Artizara launches its newest modest clothing venture “Fashion Undercover” at the APPNA convention July 1-5 in San Francisco!

Fashion Undercover is an Artizara brand that will market East meets West, world-style inspired modest fashion to women of all backgrounds. In the spirit that the world is shrinking and borders are becoming blurred, Fashion Undercover will bring to the market unique, fair trade women’s apparel and jewelry, that celebrates the individual artisan and the diversity that our world offers.

The online launch of is scheduled for August 1, 2009.

For a sneak preview check out our booths #210/212, open to the public at the APPNA convention:

Marriott, Downtown San Francisco
Booths 210/212
55 Fourth Street
San Francisco, California 94103 USA
Phone: 1-415-896-1600


Don’t miss the Artizara booths at the upcoming ISNA convention in Washington DC! Get a head start on your Ramadan shopping and Eid Gifts with a fabulous new collection of Islamic jewelry and apparel. Mention coupon code ISNABLOG2009 to receive 10% off your purchase!

46th Annual ISNA Convention
July 3 – 6, 2009
Washington DC Convention Center
801 Mount Vernon Place NW
Washington, DC 20001

Bazaar Booths 724 & 823 (open to the public)

For more details visit

Islam’s Soft Revolution

Interesting article that appeared in Time magazine 3/19/09. Would love to hear your comments!

A Quiet Revolution Grows in the Muslim World

By Robin Wright Thursday, Mar. 19, 2009

Three decades after Iran’s upheaval established Islamic clerical rule for the first time in 14 centuries, a quieter and more profound revolution is transforming the Muslim world. Dalia Ziada is a part of it.

When Ziada was 8, her mother told her to don a white party dress for a surprise celebration. It turned out to be a painful circumcision. But Ziada decided to fight back. The young Egyptian spent years arguing with her father and uncles against the genital mutilation of her sister and cousins, a campaign she eventually developed into a wider movement. She now champions everything from freedom of speech to women’s rights and political prisoners. To promote civil disobedience, Ziada last year translated into Arabic a comic-book history about Martin Luther King Jr. and distributed 2,000 copies from Morocco to Yemen. (See pictures of Islam’s revolution.)

Now 26, Ziada organized Cairo’s first human-rights film festival in November. The censorship board did not approve the films, so Ziada doorstopped its chairman at the elevator and rode up with him to plead her case. When the theater was suspiciously closed at the last minute, she rented a tourist boat on the Nile for opening night–waiting until it was offshore and beyond the arm of the law to start the movie.

Ziada shies away from little, including the grisly intimate details of her life. But she also wears a veil, a sign that her religious faith remains undimmed. “My ultimate interest,” she wrote in her first blog entry, “is to please Allah with all I am doing in my own life.”

That sentiment is echoed around the Muslim world. In many of the scores of countries that are predominantly Muslim, the latest generation of activists is redefining society in novel ways. This new soft revolution is distinct from three earlier waves of change–the Islamic revival of the 1970s, the rise of extremism in the 1980s and the growth of Muslim political parties in the 1990s.

Today’s revolution is more vibrantly Islamic than ever. Yet it is also decidedly antijihadist and ambivalent about Islamist political parties. Culturally, it is deeply conservative, but its goal is to adapt to the 21st century. Politically, it rejects secularism and Westernization but craves changes compatible with modern global trends. The soft revolution is more about groping for identity and direction than expressing piety. The new revolutionaries are synthesizing Koranic values with the ways of life spawned by the Internet, satellite television and Facebook. For them, Islam, you might say, is the path to change rather than the goal itself. “It’s a nonviolent revolution trying to mix modernity and religion,” Ziada says, honking as she makes her way through Cairo’s horrendous traffic for a meeting of one of the rights groups she works with.

