Why I Find Non-Muslim Models Wearing The Hijab Offensive
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Sara Salmani

Opinion: Why I Find Non-Muslim Models Wearing The Hijab Offensive

“The hijab is my identity. It’s religious, it’s political, it’s fashionable, it’s empowering. It’s me, and you can’t fake me.”

NOTE: This article is a critique towards brands that are strictly targeting their product marketing towards Muslim women. Not about the veil in general, models, or women who wish to wear the veil. 


It’s a contradicting feeling. There’s a side of me that is ecstatic to see major fashion brands tap into the modest fashion market, yet, an other side of me is left feeling disappointed and, to a certain degree, robbed. But wait, aren’t you happy to see brands celebrate the hijab? I’d be lying if I said yes.

DKNY and Dolce & Gabbana are just a few of the big household names that have understood the opportunity that the Islamic economy has to offer. Modest fashion is a mega market worth more than $220 Bn. It’s a category that has been proudly paved by Muslim women. Brands have finally begun to understand the vast spending power of the Millennial Muslim market, but have they truly understood the Millennial Muslim woman?

Muslims didn’t pop out into this world yesterday. We’ve been here since 6th century A.D., but it hasn’t been until 2015 when brands began to not only view us as consumers, but to take action. There is no way that I’m going to give credit to the brands for this, though. It’s all been thanks to the hard work and efforts of Muslim women that modest fashion has taken over the runways worldwide. If we weren’t going to be catered to we might as well do it ourselves. With Muslim women taking over the social media by storm, brands could no longer ignore.

Muslim women are often said to be the flag-bearers of Islam. We’re something that physically cannot go unnoticed, which can be seen as a positive or a negative asset, depending whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert. The left celebrates that we’re free and the right screams we’re oppressed. Whether a woman chooses to cover or uncover, she just can’t seem to win, can she?

So, why is it that I feel robbed when I see a non-Muslim model wearing the hijab? Shouldn’t I be happy to see someone represent me? When YSL launched their lipstick campaign featuring (a non-Muslim) model Isamaya Ffrench covered up in modest clothing, Muslim women felt disappointed saying “a Muslim hijab-wearing woman rocking that white hijab fur and red lipstick would have been revolutionary” – (Amaliah blog). I couldn’t help but feel the same. The fact that Muslim women even bother to check out the religious background of a model already says a lot. Our religion to us is something personal. Although a hijab is something physical, it also has a very deep, spiritual side to it. How can anyone claim to represent Muslim values if they haven’t embraced Islam? That’s what a non-Muslim wearing the hijab does though – brands take our values and pretend to share and understand them.


YSL model Isamaya Ffrench wearing modest fashion

Being a hijabi in a society that’s formed from a non-Muslim majority is hard. A hijab is not just a scarf to be wrapped around your head. It’s not just “modest clothing” that’s meant to cover my curves. No. The hijab is my identity. It’s a choice that I, and many Muslim women like me, need to defend every single day. It’s a symbol of fighting against racism, sexism and xenophobia. It’s religious, it’s political, it’s fashionable, it’s empowering. It’s me. And you can’t fake me.

Brands make a very conscious decision when choosing their models. An average Middle-Eastern or an African Muslim just doesn’t fit the image of Dolce & Gabbana. It’s not all bad news though. CoverGirl did a great initiative when choosing Nura Afia, a hijabi-wearing woman, as their beauty ambassador. In her interview with CNN she mentioned that “It means that little girls that grew up like me have something to look up to. I grew up feeling like hijab would hold me back.” Afia knows the daily struggles of hijabi-women, and that’s why I can relate to her. H&M featured Muslim girl Mariah Idrissi for a mere two seconds in their video campaign, and Muslim women around the globe went crazy with joy. Why is that? It’s cause she is someone we can relate to. She, like many of us, has worked hard to pave the way for us to be recognised, and we’re not ready to hand it all over just like that.

