Mainstreaming the ‘other’

Toronto-based poet and fiction writer Ikhlas Hussain on why the trend of modest fashion is growing

Ikhlas Hussain. Photo: Ikhlas Hussain/
Ikhlas Hussain. Photo: Ikhlas Hussain/

Ikhlas Hussain runs The Muslim Girl blog that has helpful posts on arranged marriages, dealing with social situations involving alcohol, shaking hands with men, not fasting during Ramzan, even how not to flirt. Hussain discusses everything a girl might be curious about while adhering to what her faith demands. Edited excerpts from an email interview:

What was the motivation behind your blog? is a little over a year old, and was born on a trip I took to New York City last year, out of a conversation I had with my best friend on the subway. We talked about how even though hijabi fashion and modest fashion has become more mainstream recently, there is room for it to grow more. That got us talking about me starting a blog to cater to the needs of young Muslim girls and give them tips on how to live life both modestly and beautifully, without compromising their faith.

In its current online form, has always been an idea I’ve had. Growing up in Canada in the 1990s, I remember never seeing myself or people that looked like me in mainstream media. As a teenager, I loved reading magazines such as Seventeen, Teen Vogue, Vervegirl, etc., for style tips and general life advice. At the same time, I was always conscious of the fact that the content didn’t really apply to me, a young, practising, hijab-wearing Muslim girl, and topics such as “How To Get The Best Bikini Body” and “How To Know If He’s Into You” just confirmed my feeling of otherness.

After graduating from high school, and going through university, I kept remembering this feeling of otherness I had, and my dream of starting a similar Muslim lifestyle magazine for teen girls.

Who is your primary audience? Do you track the kind of readers who follow you?

My primary audience is young women aged 18-35 living in the West, as that is the perspective with which I am writing. I also have a large Facebook following in Pakistan and India, with women in the same age groups.

A majority of hijabi bloggers appear to conform to a Muslim way of life, both in dress and philosophy. Yet isn’t blogging essentially about self and brand promotion?
I’m not sure what you mean by “conformist lifestyle and philosophy” and find the term a bit offensive. There is no need to conform to any kind of lifestyle. Islam isn’t just a religion, it’s a way of life, and many hijabi bloggers try to convey this message in their writing/blogging. As Muslims, we believe that Islam isn’t a separate part of our lives that stays out of sight; it is instead our way of life.

But I do understand what you mean by self-promotion, as many hijabi blogs are about that. But they are fulfilling a need as many young Muslim girls do not get to see themselves portrayed in the media or online, and so they have no one to relate to.

Do you think the term “modest fashion” is a paradox?

In terms of fashion, in some people’s minds, there is a paradox. The term modest fashion is a paradox because, for some, being modest means that you simply can’t follow fashion or fashion trends. To me, there is no paradox. Fashion is simply another way to express yourself, just like writing or painting. And there is nothing wrong with wanting to look nice and presentable while still staying modest.

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