The new Muslim activists, who take on diverse causes from one country to another, have emerged in reaction to the Sept. 11 attacks and all that has happened since. Navtej Dhillon, director of the Brookings Institution’s Middle East Youth Initiative, says, “There’s a generation between the ages of 15 and 35 driving this soft revolution–like the baby boomers in the U.S.–who are defined by a common experience. It should have been a generation outward looking in a positive way, with more education, access to technology and aspirations for economic mobility.” Instead, he says, “it’s become hostage to post-9/11 politics.” Disillusioned with extremists who can destroy but who fail to construct alternatives that improve daily life, members of the post-9/11 generation are increasingly relying on Islamic values rather than on a religion-based ideology to advance their aims. And importantly, the soft revolution has generated a new self-confidence among Muslims and a sense that the answers to their problems lie within their own faith and community rather than in the outside world. The revolution is about reform in a conservative package.

See photos from this article

MCC FTS Spring Fashion Show and Bazaar, April 4, 2009

Artizara was privileged to be invited once again to the phenomenal Spring Women’s Islamic Fashion Show and Bazaar, organized to benefit the Muslim Community Center Full Time School, in Morton Grove, Illinois on April 4, 2009.

The warmth and energy of the local Muslim community was palpable at this sold out event, with over 400 women in attendance, and coverage by the fashion blog of the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Crescent. The show featured latest spring and summer fashion lines for the Muslim woman from favorite e-retailers and preferred local vendors, presented with panache, on the runway.

The models swayed to the beat of contemporary music from the Islamic world, with the Arizara line perfectly in sync to one of our favorite tracks, “Aicha”, by Outlandish. The ten outfit lineup from our new Spring 09 collection included bohemian peasant tops, designer denim, raw silk jackets and gorgeous formal dresses and caftans, unlike anything you would find either in Islamic or mainstream stores. The spring line got great reviews, with many pre-orders for styles from the new collection.

The show stole the audience’s hearts with a super sweet segment featuring hip, modest fashions for little girls ages 3-12. With kids’ clothes bought from local department stores, the organizers put together the cutest little modest ensembles for little girls, complete with hats, jewelry and bolero jackets. They sure convinced us that little Muslimahs need not aspire to be Hannah Montana clones, to feel cool!

The show wowed us with the grand finale that showcased bridal fashions from the Islamic world, demonstrating to the rapt audience how to synthesize modesty with glam, for a woman’s big day.

A big Thank You to MCCFTS for making us a part of this great event, for a wonderful cause!

Artizara Spring Summer 2009 Photoshoot

We just got done with our Spring/Summer 2009 photo shoot and had the opportunity to work with a really creative photographer and tremendously talented models. Everyone gave the shoot 200% and we shot over 70 outfits, finishing AHEAD of schedule!

And aren’t we excited about the new collection, lot’s of beautiful new things, that we cant wait to share with you!

But best of all, here is an email we received from one of our models after the shoot, which reminds us why Artizara is in business, and makes what we do worthwhile! We welcome your comments…

Hi, again, Sarah!

I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed working with you today. Your clothes are beautiful!

I also wanted to say that I browsed through your website and read many of your blogs. Thank you so much for posting them- I truly learned so much this evening! Your blogs are so useful for those who don’t really have a firm understanding of the Islamic religion and culture, how it has become integrated into western society, as well as what issues remain among Muslim women living in the United States (and everywhere) today! I loved the blog you have posted, “Love and Leaving the Head Scarf,” especially. I think it is very important for people to know and fully understand these issues, and what you are doing with your company is amazing and very productive in mending these matters of contention! I think that women from any faith can love and appreciate your garments- they are modest, beautiful and elegant! I can’t wait to purchase one of your tops from your website! Thank you, again! :)


Only 78% of young Muslims reported having smiled or laughed the day before…

Interesting article from the Los Angeles Times. Would love to hear your thoughts on whether/how clothing and appearance can help Muslim women be more integrated in their Western communities. Do you have any personal anecdotes? Share them with us!

The Los Angeles Times
March 3, 2009

By Sarah Gantz

Reporting from Washington

Muslim American prosperity is tinged with alienation, survey finds

They have a higher employment rate than the national norm but carry a sense of cultural alienation, a yearlong Gallup Poll reports. The young say they are particularly dissatisfied.

A study of Muslim Americans released Monday presents a portrait of an often-misunderstood community — one that is integrated socio-economically but culturally alienated; that succeeds in the workforce but struggles to find contentment.

