To celebrate World Hijab Day, we highlight some of the diverse, trailblazing women who are shattering stereotypes around their faith, while challenging societal norms about beauty and representation, and championing causes such as inclusivity, body positivity and sustainability.
Her headscarves label, Haute Hijab, has become something of a household name in the modest fashion world, and Melanie Elturk is continuing in her mission to cater to hijab-wearing women.
Her wide range of hijabs are produced in Ajman and then shipped to the US, where Haute Hijab has its headquarters. The brand recently unveiled its Sport collection, with a powerful campaign title "Can't Ban Us", featuring Muslim athletes who have faced prejudice in their sporting fields due to their decision to cover their hair.
She is also prioritising sustainability – many designs from her main line are produced using deadstock fabrics. "When it comes to labour, wages, fair trade, sustainability, all those things are Islamic principles that we should all be adhering to," she tells The National.
Since penning her raw and candid memoir Unashamed: Musings of a Fat, Black Muslim in 2019, Leah Vernon has continued to champion body positivity and diversity on several fronts, recently starring in campaigns with brands such as Dove and Torrid.
In an interview with The National, Vernon admits that she isn't your "typical" modest fashion blogger: "I call them the 'perfect Instagram hijabi'. They always wear pastels or earth tones. They have the perfect husband and the perfect kids. They are the kind of folks who don't have many worries in life. They are usually white-passing and thin. It's sad how Muslim women have become monoliths. Muslims aren't 'one size fits all.'" By opening up about her personal life and challenges and sharing her musings on social media, Vernon is diversifying conversations and assumptions around Muslim women.
Abdiya Iman Meddings
In December 2020, Meddings launched the first Modest Fitness Week, recruiting female Muslim coaches, trainers and nutritionists from across the globe to host online classes and workshops over Zoom. The initiative is a "safe space" targeting modesty-conscious women who may not have access to women's-only gyms and can work out from the comfort of their home during the pandemic. On Friday, February 19, Meddings is launching a full-time virtual programme with five live sessions a week, along with a 30-day transformation challenge called Me2Her.
“This challenge has been inspired by my own journey in fitness and the feedback we got from Modest Fitness Week,” she explains. “So many women expressed that they really needed a full-time programme for accountability and motivation.”
Ever heard of a beauty pageant dedicated to Muslim women in the United States? Neither had we – until we came across Miss Muslimah USA, the brainchild of Maghrib Shahid, who is a Muslim fashion designer living in Ohio.
The latest edition of Miss Muslimah USA took place in September 2020: contestants walked down a red carpet robed in special occasion dresses, abayas and modest swimwear, and performed live talents or Quran recitations.
"I have a mission to empower and uplift Muslim women while promoting modesty and inner beauty," Shahid tells The National. "The Miss Muslimah USA pageant inspires women to raise their heads and push through, knowing that they have a platform to change misconceptions for a better future for our youth."
Soeria is a pioneer in the modest fashion industry. She's the co-founder of Marka Marie, an Asian modest fashion marketplace and creative agency, co-founder of the Council of Modest Fashion, and she's also one half of the founding team behind Modest Fashion Weeks – which have taken place in Dubai, London, Jakarta, Istanbul and most recently, Amsterdam. The last one highlighted sustainability as one of its central themes, and Soeria believes the future of the industry will look beyond buzzwords and aesthetics.
In an interview with The National, she said: "Fashion is very prestigious and luxurious, and now we have the attention on modest fashion – do we want to take it further into the glamorous, consumerism side? Or try to drive people to do something good? We don't want this to be viral and after that dead; we want it to be sustainable.
“Modest fashion is no longer all about the bling-bling and the glamour – that’s old. Do good, that’s the new trend.”
She became the world's first hijabi model when she was recruited for H&M's 2015 sustainable "Close the Loop" campaign, so it's only fitting that, a half-decade later, Mariah Idrissi has become a spokeswoman for sustainability in modest fashion, claiming that both ideologies are inextricably linked.
"As much as fashion is a very secular industry, my faith is what drives every decision I make," she tells The National. "I couldn't call myself a real Muslim if my day-to-day job, which I put so much time and energy into, didn't have anything deeper. With everything we do in life, there has to be purpose to it, otherwise there's no point." Idrissi, who was an aspiring screenwriter before breaking into modest modelling, spoke at Middle East Youth Expo 2020 in Abu Dhabi, and her Instagram stories promote discussions about mindfulness, faith and inclusive representation.
With more than one million followers on Instagram, Afghan-Dutch fashion and beauty blogger Ruba Zai has enjoyed tremendous success as one of Instagram's pioneering hijabi influencers. "I love collaborating with different brands and I will definitely be doing projects to change the world for the hijabi woman," she told The National in 2017. "It's time to show the world what we got."
More than three years later, Zai is steadily fulfilling this aim. "Living my dream" says her Instagram bio, and from her 2017 Yves Saint Laurent Beauty campaign and whirlwind trip to Marrakesh with Dolce & Gabbana, to co-founding a plant-based skincare brand, NOE Skincare in 2020, she has become a poster child for ambition and success. Now a mother of two, Zai's social media is a concoction of fashion, beauty and lifestyle collaborations, inspirational outfit posts and candid family portraits.
While modest fashion bloggers are a dime a dozen, Najma Suldan, who goes by the moniker Stylish Bibliophile on Instagram, is on a mission to integrate a passion for fashion with a thirst for reading. Her social media posts are an eclectic mix of outfit photos featuring silk scarves, bucket hats and berets, comfy loungewear and experimental layering, interspersed with images of her current reads. Highlighting important books by diverse authors, Suldan also hosts a virtual book club called The Bibliophiles Club – her first pick for 2021 was best-selling Islamic spirituality book, Secrets of Divine Love: A Spiritual Journey into the Heart of Islam by A Helwa, and registration for her February book club opens on Monday, February 1.
Ikram Abdi Omar
With campaigns for brands such as Burberry and Diane von Furstenberg, and runway shows for numerous other luxury labels, under her belt, Stockholm-born Ikram Abdi Omar is one of the fashion world's most in-demand hijabi models. She starred in Nike's Victory Swim campaign in 2019, and is now represented by numerous international agencies. Despite Halima Aden's recent announcement that she would be "stepping down" from the mainstream industry, modest modelling continues to be a flourishing niche, and Omar is leading a pack of diverse, hijabi models.
Junaynah El Guthmy
Speaking of hijabi models, the UAE has quite a few of its own, and El Guthmy, whose creative-influencer status skyrocketed after her ambassadorship for Puma Middle East, which led to her directing a creative shoot for GQ Middle East, is a rising star in this realm. She features in campaigns for local labels such as The Giving Movement and One And Four Studio, and her bold yet graceful aesthetic is sure to catch the attention of the global fashion scene once travel and creative collaborations across borders can safely resume.