Hijabistas of the Region
hee.jah.bee.stahz (noun) fashion-forward hijab-wearers: With a rise of affluence coupled with the desire to practice our faith, the number of hijabistas in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta is getting bigger! Aquila Style reports on the rising trend.
Community-Based Hijabistas of Jakarta
What began simply as a small gathering of friends has quickly blossomed into a growing movement sweeping the whole country. By Laila Achmad.
IT ALL BEGAN with four Jakarta hijabistas: Islamic fashion prodigy Dian Pelangi, fashion designer Ria Miranda and the ladies behind fashion blog Hijab Scarf, Fifi Alvianto and Hanna Faridl. They first met at one of Dian’s fashion shows and have been good friends ever since. In Ramadhan last year, they conceived the idea of organising a large meet-up with fellow hijabis in Jakarta, simply to expand their network and to make new friends. So Dian, Ria, Fifi and Hanna organised an iftar get-together at a Jakarta mall, spreading the word that any hijabis were welcome to join.
Dian Pelangi enthusiastically reminisces, ‘I expected around 20 people to come. I was so surprised when 50 lovely ladies showed up! We didn’t even have a reservation for that many people!’ The turnout was wonderfully unexpected.
Several hijabis who met at the iftar event continued to regularly hang out together, until one day when they came up with the idea of creating a community. And thus, Hijabers Community was born. ‘At first, we communicated with each other only through group messaging on our mobile phones. Then in January this year, we set up our committee and by March, we had our official launch,’ Dian proudly explains.
Hijabers Community’s objective is not so different from other communities: creating a fellowship based on commonalities – in their case, the hijab. ‘We’re all about sharing useful information, from Islamic studies to hijab tutorials, anything that will make us better Muslimahs,’ says Dian. They then publish their updates through social media – blogs, Twitter and Facebook – to share their knowledge. ‘We don’t like to keep things to ourselves. We want everyone to gain information from us and we’d like to keep expanding our network. Who knows? Maybe one day we can even go international,’ Dian adds.
Iftar Refers to the evening meal when Muslims break their fast in Ramadhan, the holy ninth month of the Islamic calendar when Muslims fast from dawn till dusk
The public has welcome them with open arms. When Hijabers Community set up their Twitter account, it attracted 1,000 followers on the first day. Perhaps not surprisingly, other hijabi communities that claim to be branches of Hijabers Community Jakarta have also popped up all over the country. ‘Even before our launch, we’d heard about Hijabers Community Yogyakarta, Surabaya and many others. Today, Hijabers Community Palembang and Batam have had their launches. Can you believe that? So without any help from us, many sisters have initiated their own hijabi communities because of their high enthusiasm for this sisterhood,’ beams Dian.
The original Hijabers Community would love to organise those ‘branches’ under one umbrella and make them official one day. ‘It’s not impossible to have a branch in every city in Indonesia, but it’s going to be a lot of work and requires thorough discussions.’
Aside from official branches, another thing that Hijabers Community wants to work on is membership. So far, the community has no actual members, consisting only of committees. ‘So many people have asked to join us, but for now, we haven’t set up a membership [system] for Hijabers Community yet. The reason is because it’s not easy,’ clarifies committee member Tia Adritia. With hundreds of requests, it is certainly going to be a lot of work. First, Tia says, a proper database is needed. Then, most essentially, the committees need to figure out what they can offer their members.
‘Stylish’ is among the words that describe the ladies of Hijabers Community. They often cleverly create many models of head covers from various types of fabrics, and combine clothes to make outfits worthy of a fashion spread. Being unmistakable head-turners for their style, it is easy to assume that the sole interest of the ladies of Hijabers Community is fashion. Dian explains, ‘Well, like all girls, we do love fashion and we always try to create our own unique style, but our focus is a mix of other things, too. We combine fashion and faith.’
