Today we celebrate International Women’s Day – a day which honours women’s achievements, their lives and the struggle for equality in this post-modern world. I’ve already heard criticism and grumblings though – some from women saying this day is full of hypocrisy, where companies cash in on a cheesy holiday, before going back to the uncomfortable reality where women aren’t all equal. I’ve also heard some from the men, who feel targeted, pushed out, marginalised and feel that it is unfair (to be honest, there is a International Men’s Day in November, but I’ve never seen it be celebrated.)
One of the reasons why I always like to talk about this day is because I know how much the women in my family have struggled in order for me to have the position, and privilege, that I enjoy today. My paternal grandmother spent her life looking after her husband, then her children, and then her last few years with her sons and grandchildren – but we all saw her as the matriarch, the Queen Bee of the family, and have such fond memories of her. We never knew our maternal grandmother as she died very young, but we have always held her in such high respect – the stories we grew up with about her focused on her being the jewel of her family, a much-wanted daughter and sister. One of the stories I remember being told was about her travelling in her ‘doli’ on her wedding day, and asking to stop so she could pray her salah – this for me was such a humble, awe-inspiring thing to do in the midst of a special day, and a reminder to not get too big for our boots.
And my mother. I could write pages about her. Whenever I read poetry about our roots, our struggles, our blessings, (“Our backs/Tell stories/No books have/The spine to/Hold” – Rupi Kaur), I always think of my mum and what she has taught us while she raised us, as well as what she has endured. My mother married young, and spent her life caring for others, where she never came first – her younger siblings, her husband, her children, her in-laws. I’ve heard a lot of stories from friends, colleagues, bloggers and many more about the relationships they’ve had with their parents, difficult or otherwise which all talk about how they impacted them as adults.
It’s harder to explain the more complex things someone who may not have the same upbringing as us – the emotional-blackmail, the cultural-family politics, the superstitions and the ingrained racism, misogyny and general random weirdness that seems to come part-and-parcel with Asian society. One of the things I was always grateful for was that my mother spared my sisters and I a lot of this headache – she realised the value of letting us be ourselves without forcing us to follow the route she had gone through. We spent our childhood running to the parks, riding bikes, dressing in boy-jeans (well, one of my sisters did anyway), wearing princess dresses (me), devouring books and jumping up and down to Bollywood songs (me again). Our parents were not well off, but my mother spent most of her spare time tailoring, and saved money carefully so that when we needed (or usually just wanted) something frivolous, we always got it.
And shall I tell you about my sisters? One is literally Superwoman – she blogs, works full time, raises five children and still has time for a good natter, to cook, to take her children somewhere fun or find something interesting to do, watch or read. Almost every person I know who also knows her ask me how she does it – I’m a little baffled myself. Then there’s another sister of mine – possibly the most humble person I know, and also the most reliable. I always take her shopping with me (because she lets me be rude to her when she picks out clothes) and she’s always my go-to person for taking photos, organising events or just generally random bits of handy-man advice. And lastly there’s the baker in the family – when we were younger we used to get asked if we twins (we look nothing alike but used to be the same height as kids), and she’s probably one of the few people who loves horror movies way more than I do. I often find that she’ll say something I was thinking, usually the more stupid the more likely! When I was in school, I got told by one of my friends that I talked about my sisters ‘too much’, which I found weird – I always thought I was lucky to have sisters and have always felt sorry for those who don’t.
Having said that, as much as I understand how important it is to recognise and acknowledge the bounds and leaps that women have taken over the years, I feel that it is just as important to understand the issues that women still have. In my workplace I’ve often come across women who have problems, and still have them now. I met a very sweet Afghani women a couple of days ago who broke my heart with her story – she was a teacher in Afghanistan who taught at a girl’s schools, but received many threats for doing so. Her son was abducted, his body found a year later. Her husband was injured in an explosion while driving to work, and she fled the country to Britain in fear of her life. When I went to visit her, her landlord took me aside and quietly asked me to be gentle with her – she had just found out her husband died the day before. Yet when I spoke to her I found her incredibly sweet, thoughtfully asking me if I wanted to sit, to drink anything. I found her strength of character amazing – she was in the middle of grieving yet had time to think of others. There are still countries where women do not have access to basic necessities – clean underwear, sanitary items, clean toilets and even basic rights and freedom. It’s things like this which make us realise how much we take for granted, and how far the world still needs to go before we can consider ourselves equal or fair.
Lastly, I also wanted to share some links for some campaigns and projects that have been brewing recently, in celebration of International Women’s Day:
I’m very proud to say that I know these two wonderful women – Zainab Khan and Maariya Lohar, who with their #trailblazingmuslimwomen campaign put a list of 21 successful women who aimed to make a difference to the world. Their aim, Zainab explained, was motivated by looking at Forbes ‘Under 30’ list and seeing that there weren’t many women of colour, and decided to show the younger generation that there are goals like this which can be reached.
Another campaign close to my heart is run by a close friend who has been showcasing for years a’Modest Fashion Pakistan‘ – the modest lifestyle of Pakistani women, both in Pakistan and around the world. As much as I love Pakistani fashion (and I have a whole blog dedicated to it!), we all agree that the media in Pakistan really doesn’t reflect the ordinary women, and that hijab is not represented as much as it should be. Pakistani fashion in the media is glamorous, exotic, beautiful but not always modest, and it rarely, if never has women in hijabs, and many socialites and bloggers would rather not go for the modest look. Thus the #modestfashionrevolution was born – a campaign to show modest, hijab-wearing Pakistani women around the world, to show beautiful, modest and stylish women who don’t compromise their values.
Finally is The Other Box, a friend’s company which is an award-winning organisation which promotes and supports creative people of colour. It’s a really great initiative, and their latest campaign is with the Skinnydip Sisterhood which showcases 12 amazing women.
