/ 3 August 2012

Hijab: A matter of choice

Al-Medina Fashions in Fordsburg has a huge selection of scarves.
Al-Medina Fashions in Fordsburg has a huge selection of scarves.

We are what we wear, or so an old saying goes. For Muslims, and Muslim women in particular, the issue of the hijab always seems to attract headlines. Although hijab refers to modest dressing and behaviour and applies to both men and women, it has come to be understood as the headscarf worn by Muslim women.

During Ramadan, even some women who do not normally wear the scarf don it during the holy fasting month. And it is a beautiful thing.

There are so many different ways of tying a scarf that some people have made careers of it. One can even call on a scarf expert to tie it for special occasions.

Nazma Rasool, a well-known scarf stylist, recently took part in a fashion show that was part of the Eid Shopping Festival at Johannesburg's Coca-Cola Dome and the Eid/Ramadan Souk, which was held in Amalgam in the south of Johannesburg.

"My overall aim at the fashion shows is to highlight to women the variety of styles in which scarves may be worn to compliment an outfit," she said.

To find the best scarves in Johannesburg, Fordsburg is the place to go. The bustling streets are dotted with mostly Egyptian-owned "Muslim wear" shops where you can negotiate a price for anything from kohl eyeliner to long cloaks and a wide array of headscarves.

The stores, in particular favourites such as Al-Medina Fashions (corner of Central and Commercial roads) and Zedan (46 Mint Road), are filled with racks of scarves and perfectly pinned creations adorn mannequins placed on the rotating stands.

There are silky-textured, difficult-to-tie numbers and simpler wrap-and-run materials, all in different colours and with different levels of decoration. From rectangular scarves made of chiffon and cotton to burkas made of lycra, there are options for young and old.

There is also a dizzying array of accessories – headbands, sparkling brooches and combs that create the Saudi-inspired beehive effect.

But the best part of the whole scarf-donning affair has got to be not worrying about bad hair days. Well, at least not until you take it off and have "hijab hair" flattened by having it covered the entire day.

Beyond the belief that it is a religious injunction for Muslim women to wear a headscarf, they appreciate the reminder of a greater being, avoiding cat calls and, what many women particularly hold dear – the declaration of an identity that signifies their personal preferences and beliefs. Whether colourfully layered, embellished with beads and crystals, paired with jeans and sneakers or the unassuming black scarf, the beauty of hijab lies in a woman's choice to wear it.