In fact, Hijabers Community has already filled their agenda with upcoming programmes that precisely blend faith and fashion, such as fundraising events and Islamic study sessions combined with fashion bazaars. Their programmes will also revolve around Muslimah issues, from women’s health seminars to hijab tutorial classes. ‘All in all, we focus on events that beautify Muslimahs not only on the outside, but also the inside,’ says Restu Anggraeni, a petite event committee member, who has a Muslimah clothing label of her own.
One of the Hijabers Community’s biggest dreams does, however, revolve around couture: founding a Hijabi Fashion Week. They visualise it as a week of hijabi fashion goodness, from fashion show to fashion bazaar, featuring local Islamic fashion brands. ‘The most important thing is it must be all about Indonesia’s local designs to eventually help the growth of our local industry,’ states Dian.
But along with the ladies’ distinctive vogue style came critics. ‘We get many negative comments from people who think our style is not according to the Sharia,’ Dian says. Deflecting the criticism, the ladies claim that they are simply being fashionable and in line with the latest trends, and definitely not ignoring Islamic principles. ‘We are trying our best. I believe no Muslim is perfect, all we can do is to try our best, keep on improving, and not judge each other,’ the 20-year-old continues.
There are also a number of misconceptions. The most common is that the ladies are simply a group hijabi crème de la crème who haunt malls all day and wear only expensive, branded apparel from head to toe. Tia laughs about it. ‘That is so silly! No, we’re definitely not hijabi socialites. We mostly wear each other’s brands [the committee consists of several young designers, such as Dian Pelangi and Ria Miranda] or local products, even from flea markets. We don’t like to be thought of as elite or posh. In fact, Hijabers Community is anything but.’
But probably the most absurd misconception is that the community is a kind of Islamic cult. Tia recalls one experience. ‘One time, a prospective endorser asked us, “What line of Islam are you?” I didn’t even get that. To us, as long as you’re a Muslim and share the same basic Islamic beliefs, you can join us.’
On the other side, Dian sees all the critics and misconceptions as proof that Hijabers Community is indeed being noticed. ‘People pay attention to us, even if it makes us feel scrutinised under the microscope.’
Regardless of what some people may think, the ladies of Hijabers Community agree that being part of a sisterhood is one of the best things to have ever happened to them. In the words of Dian Pelangi, ‘I think I’ve found my true friends here – friends who support and lead each other [with the truth]. I really feel we are connected to each other, probably because we are all fellow hijabis and we have the same purpose in our daily lives.’ Tia adds, to which others immediately concur with nods, ‘I can sense that this friendship is real and solid. It’s a crazy world full of temptations out there, but Hijabers Community perfectly balances worldly and godly ways. I love them. This is my second home.’
KL’s Fashion-Forward Hijabistas
Muslim women in Malaysia’s capital city are playing an increasingly vital role in forging lasting friendships with their love of the faith and Islamicwear. By Sheena Baharudin.
You cannot deny it. Heads will turn.
If you live in Kuala Lumpur, you have seen them before—and were probably guilty of taking a second look (or a third). You have seen them frequenting the city’s most talked about social events, art and literary festivals, and even the local indie music gigs, often balancing the latest fashion items with pre-loved pieces found in trendy flea markets. Amidst the usual group of fashion-conscious youngsters found everywhere in the city’s hotspots these days, you are bound to lock eyes with a few hijabis minding their own business, quietly unaware of how they stand out from the crowd. Eye catching and fashion forward, this new generation of young women has been called ‘hijabi fashionistas’, ‘hijabistas’, and, in an obvious play on the word ‘hipster’: hijabsters.
It would be misleading to assume that it is a new phenomenon. For many years, there have been several popular styles of hijab, often mysteriously appearing during the month of Ramadhan, specifically at the height of Eid ul Fitr preparation. They are inspired by the country’s female artists and personalities, and named after them: tudung (headscarf) Waheeda, tudung Wardina, tudung Ekin and tudung Siti Nurhaliza.
