In a first floor classroom in the Hackney campus of the London School of Fashion a small group of young schoolgirls are wrapping clothes on to tailor’s dummies. They are using conventional clothes in unconventional ways – turning ties into belts and baggy T-shirts into neckwear. The idea is to challenge traditional notions of normality in fashion.
The approach is a common one for aspiring designers but it feels especially appropriate for the 20 assembled schoolgirls, all of whom are British and Muslim and all of whom are in traditional Islamic dress.
The girls are taking part in an initiative called Faith and Fashion that is using the widespread fixation of Muslim women’s dress as a starting point for a discussion on how to create fashion that reflects a British Muslim sensibility. Sophia Tillie, the 28-year-old white, British woman who runs the scheme, converted to Islam while at university. She is now engaged in trying to examine how the concept of modesty – so essential to Islamic thinking – can be interpreted differently depending on the context of time and place.
The Muslim Council of Britain views today’s landmark decision in the High Court to deny a fifteen year old Muslim schoolgirl in Luton her right to wear the jilbab to school as very worrying and objectionable. The British Muslim community is a diverse community in terms of the interpretation and understanding of their faith and its practice. Within this broad spectrum those that believe and choose to wear the jilbab and consider it to be part of their faith requirement for modest attire should be respected. “We hope that the family of Miss Shabina Begum will appeal against this ruling. Many other schools have willingly accommodated Muslim schoolgirls wearing the jilbab and have respected the religious practice of their pupils with reference to their attire. While Denbigh High School has accommodated other forms of Islamic dress, for some reason the school has chosen to make jilbab an issue. This should not really have been a concern in a school which has a Muslim pupil composition of almost 90%. Our schools need to respond positively to recognise and reflect the communities they are serving. This particular school opposed the jilbab on health and safety grounds. This appears to us to be a highly spurious justification. How many women have suffered injury because they have chosen to wear the Jilbab in or out of schools?” said Dr Abdul Bari, Deputy Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain. Note for Editors: The arabic word “Jilbab” refers to a loose outer garment that covers the body. The Muslim Council of Britain (www.mcb.org.uk) is the UK’s representative Muslim umbrella body with over 400 affiliated national, regional and local organisations, mosques, charities and schools.