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Why We Need to Discuss The Hijab in Western Fashion



Halima Aden graced the cover of the Allure July issue, sporting a bright red Hilfiger Collection hoodie with the Nike swoosh peeking underneath, embossed on the black power mesh hijab of the same athletic brand. She’s cool, she’s sporty, she’s gesturing the “rock on” sign with her hand. She’s all-American. The Somali-American beauty, born in a Kenyan refugee camp, is a talent breaking barriers. Between collecting major international magazine covers, from CR Fashion Book to Vogue Arabia, to making headlines at New York and Milan Fashion Weeks, trailblazing and glass ceiling-breaker Halima is one of the most buzzed about fashion models right now.

As the hijab begins to appear more in the mainstream Western fashion industry and as modest fashion is gradually capitalized on, where is the line between empowerment and profit from one of the most visible Islamic symbols of modesty? You’d think the use of hijab-wearing models is a nod to inclusiveness, but it has to be more complex than that. Right?

A few months ago, Nike unveiled their plans to launch the Nike Pro Hijab for 2018. Voices from a myriad of talented Muslim female athletes from the Middle East and beyond couldn’t be ignored anymore, as many found a hole in the market for performance and sports hijabs. Not so long ago, giant retailer H&M cast Mariah Idrissi as its first-ever hijabi model in their campaign to promote sustainable fashion, alongside a diverse ensemble. Most recently, American Eagle debuted denim hijabs with Halima Aden rocking the item as part of its newest jeans collection.

In high fashion, Dolce & Gabbana launched a collection that included hijabs and abayas (full-length cloak garments customary in the Muslim world and predominantly worn in the Arabian Peninsula countries) last year. When the Italian house presented the collection, Forbes qualified it as the “smartest move in years,” in parallel with the burgeoning Middle Eastern luxury market of $8.7 billion. Thomson Reuters’s Global Islamic Economy Report for this year indicated growing significance of Muslim consumers globally: Spending on clothing and footwear was estimated at $243 billion in 2015 (11% of global spending) and is anticipated to grow to $368 billion by 2021. Is everyone jumping on the lucrative bandwagon? Perhaps. What’s clear is that advertisers and corporations picked up on the gap in the market and capitalized on this “hijab opportunity.”

Western fashion advertising has the power to boost a movement, to propel an idea and promote values of inclusiveness. However, advertising companies are always in perilous territory when it comes to representing an identity. The line is often crossed when the sanctity of the hijab is compromised for the sake of mainstream commercialism. I would say Muslim women like myself do not need a brand to acquiesce to their religious identity, but others may feel inspired by the positive representation, and that’s totally valid. Still, this diversity in fashion should not be perceived as trendy, but rather subsist as a permanent and perpetual state in the industry. It needs to persist.

It is mandatory for brands and advertisers to keep in mind that they can’t play with an entire identity while wanting to normalize it for Western fashion. According to The Council on American-Islamic Relations, 2017 is on track to becoming one the worst years ever for hate crimes against the Muslim community, with a 91 percent spike in the first half of 2017 compared to 2016. While delving into this market to foster diversity, the fashion industry must realize that representation is not commensurate with equality, especially for women.

Halima told Allure: “I have much more to offer than my physical appearance, and a hijab protects me against ‘You’re too skinny,’ ‘You’re too thick,’ ‘Look at her hips,’ ‘Look at her thigh gap.’ I don’t have to worry about that.” Indeed, the hijab acts as a shield of safety, which could be more than necessary in this ruthless industry. I can tell how empowered and invested a Muslim model could feel if for instance, the whole fashion team collaborates and is accommodating of the model’s modesty values. That’s what the fundamentals of fashion should resemble; they push the limitations of what is considered normal and force you to communally work together.

As I saw the buzz surrounding Halima’s Vogue Arabia June cover in the Middle East and the rest of the world, I was quick to anticipate the intersectional positivity and impactful representation of her being a model of color and the visibility of her faith with her hijab. In comparison to Gigi Hadid’s cover story for the same publication, where the veil was styled and portrayed as a fashionable accessory draped elegantly around her visage, Halima’s cover was appropriately and culturally empowering.

As a pioneer in the milieu, will Halima become a token or will she be joined by more hijab-wearing models in high fashion? One step to elevate inclusiveness on the subject is for designers, stylists, artists, editors, executives in the fashion industry, and the audience to collectively educate themselves about the meaning of hijab and modesty in Islam. From there, anything can run smoothly and the use of the hijab can be portrayed correctly.

Like any identity represented through the medium of fashion, there will always be a thin line between depiction and exploitation. The hijab in fashion is not a novelty in Muslim-majority societies — from Jakarta Fashion Week to Dubai-based fashion bloggers; voices of hijab-wearing women are echoing and being heard in the industry. In a Western context, it can become easily exploitative to use a community which is currently targeted and systemically oppressed by the government — one must be conscious of the implications. One thing for sure is that mainstream doesn’t mean acceptance. On the other hand, acceptance irrefutably leads to possibilities and opportunities for marginalized visible Muslim women in the industry.
Let’s hope the possibilities continue to grow in a positive way.