The numbers suggest economic and career success among Muslim Americans — they have a higher employment rate than the national average and are among the nation’s most educated religious groups. Yet only 41% described themselves as “thriving.”

And though the report by the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies states that Muslim Americans are more likely than the general public to hold a professional job, they expressed less satisfaction with their standard of living and community.

The disparity is a sign of the alienation some Muslim Americans may feel, experts say. Ahmed Younis, a senior analyst for the center, said some Muslim Americans feel a sense of “otherness” created by outside perceptions of their religion and a lack of involvement in their larger community.

Three-quarters of Muslim Americans polled said they were satisfied with their community, as opposed to nearly 90% among respondents from other religions. They also were less optimistic about the future of their communities. Muslim Americans ranked highest among American religious groups who believed their communities were getting worse.

The data reflect the responses of 941 Americans who identified themselves as Muslim in a survey of more than 300,000 Americans over the course of 2008. The nonpartisan research center is affiliated with the Gallup polling organization.

“There’s no doubt that there is a certain sense of isolation and alienation — there’s no doubt,” said U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the first Muslim elected to Congress.

One reason for this may be because Muslim communities revolve around the mosque, Ellison said in an interview after the report’s release. The key to a better-integrated Muslim American community, he said, is to make the mosque more welcoming for non-Muslims.

Muslim Americans ages 18 to 29 in particular reported discontent with their jobs and communities.

On average, those youths were unhappier, angrier, and less optimistic than their peers in other religions, according to the report.

Only 78% of young Muslims reported having smiled or laughed the day before, while nearly 90% of Protestants, Catholics, and Jews of the same age said they had.

A great deal of the emotional turbulence among young Muslims is due to the stereotypes and suspicion of Islam since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, experts say.

“I can only imagine a 10- or 12-year-old getting the type of questions I get” about Islam, said Suhail Khan, a board member of the American Conservative Union and former public outreach aide in George W. Bush’s administration. “I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s, and it wasn’t an issue. It just wasn’t.”

Khan described Muslim Americans’ integration into American society as a long, slow process tainted with discrimination and stereotypes, but one that other minorities have overcome.

“There is no doubt in my mind that we will not only see an end to the discrimination and the fear-mongering,” Khan said, “we’ll soon look back and wonder why some of this even went this far.”

The entire report is available at

Artizara Interviewed by WeLoveHijab

Artizara was recently interviewed by Jokima Bey, chief editor of a fun and interactive site about all things Hijabi; Hijab Style Files, Hijab Do’s and Don’ts, Hijab Tying Tricks, Hijab Designers…

Here is our conversation:

1) Do you design the clothes for Artizara or purchase them elsewhere?

The vast majority of Artizara fashions(over 95%) are designed and created exclusively by Artizara.

2) What is the biggest influence for choosing the clothes that you sell or create?

Inspiration can come from just about anywhere, nature, people-watching, lifestyles…

Islamic art and heritage is a big influence, interpreted in a fresh contemporary way. We also keep an eye on mainstream fashion trends in terms of color, cut, texture and form, but add certain touches to the garment that truly make it unique and special.

Wearability and practicality is a big consideration. Every piece we design should be something we ourselves would buy, our friends and family will buy, and would recommend to others. We design each piece with the goal that it should never hang in your closet; you should get lots and lots of wear out of it, dress it up or down, wear it for work and play, at home or at a night on the town.

3) Where did the name Artizara come from?

The Artizara name was a brainstorm by the co-founders of the business, friends and neighbors Sarah Ansari and Asra Razzaque.

4) How would you describe the Artizara Woman (your customers)?

The Artizara woman is enlightened, socially conscious, active in her community, and interested in the world. She understands that the world is a very small place and that we are all alike in many more ways than we are different. The Artizara woman enjoys world style and dresses modestly since she is a believer that a woman’s worth lies in her intellect, not in the shape of her body.

Above all, the Artizara woman understands that women form half the intellectual capital of humanity, and that they have a very important role to play in the progress of society; whether their sphere of influence is the home, their place of education, their work, or the broader community.

5) What is your dream for the Artizara brand? Where would you like to see the company go in the future?

