The first two words that crossed my mind when I started writing a blog on Muslim fashion were Oppression and Expression.  As I tried to build the blog around these two pillars, I realized that the two words are truly the essence of a woman, in particular a Muslim woman.

When we think of Muslim women in today’s post-Bin Laden world, what is the first word that comes to our mind?  I would think that the unanimous answer will be Oppression.  What is the first image that seeps into our mind?  Most likely of a woman wrapped in yards and mounds of cloth, eyes peeking from between the wrapped clothing, head bowed.  Whether you call it a burqa, hijab or an ayab, it is binding, restricting and suffocating.

Of course, I absolutely realize and am aware of the fact, that there are many liberated, emancipated Muslim women who do not wear the head/body covering and some who even choose to wear it of their own free will without any Oppression whatsoever.  However, the majority’s perception of a Muslim woman is that of being oppressed and bound, literally and metaphorically.

Oppression is not restricted only to Muslim women.  Women from times immemorial have struggled to express themselves and attain their individuality.  Women have faced struggles in all walks of life-the first woman on the Supreme Court Bench, the first woman to be the CEO of a fortune 500 company, the first woman who was allowed into the Gentleman’s Club, the first woman who has yet not become the President of the United States.  Recent studies have clearly shown that the fairer sex is the lower wage earner for similar positions held by both the genders.

It has been a long, winding struggle and continues to be a struggle for women, hence the expression “the glass ceiling.”  Have we women truly broken the glass ceiling or only made a fissure in it?

Yet, as women we all have the innate desire to express ourselves, our individuality and our essence.  A Western woman may exercise that expression by wearing a bold Herve Leger bandage dress (an irony indeed that an emancipated woman needs to wear a bandaged dress to be bound and the bound woman wants to be free.)  

The more demure Muslim woman, who is bound by centuries of traditions, customs and culture, will probably express herself by lining her beautiful eyes with dark, dark kohl and place intricate henna designs on her hands and feet.  After all, for some such women, only the eyes and the tips of the extremities are the exposed body parts.

For the more unfettered Muslim woman, for example from the United Arab Emirates, the Expression is seen in a peek of the expensive Jimmy Choo or Roger Vivier heels or a quick flash of the Cartier tiger bracelet on the delicate wrist or the limited edition, diamond encrusted Fendi glasses forming a part of the shield along with the hijab. 

All these women are manifesting their Expression, one in an unflinching and self-assured way and the other with a timid defiance.


Someday, the “veil” will be pierced forever; not only for Muslim women, but women in general.  No more glass ceilings to break, no Oppression, only Expression.

  • I respect all religions but I find fascinating the fact the muslin men can wear whatever they want while several women have to be wrapped in some dark fabric (did I mention the heat?!)
    They only shop at their local areas or they have boutiques coming to their house. I don’t think they enjoy as much as other women likes to go to department shop and try it on.
    Maybe is my judgment but I see uncomfortableness in their eyes.
    Fashion is freedom.. its a celebration about our own individualism.
    Lee x

  • Albert:

    My goodness what a wonderful post. It makes me think of movies where you know two people like each other romantically, and you want to see them get together, but you know it won’t happen. There’s a longing there.

  • I lived in Dubai for few years while growing up … and you know I learnt that there are some women (even here in America) who actually embrace it. They are modern, young and like to wear an abaya and veil, which of course I fail to comprehend but they do. It really fascinates me. Of course there are who wish to be liberated and live like women from rest of the world.

    In fact I have a blogger friend who is half American half Pakistani and really loves to dress in her traditional clothes though her thoughts and outlook is absolutely liberal. But yes, the one who feel oppressed by these tradition should definitely have a choice to break free.

    ♡ from ©

  • Am stopping by from Anika’s post on you..and I am so impressed by the content of your blog so far. I might be backwards commenting doing some catchup.

    The burqa does not sit right with me either, honestly. But I try not to judge it, I know that it’s quite possible these women are devout and believe in this practice and I’m not one to judge. I do feel that it is sad that some women who do not feel as passionate in wearing the veil are subjected to wear it, but as a whole I feel that traditions are really meaningful to people and although I might not agree or like what those traditions are as long as they’re not harmful (and there are sooooo many that are harmful that I wish I could eliminate) I try to be ok as possible with them.

    Have you read “Half the Sky”? You totally should, if you haven’t.

  • Poignant and touching! As a Muslim woman, raised wearing an overgarment and kimar I understand both sides of the coin often toggling between Oppression and Expression. Being Muslim I was thought that women were desired and to be treated with care, hence the protective covering. While I understand this ideal, my own Western views (and feminist ideals) prevented me from fully accepting it. At age 18, I decided to stop covering and have been dealing with what it means to truly be a Muslim woman.

    I loved your connection of Muslim women to women in general. I certainly do not believe we have broken the glass ceiling but I feel that each time we support one another and lift each other up, we are making small cracks that will ultimately cause a mighty shatter.

  • mel:

    great post on the beginnings of the muslim women. U should read “reading Lolita in Tehran” by Azar Nafisi, it s novel about women reading forbidden literature during 1979.. its about the history of the hijab and the oppression… as i study and research more into the culture, i think the identity is confusing and even more interesting becuase of the rise of the internet and how exposed the culture has become to the rest of the world… i mean, have you ever heard of the term islamo-erotica? and what about feminism in the islamic culture?

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