posted September 27, 2016 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    I’m still want to know what it is about Islam that makes leftists/feminists fall in love with it.

    I’ve heard people say that it is a “brown people’s religion”, and that’s why they want to defend it so much, but that doesn’t explain why they aren’t similarly head over heels with hiduism/sikhism and other “brown” religions.

  13. Gabrielle
    Posted September 27, 2016 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    My impression from reading the above and looking at the video was that the designer is someone who has always focused on the Muslim hijabi market. But, I’ve taken a look into the background of Anniesa Hasibuan, and she is a legitimate designer who has had shows in the past in New York’s Fashion Week, such as the one from a year ago:

    Her specialty is gowns and caftans, using fabrics/textures from Asia, mainly because she is Indonesian. In the video from last year, the models are not wearing hijab scarves; they are wearing rather elaborate headdresses that do cover their hair, though this isn’t particularly unusual at these fashion shows (many designers have their models in bizarre wigs or hats).
    One issue I can see having all her models in hijab scarves is that people in the fashion industry will assume she is mainly aiming for that market, and not for the general public, or at least the general public who can afford several thousand dollars for an outfit.
    As for the composition of the audience – most will be people in the fashion industry – store buyers, fashion writers, magazine editors, and of course celebrities. Actually, I somewhat doubt that people who are into social justice causes are going to pay money to attend NY fashion shows.
    And the models looking bored – that’s what they’re supposed to look like. And they all look alike, as well. It’s to keep the focus on the clothes, not the models.

  14. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted September 27, 2016 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    “not display their beauty except to their husband, their fathers, their husband’s fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex”

    Well that’s a pretty extensive list. Are we to take it that no uncles or cuzzies or nephews will become inflamed by uncontrollable lust and shag the living daylights out of them?

    (I take it the male servants in question are singing descant)


    • darrelle
      Posted September 28, 2016 at 6:52 am | Permalink

      I wonder if the incidence of incest among Muslims is different to any significant degree from the average of other groups.

  15. Posted September 28, 2016 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    Slight digression, but I recently read _Reading Lolita in Tehran_. One woman mentioned in the memoire’s mother had the view that making the hijab (or any item of clothing mandatory for religious reasons) required demeans the pious. Why? Because the pious now are deprived of their means of showing who they are: the clothing item now doesn’t *distinguish* them in any way. (Needless to say this presupposes that everyone is in fact differentially religious, etc.)

  16. Posted September 29, 2016 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    Inspired me to this: http://imgur.com/gallery/jeBbu

  17. Posted October 5, 2016 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    To me I think modesty is just retarded every woman should wear what she wants to wear. The hijab is just a symbol of oppression and modesty in my opinion is plain stupid!

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