Modanisa – Is Hijab Fashion even allowed in Islam? [A Critical Review]

By Irfan Ullah Khan

Modanisa - A critical review

Here’s a critical review on Modanisa, a Turkey-based Muslim startup promoting hijab fashion. The critique aims to steer the modest fashion trend in the right direction and to present some suggestions to Modanisa on how it can lead this new and positive trend while adhering to the principles of Islam.

It’s an era where the Muslim Ummah is coming back to its root, i.e. the ideology of Islam. This second revival can be witnessed in every aspect of the Muslim society, even in the way it dresses.

The use of hijab and niqab in Muslim women is growing each day, not only in the East but also the West. This can be visibly seen in the public places, workplace, universities and everywhere. Hijab is no more seen as a symbol of oppression of Muslim women, rather as an expression of their empowerment. They feel more empowered when they make a choice to not show their skin in front of every Tom, Dick and Harry, but only to their husband and close family. More importantly, they are wearing it to please their Lord subhanahu wa ta’ala, rather than to please complete strangers in the public.

Modest Fashion is the new Trend

Modest fashion is becoming a booming market. According to a report put out by Thomson Reuters, Muslims spent $266 billion on clothing and footwear in 2013, and that number is expected to nearly double to $484 billion in 2019. Many retailers, including brands as diverse as Uniqlo, DKNY, Dolce & Gabbana, and Mango, are welcoming this trend by dipping their toes in the marketplace, creating modest collections.

In 2014, DKNY launched a bespoke modest fashion collection. In 2016, Uniqlo launched a line of hijabs, and Dolce & Gabbana launched a collection of luxury hijabs and abayas. In the same year, H&M featured a Muslim model wearing a hijab in a video to promote their sustainable fashion line. Last November, Halima Aden was the first beauty pageant contestant in history to wear a hijab at the Miss Minnesota USA competition. Also, Danish sportswear company Hummel designed new soccer uniforms with built-in hijabs for the Afghan women’s soccer.

This year, Nike announced the launch of their first “pro hijab”. Also, the “Hijarbie”, who is a hijab-wearing Barbie, became an instant Instagram hit that has attracted more than 80 thousand followers at the time of writing of this article. All of these developments clearly indicate that hijab fashion is on the rise!

The Emergence of Modanisa

Amidst all of this rose Modanisa, a Turkey-based Muslim startup that attempts to attract modern Muslim women who want to wear modest clothes but also look fashionable. In the words of its founder, Kerim Türe: “They want to have their rules but they also want to look chic.”  The company jumped on the wave to become part of the movement of modest fashion possibly aiming towards leading the movement. According to Kerim, the startup wants “to create mainstream fashion out of modest fashion.”

The name Modanisa is a combination of two words from 2 different languages. “Moda” in Turkish means fashion, while “Nisa” is an Arabic word that means women. “Moda” perhaps also denotes “modest” which is the genre of fashion that Modanisa presents, or “modern” which is the type of women that it wants to attract.

The startup is based in Istanbul where it has its head office and two physical stores in Umraniye and Pendik. It also has foreign presence with 2 outlets, one in Amsterdam, Netherlands and the other in Dubai, UAE. Launched in 2011, it was initially funded by $3.5 Million in 2 rounds of investment from Aslanoba Capital (leading Turkish venture capital investor). Then in February 2015, Modanisa received $5 Million investment from STC Ventures (Saudi Telecom’s corporate ventures fund) and Aslanoba Capital, collectively.

According to the 2015 Reuters and Dinar Standard’s Global Islamic Economy Report, modanisa.com is the most popular conservative fashion site in the world. To its luck, France’s recent ban on burkinis significantly boosted business for Modanisa. “During that week and the following week, our sales went up by 20 to 25 percent. In France, it increased by 30 to 35 percent,” said the company’s founder Kerim Ture at the Global Islamic Economy Summit 2016 (GIES).

The danger amidst a positive trend

While it feels good to know that hijab is fast becoming a global trend, it’s a double-edged sword. We need to realize that hijab is actually a spiritual thing; wearing hijab is obligatory on Muslim women when in public places. Women are supposed to cover up as a command of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala and only show up their charms to their husband or mahram relatives.

