photos: Photo courtesy of event organizers.

Muslim fashion event in Victoria aims to build community and understanding

Arts Profile: There still seems to be a good deal of confusion and questions around the culture itself, such as the significance of wearing hijabs.

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By Jamila Douhaibi


Hijabs are worn by Muslim women in numerous countries around the world. Even though Islam is a common religion there still seems to be a good deal of confusion and questions around the culture itself, such as the significance of wearing hijabs.

Shazia Suleman, youth director on the women's board for the Masjid Al-Iman Mosque, was contacted by the Greater Victoria Public Library about putting on an event to boost understanding about her culture. Since Suleman works with the Youth Activities Program, she decided to put on the Hijab Fashion and Awareness event for the Victoria community.

Having the event in this city is "very important because of community building and awareness," says Suleman. The show, which took place in the afternoon on Saturday, Nov. 18 at the central library downtown included demonstrations and discussion, as well as a youth fashion show.

Hijab fashion
In January 2016, Suleman ran a similar awareness event at the Quadra Village Community Centre. The turnout for the event was "bigger than what we expected," says Suleman.

It inspired presenters because people were interested in finding out more about hijab culture, especially when it comes directly from Muslim women. Suleman says that excitement from the hijab fashion show also acted as an "empowerment for youth" who participated.

When Suleman was contacted by the library, the women's board decided to recreate the event they had in Quadra Village for the biggest audience of Victoria.

Suleman finds that Quadra Village, in the same area as the Masjid Al-Iman Mosque, is quite a diverse area. She says having the event downtown will open it up to a different population who might not have a connection to the Muslim community.

The Mosque is run under the umbrella of the non-profit B.C. Muslim Association. It is currently the largest Muslim organization in the province and owns and operates several Islamic centres across B.C., as well as the B.C. Muslim School. In 2007, the women's council were given autonomy to have their own board and chapters.

Suleman says they have been able to start a diverse number of women-focused programs, including programs for moms and tots, a women's social group, as well as the Youth Activities Program, which is putting on the hijab event.

The "YAP girls," as they are called, are made up of youth 12-18 years old. They participate in leadership training, engage in community outreach, attend leadership camps, and plan events for younger children. In 2016, the YAP girls also put together a unity and diversity event for all girls in Victoria aged 13-18 to showcase their talents.

‘Feeling of unity’
The YAP girls put on open houses for youth at the Mosque. Suleman says "it's so fun when they come" because there is interfaith dialogue between youth who ask each other questions, try on traditional clothing and share community together.

Like the upcoming hijab event, Suleman says these events "bring about a feeling of unity" because youth end up discussing issues that bring them together, rather than show their differences.

Suleman believes that these events "give our girls the opportunity to integrate in the community, as well as giving other people the chance to ask questions in a safe space." The event encourages the types of questions that might otherwise be seen as awkward or inappropriate, she adds.

Another way this event works at breaking barriers is by allowing women and girls who attend the event to try on a hijab, and even take one home. At the last event more than 200 hijabs were given away.

To explain the importance of the hijab in modern culture the YAP girls also put together a short film about a young girl who wrestles with whether or not to continue wearing the hijab because of peer pressure and concern for her safety. The film was shown at the last awareness event, and Suleman plans to show it as part of this month's program, if time allows.

About 30 youth participated in the last fashion show, and along with one-on-one demonstrations and discussions by around 10 women showing how the hijab is worn in their country, it makes for a busy event.

At each station women talk about "what the hijab means to them," says Suleman, and by the end of visiting all the stations, people "realize all these women are wearing the hijab for the same reason—the only difference is how they wear it."

Suleman hopes that the hijab event this month will again act to create unity and to "highlight similarities rather than differences" in the Victoria community.

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