MARIE CLAIRE UK

by - April 27, 2015

Blending fashion, faith and feminism in empowering new ways, meet the women redefining their religions for a new generation
Abstract: Religion is in rapid decline among young people, with only 25 per cent of 16-24-year-olds in Britain saying they believe in God. But millennials of different faiths are galvanising the need for cultural innovation, to ensure their religions remain relevant in an ever-changing world by redefining their religions. There are pop-up kosher restaurants like London’s Kosher Roast, and the ‘Mipsterz’ movement – ‘hipster Muslims’ using make-up and accessories to challenge the view that the hijab is a symbol of oppression. Elsewhere, style blogs including Hijab Style, Muslimah Beauty, Church Girl Chic and Jewish blog Fabologie offer tips on how to conform to modesty with style – and they are attracting thousands of hits every week. 
As extremist interpretations of religion continue to shock the world in increasingly horrific ways, young women are refusing to allow their faith to be tainted. Instead, they’re celebrating its place in modern life. Reina Lewis, Professor of Cultural Studies at London College of Fashion and author of the forthcoming Muslim Fashion: Contemporary Style Cultures, says, ‘It’s a phenomenon that stems from young women who’ve grown up with consumer culture and the freedom to express their identity through it. And why shouldn’t that expression reflect their faith, too?’ Social media, she argues, has played a huge role. ‘It allows women around the world to share ideas, influence one another and, ultimately, shape the future of their faith.’ Meet three game-changers doing just that. 
‘I’m happy with my interpretation of my faith. I get hundreds of emails asking for advice’

Zinah Nur Sharif (above), 24, blogs at zinahns.blogspot.co.uk
A girl can never own too many headscarves. I have at least 20 and I use the colour and texture of the fabric as a starting point for my make-up each day. I keep my foundation and eye make-up subtle, with a bright lip. It’s about complementing the hijab, not distracting from it. 
Women have been waiting years for stylish scarves. Not many high-street ones are appropriate for the head, as they’re often too loudly patterned or made from synthetic fabric, so
I decided to design my own range. They’re plain, but in gorgeous colours and textures, and all natural fabrics, like cotton and silk. For winter, I use velvet and wool. 
There are too few Muslim women in the public eye. Growing up, I rarely saw hijabs on TV, and didn’t have successful, stylish-but-modest women to look up to. Things are changing now. The blogging world is an exciting place to be. I wish blogs like mine had existed when I was a teenager. They’re a place to talk about fashion and make-up, and explore female identity. Many Muslim women are encouraged into academia or to study law, but I studied fashion and graphic design because I wanted to follow my own path. 
Social media has brought back that sense of community. I’m active on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, so I can connect with young Muslim women as far away as Southeast Asia, New Zealand and America. It feels like a global movement that wasn’t possible until recently. We now have a platform to discuss and share positive ideas about our faith and interests.
Nobody’s forcing me to wear the hijab. I choose to because it’s an outward symbol of my commitment to my faith, and in the Koran, God states that women and men should dress modestly. Make-up and Islam are totally compatible. Some Muslims might disagree, because we’re not supposed to alter ourselves, but make-up is temporary – it washes off. I wear it for myself, and I find that empowering. 
There will always be criticism. People have said to me, ‘If you’re so modest, maybe you shouldn’t be posting photos of yourself online.’ But I’m happy with my interpretation of my faith, and I get hundreds of emails from girls asking for hijab-styling advice. 
Nothing in the Koran states that women are second-class citizens. The Prophet’s first wife Khadija was a successful entrepreneur, so in Islamic countries where women are suppressed, it’s because of cultural rather than religious reasons. With extremism rising, it’s more important than ever for me to show that I’m an independent, successful woman, as well as a good Muslim.’
Follow Zinah @zinahns


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