Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Muslimah Beauty

As salaam alaikum,

I recently got into a discussion on a facebook message board about the appropriateness of a Muslim modeling agency. The brainchild of this agency is a Muslim fashionista, Nailah Lymus, who wanted to create a market for modest, fashionable clothes for Muslim models to showcase. A lot of the sisters in the group felt that, though the clothing was modest, it was still against the values of Islam for a woman to put herself on display. I know some sisters would also go farther and question the level of modesty of the clothes, because some of the models wore leggings, or at least pants as tight as leggings.

My response to this post was that every Muslim draws his or her line in a different place. I agreed that the issues of modeling and beauty pageants were tricky, because I do feel like part of our modesty is not putting ourselves on display and that most Muslims would agree with that, not by opinion but based on their understanding of the Qur'an. However, some may say the same of Muslimahs who are anchorwomen on television. Some may say the same of a Muslimah who wears colorful clothing without a jilbab in public. Some may say the same of a Muslimah whose face is exposed. We have to realize that the lines we draw are not definitive. This Muslimah draws her line at a place I don't, where she finds it acceptable to model as a Muslimah.

And it's not just modeling as a Muslimah, but claiming that this modeling is in accords with the modesty standard in Islam, publicly, which many would disagree with.

I also draw a line where many Muslimahs don't, in my decision to not wear khimar and my being fine with taking pictures, for example. Some of those who draw hard lines assume that they are right and speak out against all they deem wrong. I guess the lines I draw are not that hard. The lines I draw are how I realize the teachings of Islam and what I hope to pass on to my children and encourage in those around me. I don't see my definitions as definitive.

But the whole topic of discussion got me to thinking about dictates about Muslim women and beauty. Having been educated as a Muslim largely on the internet when I was in college, I've done my fair share of surfing different fatwa banks. I went back to some that I used to look at a while back. One was of a school that women should cover their hands and face, saying this was supported in both Qur'an and Sunnah, and that women with too ample eye holes were wearing it improperly, that "even the face and hands are attractive."

And I was thinking, since when was the point of hijab to shield on women anything that might be considered attractive? I know well brothers calling out sisters with pieces of hair showing and earrings on the outside. But, I mean, these same brothers are also practicing the "first look" thing, so what does it matter what a Muslimah is wearing?

We draw lines in funny places. My focus in wearing hijab quickly came not to shield what was beautiful but a more modest way to express my beauty. When I was in the DR, it didn't matter that I was the most clothed women in the world, with my headscarfs and my long skirts. I still got the same number of piropos as women who bared their hair, arms and legs. This was in a country where I was assumed to be a nun. Many times I was called "elegante" because of the way I covered. That was interesting.

And the same way the Dominican men did not discriminate, unless a woman is unrecognizable with perhaps not even the eyes showing, a man will recognize something of beauty in a woman even if she is covered, as he will recognize beauty in women who are not.

I'm not quite finished with all lines of thought here, but I'm thinking of, for myself, transforming the way I think of Muslimah beauty. I'm trying to understand it all. Many sisters I know proudly don hijab, citing that they are saving their beauty for their husbands. I've personally never liked the idea of saving anything for a future, not yet existent in my realm husband. I don't have sex, and it's for me, and when I did wear the scarf, it was for me as well. Still, my image of marriage is that of a sacred partnership, and yes, my husband will have access to things no one else ever will, but it will not be for him, in the end, that I was ever modest.

God created us such that we recognize each others' beauty, and set about ways for us to respect ourselves and our beautiful bodies. I don't think these were ways to cover absolutely everything that could ever be considered attractive, but means of self-respect and protection. Men were supposed to see a covered woman and not harass her. This is not true in too many countries, especially some supposedly Muslim countries. So what is a woman to do?

I think, in the end, we must recognize that we draw our lines in different places in terms of modesty. I think the intention behind however we dress is the most important to realize. Are we intending to respect and protect ourselves, both men and women, as God commanded? I don't think there is a singular way to do it.

Human beings, we need to recognize that we are attractive to each other, and yes, we want to do more than the first look, and that's in our nature. We should dress and carry ourselves in ways that celebrate the beauty that God has given us but allows us to carry out our affairs in a form of mutual respect and protection of each others' purity.

For example, brothers, I think some of you have needed to adjust your hijab for some time. It's always been so much more than what you wear.


  1. This post is touching on a lot of the stuff I have been thinking about lately... There was a bit of uproar about a Mormon guy who wrote a classmate at Brigham Young a note telling her that she was dressed too sexy and was distracting .... her outfit was not anything like that, from what I could tell.

    I'm taking an Islamic studies class where I have to do poll among Egyptians about their views on political Islam and I'm struck each time by how much people feel like there can be no discussion about certain things (like hijab).

    Like you, I have reservations about it as a purely "saving this for my husband" argument... But find myself frustrated for the same thing that you pointed out about the DR, it doesn't shield you from a man's advances at all here.

    I actually know of a woman who is trying to make a name for herself as a hijabi model/actress. My initial reaction was good for her... perhaps I just looked at it from the perspective of I guess all this rambling is to say was to say this stuff is complicated.... primarily because we as human beings will never come to a clear conclusion/agree upon where things start and end.

    all this gray area and arguments that don't carry over 100% of the time can a be a bit tiresome.

    1. As one of my elder relatives used to reply, "You ain't wrong..."

      The thing is, I think a lot of us just assume that the way we were raised or maybe teachings we heard once or twice are the way things are. And they will debate as if they have the absolute answer.

      And so much in Islam, I would argue, mercifully, does not have an absolute answer.

      It's like the story of the cow that was to be sacrificed that almost got left undone as people asked for more and more specifications...