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Let’s Talk: Colourism and Anti-Blackness in Muslim Fashion Industry/ Blogging Sphere

 

I’ve had the title and outline for this post in my drafts section for a few months and retrospectively I am glad that I didn’t write it earlier because my conclusion now is quite different from the position I had previously which will be explained later. Throughout the post, I will be writing interchangeably about the Muslim Fashion Industry and the blogging sphere so bear with me.

To start with, Instagram was the space where I first noticed the erasure of dark-skinned Muslim women (whether black or Asian) from the modest fashion industry. After several months of following quite a few Muslim fashion pages, as I was scrolling through my feed the question, ‘where are the dark skinned models or Hijabi bloggers?’  popped into my mind. 90% of the people on the pages were either light skinned or fair in complexion.

At this time, I said to myself ‘this is probably not a race issue,’ there must be a reason for their absence,  and there is no need to make a mountain out of a molehill. Forgive my silliness but I genuinely went through quite a few reasons in my head to justify the absence of dark-skinned Muslim women.

The reasons included the following: “Maybe there weren’t a lot of Black Muslim women that wanted to model? and Perhaps the companies didn’t know about them?”

Fast forward and several months later while having a conversation with a friend, she said to me, ‘Mahmoudat have you noticed that so and so shops only use light skinned models on their pages?’ and the first thing I said when she asked that question was “Thank you, Lord! My observations have been vindicated! I am not the only one who has noticed.” By this point, I was following a wide variety of Hijabi Bloggers, model and Youtubers to know that the absence of the dark skinned ones wasn’t necessarily by choice.

We have to recognise that bloggers who are fair or light in complexion are afforded privileges that their dark-skinned counterparts simply do not have. And I could say the same for the broader Youtube World or the normal Fashion industry because Muslim women tend to be at the bottom of that hierarchy. But the issue of colourism and anti-blackness is frustrating for me because I think we have a great opportunity with the Muslim Fashion Industry and Blogging world to do better, and to be representative in line with the teachings of our religion. Here is our opportunity to do it how it should be done, but instead we are falling into the same perpetuation of colourism.

There are two distinct issues here. As a community and as an Ummah, we are still dealing with deeply entrenched issues of colourism and anti-blackness. A lot of mindsets are still stuck on the notion that fair skin or light skin equates to beauty and we largely celebrate Eurocentric ideals of beauty. The second issue is that a lot of Muslim brands whether consciously or unconsciously are perpetuating colourism by not affording dark skinned models or bloggers the same opportunities.

Take a moment to think about your Instagram feed and the diversity of the models/ bloggers that the Muslim companies use? Off the top of my head, the only brands that I know consistently use dark skinned models are Inayah and Mode.ste. Two companies out of how many? That’s such an absurd ratio. From a financial point of view as well, it makes no sense to me not to have accurate representation considering the products – whether they’re hijabs, abayas or whatever else – are supposed to appeal to a wide consumer base of Muslim women.

Aside from noticing the erasure of dark skinned models (black and Asian) from Instagram pages and websites in general, my first sickening exposure to colourism within the industry was while I was watching Dina Torkia’s BBC Three Documentary, “Muslim Beauty Pageant and Me,”. The documentary was based on Dina’s journey as a contestant on the International Muslim pageant, World Muslimah a two-week boot camp for contestants to prove their credentials as good Muslim role models. Imagine my shock as I witnessed one of the organisers give the African/ dark-skinned contestants lightening creams! I had to rewind and pause the scene just to let the irony of the moment sink in as well as the glaring hypocrisy that the contestants were being judged on ‘Islamic Values.’ Dina thankfully called it out but lo and behold that would not be the last of my experiences with the issue of colourism and anti-blackness in the modest fashion industry/ blogging sphere.

Around a year ago, YouTuber / Blogger, Habiba Da Silva posted a picture of herself at a wedding on her Instagram page which turned out to be a revelation because of the comments and the controversy that ensued afterwards. Examples of some of the insidious comments include:

“Why are you so dark? you look ugly.”
“Dark is not nice,”
“Dark does not suit you” and
“Here you look like a ni**er.”

