Muslim women in hijabs are becoming increasingly visible in the public domain, whether appearing in Android ads, walking across 116th Street in “Little Africa” in Central Harlem or the new H&M ad.
A few decades ago, when we first started seeing the headscarf in Harlem, “hijabis” were a rare sight, but now this contentious yet innocuous piece of cloth is shaping the face of mainstream pop culture.
The latest move comes from within the world of fashion, with global clothing giant H&M which has a store on 125th Street in Harlem featuring its first ever Muslim Moroccan model in a hijab. Mariah Idrissi (above), a 23-year-old, stars in the 30-second video, alongside a boxer with a prosthetic leg, a man in drag, and a guy wearing socks with sandals – all united under the umbrella: “There are no rules in fashion.”
Here’s the 30-second video:
H&M has been largely applauded on social media, with women tweeting how they are
“so happy that the gorgeous hijab-wearing fashionistas are being represented by a global brand”.
As a strongly politicized sign of religious identity, the hijab has been subject to a complex debate in recent years, with some viewing it as a feminist symbol of liberation, while others disdain it as a symbol of oppression.
The hijab may have been dressed up by some as being “at odds with society”, but the fact that it is entering popular culture is in itself a celebration of the religious freedoms and global values.
The move by H&M, normalizes the image of a woman in a hijab within areas that people wouldn’t normally associate with Muslim women. Idrissi isn’t just another “hijabi”, she’s a woman who confidently blends faith with fashion. This reframes the debate, creating parameters which allow Muslim life and culture to be discussed in diverse, healthy and holistic ways, instead of our experiences being represented by negative, reductionist headlines.
The decision by H&M is more vital – it’s a move that refuses to buy into the current political discourse and turns the perception of the hijab on its head. Featuring women in this way is something that is empowering, and confidence boosting, and it nurtures that old sentiment of “belonging”. We hope it will render Muslim women less “them” and more “us”.
It feeds into the reality that whether we are theist or agnostic, white or black, butcher or baker, we are, and should be, striving to be part of – a diverse, multi-faceted, thriving society. In articulating an inclusive “fashion for all” message, H&M’s use of a Muslim model helps nurture a wider “society for all” attitude. That this encompassing embrace is echoed in other parts of popular culture is a welcome step forward.
Check out the store in Harlem at H&M, 125 West 125th St, New York, NY 10027, (855) 466-7467.
Edited from an article for Harlem World Magazine.