This post turned out a little longer than I expected! But I’m glad that I’ve seen so many positive messages out there – one of the things I am glad about it that it gives women a chance to support each other rather than judge and compete with each other. The sad thing is, sometimes our biggest critics are our fellow women, and if International Women’s Day help to combat that then I will always celebrate : )
This is something which has been playing on my mind for a little while – as modest fashion gains more and more exposure, there has been a big impact on the industry. I love that there are more and more Muslimah fashionistas and designers being represented out there, that retailers and brands are starting to take notice of modest fashion and the hijab (whether it’s stocking the clothes or featuring hijab models). Just recently an Indonesian Muslim designer garnered applause for having an all-hijab collection on the runway, and catwalk model Halima Aden also recently made news for wearing her hijab. I recently attended London’s first London Modest Fashion week (with another one happening this Bank Holiday weekend) and I’m pretty sure this is just the start. Vogue Arabia featured Gigi Hadid in a head-scarf, Uniqlo has made news for collaborating with a British-Japanese Muslim designer, and several mainstream companies have began to stock hijab-friendly pieces. In the midst of negativity about hijab, the French niqab-ban, the recent legislation about employers being able to ask employers to remove religious symbols, these are much-needed positivities in the modesty movement.
Modest fashion has been making waves for a while now – from Nigella donning that burqini to bloggers such as Dina Tokio and Nabiilabee who have now grown into becoming pioneers for the fashion industry, influencing the market, including designing their own ranges and even having pieces in mainstream stores – over the last decade it has really exploded and changed from the way it used to be (and I remember when we all used to wear a stretchy hijab when going to Quran lessons as kids which we used to just pull over our heads like little frumps!)
It all sounds so amazing, right? I love that there’s been so much growth in this industry, I do. But there’s also a lot of things which make me concerned about the rise of this multi-billion-dollar market. As a fashion blogger, and a young Muslimah who loves her fashion, and even as just an ordinary consumer, regardless of whether I blog about modest fashion or not, I certainly understand the struggle or getting decent modest clothes. My sisters and I all have memories of looking for suitable clothes as teenagers (and even now, sometimes) – outfits which cover our arms and chest, and look flattering without being fitted, modest without being frumpy, and stylish as well. Sounds like a tall order, and in our earlier years, it felt like it was. So it’s amazing to see the strides that have been taken in the fashion industry, that it’s easier to find pretty, girly maxi dresses which aren’t backless, long tops in pretty colours, or even scarves that are made from a decent material. It certainly makes sense that the reason for this growth is that there are so many others out there who has also had this need, whether it’s Muslim consumers, modest fashion bloggers, or just anyone looking for something which covers up a little more, and that this gap in the market is being filled. It also makes sense that there is a rise of modest fashion designers, online outlets which sell couture designs, and hundreds upon hundreds of companies which sell hijabs, abayas, modest dresses and so on.
So what’s my gripe? My issue is that it feels like a lot of companies are starting to recognise the amount of money being made from modest fashion, and taking their chance to capitalise on it. Now I understand that a business is a business – it needs to make profits and these companies are well within their rights to do so. However I feel that the result of a lot of these companies pushing the prices up means that the market gets inflated – suddenly it feels like a lot of the things which we want and need are expensive – ironic right? The outfits we want are there, but we can’t always afford them.
I’ve noticed, over the years, that some of the bigger designer companies have started to jump on the bandwagon too – D&G released an abaya and hijab collection last summer, and Tommy Hilfiger, Mango and DKNY among a few brands have all released capsule wardrobes for Ramadan in the Middle East in the past. The question in these cases are not why modest fashion is reaching these brands – these changes definitely show that customers fashion choices are being reflected – but more why these are aimed at an Arabian market which already have access to similar things like this, and also the fact that the price tags are only aimed at the richer classes who can afford these. Doesn’t it negate the whole gesture, surely, if the ordinary girls who want to wear this stuff can’t afford it, and don’t have access to the ‘designer’ things?
I’ve seen lots of modest fashion bloggers who collaborate with and promote modest clothing companies to help them become more popular. I’m not in disagreement with this, particularly when it helps a smaller brand, or a business whose ethics I genuinely agree with. I recently met a retailer for a modest clothes company whose outfits were very reasonably priced – the owner and designer of the collection explained to me he knew he could charge more, and chose not to. He said he would rather help more women be modest, do his good work in the name of religion, and sleep well at night – his children were in good university, his wife and himself were well-educated and had enough money, and they were happy with what they have. I was really pleased to hear something like this – as someone who has struggled with money issues in the past (as has everyone), I know it’s easy to get greedy and chase after more money. I loved that this company recognised that it would rather promote modesty in a workable way and still operate a business.
However I have also come across a lot of modest clothing brand who don’t take this stance – whether they like to cultivate an ‘elitist’ stance so that only certain people can wear their brands, whether they charge more because of their unique, customised pieces or even whether they charge these prices because they are ‘normal’. It’s made me pretty upset in the past when brands have cherry-picked who they want to work with – understandably they will pick those who will promote their brand, but it also makes fashion bloggers compete with each other, and creates a circle with excludes a lot of customers who want access to these outfits, and have to pay out of the nose to get them. One of my biggest concerns when I attended the London Modest Fashion week event was that there were plenty of brands and exhibitions to shop from, but I thought some of the things available were too pricey – I had a discussion with a friend who also went to the event a day later who said she would prefer to buy things from a normal high street store because the value for money was better.
