Edited by Glynis Jones

Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, Australia
First published 2012
Powerhouse Publishing,
Powerhouse Museum, Sydney
PO Box K346 Haymarket NSW 1238 Australia
Published in association with the exhibition Faith, fashion, fusion: Muslim women’s style
in Australia at the Powerhouse Museum May 2012 – February 2013. Visit the exhibition
online at www.powerhousemuseum.com
Exhibition curator: Glynis Jones, Powerhouse Museum
Assistant curator: Melanie Pitkin, Powerhouse Museum
Publication editor: Tracy Goulding, Powerhouse Museum
Designer: Peter Gould (Peter-Gould.com) & Rammal
Photography: Photo on page 9 by Geo Friend, Powerhouse Museum.
All other photos by Sotha Bourn and Marinco Kojdanovski, Powerhouse Museum,
unless otherwise stated.
Rights and permissions: Iwona Hetherington
Photo librarian: Kathleen Hackett
Printing: Playbill Printworks
Cover image: Street style photo shoot in Ultimo for the exhibition Faith, fashion, fusion:
Muslim women’s style in Australia. Photo by Marinco Kojdanovski
© 2012 Powerhouse Museum, Sydney
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval
system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electrical, mechanical or otherwise,
without first seeking the permission of the copyright owners and the publishers. Every
eort has been made to locate owners of copyright for the images in this book. Inquiries
should be made to Powerhouse Publishing.
Powerhouse Publishing is part of the Powerhouse Museum, a NSW government cultural
institution, also incorporating Sydney Observatory, the Powerhouse Discovery Centre
and the NSW Migration Heritage Centre.
This publication was supported by
The Migration Heritage Centre at the
Powerhouse Museum is a New South Wales
Government initiative supported by the
Community Relations Commission for a
Multicultural New South Wales.
Glynis Jones
Islamic dress and the Powerhouse Museum collection
Christina Sumner
Contemporary Muslim women’s identity
Shakira Hussein
The business of modest fashion
Hijab House
Integrity Boutique
Fay Tellaoui
Aida Zein
Mya Arifin & Delina Darusman-Gala
Muslim women in profile
Rayan Marabani
Mona Marabani
Amna Karra-Hassan & Lael Kassem
Randa Abdel-Fattah
Susan Carland
Arwa El Masri
Oishee Alam
Mecca Laalaa
Muslim street style
About the contributors
Douha El-Assaad
The Powerhouse Museum is proud to present what we
believe is a groundbreaking exhibition and publication
Faith, fashion, fusion: Muslim women’s style in Australia.
I can recall when first presented with the outline of this
exhibition being captivated by the women’s stories; I knew
then that it was going to capture the imagination of many.
So it is not a surprise that even before its opening the
exhibition has attracted much excitement and interest.
The exhibition explores the emerging modest fashion
market and the work of a new generation of Sydney based
designers, who are designing stylish clothing for Muslim
women, which meets both their desire to dress fashionably
and creatively while observing the requirements of their
faith. Through bricks and mortar boutiques, Facebook
pages and online e-tailing, they are also rethinking the
model for retailing and marketing modest fashion to a
broader local and global market, potentially creating
a significant export industry from their Sydney base.
Complementing this are the Sydney-based Muslim fashion
bloggers who provide advice on modest styles, how to
wear them and where to buy them.
The project also creates a space where Muslim women can
speak about their experiences and faith, countering some
of the misconceptions and prejudice that exist in Australian
society. Through photographs, treasured objects and
interviews, a group of Australian Muslim women share their
opinions, challenges and achievements in the exhibition.
The exhibition was developed in consultation with a wide
range of individuals from Australian Muslim communities
and organisations. I would like to thank all those who
have given advice and assistance in the exhibition
and publication. It has been wonderful to capture the
excitement, energy and talent of the people involved in
this emerging creative industry. My thanks in particular
must go to all the people who have generously given of
their time to share their stories, lend objects and take part
in the filming and fashion shoots that make the exhibition
and publication so visually and emotionally rich. My thanks
also to Museum sta who have undertaken this project
with genuine engagement and commitment.
The Powerhouse Museum’s NSW Migration Heritage
Centre and the Community Relations Commission for a
Multicultural NSW provided guidance for Faith, fashion,
fusion and I express my thanks for their ideas and input.
Director, Powerhouse Museum
or even of a high degree of religiosity. Nor did it signify a
retreat from public life — rather, it often communicated
a woman’s determination to advance her education and
career in mixed-gender settings beyond the home.
In Australia, too, the hijab was initially adopted by women
associated with Islamist networks before being taken up
by a broad cross-section of Muslim women. And rather
than segregating its wearers from Australian society, its
appeal lies in its capacity to allow them to blend into
their educational and workplace surroundings, while still
signalling their religious identity. Unlike shalwar kameez
and other regional outfits, the hijab can be teamed with
contemporary fashion and with modified school, sports
or service uniforms. Yet it continues to be represented as
‘unAustralian’ — the insignia of an alien and unwelcome
As Muslim communities in Australia came under scrutiny
in the wake of the September 11 2001 attacks in New York
and Washington, women wearing the hijab were the most
visible targets for verbal and physical harassment and
abuse. Hijabs were seen as both a symbol of submission to
patriarchy and (in the words of Liberal Party MP Bronwyn
Bishop) “an iconic emblem of defiance” of Australian
values. Whether as victims or as rebels, hijabis came to be
regarded as the standard-bearers of Muslim communities
in Australia, despite the fact that the majority of Muslim
women wear headscarves only part-time, if at all.
The first wave of hijabis emphasised their concept of
modesty as a source of empowerment. Their headscarves
signalled that they wished to be judged for their intellect
and their personal values rather than for their physical