What is new in this case began only in 2006 when Yuna Zarai, a young and talented singer-songwriter, emerged in the local music scene. Hip, artistic, down to earth, capable of singing in both English and Bahasa Malaysia, and often seen sporting different wearable and unique styles of the hijab, she soon became and still remains an influential fashion icon in Malaysia. At a recent fashion show organised by Yuna Zarai and her good friend Hana Tajima (best known for her Maysaa collection) last December, the massive ripples sent throughout the community via blogs resulted in scores of hijabis walking into the event’s venue sporting their latest and most stylish outfits. Usually the ladies would come and go. This time was a different case altogether.
‘It’s such an exciting event and an even more exciting community. I am addicted to them,’ beams Sue Anna Joe, a hijabi photographer and fashion enthusiast, responsible for capturing the looks of the hijabistas in Kuala Lumpur and sharing them with the rest of the world on her style blog Count the Thread. According to Anna, the colossal influence of Yuna Zarai and Hana Tajima paved the way for an accessible street style for modest Muslim women. Sure, some looks do require a certain level of courage to carry. But as one goes through Anna’s coverage, names of famous fashion photo bloggers such as Scott Schuman or Garance Doré creep into mind. Her pictures are a source not only of inspiration and entertainment, but empowerment too. This growing network of women is slowly reshaping the image of Malaysian Muslimahs, while resisting the stereotypes that attach themselves to it in this progressive yet conservative country. What is clear from the pictures is that these are women who possess high levels of self-esteem, who take fashion seriously but also have a lot of fun with it.
So how do we spot a KL hijabista? According to Anna, who herself has a strong following of young hijabis, a KL hijabista can be easily identified by the creative way in which she wears her scarf, combined with a usual emphasis on shoes and handbag that hints at the careful deliberations taken in putting the look together. In Kuala Lumpur especially, the more liberal urban landscape provides many opportunities for these ladies to experiment openly. Well established fashion-centric events such as Bijou Bazaar provide avenues for hijabistas to congregate, network and shop while also allowing them to sell their own clothing creations. The ladies come from a range of backgrounds. Some are married with children while others are still studying, though they share a similar passion for fashion. It is not surprising to find them promoting their fashion blogs and online shops, or watching videos on how to wear the hijab that they have posted online. Some of them are also experimenting and taking full advantage of the popular fashion social network Lookbook.nu, where they can be found showcasing their latest looks for anyone interested. In KL’s hijabista scene, anybody with a little guidance and creativity can be a member.
A KL hijabista can be easily identified by the creative way in which she wears her scarf
With the intention of showing the eager and the curious how it is done – or more importantly, that it can be done – a group of beautiful and young Muslim women formed a group, calling themselves The Scarflets. Despite their different backgrounds, almost all the members share similar traits. They are fashionable and have fashion blogs, each with a loyal following of women who look up to them for pointers and inspiration. Considering the high level of accessibility and the approachable façade of the KL hijabista scene compared to the world of high fashion and couture found in magazines and fashion shows, the importance of having the likes of Sue Anna Joe and The Scarflets around is clear.
But the question remains: in a fast-paced city such as Kuala Lumpur, will the reign of the hijabista be just another temporary fad for those who hunger to be different from others? Already we can see the growing negative connotations associated with the term ‘hipster’, and there is no denying the existence of criticism directed towards these women, who are sometimes regarded as over-the-top or inappropriate. When asked about this, Anna responds with a smile. ‘Even if the scene turns out to be a phase, the ones who do it will continue to do it. Not for any scene but simply because we want to.’
THE FASHIONABLY FAITHFUL HIJABISTAS OF SINGAPORE
Singaporean hijabis are clear on one thing: fashion and faith can, and do, go hand-in-hand. By Ana Ow.
While there are no official communities or forums in Singapore for the population of young and young-at-heart hijab wearers, these sisters are certainly alive and thriving.
Judging from the healthy blogosphere here – especially those inspired by The Sartorialist, the blog of aforementioned New York street fashion photographer Scott Schuman – there are plenty of creative and outspoken hijabistas in Singapore. They are well read, forward-thinking and enthusiastic about fashion, while remaining staunchly firm in the Islamic tenets of modesty and restraint.
