Islam on the runway ?

Over the past few years, the Western government and media have targeted and scrutinized muslim women rather than fixing the public affairs of their own states. Instead of easing the levels of unemployment in Paris, Sarkozy instead targeted Muslim women that chose to wear the niqab – they consist of less than 1% of the total population, whereas unemployment is at least 24% or higher. A muslim woman gang-raped from Pakistan hit worldwide media attention – yet there are countless number of local women that have gone missing, raped, or murdered that hardly make it to the headlines.

Even though it’s been almost 11 years since 9/11, Muslim women that adhere to the hijaab in N.America, Europe, and Australia still face some form of conflict or other. Finding a job is trickier, people think twice before sitting next to you on the train, in places like France and Turkey your still not allowed to wear the headscarf in university and, getting stared at the airport is more than common. Our choice of adding that extra piece of clothing on our head has been the centre of attention for quite a while now. So it’s no wonder that heads will turn when you hear of a modeling agency that uses only Muslim models. The brainchild behind that idea is Nailah Lymus, a clothing and accessory designer from NYC, that created Underwraps as she felt that a lot of Muslim models had to forego their beliefs when entering the world of modeling.

Lymus intends on breaking the stereotypes that have been placed on Muslim women and their role in society especially in NYC, a city that is still quite emotional and sensitive over the Twin Tower attacks. Her thoughts are  that “We can walk on the runway, we can wear colours, we can do things independently of our husbands … It breaks down so many misunderstandings, even regarding nationalities of Muslim women; it’s a religion that’s international.”

As a make-up artist, I’m so used to seeing female models strip completely bare backstage with their male counterparts as their usually rushed for time in between hair and make-up. Lymus has looked into that issue and is also in the process of designing portable fitting rooms for models from her agency who may not be comfortable undressing and changing in front of men.

Two north african models that have hit international runways and news are, Hind Sahli and Hanaa Ben Abdesslem, both have walked in shows such as Givenchy,Vera Wang, Louis Vuitton, just to name a few. Ben Abdesslem has also become the new brand ambassador and face for Lancome and features in the new campaign for Teint Idole Ultra 24h foundation. Since cutting her hair into a short pixie bob, Hanaa’s career has skyrocketed. Hanaa signed up with IMG modeling agency and is keen on changing her country’s perspective; Tunisia, on modeling as a career, and also in changing the world’s perspective on Tunisia and it’s culture, history and tradition.

Considering the fact that a lot of international designers have received flack for not using enough ‘colored’ models on their shows, these 2 faces have hit headlines especially in a time where Arab politics has been at the forefront of scrutiny from the very first protest that was initiated in Tunisia to the countless massacres that are currently taking place on the streets of Syria.

Newsweek magazine titled their article as”The New faces of Islam” when introducing these two models. Are they the new faces of Islam in my opinion ? Obviously not. Yes, they may represent a lot of young muslims that are too busy with their work and lifestyles, and not enough with the tenets of what Islam stands for. What Newsweek should’ve done instead was title their article ” The New faces of Arabia” or to be geographically correct, “The New faces of North Africa”. Islam ? No, they’re far from it.

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