Australian Muslim Women Mix Faith Fashion & Feminism In An Exhibition


Faith and feminism: sounds a little bit like a juxtaposition right? And what about if you add fashion into that mix? Sure there are countries where Muslim women are under strict regulations when it comes to public appearances, but there are others where their faith is an expression of who they are. And for others, being a feminist means embracing all aspects of their identity and owning it!

In Australia, a country known for its multiculturalism, there is an exciting new exhibition happening at the Immigration Museum in the city of Melbourne. It is called ‘Faith Fashion Fusion: Muslim Women’s Style in Australia‘. It runs until June 9, 2014 and is a celebration of a growing sub culture of women. Women who embrace their faith and don’t feel they have to forfeit their love of style because of their beliefs.

While the common ground is that they feel certain parts of the body should be covered up for modesty, the colorful fabrics, various ways of styling a hijab and accessorizing with their outfit is a unique expression of their individual style. The exhibition was created by the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney in May 2012, and is touring throughout the country this year.

ABC news Australia covered the event and spoke to a few of the designers, and Muslim women in the community who give great insight as to why this is important for a generation of young Muslim women in Australia.


“Over a third of the Muslim community here are born here, and over half the population are under 25,” said Curator Tasneem Chopra, who is excited to have an exhibition like this which will challenge the perceptions of Muslim fashion, and perhaps the faith in general. Tasneem is also Chair of the Australian Muslim Women’s Centre for Human Rights.

“If people can come out of this exhibition and learn something they didn’t know, have a stereotype challenged, turned on it’s head, that’s what it’s all about.”

Australian Muslims come from more than 70 different ethnicities – each with their own language and dress code.

“I’m an Aussie Muslim empowered by my religious beliefs, inspired by an incredible mother. I live passionately and am high on life with a fierce zeal for justice,” says lawyer Azmeena Hussain, whose pictures are featured in the exhibit.

“The only I suppose adjective that I wouldn’t use to describe the way a Muslim woman dresses when she’s outside the house is ‘sexy’,” said Sociologist Susan Carland, who converted to Islam at the age of 19, who thinks there is no reason why Muslim women can’t combine faith and fashion.

“Everything else – you know, stylish, attractive, beautiful, pretty, feminine – all of those sort of things, different progressive, whatever – there’s no problem with any of that.”


Others say this trend is indicative of what is now becoming a unique Australian Muslim community identity, rather than say an Indonesian, or Afghani culture where a lot of the immigrants are originally from. It goes hand in hand with what Australian identity is: multicultural.

But while this is what Australia is known for, there is still a lot of backward thinking and the stereotype of the blonde, blue-eyed surfer Aussie is still what people think of when they imagine the land down under.

For the very first time Australia held an Indigenous Fashion Week, celebrating designers and models from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage, because there is still yet to be a mainstream presence of ethnic cultures in mainstream fashion in Australia.

Communications Strategist Adam Ferrier, who spoke to us about consumer trends said: “Many Australian’s hold onto a somewhat dated view of what Australia is about. Imagining an ideal of a blond haired, bronzed Aussie surfer sitting next to his blond babe on the beach watching the surf roll in.”.

“This is in stark contrast to the reality that we are one of the most multicultural places on earth, and part of the wider Asian land mass.  As a culture and practice we embrace diversity, however this isn’t reflected in our communications.”

So perhaps exhibitions like this are going to be more effective than just a display of pretty clothes.


Shanaaz Jacobs-Copeland designs hijab-friendly evening wear, and says Muslim women and girls don’t need to expose everything to be beautiful.

“Young girls now they are so impressionable by going through Vogue magazines – formals are coming up – special occasions, weddings and they want to look the part and feel gorgeous and glamorous,” she said.

“So I think with all these Muslim designers they’ve come up with amazing designs and we’re stepping into a new dimension.”

Designer, Gertha Imelda’s philosophy is to make women feel beautiful and present the hijab as anything but a symbol of oppression. And if there is anything that can empower a woman to own their identity, it is through their personal style and fashion.

Curator Tasneem Chopra talks about how social media has been a huge influence in encouraging the younger generation of Muslim women to enjoy and embrace their identity. There are endless amounts of Instagram accounts dedicated to specific fashion trends, including how to wear a hijab.

One of our favorite activist and young Muslim women is Ainee Fatima form Chicago, who was also the first ever hijab-wearing girl to be featured in Seventeen Magazine. Can you imagine what kind of statement that made about representation to all the other young Muslim girls who read this publication yet never find a person who looks or dresses like them?


We should also give another mention to the Miss Arab USA pageant which inspires Muslim women of America to own their identities as Americans and as Muslims. All these examples prove that it is indeed about representation, and using the media as a powerful tool to give a voice to various cultures and communities.

Whoever denies that art is powerful should be reading this right now because these types of events and exhibitions speak volumes. They are different from the rest of the stuff that goes on in fashion and it is making people take notice of the wider population of fashion lovers.

The ‘Faith Fashion Fusion’ exhibition not only displays different types of garments, but features interviews with various Muslim women, talks about the history of Muslim women in Australia, and gives an insight into the evolution of how the culture has emerged with its own unique identity in a western setting.

While this in itself is an inspiring display, according to Saudi Arabian-born Palestinian designer Arwa El Masri, feminist values are implicit in Islam’s attitude to women. She says their conscious effort to de-sexualize themselves from the public sphere is part of their dignity as modern Muslim women, and it is their choice to embrace their modesty as a badge they wear proudly.

If feminism is essentially giving women an equal opportunity to choose, then who is to say this is not a display of feminism for the millennial Muslim generation? This is the kind of stuff that is exciting to see because our generation can push the boundaries, and encourage others who have no voice to embrace their own identities. The more female role models we have in all sectors, the more represented we will be. Perhaps events like this are just a taster of what seems to be emerging more and more among the female Muslim community worldwide.



  1. Pingback: Fashion, feminism, and faith? | Religion |Her|oines

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.