This means there are shariah rules pertaining to the wearing of hijab. Islam has detailed rulings on exactly how the hijab should be worn. And this means Modanisa needs to make sure that their outfits and collections adhere to the shariah rules, i.e they are “shariah compliant”.

Shariah Compliance

On the face of it, it seems that Modanisa does not have any such mechanism to make their outfits shariah compliant. Modanisa does not mention any such thing on their website or their press releases or in any of the interviews given to the media by its founder Kerim. Looking at the outfits available on the website and the models wearing them, I would say that many of them clearly violate the ahkam (rules) of Islam regarding hijab and dress code.

Controversial Fashion Shows

Modanisa came into much controversial media limelight when it conducted two fashion shows meant to promote modest fashion. The first show called the “Istanbul Modest Fashion Week” was conducted in Istanbul in May 2016 held at the historic Haydarpaşa railway station. The show presented collections from around 70 designers and was mostly attended by Muslim audience.

Modanisa-Istanbul Modest Fashion Week

Photo Credit: Daily Mail

The Muslims in Turkey were skeptical of the event and it even sparked a protest outside the venue from the Free Thought and Education Rights Association (Özgür-Der) who voiced their concerns and chanted slogans of “Allahu Akbar”.

“It is worth noting that the reference point of the headscarf, which is seen as a simple commodity or advertisement good by some people, is in fact chastity and identity,” a spokesperson for the group, Emine Nur Çakır, told reporters.

“The headscarf, which symbolizes a stand, a lifestyle, an Islamic identity, is being sacrificed in the name of fashion – a product of capitalism, a system equivalent to the jahiliyyah [pre-Islamic age of ignorance] lifestyle,” she argued.

London Modest Fashion Week

Modanisa conducted its 2nd Modest Fashion Week in London in February 2017 that again got wide coverage in the media. The modest fashion industry made their presence felt with dozens of designers from Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey, UK, Europe and the Middle East gathering at the event.

Modanisa London Modest Fashion Week

Photo Credit: Al Arabiya

The Dilemma of Hijab vs Fashion

Hijab is something meant to conceal and cover up, while fashion is meant to be shown, to be noticed by people. It even feels strange when you say the phrase “Hijab Fashion”. Many would question whether it is even allowed in Islam for women to have fashion. So let’s clarify the issue first.

Does Islam allow women to wear fashion clothes?

Various rulings of Islam are applicable to the topic. So let’s examine them one by one:

  1. Awrah:  Awra refers to the area or part of the body that must be covered with appropriate clothing. Women are obliged to cover their whole body except their hands (below the wrists) and face in front of non-mahram men. This means the clothing of a woman should not reveal the hair, the neck, arms, legs or any other part, except the hands and face.
  2. Wearing “Jilbab” and “Khimar”: When going out in the public, Islam makes it obligatory on women to wear these two types of clothes on top of normal clothes; the jilbab (long gown) and the khimar (headscarf). The “Jilbab” (mentioned in Surah al-Ahzab) is a full-length loose-fit outer garment that goes from shoulders down to the feet thus covering the whole body. It is worn on top of the normal clothes and is obligatory to wear in public even if the clothes below cover the full awrah of the woman. It is also referred to as an “abaya”. The “Khimar” (mentioned in Surah an-Nur) is a headscarf that covers the head, the hair and the neck, going over the chest. Basically, it covers the head, but not the face. Khimar is also obligatory to wear when going out of home to public places, such as when going to school, university or work, or going out for shopping, etc.
  3. Zeenah (adornment): Zeenah means to add to something and make its appearance look beautiful. Like a decoration or adornment. When it comes to rulings of hijab, the word “Zeenah” refers to artificial beauty, and not natural beauty of a female. Artificial beauty includes beautiful clothing, jewelry, perfume etc. and these are the things that a woman must cover up. A woman can only show zeenah to her husband or her mahram relatives. Applying this concept to women clothing, wearing anything that “makes her noticeable” or “attracts the attention” or makes people “turn their heads” would come under showing her zeenah and thus haram (not allowed) when done in front of non-mahram men. This applies even if she wears the proper khimar and jilbab. For example, the jilbab has certain design or sharp colors, that attracts the attention of other men, then wearing that jilbab will not be allowed. Or if the woman applies too much makeup on her face which makes her noticeable even from far away, even though face doesn’t come under awrah, still she is not allowed to wear such makeup. Or if she wears bangles that make a nice sound when she walks that make people notice her, or she wears an attractive perfume, all this would come under showing zeenah, which is not allowed in front of non-mahram men.
  4. Ikhtilat (Free-mixing): Islam forbids any social gatherings that has both men and women free-mixing and intermingling between them. Gender segregation is an important principle in Islam that applies to the workplace, to the public places, to all social gatherings such as weddings, parties, etc. In the context of this article, the holding of a fashion show would be allowed if it is held for women only, where men are not allowed to enter. If both men and women are participating in the fashion show, then obviously it would be a social gathering with free-mixing and thus haram in Islam.

