Young Muslims in Cairo Transform the Hijab

Article excerpt

Rasha Mohammed is always looking for new hijab styles.

When she's not watching Egyptian fashion TV, Ms. Mohammed is checking out what other young Muslim women are wearing on the street or on the subway.

"If I like any of their ways of putting [on the] hijab, I can ask them how to do it," she says of other women she sees in Cairo's Metro.

Mohammed's two head scarves - aquamarine blue peeking out from under a sea foam green - match her knee-length dress over the top of blue jeans. Her outfit screams fashionista. The flower-shaped pins holding the scarves match the green and blue flower rings on her hands.

"Ah, it's a must!" she says, looking at the rings. "I'm wearing blue pants, so the bottom scarf is blue, and the top scarf is green because my shirt is green," she explains one recent afternoon at a downtown Pizza Hut.

Mohammed is like a growing number of young Muslim women in Egypt who have taken to transforming the hijab, the Islamic head dress, from tradition to fashion statement.

As head scarves have come to mean many things to Muslims and non- Muslims alike - a sign of piety, a declaration of identity, a center of controversy, a political statement - in Cairo today they sparkle.

And Malak Company - a hijab house of style - is banking on its popularity .

"Egypt is a Mediterranean country ... so we are a little bit affected by European styles, and when it comes to hijab and it spread to this country, people refuse to wear the black abaya and scarf," says Sharifa Barakat, owner of Malak, in her Cairo factory that is lined with rolls of sequins and bags of beads.

When she started her company eight years ago, it was one of only two companies in Egypt manufacturing head scarves, she says. At the time, she says, Egypt was on the cusp of the hijab trend.

"Four or five years ago there was a big change. It used to be here and there [that you would see] the hijab, but now almost everyone wears hijab ... The people are beginning to be more religious," says Ms. Barakat of the region's growing religious identity after decades of in secular, pan-Arab themes.

"When I began ... people criticized me and said, 'How can you make a business in this?' But now there a lot [of companies] in the industry. …