Islamic Dress Goes High-Fashion

By Stasia Demarco
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
12 September 2006

Muslim fashion is more than burkas and chadors. It's a
hot industry that is heating up in the United States,
especially among African-American Muslims.

Sakina Uqdah shops at the Al-Furqan Bazaar on the
outskirts of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at least once
a week. "The skirts...I love the skirts and the pants
outfits," she gushes. "He has a couple of pants
outfits and it's the color. He just has so many
different varieties of style and it's like every week.
I come in here and I get mad because I say 'You have
something new in' and I have to get it." She laughs as
she admits, "I get upset when he has something new and
I haven't seen it first."

Mervin Khalil Ghani has owned the Al-Furqan Bazaar for
15 years. He says he and his wife decide what to stock
in the shop. "There are a few factors; primarily what
I think would sell. Some things are in more demand
than others like the Islamic dress. What we normally
call the over-garment. And other things are more
non-traditional that Muslims as well as non-Muslims
can wear. Like the blouse and skirts and suits and
those types of things."

More and more, American Muslim women are mixing and
matching their outfits, incorporating Islamic with
Western styles. Sakina's non-Muslim friends regularly
join her in shopping at Ghani's boutique "because of
the African styles he has," she says. "I have a
girlfriend who is a Christian. She and her husband
come here and shop. The neighborhood comes for the
jewelry. So there is something here for the entire

Muslim women around the world are also finding
something they like in the growing Islamic fashion
industry. Young designers are infusing traditional
styles with a modern sensibility. Models showed off
designer burqas and colorful over-garments in July, in
Kabul's first fashion show in decades. Tehran also
hosted a fashion week this summer, albeit with more
traditional styles. The International Festival of
African Fashion has attracted European designers Yves
Saint Laurent and Jean-Paul Gaultier, hoping to appeal
to Muslim women.

Recognizing an untapped market, major clothing
retailers are highlighting how their top name fashions
-- like a tailored jacket by Anne Klein or a long
ruffled skirt by Ralph Lauren -- already meet the
Islamic requirement of full coverage. 

Queen Samiyyah Mu-El is a designer in Philadelphia who
creates what she calls "global women's fashion." She
imports her fabrics and jewelry from all over the
world and sells her clothing to private clients at her
vending stand. "What I do is create a modest-style
fashion that will not only cover a woman modestly but
it also will uplift her spiritually because we deal
with textures and colors."

The designer says she imports only natural fabrics,
and adds that the feminine styles she favors are
appropriate for all women. "Where I am at spiritually
is that I am trekking on something very ancient, very
feminine so it seems that between last season and this
season I have seen an increase in sales in more
feminine style fashions."

That doesn't surprise designer Khadijah Sabir, who
says Muslim women's fashions are not that different
from what other women wear. "It's just our modesty,
the way we dress, you know. Because we can wear the
same dress as anybody else would but our jacket might
be longer to cover our backside…because we are really
fashionable. We wouldn't wear anything different. It's
just the modesty of the way we dress."

Sabir, who's worked in the fashion industry for 30
years, wears only her own designs. She says most of
her business in the Muslim community comes from word
of mouth or from women who meet her and like what
she's wearing. Sabir has also developed a new market
in young women's fashion, with her colorful
embroidery. "A lot of the fad that I did one year for
the Eid, a lot of the young girls were into denim, and
I do a lot of embroidery on my denim. So I made so
many over-garments but it was all out of denim one
year and everybody had different embroidery on it."

While many younger girls crave flashy designs, young
women are often drawn to more conservative clothes.
That's what Khalil Ghani sees in his shop. "More
Muslim American women are wearing the Nikab and the
hijab, growing number actually as opposed to fewer.
But for many of them, it just a matter of choice. I've
heard of several women, who -- I guess they are rather
attractive and men are paying more attention to them
than they want. They feel relief when they wear that
type of garb."

The long skirts and more feminine designs now being
seen on runways may be a subtle reflection of the
influence of Islamic style, according to some Muslim
designers. But whatever the reason, they agree that
when it comes to fashion, it's all about whatever


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