Modest Fashion for the Soul

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Muslimah on We Heart It

This is officially the first year that I haven’t been able to fast for the month of Ramadan and it’s been a hard learned lesson in both humility and faith. In being denied participation in the one genuine act of Islamic practice that I’m committed to wholeheartedly, I found myself reminiscing about the days when it was much easier to be Muslim in this world. Easier because extremism wasn’t so pervasive, because stereotypes were less biting, and because – frankly – people couldn’t tell a Muslim from a Persian from a Sikh and, so, there was a certain peace in being able to be ignored by default. But now, things have changed, and not for the better for anyone. It feels scarier to be a Muslim now more than ever and I’m sure it also feels scarier to not be.

While everyone all over the world is worried about terrorists in Orlando and in Dhaka and in Istanbul there are other movements coming from the Islamic world’s women that should be taken just as seriously. The #modestfashion movement is something I stumbled on while trying to get my Ramadanian dose of Muslimah love via the internet. And love I found…

When most people think of Muslim women, they think of hijabs (head scarf) and burqa/burkahs (and I won’t even start on a niqab). The debate around these two articles of clothing seem to be the majority of what you might find on Muslim women – period. But, Islam is the world’s second largest religion and is estimated to have about 1.7 billion believers. Trust me, they don’t all dress the same, much less share the same beliefs about religion or religiouswear. As #blackandMuslim will tell you, most people have stereotypes in their heads of Muslims that subscribe to the belief that all Muslims look like they are Arabs or Middle Easterners. But actually Indonesia is the country with the largest Muslim population and there are even videos about the growing population in places like Chiapas, Mexico. Needless to say, there are variations in faith, practice, and aesthetic.

Most people believe that Muslim women are wearing the equivalent of a brown paper bag. There are no curves, there is very little femininity in the idea of a burqa/burkah. Yet, there are many brands that are bringing color and joy to clothing that bears less skin. For women who actually observe covering, there are subtle differences in how much hair is shown, how much ankle is shown, how much of the face is seen that can typically help you identify which country she might hail from. Many, like me, don’t cover at all. In any case, there’s a whole body of fashion that goes forgotten, like abayas and fabulous shoes, that are both standard fare and fashion statement. Rather than debate about how much of a woman’s body is shown as an indication of her liberties or lack there of, there are many women who are owning the decision to wear what they choose and owning the choice to wear more.

Mormons, Muslims, Jews, Atheists and a variation of women all over the world, of various religious and ethnic backgrounds, have been uniting around the idea of being covered. There’s something appealing about gravitating away from the fatshaming  that’s so common in the London Tube and all around us, and embracing our capacity to be beautiful, mysterious, appealing, and amazing with a less (skin) is more aesthetic to match our attitude. Rather than continue to sing the praises of a movement you may not have seen, I’ll show you what it looks like and maybe, you too, will find a reason to get on board with embracing the freedom of femme that comes with bearing less skin. All of you with maxi dresses in your closets are halfway there already…

The (hijabi) American fencer, Ibtihaj Muhammad, is perhaps the most prominent example in the U.S. at the moment (woo hoo and she’s from the great state of New Jersey!) through her brand LouElla , which focuses on being covered AND fashionable. The idea is that you don’t have to be Muslim to enjoy not showing every inch of skin you own… Not that there’s a problem with showing all that skin… but hey, it’s not everybody’s thing.

For more ideas: London just had a Modest Fashion Show in Feb & so did Istanbul. The fabrics, the textures, man… I’m having a #fashiongasm over here. And if hijabs aren’t your thing, imagine yourself in the rest of the outfit. Use a lil’ imagination people!

 

 

 

Down the Rabbit Hole…

DSCF2095The more I read about tragedies in the U.S. and the more I travel the world, the more I think about leaving it all behind. There have to be places in the world that don’t tolerate atrocities like Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin’s deaths. There must be other places where Kametra Barbour gets more than an apology, where the national news (ahem CNN) would actually carry the story of Renisha McBride’s killer being sentenced correctly, and where Lavena Johnson’s death is investigated by the government, military, and people in whose name she volunteered her life to serve and protect.  I’ll never know if life is actually better elsewhere. No traveler ever can. My citizenship always gives me the gift of a speedy exit and the privilege of choosing when to see the grit and guts of local life. But, if I had to imagine 5 cities in the world where I – an educated Black woman with a small savings, a penchant for making travel my business, and a genuine appreciation for people of all hues – would be willing to give life a new go, I’d start here…

P10509735 – JohannesburgApartheid wasn’t that long ago and South Africa is by no means perfect, but from the POV of an Af-Am woman who needs a vibrant city with opportunities galore, Jo’burg offers a lot: universities that are world renowned, a banking system that makes sense, competitive job options, and lot of Africans who know how to have a good time. The Rainbow nation rarely sleeps in this town.

* Watch scenes from SABC’s new show Sticks & Stones.

* Shop Thula Sindi

* Arts on the Cheap at WAM

IMG_04254 – Sao Paulo

I love this city! Absolutely, positively love it to pieces. Much like Jo’burg it’s a huge city with lots to offer. And, again, much like Jo’burg it has it’s racial down sides. Looking around, you might not realize that you’re in (arguably) the world’s Blackest country outside of Africa. That said though, Sampa (as it is affectionately called) is home to every walk of life that Brazil calls native. Great sushi and German food abound. Italian designs and African hairdressers everywhere. Buses filled with all shades of the spectrum. If only they could do away with that horrible accent…

* Shop Oscar Freire

* Study & get lost at USP‘s campus

* See Carnaval pix!

