Muslim Girl

The Arab woman in my Brooklyn neighborhood looked odd and mysterious in her burqa -- until I noticed she was yelling on her cell phone. She seemed a walking contradiction then, caught between two worlds.

That's also the dilemma of Muslim Girl's readers -- illustrated most starkly in a piece about a Toronto 16-year-old who was allegedly murdered by her father for not wearing a hijab, the Muslim woman's headscarf.

That's probably as serious as the mag gets. For this is the "Spring Fashion Issue," after all, with many glossy, nice-looking pages featuring clothes and beauty products. Still, we can tell we're not in regulation Anna-Wintour-knows-best land anymore. For one, a theme of, well, ambivalence toward fashion is woven throughout the issue. A columnist wrestles with the question of whether makeup and chic clothes are forbidden, and concludes that girls should "be moderate and reflect on [their] intentions."

In that vein, all the outfits featured, mostly from such stalwarts of cheap chic as Old Navy and H&M, include at least a cap sleeve -- but many are really cute, too.

And we're not exactly in CosmoGirl! territory, either. MG is the least boy-crazy women's mag I've ever seen. That's a "duh"-worthy comment, maybe, for those familiar with Muslim precepts, but I didn't know till reading it in MG's pages that dating is verboten for strict Muslim teens -- which explains why "guys" are mentioned maybe twice in the whole issue.

For me, MG is a window on another world; it helps to humanize the woman in the burqa. For readers, it's a useful forum, a chance to hear the voice of one's peers. In another piece, a 21-year-old explains how she expresses the key Muslim concept of "modesty" -- seen mostly as a positive, though she admits that "being modest about yourself can decrease your chances of getting into college."

Among a roundup of girls who wear the hijab, one Illinois teen says her sense of style ranges from "chic" to "punk" to "bummy... with my hoodies and T-shirts."

She sounds like any other teen here -- not one who's wearing something (the headscarf) that will likely define her as different.

The four Muslim fashion designers profiled in the mag have also thought carefully about the contradictions of Muslim chic: "Every month we read of yet another Muslim girl being ridiculed because of how she is dressed," notes Nazeela Rahman-Shaw. "We wanted to offer updated fashionable clothing to help girls become integrated and accepted in the Western societies in which they live. There is a distinctive shortage of career and daywear which fulfills the basic edicts of the Islamic dress code."

Likewise, there's a distinctive shortage of English-language publications for the American Muslim teen. That's why Muslim Girl was founded in January 2007. It's now distributed mostly in bookstores -- I saw it only in a nearby Barnes & Noble that serves a neighborhood with a large Arab community.

Most of us would have welcomed a mag geared to our specific demo when we were in our teen years -- I could have used Sorta Chubby and Intellectual Girl. While I'd like MG to be more carefully written and edited (I found some sloppy language and typos), for the most part it is doing a valiant job of serving a minority that needs a sense of community perhaps more than most. Besides, where else would you find an article on how to keep your hair healthy under the hijab?


Published by: ExecuGo Media
Frequency: Bimonthly
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