For Muslim women living in Australia, all conversational
pathways seem to lead to the issue of ‘the veil’.
Explanations are sought from all of us, regardless of our
own personal attire. Why do we wear it, or not wear it? Do
we think that we might ever start to wear it, or take it o?
Do we think it should be banned in western countries or
compulsory in Muslim-majority societies? Veil-talk can go
on and on indefinitely. Whenever someone isn’t seeking
our opinion on the issue, it’s usually because they’re too
busy oering their own.
It is not immediately apparent exactly which garment
is under discussion, since the word ‘veil’ is deployed to
describe both headscarves (hijab) and face-veils (niqab).
However, both forms of veiling have been interchangeably
denounced as representing the infiltration of a dangerous
religious separatism and oppressive gender norms into
Australian society.
Hijab is widely described as a form of ‘traditional’ dress,
but in its contemporary form it represents a break with
both the various regional outfits of Muslim-majority
societies and the ‘uncovered’ western-style dress-mode
that had largely displaced them. As Leila Ahmed relates,
the appearance of the ‘new hijab’ in Egypt and elsewhere
in the Middle East was generated by the ascent of
Islamist movements during the 1970s and ’80s. The rising
popularity of the hijab caused fear among those for whom
it represented “an augury of possibly unwelcome and even
menacing changes to come” (Ahmed 2011). However, as
the new style of covering became a fashion trend among
women with a diverse range of political perspectives across
the Muslim world, it ceased to be a signifier of Islamism
National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies, University of Melbourne
attributes, which were for the private enjoyment of their
husbands. Hijabis were said to be prioritising intellectual
and spiritual development ahead of the expensive and
time-comsuming demands of elaborate hairstyles and
revealing clothing. However, while modesty remains a key
rationale, Muslim women have responded to post 9/11
hostility by emphasising the hijab’s compatibility with
Australian lifestyles, not to mention the pleasures of global
fashion. It signifies not separatism, but hybridity.
This hybridity was most overtly expressed by the women
who donned Australian flag hijabs for Australia Day events.
Other important stories of inclusion were to gain traction
as the post 9/11 decade progressed. In 2004, Lebanese-
born Constable Maha Sukkar became the first police
ocer in Australia to wear the hijab as part of her uniform,
dismissing concerns that her Velcro-fastened headscarf
might interfere with her work by making her a target for
negative attention (Edwards 2004). And Australian Muslim
women became enthusiastic consumers of the growing
international market for Islamic sportswear. Lebanese-
born Australian designer Aheda Zanetti designed and
manufactured a high-quality local version under a catchy
brand-name, the Burqini®.
The Burqini gained international media coverage in the
wake of the 2005 Cronulla riots. The event said to have
triggered the riots was a confrontation on Cronulla beach
between lifeguards and young Middle Eastern men.
However, underlying tensions included the aftermath
of a series of gang-rapes committed by young Muslim
men upon non-Muslim women, as well as the alleged
Mecca Laalaa at Cronulla Beach in 2006. Photo © Matt King/Stringer/ Getty Images
Constable Maha Sukkar, 2007
Photo by Stewart Chambers, courtesy Star News Group
harassment of ‘white’ women by young Muslim men
on the beach. Text messages urging “every Aussie” to
reclaim the beach in a “Leb and wog bashing day” drew a
5000-strong crowd, where fellow beach-goers “of Middle-
Eastern appearance” were abused and assaulted (Ho 2006).
In the aftermath of this display of masculinist rage, a
Burqini-clad young woman emerged as a symbol of post-
riot reconciliation. Mecca Laalaa wore a specially designed
red and yellow Burqini in order to participate in the ‘On the
Same Wave’ program under which young Muslims were
encouraged to train as lifesavers. The image of a Burqini-
clad Laalaa appeared in media outlets around the world
and was a centrepiece of The Australian newspaper’s
‘Heart of the Nation’ advertising campaign (Dutter 2006;
Bonner 2007; Fitzpatrick 2007; Squires 2007).
The ‘My Dress, My Image, My Choice’ project exemplified
this upbeat hijab message. Undertaken by the Islamic
Council of Victoria with funding from the federal
government under its National Action Plan to Build on
Social Cohesion, Harmony and Security, the women-
only interfaith event set out to dispel widespread
misconceptions about Muslim women and dress with
a program that included a fashion show among other
As the hijab became more familiar both on the streets
and in public life, it lost its media frisson. However, moral
panics over Islamic dress did not subside. As France and
other European nations introduced legislation to ban face-
coverings in public space, the burqa emerged as the new
threat to Australian identity and security. ABC journalist
Virginia Hausseger, recently returned from Afghanistan
where the Taliban regulations had notoriously prohibited
women from public visibility as well as from education
and employment, described the burqa (which had come
to refer to any form of Islamic face-covering) as part of a
‘war on women’. And police reports of an armed robbery
by a cross-dressing burqa bandit who had held up a
cash-distributor at gunpoint in Sydney’s south prompted
Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi to claim that the burqa was
“emerging as the preferred disguise of bandits and ne-er-
do-wells”. Muslim women themselves tend to have a far
more ambivalent attitude to the niqab/burqa (face-veil)
than to the hijab. Australian author Hanifa Deen writes
that “in Australia… [t]here are ‘burqa babes’ and ‘bikini
babes’ — women who cherish an ‘über’ modesty and
women who bare everything, except their souls” (Deen
2011). Some of those who cover their hair have supported
moves to prohibit face-coverings. However, others have
felt obligated to respond to racialised scaremongering by
defending the entitlement of women to cover their faces
if they so choose, even as they contest the claim that the
practice is recommended in Islam.
Ahmed, L (2011). A quiet revolution: the veil’s resurgence,
from the Middle East to America. New Haven, Yale
University Press.

