Take A Look At A Century Of The Hijab's History

Photo: Courtesy of MuslimGirl.com.
The fashion industry is (slowly) paying more attention to Muslim women, gradually upping the ante in terms of what's on the market for modest dressers — and that includes, of course, hijabs. While we catch wind of the occasional controversy surrounding the head covering, many of us may not know much about how hijab styles differ by country, and how it's changed over the years. A new video series from feminist modest fashion blog MuslimGirl.com is about to change that.

"We want to push back against the idea that Muslim women are a monolith, and instead showcase how we come from all walks of life through time and place,"Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, the site's founder and editor-in-chief, told Refinery29.

The first video in the series, out earlier this week, looks at the hijab's history in MENA (Middle East and North Africa) and Asia over the past century (á la WatchCut's one-minute-long "100 Years Of..." videos you've seen, well, everywhere). That region was chosen for the series' kickoff video to "portray the selection of countries that has made up the average American’s understanding of Islam, 'the Middle East,' and, by extension, the Muslim people," Al-Khatahtbeh said.

The video depicts how the hijab was worn in 11 countries, spanning from 1910 to 2010. "We included countries like Palestine that have been royally screwed by the outcome of the World Wars at the start of the century, all the way up to our recent military campaigns in countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq," she explained. "We also wanted to include countries and time periods in which the hijab was forced upon — or off of — Muslim women, because the fight for control over the headscarf has been a core part of its history and our autonomy, and represents so much about our personal empowerment."

Interestingly, the model's hair is exposed in a number of the looks; according to Al-Khatahtbeh, that was the model's discretion, not artistic direction. "[The model] wears a headscarf regularly, and ultimately it was her decision how much hair she chose to show in the video — autonomy!" she said.

As for #MyHijabIsNotYour, the hashtag displayed prominently in the video: "Right now, the fashion industry is loving modest fashion. While that can be a great thing, it’s so easy to commodify the hijab because it’s hot right now in a way that exploits, rather than empowers, Muslim women," Al-Khatahtbeh said. "At the same time, we’re living in an age when some Muslim governments are forcing women to wear headscarves, some Western governments are forcing women to remove it, and corporate media is perpetuating contentious inaccuracies about what hijab represents." So, #MyHijabIsNotYour aims to "push back against all these competing forces and reclaim the hijab for ourselves," she said.

While much of the feedback on the video thus far is positive, some of the comments on Facebook have asked why there aren't any Sub-Saharan African nations represented; Al-Khatahtbeh tells us that a video dedicated to the piece's evolution in that region is in the pipeline.

Another aspect that's garnering attention: The model flips the bird during the Iraq segment, pegged to the 2000s. While some commenters found it tasteless, others were all for it " I think all Iraqis who had to live through the 2000s in Iraq deserve the right to [give the] finger [to] whoever they want," wrote one Facebook user.

"The middle finger is probably my favorite part of the video now, because of the incredible conversation it has created... It's instigated a lot of viewers to revisit their definition or expectation of 'modesty' as applied to Muslim women, and how it relates to political expression and our entitlement to feelings of anger in response to oppression," Al-Khatahtbeh said. "I think people having a problem with a veiled Muslim woman giving the middle finger in response to something as devastating as the Iraq War is a testament to that double standard."

Stay tuned for further installments of the series, for a truly global look at the many ways the hijab can (and has) been donned over the years. "The headscarf isn’t just a fashion trend," she said. "It has been so intertwined in our expression as Muslim women and is so representative of our identities and struggles over the past. Even today, it has evolved into an important political symbol in the face of Islamophobia."

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