Are you in shock right now? Because I couldn’t close my mouth as I read some of the comments but the joke is on me for thinking it was impossible for Muslims to write such despicable comments!  Habiba made a video to address the issue and rightly so, but I kid you not, some people still had the audacity to express racist views in the comments section either completely missing the point of the video or just choosing to ignore it. So far I haven’t mentioned a specific community within the ummah because I genuinely think the issue of colourism, while more prevalent in some cultures and communities, spans across Muslim communities worldwide. But in this instance, it has to be mentioned, particularly because a lot of the comments above were from Arab Brothers and sisters. There’s  much to be said about the Arab superiority complex that seems to affect a few people so I’ll put this reminder here.

“All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black nor a black has any superiority over a white – except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood.”

In addition, I need people to miss me with the ‘we’re not racist because we love Bilal’ argument because true colours were on display in this instance.  God forbid your favourite blogger has a tan then all hell breaks loose! I want to be balanced in my discussion so I am making it clear that most people denounced the racists’ comments under the picture, but the level of anti-blackness was significant enough for me to feel that this was an issue.

Lastly, to some extent the issue of colourism or anti-blackness within the modest fashion industry/ blogging sphere is illustrative of the general erasure of black Muslims from Islamic narratives. Hashtags such as #BombBlackHijabis, #BlackinMSA, #BeingBlackandMuslim and #BlackOutEid would not be needed if this wasn’t happening.

In conclusion, I mentioned earlier that I was glad I waited to write the article and this is due to the recent International Modest Fashion Festival in Toronto which was proof of how it can and should be done. It is just one festival and of course, it doesn’t cover all the issues that I’ve discussed above. But the representation that I saw with fashion designers, the stalls and models on the run- way was a rarity and it gives me hope for the future. If you haven’t seen the pictures do check it out on Instagram. I have zero tolerance for racist and anti-black comments but going forward, I will no longer excuse the laziness and actions of prominent Islamic brands in their lack of diversity and I encourage everyone else to do likewise. It’s imperative that we generate awareness about the experiences and erasure of our Black and dark-skinned Muslim sisters in the modest fashion industry and blogging sphere. In the words of Maya Angelou and using Oprah Winfrey’s voice: “When you know better, you do better.”

Love,

MuslimGirlJournal

Disclaimer: There were several moments where I was tempted to include gifs because words can’t capture my facial expressions for some of the episodes that I described in this post but this is a serious article so I had to refrain from doing it. Please do share it with people to generate a much-needed conversation and I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section.

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19 comments

  1. Loved this post. I myself am a follower of the blogosphere and Muslim fashion industry, and whilst its true that companies reach out to those bloggers who already have a large following, they’re all “white” – however I do know of several Asian bloggers who are doing well. I also personally know of one Nigerian fashion blogger who is just starting out but apart from that no one came to mind. Inayah’s campaigns are brilliant, though – perhaps the companies might observe and implement something of their own? When mainstream Islamic brands will have colored women featured in their fashion campaigns, perhaps we’ll see a change. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Naureen! Yes I agree some Asian bloggers are doing well Masha Allah and it’s great to see. Oh what’s the name of the Nigerian blogger? Is the creator of Hijarbie? Omg that is the dream for sure.

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  2. First, allow me to apologize in advance for my lengthy comment. Full disclosure here; I’ve always been very critical of the fashion world. The prevailing narrative in the world of fashion is one that overtly emphasizes physical beauty and nothing else, especially where women are concerned. Now, I’ve never followed any Muslim fashion blog or youtube channels dedicated to the Muslim fashion industry. It is for the most part a world I’m not too familiar with, other than the odd image of a hijabi model here and there that I’ve seen in passing. So admittedly some of my criticism might be unfair. Please feel free to correct me where I’m wrong.