So how can we address this issue? Over the years, as fashion has evolved, my attitudes has too. In the past I use to splurge on makeup and clothes (and had the money too!) so could afford to spend more to get what I wanted. These days, it’s not so much the money but the principle of getting quality for my money which has made me more picky. Can’t find a reasonably priced maxi dress? Buy some loose fabric and get it tailored (although we all know the struggle of finding a decent tailor who won’t charge the earth and also gives us our outfits on time!). Support a smaller brand who will appreciate feedback and pay attention to the products. Look at fair-trade companies who work ethically – it’s one thing supporting a Muslim company, but what about one who works in a green, ethical way?
I’d love to know your thoughts on this – have you noticed the difference in the rise of modest fashion too? For those of you who wear modest clothes, what have you opted to do?
Some of you may read my other blog, which is a fashion/beauty blog about all things to do with Pakistani and Indian fashion trends, modest fashion, makeup and random ramblings (and some of you probably found this blog via that one!) I have been blogging for about six or seven years now, and have noticed that as my priorities and interests have changed, my posts and articles have accordingly adapted over time as well.
One of the things I have had some conflicts with as a fashion blogger (or is it influencer now? I’m still undecided about that word) is the fact that I don’t show my face, whether it’s for outfit posts, or pictures from weddings, events or makeup swatches. My concerns are this – as I’ve been writing for some time and I have been getting more public interest in the couple of years because of my clothes, wedding posts and experiences which I have blogged about, I have had more exposure which means more opportunities to work with new brands. However I feel that a lot of the bigger bloggers I follow or who have successful businesses, have become successful because they themselves are the brand – they are recognisable, easy to relate to and trust, and because of this they are able to fit into a market who are comfortable with them.
Initially I never used to show my face in blog posts (I used to just cut my head off my pictures before I posted) for several reasons: firstly, I liked the anonymity, you can get away with a LOT more when people don’t know you. Secondly, I never showed my face for kind-of religious reasons – I don’t blog because I’m fishing for compliments or want someone to say I’m good-looking (that’s what Facebook and my husband are for), but because I want to show how fashion can be modest, stylish and wearable. The whole point of my fashion blog is about what I wear, and what I have in my wardrobe, rather than what I look like. I wear a hijab and the concept of it also includes having some modesty both in behavior and physical appearance, so why not incorporate that in my blog? Thirdly, I was also a little self-conscious because a lot of my personal friends and colleagues don’t know I blog – call it silly but I find it easier to write if I’m less self-conscious about who is reading it!
I have thought about it for a while, because as much as I’d like to protect my anonymity and modesty, there are still some pros which you can’t argue with. I am a bit of a risk-taker at times, and I can see the appeal in the idea of myself and my identity as a brand. It’s not that I’m shy, or that my identity is a big secret (even though I do fight crime at night sometimes), and really, it’s not even about whether I have a problem showing my face. But I have often found that a lot of blog readers and followers feel more connected to Instagrammers and bloggers that they can recognise, especially when there’s a lot of personal issues being shared. A big part of blogging is being transparent not just about who sponsors your posts or whom you collaborate with but also who you are. The most successful blogs are the ones where the bloggers are open about sharing opinions and parts of their lives.
The real issue is that if I decided to show what I look like, the pictures are out there, and it’s hard to go back. In today’s digital age, pictures can be shared faster than WhatsApp rumours, and I like the fact that right now, I have control over my images and my identity.
There’s also the fact that a lot of girls (and guys) can be pretty awful to bloggers, you have to pretty emotionally strong to be able to not let negative comments affect you, ruin your day or even influence your behavior. I’ve been lucky enough not to get many negative comments, but it can still be pretty tempting to lose your way by trying to please your audience or maintain popularity. The other issue is that I am in a place in my life where I am pretty confident in myself, my self-image and my place in life – and I can imagine that the struggle to maintain a ‘pretty face’ for a blog, or the psychological impact it could have.
You could even say that the issue isn’t showing my face exactly, since even if I did, I’d still dress modestly and would still wear hijab. Another thing I have always considered is the idea of ‘nazar’ (or the ‘evil eye’ which might intentionally or unintentionally come from envy), which is something I do believe in, which could arise once I lose that anonymity.
There are, fortunately a few ‘big’ bloggers who I do follow, that have managed to remain faceless, and quite successfully so. One blogger I’ve always been a fan of has complained in the past that it’s amazing how some people just don’t get that they want to remain ‘faceless bloggers’. She described a fashion event just last week (which I also attended) where a few of her followers took pictures of her when she was walking around, even when she went to the restroom; when she confronted them to ask them to delete the pictures, they told her she should expect this kind of thing to happen and shouldn’t have become a blogger if she didn’t want pictures taken of her. While I can understand that if you’re successful and on the fashion scene, you can’t really stop other people for taking your pics and posting them on social media or magazines – I also think there should be a line drawn for respecting privacy.
In the past my ‘facelessness’ has affected me in that one or two fashion brands who wanted to promote their brands have wanted to work with me, and in the end I have turned them down because they did not want to crop my face out. At the time it was a little upsetting, as it made me feel that I had ruined my prospects a little if I wanted to work with future companies, and also I had noticed difference in the way that bloggers who did choose to work with those company treated me. However, in the long run, I don’t regret my decision – I like the fact that I kept control over the content and photos of me, and if a company isn’t able to respect that, then perhaps they are not for me.
There have been times when I have debated for some time about showing my face, especially as I never have done in the past with my blogs. I spoke to a few friends about it, my sisters and even on blogger forums, and in the end I decided not to because I don’t want my posts and articles to be about how I look, as much as what I’m wearing, what I am doing and even who I am. In the long run, I’m pretty happy with my decision because although I’m not shy or have a secret identity (apart from the night-time crime-fighting stuff), I like having control over my privacy, and I think it also keeps me pretty humble.