Somali teenager sets her hopes high for the future



AMSTERDAM, Netherlands – War shattered 14-year-old Manaal’s dreams for the future. Now safe in the Netherlands, with new friends, her spirits are soaring once more.

“I have only been in an airplane once and that is when we arrived here from Somalia,” says Manaal, who fled the country with her family. “In the airplane, I felt butterflies in my stomach the whole time. I saw a movie about a stewardess and she looked so pretty and smart that I decided I want to become a stewardess as well.”

Twenty-eight long years of conflict have left Somalia reeling. The peaceful canals and cafes of Amsterdam, where Manaal found safety in 2014 , have offered the youngster a refuge she could barely have imagined.

Manaal is one of 12 refugee and asylum-seeking children living in Europe who star in a new project that lets their imagination run free.

Titled The Dream Diaries, the project sees the young refugees and asylum-seekers reveal their hopes and dreams from the safety of their new homes in Austria, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland.
“In the airplane, I felt butterflies in my stomach
the whole time.”

The series was produced by Humans of Amsterdam photographer Debra Barraud, her colleague Benjamin Heertje, Dutch graphic designer Annegien Schilling, filmmaker Kris Pouw and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.

In it, Manaal dreams of becoming an air stewardess. A portrait shows her sitting on the wing of an airplane, soaring through a picturesque evening sky.

After 5 long years of separation from her father, who was the first to flee to Europe in a desperate bid to find a better life for his family, air travel means more to Manaal than most.

“When we arrived at the airport, I finally saw my dad again,” she tells The Dream Diaries team. “So I ran up to him and hugged him really tight.”
“When children flee their home countries, they leave everything behind, except their hopes and dreams,” says co-creator Debra Barraud, whose Humans of Amsterdam photography project has over 400,000 Facebook followers. “Through the project we saw the strength of these children and how with the right support they can achieve anything.”

Audiences are being encouraged to stand #WithRefugees by signing UNHCR’s global petition, which asks decision makers to grant refugees safety, education and opportunities – turning their dreams into reality. You can follow The Dream Diaries series via Humans of Amsterdam, Fetching Tigerss and UNHCR’s social accounts.

“My dream is to be a flight attendant,” says Manaal, who will never forget the elation of her first flight – to safety. “I want to be able to travel, see Paris and have butterflies in my stomach. I want to see the entire world.”

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Maine’s 1st Somali police officer busted at Mass. concert



LA TIMES — Maine’s first Somali police officer is on paid leave during an investigation after her arrest over the weekend in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Worcester police charged Zahra Munye Abu, of Portland, with several misdemeanors including assault and battery, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.

Police say the 26-year-old caused a disturbance at a Ja Rule and Ashanti concert at the Palladium Nightclub. She was arrested Saturday night, and posted bail early Sunday.

Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck confirmed Abu’s arrest, but declined further comment.

Abu was born in a Kenyan refugee camp before coming to Maine. She graduated from the University of Southern Maine and became a police officer in 2016. The Associated Press could not locate a phone number for her, and it’s unclear if she has a lawyer.

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Portland police officer whose hiring made history is put on leave after arrest in Massachusetts



PRESS HERALD — Zahra Munye Abu, the first Somali immigrant to serve on the city’s force, is charged in Worcester with five misdemeanors, including assault.

A 24-year-old Portland police officer has been charged with five misdemeanors, including assault and battery, after being arrested Saturday night at a concert venue in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Worcester police said Zahra Munye Abu, of Portland, is also facing charges of trespassing, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace.

Abu caused a disturbance while attending a Ja Rule and Ashanti concert at the Palladium Nightclub on Main Street, said Worcester police Sgt. Kerry F. Hazelhurst.

“The nightclub was hosting several live musical acts,” Hazelhurst said in an email. “She was (given) several opportunities to leave and refused. Eventually she was placed under arrest.”

Worcester police would not provide more details about the incident, and members of Abu’s family declined to comment when contacted by phone at their home.

Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said Abu has been placed on administrative leave with pay pending a review of the matter.

“The Portland Police Department was notified late Saturday night of the arrest of Police Officer Zahra Abu in Worcester, Massachusetts,” Sauschuck said in an email. “This issue will be dealt with as a personnel matter from this point forward, so I will have no further comment.”

Chris Besaw, the Palladium general manager, declined to comment about the arrest or what occurred before local police became involved.

Abu was bailed out of jail at 1 a.m. Sunday, Hazelhurst said. He did not know the bail amount. She is scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday in Worcester District Court.

Abu is a high-profile member of the Portland police force because she is the first member of Maine’s Somali immigrant community to become a police officer in Maine.

She was born to Somali parents in a Kenyan refugee camp and has lived in Portland since she was 2 years old. She graduated from Deering High School in Portland and studied criminal justice and women-and-gender issues at the University of Southern Maine.

If convicted, Abu faces a maximum penalty of up to 2½ years in a county jail on the assault and battery and the resisting arrest charges. Each of the other charges include less severe maximum penalties.

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