    My question here is, do we really expect an industry as vapid as that of fashion to aspire to any sort of enlightened values? Let’s keep in mind that the phenomenon of modern apparel industry predicated on the mass production of clothing, and “the establishment of designers as arbiters of taste” originated in Europe. As such, fashion industries (whether they are Islamic, African, Asian, or anything else) tend to borrow a great deal— from their internal structure, to their marketing, and even in their designs—from the fashion industry in the Western world, and unfortunately Eurocentric ideals of beauty are part of that package. As much as non-western fashion industries like to claim they are an alternative to European and American fashion, the reality is they are far more an offshoot of it, than a distinct and separate phenomenon.

    It seems we Muslims think that just by putting the adjective “Islamic” in front of any concept, it suddenly removes any contradictory elements susceptible of contravening to the ethos of Islam from that concept. The Fashion industry is essentially based on the idea of ostentatious display and consumption, it relies solely on outward looks. The very philosophy representing the bedrock of this industry is anathema to Islam. I fail to see how one can reconcile the idea of ostentation with that of modesty. The idea of Modest Fashion or Muslim beauty pageants is in my humble opinion a logical fallacy. The Islamic Fashion industry is more likely to breed the same ideals of beauty, and the same prejudices that you find in the mainstream fashion industry, rather than becoming a sort of beacon for Islamic values where the outward look is meant to be a physical reflection of a Muslim’s inner submission to Allah (swt).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha lengthy comments are more than welcome!

      I definitely agree with you in terms of the prevailing narrative that sadly emphasises physical beauty more than anything else when it concerns women and it is extremely dehumanising. And I also don’t subscribe to having Muslim beauty pageants either. The thought of parading Muslim women around is enough to make me uncomfortable but as I mentioned in the example, even when the pageant isn’t designed for contestants to be judged on their beauty, but instead for ‘good character and Islamic values,’ there are still so many ways for it to go wrong and be un-Islamic.

      I also agree with your point about modest fashion industries borrowing their internal structure from the western industry which in part explains why problems such as these exist in a similar fashion.

      The only difference of opinion that I’ll offer is that I’ve seen Islamic fashion companies (2 Nigerian ones to be specific) strike the balance well in establishing their Islamic identity first and foremost. And the common factor for both is the distinction between the means (selling modest clothes to cater for the needs of Muslim Women) and the end goal / objective which is ultimately pleasing Allah. The two companies are intentional in ensuring that their pages are not just filled with physical aesthetics but also consistent reminders about the importance of prioritising inner character over outer beauty. To build on that, they also organise workshops with Islamic content such as developing good character, importance of good company and personal development sessions on leadership to empower Muslim women. Their business is on selling clothes, but they’ve marked it clearly as a means to and end for them and in the process, they’ve created a space that facilitates the growth of Muslim Women.

      Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the majority of companies in the Modest Fashion Industry because the objective for most of them is to just sell clothes and the intention behind why we wear modest clothes in the first place is lost whether it’s in adverts or models used or the fashion shows and gatherings that are held etc. The line between the Islamic Fashion Industry and the Western one is becoming increasingly blurred!

      I don’t think the market for modest clothing is going anywhere soon because there is a demand for it, and may be I’m being idealistic but I think it’s possible in the way things are done to make sure that the focus isn’t just on physical beauty, even if they don’t go to the extent of organising workshops! We should probably also stop referring to it as modest fashion, because again the intention behind it is to please Allah and not for fashionable purposes. Hope I’ve conveyed my thoughts well and thank you for commenting sis. It has definitely given me food for thought.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you so much for always sharing with your readers these engaging posts. I was wondering if you could maybe write a post about these 2 Nigerian companies? I think it is important that we see these types of companies that are dedicated to finding the right balance. We can all learn so much from each others endeavours.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. PS: I can’t edit my previous comment, arrrghhhhh. Wanted to add this: Although I don’t follow fashion closely, I’ve read some interesting sociological articles about it, and watched some documentaries on it. Let’s just say they have helped cement my opinion on the matter 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The Fashion Industry, like any industry, is profit driven. They have professional advisers who determine what market sector to target and how to influence same and, as long as it works, they are not likely to change. I cannot intelligently comment on Middle Eastern fashions however, I have had a lot of exposure to the “Western World” fashion industry.