The way I think of it, as Islamic as I try to be and however I try to live my life as modestly and well as possible, I will always, always love fashion and makeup, which I think I’ll always be channeling through my blogs and social media. This isn’t a bad thing, and I love that I can work with new ideas and different companies, and as I am a pretty visual person and will always want pictures to be a part of my posts, I think I can do this without compromising my values. I understand that readers might identify with me more if they know what I look like and can visualise me, I think that I will be able to engage better when I show who I am in a more relatable level (like this post, for example!)
Some people have suggested using body doubles or models – this would work for a company but not for something personal like my own blog – when I go on holidays and days out, do I take a body double with me? I think not. In all honestly, this is something which has bothered me less and less over the years, as I have seen a lot of fellow bloggers follow the lead in ‘faceless blogging’ (like my elder two sisters here and here!) – influencing without making it about the way we look or how beautiful we are. I’m also at a pretty good comfort level right now, and am enjoying the things I do blog about, the events I go to and the pictures I post of myself. At the end of it, it’s not because I’m paranoid about how gorgeous I am or not, it’s the concept of hijab for me, and the principles that come with it.
Happy World Hijab day everyone, whether you wear hijab or not, and whether you are Muslim or not.
I think it’s pretty apt that it’s World Hijab Day today after so many troubling recent events – whether it is events in America such as the new legislations being put in by Trump, the devastating shooting in Quebec at a mosque or whether it is the general spotlight on Muslims, the attitudes of people around us and even the growing Islamophobia a lot of us have begun to come across.
In the midst of all this, there are so many reports of solidarity, beautiful, moving protests, rallies and speeches which celebrate the beautiful in Islam and helps women be confident in their religion and hijab. I read yesterday a comment from someone on a social media forum who said he was glad Trump was elected, even if he did vote for him – his being elected led to the outpouring of support, the solidarity and the show of friendships being shown from across the world have served to unite us and give us hope that there are people out there who support other religions.
So in that way, at the risk of sounding like an epic fantasy movie, I will say this – in dark times, there is light. I have seen so many examples of the very best of humanity in their celebration of not just the right to wear hijab, but the right to practise our religion. These days, hijab is so much more than the right to cover and be modest – it is our way of life, our right to be Muslims and a representation of women who, amidst struggle and discrimination, show their very best in themselves.
There are some who have criticised World Hijab Day, saying it is too politicised and has been made into an agenda to make money, or even push a non-related feminist idea. I say this is silly, because for ordinary women this is a chance to express their love for hijab, set an example to their families and friends and also show non-Muslims the beauty of hijab. There is also the criticism that celebrating hijab inevitably suggests that non-hijabis or ‘exposed’ women have something to be ashamed of, or that they are doing something wrong. It is very difficult to wear a hijab and be confident with it – yet including myself, most women I know who wear hijab really aren’t trying to make a statement or make anyone feel inferior or less. It is never okay to harass a women just because she chooses not to cover, just as it is not okay to bully and harass a woman for wearing a hijab. It is also not okay to assume that wear a hijab automatically makes you better, more blessed or more privileged than anyone else, just as it is not okay to assume women are oppressed because they choose to wear hijab.
I have been very lucky to be surrounded by friends, work colleagues and family who are very supporting of my choice to wear hijab, and been sheltered from a lot of negativity and abuse from people who don’t understand Islam or our reasons for hijab. It has become so much more normal, acceptable and even fashionable to wear a hijab – just look at any London street and you’ll see plenty of us walking around and leading our lives.
World Hijab Day is not just about the act of wearing hijab as a human right, but actually protecting the right of an individual to safely make that choice. With hijab comes a lot of responsibilities and rights, and it is great to have a day to celebrate wearing it openly, whether you choose to or not.
In that spirit, I’ll leave you with an image I saw yesterday which I loved – a Jewish father and son allying with a Muslim parent and his veiled daughter. It’s such a simple picture, but beautiful – this is how it should be, united. I have read a few complaints online and from Jewish friends about the concerns of anti-Semitism, particularly from Muslims. I would like to say that this is not all of us, our religion teaches us to respect others’ faith and unite over our similarities rather than fight over differences.
Assalaamu ‘Alaikum Wa Rahmatullah (May Peace and Mercy of Allah be upon You.)
I love that there’s an official celebration for hijab every year, and the message that World Hijab Day tries to promote. While the event tries to promote hijab and show the various fashionistas, business women and pioneers of hijabi women, I think that it’s also more important in showing the non-hijabi women out there what it’s like and how empowering hijab can be, rather than oppressive.
I’ve seen a lot of fabulous hijab stories out there already, and it’s amazing to see them come from countries all over the world – for me it just proves that modesty and hijab can be a universal concept, rather than just restricted to the idea of a piece of fabric covering your head. I have said before that I believe it’s important to send an important message to our younger generation of girls – hijab is not something to be ridiculed, ashamed of or misunderstood, and that there is nothing wrong with wanting to cover. If there are questions about it, we are always happy to spread awareness and show the reasons why we cover.
I have heard it said that us ‘hijabi’ bloggers can get a little obssessive over the hijab and tend to write about it too much – while I agree that we see it as part of our identity, perhaps we write about it so that we can get others to understand how we feel and who we are. I do think that the hijab brings out a lot of our inner traits which we may not necessarily be confident about if we were too focused on the way we look – in today’s Facebookin’, Intagrammin’, Twitterin’ generation, this is becoming more and more important to us.
But I’ll leave you with something a little more light-hearted – perhaps we love our hijab so much because it allows us to show women’s beauty and what we love about ourselves – I certainly think it helps me enhance my bright lipstick of the day!
