It seems only fitting that a girl with the name “Monalisa” would make a good first impression. At Stanford’s Charity Fashion Show model tryouts, Monalisa Hassan, 17, stood out and stood up for Muslim girls without having to say a word. “I wear scarfs in public because I’m religious. They talked a lot about teaching cultural diversity through fashion (at CFS). That’s one of their huge goals,” Monalisa said. “They took someone who can’t show their hair, to walk on the runway. Can’t show any leg; very, very little skin. As a Muslim girl, as an Arab girl with a head scarf … it means a lot to other Muslim girls.” Monalisa’s impression was enough to score a spot as one of three high school students who will walk the 70-foot runway tonight on Stanford’s campus. Under the sprawling white tent Monalisa and Stanford models will walk in top fashions by Betsy Johnson, Liz Claiborne, Priestess NYC and Raquel Allegra, along with 25 other international and up-and-coming designers. A hijab may not scream runway fashion, but first-time model Monalisa keeps it fresh — tieing the silky patterns in pretty and unique ways. “I’m sort of known for that at my high school.” Plus, her head scarves are cute and beautiful, she says. “It doesn’t have to hinder fashion.” Stanford’s annual event has been called West Coast’s biggest fashion show, but fabric and thread aside, it’s held to promote the arts, ethnic diversity and a sweat-free fashion industry. Not by promoting sleeveless spring dresses — but by featuring international designers (and locals) who steer clear of sweatshops and keep multicultural kinship in mind. This year’s donation will go to Doctors Without Borders, who help war-torn areas around the world with emergency medical aid. The attention to diversity by nonprofit CFS is wrapped into a fun night of fashion, dancing and mingling — a place where Monalisa has found a second family in fellow models and the CFS team at Stanford. “It’s been amazing, to be completely honest. I know I’m going to keep in touch with them forever,” she said of her new Stanford “brothers and sisters.” In rehearsals since January, Monalisa’s new friends forever have helped answer questions about college and reaffirmed her ambition to apply to Stanford for a pre-med major. As a first-generation American (her parents came from Egypt about a year before her birth) Monalisa said she didn’t have the resources from her parents about the steps it takes to get into college in the U.S. The CFS has helped her in ways she didn’t expect and given her new contacts. Her Pennies for Peace club to help build schools in Afghanistan, that she started at JFK High School in Fremont, will see updates thanks to CFS coordinators, Thom Scher and Wayne Hwang. “I’ve been watching them, how they run things,” Monalisa said. “They’re really, really successful. The show is sold out I think. So I’ve been stealing their ideas, trying to learn as much as I can.” With a name like Monalisa and smile to match, look for her to steal the show Saturday night and make her parents and her Muslim community proud.
A ticket to see Shazia Mirza is not for the faint of heart. Before she begins her act, she moves down the aisle, sizing up her crowd; squashed into the tiny venue and soaking wet from the sudden Scottish downpour. At one point she rifles through the pockets of a member of the audience. “A bus ticket – so he’s down to earth.” Next she finds a press pass – he’s a reviewer. “I’ve shot myself in the foot!” she groans theatrically. The audience laughs but squirms – who will she pick on next?
Nothing is off-limits for Shazia: sex, religion, racism, terrorism, misogyny and family pressure are all material. When other comedians are making jokes about Team England’s epic fail in this year’s World Cup and their girlfriends, Shazia is more courageous, turning taboo topics into comedy.
Her one-liners are witty and well-placed, (“The best thing anyone’s ever shouted at me? Oi you Paki. Go back to India!”) but it’s Shazia’s storytelling that really draws in the audience. Her tales of being a Pakistani mistakenly invited to meet the Queen along with 400 British Indians and of her Irish atheist boyfriend posing as a minicab driver to meet her mother are both entertaining and endearing.
Shazia Mirza started out as a pioneer: the first practising Muslim woman in comedy. These days she’s more than just a novelty, though: Shazia’s an established comedian in her own right, and her material resonates with anyone who’s ever experienced parental pressure, culture clash or felt out of sync with their peers.
Dian Pelangi was 18 years old when she made her debut at the the Jakarta Fashion Week in November 2009. With her unique designs to incorporate bright colors into her fashions along with her unique ways of styling her hijabs on her models, she has captured the attention of the Muslim Fashion world….
When calling for an outright ban of the burqah, the argument ceases to be about gender equality and shifts to an aggressive violation of human rights clouded by an air of xenophobia. Stripped down to its core, the act of imposing a ban on the burqah to liberate women is no more enlightened than the views held in the very patriarchal societies being condemned. Ironically, both approaches lead to the same end point — women subjugated to the will of others, regardless of whether the end result is a silhouette of a woman clad in a heavy burqah, or that of a woman stripped of her right to choose.
Often we’re presented with the supposed flip side to the argument — we don’t see women in Saudi frolicking around in a bikini, so why should Muslim women in the West be allowed to cover? There are some fundamental differences between the two societies, the most obvious being that the West prides itself on being founded on a democratic basis — it’s issues like this that put this ideological concept to the test. Furthermore, forcing women to wear a burqah/niqab in countries like Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan is not Islamically correct — it is not a universally accepted true expression of Shariah, so we should hardly be looking to those regimes for guidance or to draw parallels.
The fabulous Durkhanai Ayubi on the proposed “burqah ban”