    Typically the “Western World” fashion industry originally focused on white skinned models. Then they decided to take advantage of the “dreams” of many women. The women wanted to be slimmer! The Fashion industry responded by encouraging really thin and glamorous models. The theory behind it is that the women who dream of being slimmer, will want to look like “that model” and probably buy the clothes involved. As far as I am aware, that worked so well that it is only recently that they started introducing “healthier” looking models… but that was spurred by public protest and supported by a number of health related organizations. When it was realized that the target market area was expanding rapidly to include fashion conscious people of African descent, then they started to include those as models.

    It all seems to come down to what is deemed the most effective marketing strategy and, while it could be argued as discriminatory, my belief is that it is simply using a business model which currently works. How to change that philosophy? Show that it does not work by supporting selective businesses. If you can impact any company’s “bottom line”… then you have the power to change things!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, thank you for commenting and I think the point you make about public protest changing things is a good one! It’s interesting that you mention that when companies are targeting a market then they include representation. Strangely enough when Western brands like Mango, Dolce and Gabbana or ASOS do their ‘Muslim collection’, they still use white models/ designers when they could easily hire Muslim designers and models. It’s been ongoing for at least 3 years now and there’s outcry from the Muslim community every year that it happens but I haven’t seen any change. Similarly with the Modest Fashion scene in Britain for example. The majority of consumer for Muslim clothing in Britain are black/ Asian women yet the models that are being used are not all representative of that consumer base. And that’s why it’s important to generate conversation about it and I personally don’t buy from those brands because I would rather invest in companies that I feel are representative of the consumer base.

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      1. Interesting response, but I have to ask (and with the greatest respect)… is there any chance that a large proportion of black/Asian women are relating to the lighter color skin just as (in my original comment) over weight women do “buy into” the slim look? I can fully understand that many black/Asian women are very vocal about the situation, but unless they are in the majority…. then profit-making will always rule!

        Putting that another way – no company would use white models to sell to black women if no sales resulted. Just a thought.

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  5. Great post! It is important to address the rampant colorism as it pertains to Islamophobia and anti-blackness. Whiteness is certainly the gold standard for beauty and health.

    I am happy to see other people blogging about anti-blackness – as I often fear that this register is waning. I look forward to more work from you!

    A recent post of mine might be of interest to you, considering your rich theoretical background. It is about anti-blackness and sleep. https://zoneofnonbeing.wordpress.com/2016/08/31/anti-blackness-and-the-wisdom-of-dreamless-sleep/

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Firstly, I will like to do like some honorable did, pardon me if I dint see what you are seeing at all, I ll be a bit blunt.

    How I wish, I have seen this post earlier, but I don’t think I have started blogging then, however, I will like to say this my dear sister.

    This is a post I would regret all my life if I have not read, coz it is full of enchanting thoughts, kudoz.

    BUT… Modelling, Hijab sister, I think the status of a Muslima has nothing to do with modelling, either white or black, many do it in a calling way, do all sorts of styles, I really don’t know what they call the postures, but I don’t think it is befitting of a Muslima.

    Don’t think I am a kind of Salafy or one tough bro, No…. But modelling is not a jib for a muslima I think.

    But I will say, if at all they must, it should not be an online advert, or a street or public banner, I fear the fitna it would coz and that has caused and still counting. The advert should be in the shops where they sell it and preferable with no lady’s face or so…. Pictures is not haram as far as I am concern.

    I just want to say, whatever new thing we do, let’s do it right.
    Modelling is not bidah or a kind if haram, but the way we go with it will tell if good or not before talking about who is a model.

    Permit me to say a very big thank you to you again. You are an inspiration.

    Like

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