I’ve never really struggled with my hijab the way some of my fellow Muslim sisters have, mostly because I’m generally quite comfortable in my self-identity, and it also strongly helps that I live in such a diverse multicultural society. I have heard plenty from fellow sisters though – stories of girls who feel that they have lost their identity once wearing the hijab, girls who want to prevent harassment they get because of it, even those who were made to feel like they had to wear it as young girls and feel a lot of anger and resentment towards it. Personally, I’ve been fortunate enough to have enough support around me to never make me feel that there was anything that I lacked or which made me less of a person than anyone else around me. If you’ve read my hijab story, you may understand why I chose to wear it – it was a symbolic act for me as well as a form of progression, and it definitely signalled a stage of life where I looked forward to the person I wanted to be.
In the last few months, or even perhaps year or so, I have felt a little unease – not with my own self-image or internal struggles, but with the external pressures – world events which have increasingly put the spotlight on us, the attitudes of people around us and even the growing islamophobia and fears a lot of us have begun to come across.
For me personally, it’s not so much the big things, but the little things which have made a difference. I remember my sister telling me about attitudes after the 7/7 attack ten years ago, when a few Muslim women in London were spat on, attacked or had a lot of racial abuse – there were some instances of this but on the whole, a lot of London rallied around and refused to call their fellow citizens terrorists. Certainly, myself, I didn’t feel excluded or as if I was treated differently, although perhaps it was a little different for me as I was in university at the time and was surrounded by peers who understood I was just a simple east London girl, and not a terrorist.
These days, I’m feeling a little differently. I think the recent Paris attacks, the ‘Charlie Hebdo’ incident and various terror incidents around the world have caused some sensational headlines and reactions, which is understandable but also a little scary. I’ve noticed it, as I have said, in the small things – the rude comments when going home on the train from white, male strangers, the dirty looks from an older couple who don’t know who I am or what kind of person I am, even the younger generation who have perhaps heard their parents talk about ‘Pakis’ and what we ‘do’, and feel that it is okay to call someone a name. It doesn’t happen a lot, but it has happened. I think my sister described it best – sometimes these people think that it is okay to treat someone like this because they don’t know how to express themselves, and they don’t know how to say to someone ‘I am scared of you because you are different.’ Perhaps too many of them have read dramatic headlines from The Sun and think that because it is printed, it must be right, and perhaps, some of them just need an excuse to channel their frustrations.
And of course, this isn’t just restricted to hijab scarves worn on the head – it’s any form of hijab. I’ve had sisters tell me it’s so much harder projecting a positive image, whether it’s from the turban hijab, the burqa or the niqaab (face-covering veil). All of these have an influence on people’s first impressions of us, and it can be a little depressing that some people may revert to negatives when seeing it.
It puts me in mind of a colleague of mine, who I have known for a few years – she joined my team from another department a while ago, and it fell to me to train her. This was a sister who wore not just the hijab, but niqaab (face-covering veil), although she opted not to wear it in the office until she went out, partly because of office-policy. It was easy for me to treat her normally because the niqaab is not a scary thing to me, and I have grown up understanding it. But when it was time for her to go out for lunch, or make routine visits which required going outside, and she would stand up to fix her hijab and put on her niqaab on top, there’d be a slight drop in conversation, a lull where people in the team tried not to notice. Speaking to team members on separate occasions, I heard a lot of comments about why she chose to wear it, about how it was a little off-putting, and the assertion/reassurance that ‘oh but you’re alright, I like you’ because I was more relatable and less scary than someone who wore a niqaab and covered her face. It made me see that although there isn’t a deliberate intention in this attitude, there is a little ignorance, and it’s too easy for those who don’t understand to resort to rude comments or hostility.
I had a conversation recently with a colleague of mine, an older man with two daughters in their late teens. He said that his eldest daughter wore a hijab and had chosen to do so herself, and it was something she didn’t have any issues with either. However, as a parent he was concerned about her safety travelling around London after the Paris attacks, and suggested to her that it would be okay if she wanted to take it off.
“I told her that if she wanted to, if she thought it would make her feel safer, she should remove her hijab. I know why she wears it, but as a parent it’s also worrying that she may face harassment because of it, we all want our children to be protected. Of course, she straightaway answered ‘Dad I’m not taking it off, don’t be silly, I would never do it’. She doesn’t understand that I just want her to be safe. But in my heart, when I heard her say that, it made me feel so proud. I was so proud of her because of her strength and her faith, even though I do still worry.”
This isn’t an unfamiliar sentiment, and it’s also not the first time I’ve heard from fellow Muslims about the idea of taking it off – even my husband tentatively suggested to me once that perhaps for safety, I shouldn’t wear my hijab it to a European holiday we went on earlier this year. I answered that the best way to educate someone would be to stick to your beliefs and show that Muslims are people too, and can have fun on holidays, rather than conform to someone else’s fears and feel restricted. He’s never asked me since whether I would do this (perhaps he knows how stubborn I am), but I know I am certainly not alone in this feeling.
I won’t deny it is worrying – my eldest niece has worn a hijab at a pretty young age, and as fierce as she is, she is still a young girl. She has her own influences – hijabi bloggers, her mother, Youtube tutorials, friends at school that she shares her hijab tips with – and while I know she is too strong to be put off the hijab, I hate the idea that a stranger can treat her differently because of it. It makes me angry and it makes me upset that a first impression can be almost callously created like that – but it also makes me more determined.
Determined because I know that we can do our best to prove the opposite, so that our fellow Londoners can see the best of us, and because for every ugly, ignorant person I can met, I have encountered dozens of kind-hearted, open people. Perhaps I love London so much (I did do my University dissertation about the city, after all!) and because I have lived here my whole life, it makes me believe that it really is a multi-cultural society which embraces our quirks and differences and makes us proud to have them.
