This is not, strictly speaking, a fashion book. Stratton sets out to find the counterculture of young Arabs, who make up two thirds of the region’s population. Instead, she finds an uneasy coexistence between trendy, mass-marketed faith and a cultural obsession with sexy music videos, two seemingly opposing impulses that coalesce in the figure of the “muhajababe.” Muhajaba is Arabic for a modest woman, and the muhajababe wears hijab, but pairs it with tight rhinestone spangled jeans, stilettos, and a made-up face. They keep, in short, the modest principles of Islam while wholeheartedly adopting trashy pop culture and the sexy materialism so roundly critiqued by liberal progressives in the west. Stratton’s voice is fresh and young- occasionally bracingly so – but her real strength lies in the salience of the figure of the muhajababe herself. The muhajababe highlights how a young girl’s body can be the space where the tensions between a hip (if earnest) Islam and branded cosmopolitan sexiness are plated out. A useful reminder that we cannot expect others’ revolutions to mimic our own, Stratton’s chatty travelogue suggests that Arabic social change will not come from a secular protest culture, but from shifting mediations of Islam and popular culture.
by Allegra Stratton – Melville House
reviewed by Emily Raine (originally published in Worn Fashion Journal Issue 9)