Three years ago, the then homemaker and mother of three founded a fashion boutique called Turban Moda, one of a relative minority of such outlets in the city’s downtown. The business grew out of her sense that the selection of headscarves and clothes for observant Muslim women was very limited.
“Mostly, they were in the same style and dark colored,” explains the 33-year-old businesswoman. Khanim, who had no prior fashion or retail experience, started designing and sewing her own fashions, using Instagram to market the creations.
Her ideas coincided with increased interest in Islam among secular Azerbaijan’s majority Shi’a Muslim population of 9.7 million -- an attempt, according to ADA University Professor Fuad Aliyev, to find out “what it meant to be Muslim” amidst the ideological void left by the Soviet Union’s collapse.
With that process has come demand for halal, or “admissible,” clothes. Exact statistics do not exist, but though women dressed in head-to-toe black are rare in Azerbaijan, headscarves are an increasingly common sight in the capital as well as in the regions.
Khanim maintains that fashion “is what suits you and makes you feel comfortable,” yet stresses that “[s]ome rules for Muslim women cannot be transgressed.”
“Your hair and neck should be covered, you shouldn't expose your arms, and legs down to the ankles, and your clothes shouldn't be skin-tight and accentuate your shapes,” she elaborates. “Everything else is acceptable.”
Khanim’s initiative is in line with a worldwide trend. The most recent Thomson Reuters State of the Global Islamic Economy reported that Muslim consumer spending on apparel reached $243 billion in 2015, and is forecast to increase to over $368 billion by 2021.
In her book “Brand Islam: The Marketing and Commodification of Piety,” Faegheh Shirazi, a professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin,notes that Islamic fashion caters to women who want to blend their faith and modesty with a more contemporary style.
Major fashion brands already manufacture lines with such customers in mind. In early 2016, Dolce & Gabbana released a new line of abaya-- long, loose, robe-like cloaks for Muslim women -- that are black with bright prints and lace on the hem. A year later, Nike, the US sportswear company, introduced a sports hijab, which covers the head and chest.
This gargantuan market, however, is varied. Definitions of what constitutes “appropriate” in Islam are disputed.
“In religion, there can be no concept of fashion and fashion trends,” says 23-year-old Baku lawyer Gyulshan Salayeva, who wears hijab. “You cannot even use high heels and perfume, so as not to attract the attention of men. The main covenant of wearing hijab is do not draw attention to yourself. In Islam, it is permissible to wear black and [in heat] white."
Wearing fancy or colorful hijabs along with make-up is haraam (unforgivable), she thinks.
Yet many Muslim women and religious books disagree. Irada Eyvazova, a 32-year-old doctor-turned-homemaker also from Baku, states that the Prophet Muhammad’s hadiths, the collection of sayings devout Muslims follow as a guide to behavior, do not proscribe such practices.
“[According to] some sources, the Prophet Mohamad stated that women were to cover the neckline [so that the breast would not be visible], so they cut off the hem of the dresses for this, while others state they covered their breasts with shawls covering their heads,” comments Eyvazova. “It is believed that a woman really should not attract the attention of men. It is permissible to see only the face and hands. But there are no prescriptions that you need to dress in black."
Some observant Muslim women in Azerbaijan appear to agree. “Hijabs in bright colors are very popular now,” notes Khanim. “Women often purchase one model in different colors to choose for every day's mood.”
For special occasions, Khanim sells scarves embroidered with rhinestones. One-piece hijabs are popular with women participating in sports because they do not need to be tied on. Other such women prefer turbans. To conceal the neck, they wear a "half-turtleneck,” an elastic fabric that covers the neck and upper part of the chest.
Another essential garment is the underscarf or bone [pronounced “bone-ay,” taken from a Russian version of the French word for “bonnet”], a cap of elastic fabric worn under the hijab to hide the hairline. Some underscarves cover the throat if you want to wear a gown with an open collar. Others cover the chin as well, providing a flattering look for large-chinned women, Khanim claims.
Many Azerbaijani Muslim women go a step further and use special pads to bundle their hair high under their hijabs -- a look often deemed more attractive. The pads fasten above the hair or below the back of the head.
Yet boutiques like Khanim’s are not the only frequented by these women. Those interviewed also buy apparel in the shops of popular brands such as Zara, Stradivarius, Mango, Pull & Bear and Massimo Dutti, where they say they can find clothes that are both modest and interesting.
"Islam has a normal attitude to beautiful colors, clothes,” says 28-year-old teacher Nargiz Abdoulova. “Allah did not tell us to be ugly and disfigure ourselves. "
August, 2018 Religious Beliefs