I’m waiting to see how things change in this new year – perhaps I’ll see more patience from people who are willing to see us and not the skin colour, hijab or ethnicity we have. Certainly I’ve met enough bloggers, fashionistas, artists, chefs and charity-runners recently who have done everything they can to make a difference. I point you to Maha, a friend of mine who not only went out to Turkey and Greece last summer to meet Syrian refugees and raise money for them, but also went out to Calais during her Christmas holidays to visit more of the displaced and homeless, in order to give them food and clothing. I point to someone I met a few days ago, Nabila, who ran an event to raise money to sponsor orphans. A long-standing acquaintance of mine Rahima, who has endlessly been running a charity to help minority groups such as the Rohingya over the last decade. Farrah, a radio presenter who holds charity events to raise awareness and money for little-talked about issues such as Asian women with depression, or suicide.
In the end, I’m hoping that the anger and anxiety around us gives way to a more sensible mentality. While there have been ignorant views and unkind words from some, it does cheer me to see a lot of people defend us hijabis as well, and show their common sense and compassion. I hope my (not-so-little) rant makes sense to you, and I’m definitely hoping there’s readers out there who see my concerns. Perhaps one day I’ll be proved wrong, heck, I’m hoping my nieces and those of the younger generations will wonder on on earth I’m thinking about because it’s never cross their minds : )
February 1st marks the annual World Hijab Day, which celebrates not just the cloth which covers women’s faces or hair, but the idea of modesty, and the concept of liberation through covering yourself.
You can read my hijab story here, but I love that hijab is becoming more and more prominent in today’s times, and that women are feeling more confident in expressing not only what it means, but how it can influence others positively. I also love the fact that it encourages non-Muslims to experience hijab for a day and see what it means.
Since recent events such as the Paris attacks, the Sydney attacks and the Peshawar school attacks, it is hard to show Islam being portrayed as a peaceful religion, and I feel more wary that there is more hostility towards the hijab and what it symbolises. Echoing my sister’s words, this is not my faith, it is hard to separate some people’s perceptions of hijab, modesty and Islam and equating them with violence and terrorism.
Having said that, just as we do not want all Muslims to be tarred with the ‘terrorist’ brush, nor do we want all speakers to be considered as ‘ignorance’ or ‘bigoted’. I have heard the views from a few Jewish friends that they have started to feel that there is some anti-Semitism being directed towards them, that Britain is becoming less tolerant to non-secular faiths, and that they don’t feel entirely comfortable with how they are being portrayed. I can understand the feeling, it is easy to be prejudiced without knowing both parts of the story, and I feel that there is an increasing amount of censorship in the media which doesn’t help.
There have been some beautiful stories, however, which shows that there’s plenty of hope yet. After the Sydney attacks, for example, the trending hashtag #Illridewithyou has started a beautiful series of gestures from non-Muslims who have offered to accompany hijabi women and prevent attacks. I’ve seen it since, being used in various countries, tweeted out, shared on Instagram, Facebook, and showing a united front and understanding for women in hijab. It gives me a huge smile, to see that there are plenty of people out there who don’t judge a woman for her beliefs or what’s on her head.
If all else fails, here’s understanding Hijab for Dummies, although I’m sure you just need to look outside the window and see a passing Muslimah in hijab. If you do see one, give her a smile and look past the cloth, underneath will be a beautiful woman whose biggest attribute will be her modesty and her kind heart.
Signs that you grew up in the 90s to Asian/Desi parents, or, 12 cheap ways to save your household costs
I am often reminded of the various facets of myself which has roots in various places; I am a British-Pakistani Muslim woman, waist-deep in Western culture and society, the other half of me in Middle Eastern and Pakistani idioms. Like many of my peers. I have followed various influences through high school colleges and university, and found myself in the nine-to-five workplace. I’ve watched the popular American television series, the dry-wit British stand-up shows, the silly YouTube videos gone viral and the thought-provoking Islamic lectures and Ted Talks. Not to mention all the Lollywood and Bollywood films you can think of, which certainly added a spice to my cultural awareness.
I’ve spoken about my family briefly before, and certainly think that growing up in the 90s had its own charm, and also was its own nightmare. One of the reasons we can relate so much to the classic 90s tv series awesomeness that was Goodness Gracious Me was that they were able to capture so well everything that makes us British-Asians – being cheesy, sarcastic, admiring our roots while recognising how embarrassing we (and our parents!) are. This post was long overdue in the list of things which I’m sure many of you will recognise in your own family’s upbringing (although please note I’m not trying to write anything offensive, and if anything I should be the most offended that most of these things happened to me in my poor, defenceless childhood)
1. Cover everything with plastic – the carpet, the sofa, the remote control, half of the furniture in the house (it took us a couple of years to convince my parents to take the sheeting off our new dining table set) and even our mobile phone screens – remember that? We were one of millions of forward-thinking families to ‘protect’ and cover the hallways with plastic runners (all of which are pretty much identical in every house). Years later, when we finally convinced our parents to remove the plastic, the carpet underneath looked as brand new as the day we bought it, and the ones that were exposed looked like something had died and decayed on it. But the thing is, it was a normal thing to do in the nineties, because every other house down the road did exactly the same thing. Another thing our mums did? Cover the cooker over top with foil so that any food that spilled would get caught in the foil, which you could just pick up and throw away. My mum stopped doing that about 10 years ago when she got fed up of the foil getting caught on fire, and also because I think she didn’t see the point in covering (wasting!) in foil when you’d still have to clean the cooker because some piece of food wriggled underneath. Something my mum still does is line all of the cupboards and drawers with old wallpaper or sheets, but that’s probably good practise (and not so funny either, I suppose). My mum even used to lovely sew pretty sofa covers (which we could have tried to pass off as boho and eclectic throws, but it blatantly wasn’t), with frills and all, to cover the sofas. I’m not sure what we were trying to do, whether we wanted to preserve the sofas and carpets for the next ten years, especially as we don’t have any of the same furniture of carpet now. The first thing we did when we bought a new television a couple of years back was, yep, rip off the plastic before my mum even opened her mouth to stop us.