We have big dreams for our little company! In a very broad sense, We would like the Artizara brand to represent in its products, all that is beautiful in our rich and ancient Islamic heritage.

6) What can we expect from Artizara this Spring/Summer?

This season’s collection is all about soft fabrics, relaxed and easy silhouettes that let the body breathe and move, yet look smart and dressed up.

Practicality was a big design influence this season, as was a mindset that in these tough economic times, every Artizara piece you buy, should earn its keep!

We have added functional, concealed pockets to many of our tops as we realize that life’s busy and sometimes its just no fun to fish about in your purse for those wayward keys or that cell phone!

Clever details like detachable sleeves, give the customer different options to wear the same top, adding value to your purchase.

Coordinated scarves have been designed with every piece, and we’ve put together many ensembles, for those of you who’d rather not spend time putting together that “put together” look!

7) How do most of your customers find out about you?

We have a dedicated customer base, as well as new customers who find us every day, online, or through referrals from friends and family.

8) Why do they love shopping with you?

Rather than we saying anything, we will let our customers do the talking! Here is a list of customer comments, reproduced directly from their communications/emails:

Dear all, I already received clothes and I’m so thankful for the good quality and the rapid service. jazakom allah khair. Regards


I am really impressed with the quality of the products and the customer service from this website. Unfortunately they did not have my size, so I had to ask for a refund for the wonderful jacket that I ordered (the quality and appearance is very good, and totally as shown in the picture, not deceiving marketing photos). The Artizara staff is really nice and professional, quick and accurate response to my questions, and acting with integrity and ethics. They are the true example of real Muslim, MashaAllah, and after speaking on the phone with them, it makes you wish to be a better person, to be more forgiving, soft-spoken and respectful to others, as they are! Although I am not a muslim (yet), I am in the process of learning about Islam and I read your blogs regularly. I am grateful for being exposed to very good and inspiring examples of Muslim brothers and sisters, and the Artizara staff is among these great examples. Thank you for such a great experience, I am pleased to know about you and do business with you! May Allah give you his best care and mercy! Subhan Allah!


I want to tell you how thrilled I am with my first experience shopping on your website. I ordered a shirt Tuesday and I’m wearing it today, Friday! I appreciate the prompt email confirming my order and the notification that my order shipped. The shirt is wonderful; I love the style, color and details. You seem to have thought of everything to make this a pleasant and easy transaction. I will definitely shop with you again! Many thanks,


Hello and thank you Yes I corrected my self on the 2nd mail that I meant a hijab not jilbab, thank you very much for the way you handled it,and for the treatment,I am sorry if I was rude and may GOD bless you

A. Roitman, Israel

I would just like to confirm that I have received the refund in full and am grateful for the gesture. May Allah grant Artizara to grow from strength to strength and that the adaab in which they handle their business and customers bring them barakat insha Allah. Wishing all the staff of Artizara a blessed Eid Mubarak. Sister in Islam

Rayghana,South Africa

love your site, outfits and service. thank you!


I just wanted to let you know that I have received my order and really love the shirt and the scarves too :-) Also, the packaging was done very professionally and overall this was a really pleasant shopping experience. The clothes are very nice quality and I’ll be ordering some more and recommending to my friends as well :-) Thank you again

Mirela , CA

Thank you for getting back to me so soon. I found your response very helpful. As I am at work now, I need to go home and measure myself properly. Then I will choose an outfit and ask you for your advice again. Thank you ever so much!

Hanna , U.K.

I got my items and they are AMAZING !!!!! Thank you soooo much.

Kasia, Paris, France

I received the beatuiful dress in the mail a moment ago, and it is exquisite! Thank you so much, I look forward to ordering another dress from Artizara in the next month or two!

Pearl, San Francisco, CA

I am very pleased at the quality of my recent order, the Sarah Gown and Jacket; my wife was especially happy. Also, thank you very much for the expedient delivery and for specifying my delivery instructions to UPS. I look forward to further purchases in the future, insha’Allah.

Zain , Seattle, WA

Shukran, I got the shirt and hijab yesterday, Mashallah they are
wonderful. Can’t wait for the larger sizes!!!!


