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Saturday, 18 April 2009

Islamic And Fashionable?

My wife recently on the occasion of her birthday finally decided to mark it by starting to don the tudung and hijab. Thus it seems coincidental that this article appeared in The Star discussing what it would mean to be fashionable in Islam, or is Islamic Fashion an oxymoron in itself.

Firstly let me put together the relevant bits from the article for the base of my comments later. The article mentions that "According to the Quran, men and women are required to dress modestly by covering their aurat, which refers to the area from the navel to the knee for the former and all parts of the body except the face, hands and feet for the latter. However, there has been much debate on how this can be interpreted and how far one needs to go to ensure proper Muslim attire compliance. If the idea is to dress modestly and not attract attention to yourself then surely “Islamic fashion” is a misnomer, as fashion is all about adorning oneself and attracting attention." It goes on to explain the origins of Islamic Malay clothing where " upon conversion to Islam, a whole new concept of covering up emerged among the Malay Muslims, who chose a kind of a tent shape....that the habbaya from the Arabian Peninsula became the kebaya matched with a shawl and sarong, which was tied in a style called tindih kasih. Then there is the Turkish long tunic that became the baju kurung, worn with a wrapped and draped sarong. The wrapping and draping concept appears in the Cik Siti Wan Kembang outfit (from Kelantan) that comes with a wide shawl and, later on (also for Kelantan women), the kain batik lepas, a piece of batik material. The bright 2m coloured fabric was used as a head covering; it became multi-functional to suit daily life,” .

Thus in the present era, fashion from the Islamic point of view is where "The Islamic silhouette does not emphasise the figure, especially the chest. The designs should focus more on practicality, in keeping with Muslim activities in daily life. Which basically means comfortable and practical clothing that a Muslim can wear while performing everyday tasks. In today’s context, the most recognisable form of such comfortable, practical and, of course, modest garment in Malaysia is the baju kurung. That is a variation of the jubah that Muslim women elsewhere wear. Increasingly, Muslim women wear the outfit with a headscarf that’s called hijab in the Middle East but usually is referred to as the tudung, (cover) locally.As the name suggests – from the word kurung which means to confine – this shape of dress was to protect the human body from unwanted elements,”.

Unfortunately Among designers, there are different schools of thought where one feels that it’s about infusing Islamic values and modesty into the world of fashion while the other feels very strongly that fashion and Islam cannot mix as this means to invite people to look at you, and that’s wrong as they feel hat women should be modest and not attract attention.. Nonetheless my own personal opinion agrees with this statement by Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir who is actually against the term Islamic fashion and feels religion and fashion should not be mixed and points out that "“our mothers and grandmothers have been wearing traditional dress all their lives, so are we now saying that they are not Islamic?" Therefore it does really make sense to me when she says that

“I object to it because it implies that those of us who don’t wear these types of garments, particularly if we don’t cover our heads, are not Muslims. I think everyone should dress modestly and that is enough. Dressing in ‘Islamic fashion’ does not mean you are a better Muslim than one who does not.”

“Religion and fashion are two separate worlds. Yes, I think women have a right to dress in any way that pleases them and be modest about it as well. But I don’t think it needs to be called fashion. If it is fashion, not only is it by definition attention-getting but it’s also fleeting and transient and requires you to change every so often, even when there is no reason to.

“Following fashion can enslave you too. Does the Quran give fashion guidelines? No, it just tells us, men and women, to behave modestly. God is beyond fashion.”

So to me the best would be to emphasise on common sense and practicality in Muslim wear and keep in mind that conceptions of modesty and appropriateness vary between different Islamic denominations and individuals, and you may need to straddle the two worlds somewhat uneasily and try to find a balance. I believe the answer may be beyond all of us, and in the end, how one chooses to interpret religion is strictly between oneself and God.

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