2. Buying new things was a big event in our house, and even bigger was then showing them to family and friends so that they would go out and buy the same thing if they liked it. I remember my aunt coming to our house and seeing our red and cream patterned sofas, then buying the same ones for her own house (which were there for years). It is with great relief that I can say none of the original furniture from my childhood remains in the house (except possibly my parent’s my dad’s old bookshelf which has gotten away with being in the hallway, and which no one moves because it’s a good place to surreptitiously put unwanted plastic bags and extra creams that mysteriously appear). Similarly, we’d all be involved in a trip to go buy something like a vacuum for the house, my dad would expertly examine it for flaws (and then never be the one to use it), while we all sat bored and begging to go to the toys aisle.
We weren’t a well-off family and didn’t often have new things – one thing we all remember is hand-me-downs from older siblings (I didn’t have it as bad because I was the youngest, but one of my sisters remembers having hand-me-downs from my brother which was less pretty!) My parents were very thrifty and careful with what they had, and it’s a trait we’ve all manage to inherit – it also meant having an array of junk in our house because things were on sale/free/being given away. These days internet shopping is a great revelation in my house (and not just because I buy a lot of junk, my dad is the worst) – it’s a big jumble sale out there and it’s easy to go crazy. Except for my mum, who still buys everything in cash and almost always finds a bargain in any store.
3. Who says you can’t fit eight people in a five-person car? You’re just not squeezing people inside hard enough. Coming from a family where I was the youngest of five, I spent most of my childhood squashed/half-couched in the feet area of the back seats (back then I was the skinniest and the smallest, which meant I got the least space). Oddly enough, although we should have spent half our journeys terrified of the police stopping us over for overcrowding a vehicle, we never worried about it, and it never happened to us. Booster seats for toddlers and seat-belts? Pah. Our car wasn’t that glamorous either, we had an ugly white Nissan when I was a child , which then got upgraded to an ugly red Nissan a few years later – although both of which still weren’t as embarrassing as the yellow three-wheeler down the road.
4. Reading books are full of nonsense and put silly ideas in your head. My sisters and I are all avid readers, and have been since we learned our alphabet as little toddlers. I remember holding my sister’s (sometimes my Dad’s) hand and being led to the local library which was minutes up the road as a child, and being in awe at the sheer number of books lining the shelves, getting greedy over how many we could take home. My parents, on the other hand, hated it. They hated the fact that we’d go glazed-eyed and deaf once we got stuck in a book (they had to shout at us up the stairs a good few times to get our attention), the fact that we wouldn’t stop reading for hours, or the fact that our books took up piles of space next to our beds. I remember being engrossed in books which I refused to put down even when eating, ignoring the television to put a book next to my play and accidentally drip a bit of food into the pages, which would drive my parents nuts. Even now our rooms (in all of our respective houses!) still fill up with books and crowd the bookshelves (which our parents keep threatening to dump in a landfill every so often, but we know they’re just empty threats).
5. PG films didn’t apply to us. As long as there wasn’t any inappropriate scenes about K-I-S-S-I-N-G, we became pretty desensitized to violent films, because our parents didn’t see them as unsuitable. Mind you, the kissing thing became pretty old, we could be watching a scene from an innocent, joyful Christmas family movie, and as soon as any kissy scenes came on, the channel got changed, and we’d lose control over the remote.* Gory killing scenes in Predator were okay though, cos that was just men running around with knives. There’s been many a film that we didn’t see the ending of because of this problem.
6. Yes, our parents were those ones who said if you didn’t get A grades, you might as well not have bothered. Admittedly, we were lucky enough to be that family which were high achievers at school and who made our cousins’ lives (unintentionally) miserable because their parents were always smacking them on the head asking them why they couldn’t get our grades. Also funnily enough, when I got my GCSE grade, the majority of which were A grades, my dad pointed out that I only got a B in Maths, which was a bit of a let-down – yet a day later a few of my uncles congratulated me saying my dad had praised my grades. My dad wanted one of us to be a mathematician (because it was his favourite subject) and my mum would have preferred it if one of us did something respectable like become a doctor or lawyer. Seeing as no one in the family has yet to reach these lofty statuses yet, I’m still waiting for them to transfer their attentions on the grandkids.
7. Clothes and fashion in the 90s wasn’t as glamorous as they are for us today, and we didn’t have it all thought out. My sister and I are 18 months apart, which meant that as kids, we got dressed exactly the same. We looked nothing the same as kids (and even less so as adults), but this didn’t stop my mum from dressing us up exactly the same, and for relatives to ask if we were twins. Another cost-saving fashion method we had was to buy a roll of fabric and for all the girls in the family to have the same outfit stitches (which we’d have to wear at the same time) – hence our aversion as adults to wear anything pink, frilly, netted or similar to anything any other sister is wearing. And my brother wasn’t spared either, we have many photographs of him growing up displaying his stylish shell-suits with his curtain hair styles.
8. Bollywood films were a staple when we were going up, as much as Power Rangers, Blue Peter and the Indiana Jones films were. Every week, my mum would send one of us to the corner video shop to pick up the latest pirated Bollywood video tape and watch huddled together in the living room (they were a lot more family friendly than they are now, no kissing scenes here). My dad hated us watching Bollywood films, so we would watch it whenever he went out with (blatant, over-acted) ‘stealth’, – whenever we’d hear the sound of his key in the door and him stepping into the house, we would be scrambling around to switch the VCR off and pretend to be staring at the news/carpet/empty bowl when he came in.