Thank you for adding my email to their website i didnt even think of that! ive already made a wish list and man am i breaking the bank but its worth it and its all gorgeous .


Thank you for the notification and the gift of $10.00 credit toward my next purchase. Your site has many beautiful items. I appreciate your consideration and look forward to receiving my order.
Cindy, Washington

I absolutely love the “Wildly Popular” Embroidered Tunic, which I am exchanging for a smaller size. I don’t know the name of the person I spoke with on the phone today. The customer service at your company is excellent. I wills send other sisters your way.

Dr. L.H, California

“I just wanted to write and tell you how happy I am with my purchase. I wore the shirt I bought from you to work today and I was complimented by everyone. All the women I work with wanted to know where I bought it. I’m very pleased that you have clothes that are stylish and affordable. Keep up the good work. I look forward to buying more clothing from your company in the future.”

E.S., Oregon

“I received my order today, the Contemporary Silver Allah pendant and the antiqued silver pendant with the three onyx stones. Gorgeous! Really beautiful pieces and I received them so quickly. Your customer service is amazing too. When you were out of stock on the turquoise and onyx pendant, Asra called to let me know and e-mailed me as well. Not many other companies do that!

Thanks very much – I’m sure I’ll be a returning


“Wow! Excellent merchandise! Beautiful, artistic, and very modest! Thank you!”


“Dear Artizara Team,

I am just writing this to to say thank you very much for my shipment that I received a few days ago. Everything was really beautiful. The pink tunic was really beautiful and also the Afghan embroidered bookmarks were really gorgeous. My family absolutely loved them as they were presents for them. Also thank you the free bookmark and sending the missing scarf. That was very kind. Also I would just like to say thank you to Sarah for all your help and hope I didn’t bug you too much with all my emails :-). Anyway it’s really nice doing business with you. Insha’allah in the future I hope to do more.

Insh’allah may Allah help and bless you for all your efforts.”

Bestest Regards,

“Jazak Allah khayr. Although the dress did not work, your service was great. Thank you so much, may Allah bless you and your business. Fi Amani Allah.”


“I received my order yesterday! Order ID #210 I really love the fleece shirt. It’s beautiful and fits perfectly!”

Satisfied Customer,

“Thank you so much for the beautiful gown. I received it a couple of days ago and the small size fits beautifully. I appreciate your quick and painless manner of handling business, and your products are the most beautiful I’ve seen!!! I look forward to purchasing more products from you in the very near future. I will be recommending your web site to all of my Jewish religious friends who like elegant modesty.”


“I love your site and the service, keep up with the good


“I received the Dreams of Shangai shirt and the Handwoven cotton shirt today. I loved them both; thanks for your excellent service! The Dreams of Shanghai shirt is perfect. I love the quality of your shirts and will definitely be ordering more products from you later on.”


“My name is Ayesha and I am a new customer to your online store. I have been having trouble finding the right styles to wear to work and I began looking for stores online. When I came upon your sight I was amazed to see the designs, colors, and beauty in your apparel that I went overboard and ordered more than I needed. I am so excited about my shirts! Your styles are so unique and BEAUTIFUL that I just can’t wait to wear it at work. Jazak-Allah Khair! May Allah (swt) bless you, your business, and your family.”


Assalamu alaikum,

Thank you so much for the absolutely GORGEOUS ‘stay-in-place’ silk scarves,which have just arrived. I am off to hospital in about one hour and know how good I will feel wearing these scarves after the operation, insh’allah.

Best wishes and salaam,

Help us Design the Spring Summer 2009 Collection!

We have been really busy at Artizara!

The Spring Summer 2009 collection is now underway and we would love to hear from you. In these tough economic times, we realize that now more than ever, every garment we produce has to earn its keep. We have searched high and low, and really put our heads together to bring you styles that will do double duty in your wardrobe…that will transition from school to work, from day to evening, season to season.

We would love to know what you you like (and more importantly, don’t like) about Artizara products. Here are the key areas that we could really use your feedback:

Color: Do you like bright colors, pastels or neutrals? Do you change the colors you wear with the seasons? Are there certain colors you wouldn’t be caught dead in :)! Do you think dressing modestly means dressing in neutrals and staying away from color altogether? Do mainstream color trends matter, would you like to see Artizara modest shirts in the season’s hot colors?