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3 – London – I’ve always said that after one has lived and loved NYC, there’s no place else to live but London. That statement still haunts me to this day. The weather and the pound make London a difficult place to call home, but aside from those two very important factors I’d be on the first thing smoking to Brixton! Just being able to go to the Tate Modern every day just might be worth those bloody cold winters. Maybe…

* I could watch Notting Hill in Notting Hill, during Notting Hill Carnival!

* Brixton is awesome.

* I could watch BBC News every day on my TV, without cable!

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2 – Barcelona – I often have to stop myself from daydreaming about living near Las Ramblas and spending summers on La Mar Bella beach, for fear that I’ll just hop on a plane and never return. Talk about good food, nice people, arts beyond compare and falling in love with a city. I could start over, over, and over again in Barcelona and never get tired of the adventure.

* The Miro Foundation.

Caixa Forum exhibits.

Barca would be my hometeam!

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1 – Toronto – One of the most peaceful melting pots in North America, Toronto would have to be the most likely place for me to cast away. They speak English (in addition to 139 other languages and dialects). It’s just a few hours flight from home. And they have Uber! I’d have to say it’s the most live-able and like-able city on this list. Maybe it’s just a matter of time…

* Immigration made easy. Checklist here.

* T dot has got lots of shopping options on Yonge Street.

*Never a dull moment when Rob Ford is around…

 

 

If you need help deciding where your rabbit hole should lead you, check out this Buzzfeed Quiz
‘What City Should You Actually Live In.’ I got Barcelona!

54 Books beyond Bombay

Stack-Of-Books-BigThe year before last, I could only manage to read 48 books. Not even one book a week! #epicfailforanerd But this year, I was determined that I would finally read 52 books and Nikki would not beat me this time. Once again, I set her in my sights and she – clearly – didn’t even know it. Surely, I’d blow her book goals right out of the water. Right?

Wrong! Once again, Nikki is not even thinking about me! While I went above and beyond, tallying 54 books this year, she’s off dressing up her daughter as a lion and going on African safaris. Sometimes, she and her husband even stage a safari in their backyard and pose their costumed daughter as the lion cub that they’re spotting in the wild. I mean, it’s pretty darn cute. And creative.  Damn you Nikki! I can’t win with you…

Alas, in 2013 I spent most of my time researching Indian culture and folklore, so a lot of last year’s books were academic in nature and/or Indian in authorship. Not all, but most. So, without further ado or more Nikki acclaim, here are my top 5 books of 2013:

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Maximum City Bombay Lost and Found is my favorite book of last year. And the irony here is that it was the very first book I read. So, it was downhill from there. But, talk about dissecting a city from its inside out! This book is a literary feat. It is a page turner that’s true to the city it preaches to know. There’s drama and sex and love and violence – all representative of a city that’s meant so much to me. I can’t recommend this book enough for those of us who have been to and enjoyed today’s Mumbai.

shantaramShantaram is Maximum City’s whorish twin sister, in book terms of course. It’s the tale of an escaped convict from Australia making his way in the Mumbai underworld. It speaks of the Nigerians and Afghanis. Drug dealers in plain sight at Cafe Mondegar. And foreigners with fake passports and friends in rat infested slums. The author claims the story is all fiction, but it’s rumored to be a memoir. I can’t imagine how anyone could make up 963 pages of this stuff without some serious life experience for inspiration.

 

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The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is the unsung story of Black motherhood – its efforts and short comings. The stories touched me on a personal level, as I felt familiar with the post-Great Migration characters and the inner city family drama. I don’t say that lightly though, because in my opinion contemporary Black protagonists often come off as overdramatized caricatures or underwhelmingly kitsch. Let’s be honest, we’re living in Tyler Perry’s wake. These historically accurate representations through Ayana Mathis’ words are long overdue, however.

 

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The Lonely Londoners is a short and easy read, but rich with texture and spirited characters. I came across it when researching the Indian Diaspora in literature. I read it not really expecting what I found. The author explores the recent immigrant experience in London, but not only from the Indian perspective. In fact, it’s primary characters are Caribbean immigrants. Like Mathis’ depiction, Sam Selvon gives short snippets of just how hard life can be for people who are trying really hard to make a dollar out of fifteen cents. Its characters are in a silent struggle, not in vocal rebellion. This read left me with a softer heart.

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Faces in the Water is where magical realism meets the unfortunate reality of female infanticide in contemporary India. The premise is that a little boy spends a summer at his family’s ancestral farm and discovers the water well that supplies the home. In it, he sees faces – female faces. More than one. You’d have to read the book to figure out who these girls are and how he resolves knowing how they got there. I loved this book not just because it tackles an issue that most people won’t even acknowledge, but it highlights that it’s not a practice that only occurs among the poor. And, more importantly, it empowers a male character – a young boy – to take action against injustice, to be a women’s rights activist, to be a better man than his own father.

2013 dud reads:

The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud: Where to begin? Maybe I’m just sad that this book is a book. It’s about a bunch of rich New Yorkers making asses of themselves and each other. It’s a New York reality – unfortunately – but the story doesn’t scream book worthy to me. And, I just found out that the author is a fellow alum of my high school, so I’m even more disappointed. The writing was convoluted and full of misplaced modifiers. If there’s one thing a Mustang can’t stand, it’s a misplaced modifier.

Arranged Love by Parul Mittal: Woe, the days of my life that I can’t get back! Maybe I need to have grown up on the Indian subcontinent to understand why this is supposed to be a love story, but this book is weird and lame. There are much better stories of arranged-come-love marriages. Read the Namesake and don’t waste your money or life minutes on this book!

Confession of a Buddhist Atheist by Stephen Batchelor: Some memoirs are just journal entries that people should later burn. This book is one. Buddhism isn’t a religion, so…. what’s this atheism schtick?  Hence, there are fundamental problems with this book and it’s premise. Sigh…