What I want to see is for brands to do it right. Approach the market whilst involving Muslim women. Understand us by working with us. Embrace diversity, embrace women empowerment, but do a better job at it. Keep it real.

By: Sara Salmani
Creative Director at Qufi Creative

  • Soroush
    Posted at 13:02h, 18 January Reply

    Great article!

    • quficreative
      Posted at 08:19h, 19 January Reply

      Glad you liked it!

    • Karen Dovey
      Posted at 23:29h, 01 February Reply

      A model is a “coathanger” and in any culture it is very hard to find a “real person” that a culture or group other than teenagers can relate to. As the collection was targeted to Muslim women then they seem to have got it right. It is fashion rather than religion and the two should not be confused.

  • Fadumo
    Posted at 14:08h, 18 January Reply

    Very well written Article Sara! QUFI is exactly what the companies needs!

    • quficreative
      Posted at 09:21h, 19 January Reply

      Thanks Fadumo! I’m happy you enjoyed the article, and thanks for your support!

  • pekka.harmaja@gmail.com
    Posted at 02:22h, 20 January Reply

    Hijab is not islamic tradition, It is much older and used in different cultures, islamic and non, for ages.
    Veiling is mentioned in written even before BC times.

    I fail to see how you can take and refuse scarf wearing from others.

    • quficreative
      Posted at 12:59h, 20 January Reply

      Hey Pekka, thanks for your comment!

      The point of this article is not about “who owns the scarf and who doesn’t”, not at all. I’m well aware that the scarf is worn by women in other religions and cultures as well. This article criticises brands that are selling their products exclusively to Muslim women, not scarves or modest fashion to a general audience, as did Dolce and Gabbana with their abaya collection. That collection was targeted to be sold to Muslim women in the Middle East. My question is, why not use a model that those women can truly relate to?

  • erenes
    Posted at 20:22h, 12 February Reply

    Mutta miestä tietää onko malli muslimi vai ei jos kyseessä on ns ” tavallinen malli ” , eikä julkisuuden hahmo ?
    ymmärrän jos kuvissa olisi madonna hijab päällään..se näyttäisi feikiltä, mutta jos kyseessä on anonyymi malli – mitä väliä?

    ja tiedoksi – onkomaailmassa malli toimistoja muslimi naisille, jotka pitävät hijabia..epäilen.

    • quficreative
      Posted at 07:53h, 13 February Reply

      Hei, kiitos kommentista. Ajankohdan vuoksi, moni musliminainen kokee tärkeäksi, että heitä edustetaan aidosti. Kaiken vihapuheen jne. keskellä, aitoja roolimalleja kaivataan. Se onkin aika yllättävää miten muslimikuluttajat saavat uskonnolliset taustat selvitettyä.

      Maailmassa on mallitoimistoja joissa on musliminaisia esim. Indonesiassa ja Malesiassa. Britanniassakin on nyt yksi mallitoimisto alkanut rekrymään hijabi-malleja.

      • ernes
        Posted at 12:35h, 13 February Reply

        kiitos vastauksesta. Mutta kysymys onkin mistä voi tietää onko malli muslimi vai ei ? esim dg malliston kuvissa malli oli oikeasti muslimi, vaikka itsekkin luulin että näin ole. . googletin ja löysin että malli oli nyc: istä muslimi mallitoimistosta.

  • millie Tony
    Posted at 12:40h, 21 May Reply

    i really love the hijab and the jilbab! and i really feel like i could embrace it as my routine outfit but i am afraid it would be really offensive to the muslim ladies cause’ am Christian.

  • Hijab Shop
    Posted at 09:50h, 07 July Reply

    It’s only when these high end brands realised the value of the muslim market that they’ve decided to produce clothing ranges to try to cash in on it. There’s nothing more to it and I don’t see non-muslims wearing it without feeling the stigma that most muslim women do in non-Muslim countries.

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