Fabric: What are your preferred fabrics? Do you read garment labels to check the fiber content? Do you like natural or man-made fabrics?

Styling: How important is garment length to you? Do you like shirts to go to your knee, mid-thigh, below hip? Side vents or none? Extra long sleeves?

Embellishment: Plain shirts or embellished? Thread or metallics?

Care: I know that ironing tops the list of my least favorite household chores! Cotton shirts are great for comfort but do require the extra maintenance to look good. How important is garment care for you? Do you regularly iron your clothes? Do you shy away from buying garments that are “dry clean only”?

Price: What should you expect to pay for a good quality, modest long shirt? Is it evident to the customer that modest clothing takes more fabric to produce and is therefore more costly?

Bottoms: Are you more of a skirt person or slacks? Do you generally buy your bottoms at mainstream stores? Are there certain kinds of bottoms that are really hard to find?

Scarves: How important is it to coordinate the scarf with the shirt? Is it convenient to have dyed to match scarves or would you rather create your own signature ensemble? Is it easy to find coordinating scarves for your modest clothing outfits?

Evening Wear: Are there certain dresses that we carry that you love…or don’t like at all? Please let us know! Should dresses always be lined? What are your preferred fabrics and embellishments? Do you prefer dresses with a little shape or straight caftans? Are there dresses from a certain part of the world that really catch your fancy and could be “mainstreamed” as an Artizara product?

Shoot us an email at….we are all ears!

Happy New Year

All of us at Artizara wish you a joyous, safe and prosperous 2009!

What a whirlwind 2008 has been…and are we glad it’s behind us :)

What with climate change, geopolitical turmoil, the global financial crisis and the roller coaster economy…it was enough to make anyone’s head spin! As we ended 2008 and began both a Christian and an Islamic New Year, it seemed that change was all around us… and it left us feeling excited, but a little apprehensive too, about what the future has in store for us.

More than anything, the new year is a time to take stock, thank the Almighty for our blessings, pare away the superfluous and identify and focus on what’s REALLY important to us, spiritually, personally and professionally.

We thank you, our customers, for having faith in us, and helping us grow. We need your guidance and your input, every day. Please let us know what you like, and do not like, about Artizara. We are here because of you, and without you, we would cease to be.

We hope that the new year is a year of new hope, new possibilities and new awakenings for us all, Ameen!

Plain Clothes Revisited: Empathy for Muslim Women

Interesting article by Laura Weaver, who draws a parallel between her experiences as a modest dressing Mennonite woman and the perceptions regarding Muslim women wearing hijab.

Plain Clothes Revisited:
Empathy for Muslim Women
Laura H. Weaver

On September 17, 2001, while driving home, I heard an NPR interview with Suha Samhouri, “a typical New York woman in her mid-20s, except for the Hijab that covers her head.” The previous week, reporter Rick Karr explained, when she drove to a shopping center, “she failed to recognize two women she’d known for years . . . because they weren’t wearing Hijab.” Samhouri herself reported, in the interview, “As I was walking towards my car, I just saw the tears roll down my eyes and I couldn’t believe it. I was really shocked. . . . Just very unbelievable, someone, you know, having to change their beliefs, their ideas because of one or a group of really terrible people.” And as I was driving, I, too, began crying. A week later I read, in a Newsweek article, “In Washington D.C., Muslim women have had hijab scarves snatched from their heads.” (1) During September I heard other NPR interviews with young Muslim women in the U.S., for example, Amina Chaudary, a graduate student in public policy at George Washington University. Chaudary, who began wearing the scarf during high school and wore it when she was the captain of the varsity basketball team, said that it has now become “a target-verbal, physical, whatever-stares.”

