Growing up in a European village where I naturally stood out due to my race, people treated me differently and saw me differently. Somehow in their ignorant minds, they could not grasp that there are different races in this colourful world and it bewildered them even more when I started wearing the hijab. It was quiet an experience having to face those kind of people, being asked questions I myself didn’t have answers to back then, getting teased by school kids and starred at by strangers. I knew I was different due to my appearance, but I never understood how I was made to feel different due to my character and personality, when in reality I was just like any other average kid. It vexed me how people had the sense to prejudge me due to a piece of cloth before I even opened my mouth. Of course, in due time I have learned that the hijab is more than a mere piece of cloth; it carries symbolism of religion, culture and even lifestyle.
It initially took me some time to get used to wearing the hijab and find ways to wear it that suited me. I experimented with different styles, fabrics and even colours before I found my own way. It was a rather solitary journey, as I didn’t come across many girls wearing the hijab during my time in Switzerland; in fact, besides my sister, I was the only ‘hijabi’ in the whole village and school. Hijab/modest blogs or websites did not exist back then, so I had to use my creativity and imagination when it came to styling the hijab and my outfits. There were a lot of trial and error, but for me, that was the best way to discover my own distinctive style.
All eyes are on me every time I’d step into a room; simply because of my hijab. It always makes me feel like the centre of attention and I’ve learned to use that to my advantage. At one point where being different felt uneasy and uncomfortable, now feels rather emancipating. The hijab makes me feel distinctive, responsible and feminine. I chose to wear the hijab to be visibly Muslim, to associate it with my believes, morals and lifestyle. It makes me feel comfortable knowing I have a sense of direction with it, not only in my personal life but also in my academic and career life. It may sound strange using it almost as a guideline to ones life, but the hijab can be interpreted as simple as a fashion piece or as complex as a religious, sociological and psychological symbol. Either way, I wear it with a positive attitude and intention.
In terms of aesthetics, I love wearing the hijab, it completes every outfit I put on. I prefer wearing neutral, earthy and pastel colours, nothing that overshadows my face or outfit. I don’t particularly always see or wear the hijab as an accessory piece but to compliment and blend in with the rest of my outfit. It really all depends on the occasion and outfit.
In all frankness, I also love wearing the hijab because I’m far too lazy to style my hair or worry about what my hair looks like. In the mornings, I usually always put on my hijab the last, it’s my sign of ‘I’m ready to leave the house now’. It bothers me when wearing the hijab takes up too much of my time, therefore I generally keep it simple and straightforward. Keeping it simple is also part of my personal style; minimal, effortless and elegant.
My interest in the amalgamation of fashion and modesty, combined with my fascination of natural fabrics, particularly silk, has led me into starting my own handcrafted scarves collection. I always thought there is a big gap between the fashion industry and the modest fashion community (particularly within the Islamic fashion community). The combination of religious practices and fashion still seems to be alien and a taboo subject in the fashion industry. Perhaps with my optimistic thoughts, creating the collection was my way of building a bridge between the two industries. Another reason why I’ve started my collection was to create creative images and creatively communicate positive messages to the (virtual) fashion world to eliminate the stigma of Muslim women being unfashionable, oppressed and all other negative stereotypes. Everything is slowly shifting positively, it is just a matter of time until modest fashion will be acknowledged widely within the fashion industry. Hopefully, the work I am doing will inspire others to follow and bring positive change in shaping the future of young women who wear the hijab.
Words | Zinah Nur Sharif
Photography | Jihan Nur Sharif