More Muslimahs in Singapore are deciding at a younger age to don the headscarf. Of the several hijabis this writer spoke with, all but one had decided in their late teens or earlier to commit to the practice.
What they have in common is an adamant agreement that fashion is not only compatible with Islam, but can be seen as something that is even encouraged, within reason.
Says 20-year-old Nanyang Technological University undergraduate Nadia Abd, ‘One must always keep in mind that by being fashionable, you’re only doing it for yourself and because you love it. Not because you want to boast to your friends—so, your intention has to be correct. Also, keep in mind that ultimately, you’re doing this for Allah.’ Nadia shares some hadiths to support her view:
‘Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “Allah is beautiful and He loves beauty [Sahih Muslim]”. And in another, someone once approached the Prophet and asked: “What if someone likes that his clothing and his shoes are beautiful?” The Prophet replied: “Allah loves to see the effects of His grace upon His servant [Sunan al-Tirmidhi].”
Nadia is the writer of ‘sghijabgirl’ at www.sghijabgirl.tumblr.com, a smart and sassy blog combining Lookbook.nu-style pictures of herself and fellow hijabistas with witty sayings and articles. Photos and links to in-season runway fashion are also included alongside tips explaining how to tweak the looks to create Muslimah-friendly styles.
Wearing the hijab is about more than just covering the head and dressing modestly
Her close buddies Shamsydar Ani, a National University of Singapore undergraduate, student Nur Izzati Bte Jasni and Nurul Sufina Adam, a freelance graphics designer, like Nadia, all believe that wearing the hijab is about more than just covering the head and dressing modestly.
‘The hijab has become a part of me,’ says 21-year-old Shamsydar who began donning it full-time at age 19, after having worn it on and off previously. ‘I don’t think I would be myself if I didn’t wear the hijab. It has helped me understand my religion better and made Islam my way of life.’
Her friend Nur Izzati, who committed to wearing the hijab at age 11, sees it as a reminder. ‘It always makes me think twice about my actions,’ she shares.
As for Nurul Sufina, the hijab became a rite of passage, a symbol of her transition from a teenager to a young adult. ‘Exiting from the careless junior college days of pretty short skirts and even shorter shorts – since I was in track and field – and entering a new phase in life at university, the whole idea of growing up struck me. I decided to take maturity one step at a time, and it started with wearing the hijab.’
All the girls feel that being hijabis has not limited their personalities or their activities in any way.
‘I do what I want to do, within religious boundaries. I won’t be entering a club or be tanning at the beach, but that’s only because I’d rather be doing something else,’ says Nurul Sufina. ‘I go to a female-only pool or gym. R-rated films are still fine, I am there to appreciate the arts, no? For as long as I know that at the end of the day my faith in God is strong and it’s a working relationship, and I am thankful for all that He has blessed me with, I really do think it’s alright.’
Freelance graphic designer and full-time mother Azlynna Mamat Fullmer, 31, had different motivations for hijab-wearing. ‘I started using the hijab at the age of 28, while pregnant with my second daughter. I wanted to be a good role model for my first daughter and also for my husband, who is an American Muslim-convert,’ she explains. This, however, does not stop the trendy mommy from indulging in designer brands, especially bags and boots, which she confesses is her weakness when it comes to fashion.
As for hijab styles, almost anything goes when it comes to varying how the headdress is worn. Some, like Nadia and Shamsydar, prefer a shawl style, which covers the chest. Nadia reveals that she is an avid viewer of YouTube hijab-wearing tutorials to get ideas and inspiration on how to vary her dressing.
Nurul Sufina is a fan of flea market finds, ransacking her grandmother’s closet for vintage pieces that she can mix and match with her hijab. Azlynna, on the other hand, goes for designer scarves in a tie-back style, paired with knee-length skirts, dark tights and knee-high boots.
Whatever the style or the personality, Singapore hijabistas are slowly coming together to make a point: that when it comes to dressing, less is more – less skin-baring, that is.
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