Modesty meets style, thanks to these hijabi influencers
Young social-media savvy Instagrammers are showing headscarves can be haute, and that one doesn’t have to be invisible or unfashionable behind the veil
Ramsha Sultan was in her first year of college when she decided to start wearing a hijab. Her decision was met with surprise from her parents and questions from friends and classmates, who asked if she was being forced to wear it or whether she’d stopped shampooing her hair. But Sultan, whose mother wears a headscarf but didn’t insist her daughter wear one, was clear that it was her choice. “I struggled with the change of wardrobe but gradually I understood what looks good,” says the Delhi resident, who decided to help others with the fashion transition by posting hijab styling tutorials on her YouTube channel.
Sultan is among a growing number of young Muslim girls who are reclaiming their hijabs in style. Mumbai-based Farheen Naqi, 26, owner of modest fashion brand Little Black Hijab, says that thanks to the internet, there is a change in how young Muslim girls view fashion. “My mom’s generation didn’t incorporate fashion as much. Now, you can do both — dress stylishly while dressing modestly.” LBH’s clients are mostly in their teens and twenties, and many are wearing the hijab for the first time. “If someone was considering the hijab before but was hesitant because they were scared to look ‘different’, they don’t have to be anymore.”
Nabeeha Fakih, 25, says that she had her own struggles with the abaya in college. The embarrassment and the hurdles to mobility made her give it up and just wear the headscarf. Today, the Mumbai-based dentist runs an Instagram handle @the_urbanhijabee in which she teams shimmery hijabs with denim jackets, jeans and sneakers. “The hijab has empowered me and helps me stand out. I can swim with it or play sports with it. That’s the message I want to give young girls out there,” says Fakih, who has over 48,000 followers on Instagram and recently launched her own brand.
Coimbatore-based B. Tech student Safreena Noorin, 20, was inspired by Fakih’s Instagram handle to start her own. “Since the hijab is not very common in Tamil Nadu, my classmates tease me and ask me why I wear a helmet all the time or if I forgot to comb my hair,” she says. “I’ve told them it is part of my culture and they need to respect everyone. They also call me a model and make fun of the way I walk, but ever since I’ve gained f ollowers, something has changed. Now, they ask me for treats for the money I make as an influencer.”
For many influencers, a large social media following has opened up sources of income. Noorin, who has 23,000 followers, earns between Rs 5,000 and
Uploads of videos related to ‘hijab’ and ‘tutorial’ grew by
Rs 20,000 through collaborations with brands such as Shein and the Amazon influencers program. Sultan has collaborated with over 70 national and international brands in the last three years, and started selling scarves, modest wear and jewellery under her own brand in 2018. Delhi-based Roshni Misbah, who is famously known as the hijabi biker for riding superbikes while wearing a headscarf and has over 80,000 Instagram followers, has become a major shoe company’s brand ambassador and bagged a reality show appearance.
The visibility of so many young Muslim women on social media also helps breaks stereotypes about the hijab. “It makes you realise that hijabi girls are really diverse — there’s not just one kind of a Muslim girl. Moreover, it does not have to be an oppressive or boring garment you are forced to wear. You can really show your personality through it,” Naqi says.
Some influencers are going beyond style tips. Besides reviewing cosmetics, Kochi-based Shyma Habeeb’s beauty-centric YouTube channel called The Desert Rose Journals features videos on mental health and cyber bullying. Sultan, 24, too wants to bridge the gap between Muslims and non-Muslims and brings out regular explainer videos on why she started wearing a hijab, why she says as-salam-alaikum, the significance of Ramzan and praying five times a day. “We are teaching other people about our culture. The more we are comfortable in what we wear, the more people accept it,” Sultan says. “I feel that if one community doesn’t explain themselves to the other, how will we know each other?” YouTuber Tazeen Abaji says she was surprised that half of the messages she gets come from people who had never spoken to a hijabi in their life. “They say their misconceptions were cleared after seeing my videos.”
It isn’t all smooth sailing though. A lot of influencers get online hate from trolls who accuse them of using their Muslim identity for commercial gain. Some fear their families’ reaction more than trolls. Kochibased Unaisa Subair, who has 22,500 followers on Instagram and 11,500 subscribers on YouTube, initially didn’t tell her parents. “I am from an orthodox family and wasn’t sure if they’d accept this,” says Subair, 21. “But then my relatives told them and they were supportive. Now, they’re happy when people recognise me in public or when I get products.” She has collaborated with several modest wear and cosmetics companies, and organises two shoots a month with a professional photographer. Though she is about to finish her course in naval architecture, Subair wants to continue blogging so that she can ear n more money. “We have to be fashionable and move with the times,” she says.
Offers tips on how to fuse headscarves with street style Engineer-YouTuber has launched her own line of hijabs Kerala girl’s hijab styling tutorials have landed her brand sponsorships