9. Weddings in the 90s were a world away from the grand affair they are now. Weddings in the 90s were purely about eating food, wearing puffy dresses and tinsel, and lots of cramped seating. And don’t get me started on the cringe-worthy wedding videos and their ‘special’ effects (one of my uncle’s wedding videos features the cameraman’s hand holding up a piece of glass to make a kaleidoscopic effect in the lens. It worked, too). Compared to the bridezillas of today who take a microscopic look at wedding dresses, cakes, flowers, seating arrangements and a hundred other things, wedding back in the day involved booking a hall and food, turning up, watching at least one fight and leaving as soon as you ate. The poor bride was usually miserable and spent the whole time with her head down, and the groom was usually an obscure figure on the stage. The best thing I remember about those days was running around with the other kids and picking up loose change on the floor (and feeling really rich!)
10. Family portraits were another disaster in our household, and not just because of the fashion faux pas – I don’t think we have a single family picture which has everyone with a straight face (one of us were usually sniggering or hiding behind someone else). My sisters remember my mum telling them not to smile too much (and keep their teeth inside their mouths) because it didn’t look respectable in pictures – which is a far cry from the fake smiles and poses we all have today (I’m pretty sure we could submit a lot of ours to this website). A lot of our pictures from an early age look quite serious and sombre, usually because we were sitting on sofas in the front room which we weren’t usually meant to go in, which is ironic because I don’t think any of us were particularly miserable children. These days we’re all about arty-farty pictures and looking our best in pictures (okay that’s probably just me, but still), and the grandkids in my family have grown up with camera phones in front of their faces.
11. Food in our house was another affair which hasn’t changed. I watched Russell Peters at one of his stand-up shows once, and he correctly talked about how our mums only ever cooked whatever our dads wanted, no matter whether we wanted it or not. This was the same in our house – I can remember countless number of times that my mum made my dad’s favourite food (usually lentils) while we all moaned about wanting chicken and chips. We also didn’t eat out or have much junk food as kids (which is probably a good thing in hindsight) – I think I was about 13 when I had my first McDonald fish burger. Whenever we wanted junk food, my mum would make us home-made fish and chips (peeled and chopped potatoes, of course!) on Sundays, or otherwise make us home-made kebabs to put in burger buns. Over time we discovered halal chicken burger shops, and I remember making weekly trips with one of my sisters after saving up all of our 5ps and 10ps to buy burgers from the local shops (with all of our change in our hands, who needs purses?)
12. Storing and hoarding is a trait that probably all Asian (and other ethnicities) family have – we can’t bear to throw anything away. We have a cellar full of junk from our childhood which we are constantly trying to clear and then end up filling up again. Granted, we’re a lot more neater at storing our junk than those weird shows you see on tv (and we uses to think that the number of books we had were bad, until we drove past a house once which had newspapers and books lining the hallway in stacks until it reached the front door). Part of the problem is we hate to chuck something that we’d paid for, especially because we think we’ll need it again (we won’t). My dad even built a shed (which we’ve named the cow-shed) to ‘store’ our extra tools and things, and which is our latest dumping ground (plus it’s a haven for spiders so everyone’s too scared to go in there).
Another habit we all have is storing and stockpiling enough food and toilet paper to fuel a small country, even though my mother goes shopping every week to buy more of these. We always say that if there’s ever a siege, at least we won’t starve or need toilet paper.
All in all, there were plenty of embarassing moments (this is just the tip of the ice-berg, really!) but there were also lots of perks. Things were simpler then, video games were easier to play (have you tried to play one now? jeez.), cartoon shows were better, we weren’t obssessed with mobiles and the internet, and being an Asian nerd wasn’t always a bad thing if it meant you got A grades at school instead of beats (I rememeber a boy in my class on results day who didn’t go home for two days because he was too scared to tell his parents his grade, when he finally came home they told him they’d been waiting for him to come and show his results).
I’m sure there’s a part two of this coming soon, but in the mean-time, I’m off to browse 90s films to make fun out of (starting with this one, one of the funniest re-caps I’ve read!)
*Ownership of the remote control is a serious thing in our house (I have no idea if this is a thing in other people’s house, although I suspect it is) ‘Having’ the remote is taken pretty seriously, and whoever has it is a lucky devil because they can hold on it and control what everyone else watches. The only exception to this is my dad who has the power to take the remote and change it to Geo channel or BBC news at any and all times, no matter how much we might complain.
I wasn’t aware until recently there was such a thing as World Hijab Day, but I’m very glad there is. I LOVE the concept behind this movement. Rather than an act of worship in this case, it’s a way to promote awareness about hijab as well as the idea of modesty in Islam, the emancipation of women and of women everywhere sharing their stories. (I was meant to post this yesterday but I didn’t get time to, so just assume that this has been continued from 1st Feb!)
The brainchild of this movement is a New York resident, Nazma Khan, who came up with the idea as a means “to foster religious tolerance and understanding by inviting women (non-Hijabi Muslims/non-Muslims) to experience the hijab for one day”.
Personally, I think this is a brilliant idea – the best way to combat ignorance, or if not ignorance then genuine questions about hijab and Islam, is to get people to see it through your eyes.
I’ll be posting more about this soon, but for now, I wanted to know your views on World Hijab Day – would you participate if you didn’t wear hijab? And do you think it’s a necessary event?
From my view, I think it’s an excellent excuse to celebrate my hijab and my choices (*throws on sequinned blingy scarf and matching disco lights*) – and I’ll leave you with this statement below: