The world of hijabi bloggers

Fashion lessons from a clutch of young Muslim women who are trying to dispel prejudices against the hijab


Lulu Elhasbu (left); and Dina Torkia
Lulu Elhasbu (left); and Dina Torkia

An Internet search for hijab style—one of global fashion’s biggest buzzwords currently—continues to keep me hooked. The once niche community of Hijabi bloggers has been branding itself in a compelling way and is now a recognized force.

Through scrapbooking site Pinterest, I stumbled into a world of terrific turbans, abayas shaped nothing like “sacks”, Dior gowns paired with charmeuse hijabs, and Christian Louboutin shoes with jeggings and zipper jackets. During the Ramzan month, Pinterest was full of Eid-style look-books, offers from luxury brands, including Tommy Hilfiger and Giorgio Armani, stylish H&M scarves, special Topshop buys from totes to T-shirts, taupe and aquamarine stilettos, and glamorous trinkets.

A Web story on the “top 5 hijabi bloggers every hijabi should follow” left me pleasantly confused. I couldn’t decide who I preferred—Ascia AKF (www.hybrid headpiece.com), a “happily married Kuwaiti-American” known for her turban-tying style with 1.3 million followers on Instagram, or Sahar Foad (www.sahar foad.tumblr.com ), an Egyptian with a leather jacket, feather necklace, red lipstick and more than 74,500 Instagram followers, dubbed an “emerging Muslimah street style blogger”. Terms such as hijabian, hijab star, hijabistas, turbanistas and hipster hijabis have seeped into the vocabulary. Hijabs are being paired with deep lipsticks, rock-star jewellery, chiffon skirts, faux leather totes, statement rings and biker boots. Hijab tutorials abound as you wade through a maze of links.

Some bloggers are famous. Like Dina Torkia, described by The Guardian newspaper as “arguably the most high profile hijabi blogger in the UK”. The half-English, half-Egyptian Torkia, who blogs under the name Dina Tokio and was featured on Muslim Miss World, a BBC Three documentary telecast earlier this year, is currently showing off her baby bump on Facebook in attractive turbans, denim shirts, easy pants and reflector sunglasses. Her frequent posts include one on how to wear do-it-yourself kimono kaftans. One photograph shows her in silver lace-up shoes with cropped pants and is titled “Pretending to cross the road for Instagram’s sake”.

Then there is Nuriyah O. Martinez of Hijabhaul.com, with a first-person blog, Convert’s Corner. And Lulu Elhasbu (www.luluelhasbu.com ) with an informative blog entry on “How to be a good Hijab Model in Indonesia”. My favourite is The Muslim Girl (www.themuslimgirl.com ).

The search word “hijab” opens up a pretty blingy world of girlie glamour. It is a visual blend of Bridget Jones’s Diary, Sex And The City, the Hindi film Aisha, scenes from a Dubai mall, Jennifer Lopez’s ice-blue nail polish on American Idol and the catwalk at the Beirut Fashion Week. There are no body piercings or tattoos, and, of course, you can’t see hair anywhere. Modest fashion, the definitive term behind these portals, is pervasive.

The hijab, bejewelled or printed, luxurious or mass-produced, in solid colours, gold tissue, zebra-striped or tribal patterns, is, quite literally, the crowning glory.

What sustains attention is not fashion but the fascinating paradoxes. Ikhlas Hussain, 25, a Toronto-based fiction writer and poet who launched The Muslim Girl in 2014 (read Mainstreaming The Other ) writes about “Muslim Girl Problems” on her website, described as “Faith.Fashion.Love.Life”. The same site gives you a slick “2015 Eid Outfit Lookbook” with tips on how the new abaya can be turned into a romantic ball gown or a purposeful cape, an A-line dress or completely loose from top to bottom, accessorized differently.

Martinez of Hijabhaul.com introduces a slice of her own life into the mix. As you surf from pretty “Hijab Outfits” to Convert’s Corner, you discover the voice of a questioning young girl. She generously uses quotes from the Quran, but also talks about how she asked her parents on her 16th birthday why she didn’t look like a typical Dutch girl. Soon, you realize she converted to Islam at 18. She emphatically tells readers it was not for a man.

On many of the sites, the visuals are indicative of personal politics. Lovely photographs, well-curated fashion, a sharp eye on the latest trends and shopping tips for the trendiest cities across the world make them engaging whether you wear the hijab or not, whether it is Eid or not. The bloggers conform to the Islamic lifestyle while also conforming to the core characteristics of blogging: self-promotion and a strong sense of identity.

While each blogger has an Instagram handle and a Facebook page, only a few put out a personal contact. Hussain’s second name came up only in my email conversations with her; she prefers not to use it online. Most profiles are lean, without telltale detail.

But this is social media; fame and purpose are measured by the number of Instagram and Twitter followers and Facebook fans. The Muslim Girl has 63,000 Facebook likes and 1,300 email subscribers. Torkia, who has launched a ready-to-wear line, has 203,000 Facebook likes, around 539,000 followers on Instagram, and her YouTube videos have been watched as many as 30,000 times. Her pregnancy chit-chat video and her “Just Bumpin” maternity style may not make her an incorrigibly “private-is-public” Kim Kardashian, but it does make her a fashionista.

All the same, there is a rebellion channelled into fashion. These sites offer a peek into the lives of Muslim girls who appear far from “oppressed”, a word that the hijab unfortunately tends to symbolize in the contemporary world or in mainstream fashion. So when Torkia told The Guardian that “there’s a fear factor around the hijab because of what people see in the news but this is just me styling scarves the way I like to”, she may only be voicing half the argument.

Some of these nuances were explored in a research paper by New Delhi-based Nayema Nasir and Dublin-based Arpita Chakraborty, students of gender studies. Titled Hijab In The Age Of Instagram, it explored how Muslimah fashion writers are dispelling the prejudice against the hijab. The ripple effect is there for all to see.

Parts of Hussain’s self-introduction on The Muslim Girl suggests why the “other” may be merging into the mainstream: The Muslim girl “has good hair days and bad hijab days.... She enjoys ice cream and classic British novels. She can be curious and insecure. She loves the colour black and wears a lot of rings. The Muslim Girl isn’t perfect.”

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