I became angry when I heard of such mistreatment and equally angry during local discussions treating a Muslim woman as an Other. Here in Evansville, Indiana, I attended a book discussion of Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women, (2) written by Geraldine Brooks, a Westerner–a foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal in the Middle East. Throughout most of this book, Brooks describes Western women’s dress in positive images and Muslim women’s dress (head and body coverings) in negative ones. For example, Brooks complains about a young Muslim woman’s getting rid of her Western dress: Sahar “wrapped away” her curls “in a severe blue scarf” and replaced her “shapely dress” with “a dowdy sack. . .[;] she had crumpled her bright wings and folded herself into a dull cocoon” (p. 7). Elsewhere Brooks describes Muslim women’s dress as “shapeless” (pp. 22, 63), “figure hiding” (p. 23), and “concealing” (p. 92). These outfits are compared pejoratively to the clothing of nuns, whom the author considers “fossil[s]” (pp. 10, 92), and to death and hell: the chador worn by the author to gain credibility at a press conference is a “black shroud” (p. 289), and the “360-degree black cloaks” worn by Saudi women “made them look, as Guy de Maupassant once wrote, ‘like death out for a walk'” (p. 21). On one occasion the author, seeing “the black-cloaked figures” of women, feels as if she had been “locked up by mistake in some kind of convent from hell” (p. 19). In our group discussion of this book, other women, sharing Brooks’s bias, asked, “How could they wear those clothes?” Outraged by their question, I wanted to leave the room.

Instinctively I placed myself in the position of Muslim women wearing distinctive clothing, especially as minority people in the U.S., not only when I listened to the radio or participated in a book discussion but also when I saw them in person. When, with other friends, I went to an open house at the local mosque and when I saw the local imam’s wife at a civil rights luncheon, I identified more with the Muslim women, whether their heads were fully or partially covered by scarves, than with the other women accompanying me. Recently I recalled another moment perhaps ten years ago when, in a restroom on the University of Evansville campus, I was standing at the washbowl beside a Muslim woman wearing the hijab. I felt that I was in her place. In this identification, my intellectual recognition of the apparent oppression signified by prescribed coverings for women’s heads and bodies was subordinated to my experiential connection with Muslim women.

Photo 1

Because of the increased attention given to Muslim women’s clothing after September 11, I began to revisit my experience with the Mennonite cap (head covering) and plain clothing, worn until I was 31 years old. During the past 19 years my earlier changes in cap/hair/clothing have often constituted the subject matter of my personal-experience essays designed to demonstrate my gradual acculturation. In those essays I never set out to ridicule my cap and plain clothes; I just attempted to show the changes. Photograph #1 illustrates that phase of my writing: my treating the cap and the plain clothes as an artifact, something to be discussed. In that photograph, I am a spectator of my life, as shown by my holding the cap in my hands and by the family photographs in the background–one showing me in my plain clothes and the other, in my non-plain clothes. Now, however, I’ve begun to see my plain-clothes experiences in a new way.

Instead of concentrating on my acculturation, I’m now interested in looking closely at my “plain” period, especially at the ways in which, despite my different appearance, I was a normal person participating in activities in the dominant society. I sense that my objection to others’ seeing Muslim head scarves and other clothing only as an instrument of oppression–as something to ridicule or seek to eradicate–derives from my plain-clothes past. Seeing the scarves and dresses, I recalled my own experiences not as an “other” but as a normal person.

Reminiscing prompted me to locate photographs taken when I was a plain-clothes student at Manor-Millersville High School (now Penn Manor) in Millersville, Pennsylvania, and a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. In appearance I had nothing in common with the other students in either place. However, I participated in life at both places; underneath the different hairstyle, the cap, and the plain dress, I was a human being who, in a public high school, shared with others in academic work and extracurricular activities and, in graduate school, again performed the usual academic work and socialized with other students. (3)

Photo 2

Throughout high school I not only went to classes but also engaged in extracurricular activities. And always I wore the cap, even when singing in Glee Club performances within and outside the school and while wearing a gym suit for physical education class. Never did anyone order me or even try to persuade me to take off the cap or to stop wearing the cape dress. Two photos illustrate my differences from other people but also my participation. Photo #2 shows that the high school girls, except for a few other plain-clothes Mennonites, had cut hair and curls, wore skirts and blouses (some with decorative bows), and white socks. However, I wore my hair pulled back in a bun, wore a cap with strings, a cape dress with no decoration, and black shoes and stockings. Clearly, I was different. However, that physical difference did not prohibit me from actively joining in high school life and even in gaining recognition as the editor of the school newspaper, Manor Hi-Lights. As the editor, I was seated in the center of the photo, with 26 other staff members around me.

