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Dunya is an ongoing project by Nushmia Khan & Rashid Dar, exploring the ways Western Muslims are dealing with the ‘dunya’, or material world. The first completed project is ‘Fashionably Modest’, a documentary on how western Muslim women are navigating how to be both ‘fashionable’ and ‘modest’. 

DunyaAya

And what is the dunya [worldly life], except the enjoyment of delusion? (Qur’an 57:20)

For over a year, we at Zujaja interviewed dozens of interesting and opiniated American Muslims of all shapes, sizes, colors, and facial hair on “dunyawi” topics: fashion, art, relationships, and more. What did we end up with? A vibrant collection of distinct voices.

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What does it mean to be fashionable and modest?

Muslim Fashion is Flourishing, and the pace doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. Valued at nearly $100 billion dollars, it’s clear that many Muslim women are seeing little, if any, conflict between modesty and fashion. 2 years ago, I found myself completely frustrated with this reality. Surrounded by turbans, lace, frills, zippers, and pins, I continued to harbor the belief that most of these women had very little understanding of the purpose of hijab. I hated hijabi fashionistas and their ridiculous tutorials. I thought they were making a joke out of the anti-capitalist, anti-consumerist symbol I had worn on my head since I was 8 years old. 
Fashionably Modest focuses on three Muslim women in the fashion space, interviewed twice each over two years: fashion blogger Sadeel Allam, bikini model Mariam Basir and YouTube star Dina Tokio. I can’t do justice to their personal stories because no one can fully understand another’s inner state. But I can say this: we as Muslim women have no room to judge each other. By labeling and judging, we are stunting each other’s personal growth.  We should not be focused on calling each other out, we should be focused on making it easy to grow as Muslims.
I started working on Fashionably Modest with a chip on my shoulder. I wanted to prove, once and for all, that hijabi fashion was a complete contradiction, that ‘modest fashion’ was taking people away from the fundamental truths of Islam. I’d ask the same questions of each of my interview subjects: Is it possible to be modest and fashionable? What are the limits? Are there limits?
Two years and more than 24 interviews later, I’ve learned to shy away from black and white statements. While too many selfies and too many hours watching YouTube tutorials can’t be good for anyone, I’ve had too many women tell me that hijab is so much easier to wear now that there’s so many more creative and comfortable ways to wear it. We don’t need to look unkempt to be considered practicing Muslim women. I actually found that many converts were so much more comfortable wearing hijab because Muslim fashionistas had offered them more presentable ways to wear it. Am I saying that there aren’t rules or limits? Of course not. But  it’s important to remember that we need to give people room for growth – otherwise, they suffocate.
So how can we build out that space for people to grow? It dawned on me that Muslim fashion has caught on the way it has because it’s fixing a problem that American Muslims have: it’s making modesty easier. And I realized there are so many ways that we as Muslims can make it easy to be Muslim in America. That’s why I co-founded Musallah with my husband, Rashid Dar, which will inshAllah crowdfund musallahs, or prayer spaces. Why? To make prayer easier. That’s why my friend Maahum and I have started a new site, called Libaas, which aggregates modest clothing from major retailers such as H&M and Asos. Why? To make modesty easier.  This is about easing the way towards a more sincere connection with God, one that makes sense for our respective journeys.

by Nushmia Khan, Video Journalist

 

But what about men? An extended interview with Shaykh Rami Nsour, explaining how Muslim men’s fashion might be even more important than Muslim women’s fashion.

Find an extended, 25 minute version of Fashionably Modest above.

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How are Muslim men approaching marriage in our times? How do women feel about their approach? How much are we talking past one another rather than with one another? What expectations do we have for each gender, and how in-sync with reality are they?

The statistics to the right are taken from the 2011 Muslim American Survey, which is available for viewing here.

 

  • % of Americans in general who are married 54%
  • % of American Muslims who are married 55%
  • % of Americans in general who report being divorced and/or separated 13%
  • % of American Muslims who report being divorced and/or separated 6%
  • % of Americans in general under 30 years old who are unemployed 28%
  • % of American Muslims under 30 years old who are unemployed 37%

This documentary is a long term project. If you have any suggestions for it, or if you are a filmmaker or video editor interested in helping with this project, please drop us a line at hello@zujajacreative.com.

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Is there any way to just let a Muslim artist speak on his or her own? Said otherwise, how can Muslim Americans prevent the politicization of their identity in the public sphere? What kinds of effects does the burden of representing the world’s single largest religion have on Muslim artists? Does it make them better? Worse? Can we criticize Muslim artists without feeling as if we’re bringing down “one of our own”? Should we? Where are Muslim artists’ creative energies most needed?

 

Rabia Christine Brodbeck is a renowned modern dancer. Born in Basel, Switzerland, Brodbeck was trained in ballet and modern dance in London. She has performed for thousands of people all over Europe. After embracing Islam, she now lives in İstanbul where she gives dance lessons. She has also published two books, called From the Stage to the Prayer Mat and The Longing of the Soul.


On Being a Muslim Artist

In this section, we speak to Muslims involved in the creative industry, be that in writing, film, fashion, even comic books. The burden to represent Muslims and Islam is real and palpably for many. Is it possible to just do creative work as a professional? Can communal association coexist side by side with personal expression and artistic license?


Don’t let this be it. Bring the conversation to your local masjid, Islamic center, MSA, or Islamic school!

 

Host

Are you a Muslim student leader on campus looking for a cool event to host? Or maybe you’re a masjid board member wondering how to connect with youth and young adults, or an Islamic school looking for an interesting guest lecture? If so, you may be interested in sparking critical discussions within your community. Consider hosting a local screening of the Dunya series. Please direct all inquiries to hello@zujajacreative.com .

 

Discuss

All screenings are followed by a facilitated discussion with the Zujaja team about the topics shown in the video. We promise to engage our audience, and move them to share their opinions and solutions and approaches to these issues.

 

Benefit

It’s hoped that the ideas produced in these local screenings will serve not only as a means of empowerment, but also an entryway into a global conversation taking place among Muslim communities worldwide. Our collective growth as a community is hurt the longer we put off these conversations,

 

Questions to Think About

 

Fashion

Who are we being fashionable for?
What if all Muslim men and women wore pretty much the same thing, something like a standard “uniform” for Muslims?
Do modern Western contexts cause Muslims to accentuate their individuality rather over their collective identity? Why do you think this is?
Would you let a hijabi fashionista be a role model for your daughter?

 

Art

Is there any way to just let a Muslim artist speak on his or her own?
Said otherwise, how can Muslim Americans prevent the politicization of their identity in the public sphere?
What kinds of effects does the burden of representing the world’s single largest religion have on Muslim artists? Does it make them better? Worse?
Can we criticize Muslim artists without feeling as if we’re bringing down “one of our own”? Should we?
Where are Muslim artists’ creative energies most needed?

Marriage

Who’s to blame for the marriage crisis in the American Muslim community? Men? Women? Family expectations? Something else?
How well do you have to know someone before you consider marrying?
How closely do you look towards your parents’ marriage as instructive for your future relationships?