From the above discussion, we can conclude that Islam does allow women to be fashionable but within certain limits and boundaries. So a woman has more room to wear fashionable clothes in front of her mahram men or in front of other women, but she would be very limited when going out in public. So Muslim women should be very careful when choosing an outfit, to know in advance whom she would be wearing it in front of. That’s because the choice would depend on whether she is wearing it in front of mahram men or other women, or in front of non mahram men.

Is Modanisa Shariah Compliant?

Looking at the website and the interviews of the founder Kerim, I noticed that Modanisa never claimed that they were Shariah complaint. Or that they had any mechanism to check if their products and outfits are sharia compliant or not. There are many outfits where the hair is shown, or the neck or the feet are shown. Thus these outfits can be worn but in front of mahram men only, or in front of other women. But they can’t be worn outside in public places.

As an example, look at this picture that I took from the Facebook page of Modanisa:

modanisa hijab fashion

As you can see, the outfit doesn’t cover the neck of the woman properly. And the neck comes under awrah so it needs to be covered in front of non mahram men, whether in home or in public place.

Here’s another example:

modanisa modest fashion

Here, the woman seems to be standing in a public place, and she is wearing the normal clothes only but not the jilbab and the khimar on top of normal clothes. That’s an Islamic requirement when in public places.

I don’t want to go any more deeper into judging Modanisa, but wanted to demonstrate my point by citing a couple of examples. All of this means that if Modanisa wants to be shariah complaint, then it needs to get a bit serious about it.

Conclusion

Modanisa is after all a startup. It’s understandable that like all startups its biggest priority will be the financial growth of the company. After all, the founders are answerable to the investors who showed confidence in the idea of modest fashion and were willing to risk their $8.5 Million for the idea.

But being Muslims, our faith should be the biggest priority in all our decisions and actions. We should put Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala before everything. We should have a firm belief that if Allah is pleased with us, then He will sort out all other matters for us.

Therefore, I sincerely feel that Modanisa should look into the matter more seriously. They should make sure that their outfits and products are shariah compliant, for example by tagging those that are suitable to be worn in public places, etc. They should also take advise from the Islamic scholars regarding how to hold their events and shows to promote hijab and modest clothing. Also, the usage of pictures on their website, social media pages, etc should be looked into so that they don’t violate any rulings of Islam.

The rising global trend of wearing hijab and modest clothing is amazing and we definitely need to support it. This trend is one of the signs of how Allah is preparing the world for the upcoming global Islamic order. But we need to steer it in the right direction, and be more careful in how we propagate it. The modest clothing movement has lots of kheyr in it, but we need to make sure that we observe the limits set by Islam. And this how it will gain success in dunya and the blessings of Allah in akhirah, insha Allah.

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I hope you enjoyed the article and it helped you gain an insight about the modest fashion movement and especially about Modanisa. If you know a fashionista sister or you think this article might help someone, do share the article with them. They will be glad you helped. Just click the Facebook/Twitter icons below.

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About the Author

Irfan Ullah Khan is a Marriage Transformation Coach helping married Muslim couples achieve happiness in their marriage by learning and adopting the beautiful Islamic ahkam related to family. He is also author of two books: "The 8 Love Languages" and "Better Love with Better Half". >>> Click here to connect with him on Facebook!

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