Photo 3

In the National Honor Society photo (#3) I again looked different. Other girls had cut hair and curls, wore skirts, blouses, scarves. I had long hair in a bun, wore a cap with strings, and wore a cape dress. But I participated sufficiently in high school life to be inducted into the National Honor Society, which emphasized scholarship, leadership, character, and service.

Photo 4

Photo 5

The next two photographs (#4 and #5) were taken on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia during my work on a master’s degree. Although, of course, my life there, just as in the public high school, involved academic performance, these particular photographs illustrate that, despite my different appearance, I socialized with other graduate students in English. Again, I am distinguished from other female students by my hair worn in a bun and by my white cap. By this time in my life, the cap was smaller, more hair showed at the neck, and there was less difference between my dress and those worn by other young women. However, I was still different–in fact, the only University of Pennsylvania woman wearing a cap. But just as clearly, I became friends with other graduate students, both women and men. We often studied in the same section of the library, and we socialized outside of classes. Together we went to parties. Although I drank soft drinks when others drank alcohol, I was there–invited with other students.

By the time I taught at Bluffton College and then completed a Ph.D. at the University of Kansas, I no longer wore a cap and cape dress. However, during the previous 31 years of my life (except for periods as a student and a teacher at Eastern Mennonite College and a teacher at Belleville Mennonite High School [Pennsylvania]) I was accustomed to looking different from the people around me: in public grade school; public high school; the workplace (an advertising agency and a law office) during two years between high school and college and in Christmas and summer vacations; and graduate school during my master’s degree studies. That difference, revealed in those five photos, became so internalized that, regardless of my agreement or disagreement with the reason for different clothing, I still identify with the persons wearing it. When something negative is said about them, especially women wearing religiously-prescribed clothing, I cringe–as if it were said about me. (4)

My witnessing the discrimination against Muslim women’s head coverings and other clothing has profoundly affected me, without, however, leading me to romanticize either conservative Mennonite or Muslim women’s experiences. Focusing less on my acculturation, now I am revisiting my experience with plain clothes, recapturing my engagement as a minority person in the dominant society. I remember that plain Laura was a normal human being who shared in academic life and socialized with others. The other effect is that I see Muslim women not as targets for our scorn or our attempted re-training but as participating human beings. My shared experience of having worn a distinctive head covering and dress has generated cross-cultural empathy. Other proof of an emerging appreciation for Muslim women’s clothing appears at the end of Nine Parts of Desire, where even Brooks, after having consistently denigrated Muslim women’s clothing, describes her changed response to the chador she wore to do her job:

When I look at that chador I no longer get the little shudder of fear or the gust of outrage that I used to feel when I saw the most extreme forms of Islamic dress. These days my feelings are much more complex. Chadors are linked in my mind to women I’ve felt close to, in spite of the abyss of belief that divided us. (5)

Facing fewer obstacles than did Brooks, I developed cross-cultural empathy much more easily. Not only “women I’ve felt close to” but also I myself have worn religiously-prescribed clothing. Living as plain Laura for 31 years prepared me to enter into the experiences of the Other–especially Muslim women in the U. S.


1. Lynette Clemetson and Keith Naughton, “Patriotism vs. Ethnic Pride: An American Dilemma,” Newsweek, 24 Sept 2001, p. 69.

2. Geraldine Brooks, Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women (New York: Random House, 1995).

3. Admittedly, I had more freedom than do Muslim women in some countries. In this essay I am describing the similarity between my experience as a conservative Mennonite minority woman and that of a Muslim minority woman in the U. S.

4. Despite my decision not to wear plain clothing and despite my disagreement with doctrinal justifications for this practice, I would probably react similarly to harsh criticism of a plain-clothes Mennonite woman who is a minority in a given situation. Although I do not identify with groups of such Mennonite women, I identify with a single minority figure.

5. Brooks, 234.

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Last updated: 27 August 2007

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