Bonner, R (2007). ‘Australian Muslims go for surf, lifesaving
and Burqinis’. New York Times, 9 March 2007. New York.

Deen, H (2011) Editorial. Sultana’s dream, March 2011.

Dutter, B. (2006). ‘Aussie lifesavers recruit Muslims with the
‘Burqini’. The Telegraph, 26 November 2006. London.

Edwards, L (2004). ‘Making hijab part of Victoria Police
uniform’. The Age, 27 November 2004. Melbourne.

Fitzpatrick, L (2007). ‘The new swimsuit issue’.
Time, 19 July 2007.

Ho, C. (2006) ‘Cronulla, conflict and culture: How can
Muslim women be heard in Australia?’ 5 September
2006. http://www.hss.uts.edu.au/social_inquiry/research/

Matrah, J E (2005). ‘Stolen voices of Muslim women’. The
Age, 22 April 2005. Melbourne.

Squires, N (2007). ‘On Aussie beaches, burqa plus bikini
equals Burqini’. Christian Science Monitor, 9 January 2007.
The preoccupation with ‘the veil’ (however defined)
has come at a cost. As Joumanah el Matreh from the
Australian Muslim Women’s Centre for Human Rights says
“a significant amount of Muslim women’s time ‘on air’
has been used to either explain the hijab or to advocate
women’s right to wear it. There are many consequences
of this, but two urgent issues are that Muslim women
increasingly appear incapable of addressing any other
issue and that in restricting ourselves to this topic,
an opportunity has been created for Muslim men to
monopolise and define Islam”. (Matrah 2005) While Muslim
women who wear the hijab continue to face discrimination
and harassment as they go about their everyday lives,
those who do not are often judged by many non-Muslims
as well as Muslims as being insuciently authentic to
serve as representatives for their communities. But as
Hanifa Deen writes “Nobody listens when Muslim women
complain that the annual hijab-burqa debate is boring and
irrelevant” (Deen 2011).
“We want to change the way this product
has been sold for centuries. Our vision is
to cheer up the world of hijab.”
Tarik Houchar
Hijab House was one of the first Australian Muslim
women’s fashion retailers to open inside a mainstream
shopping centre. The flagship store opened in Bankstown
Centro, Sydney, in September 2010 and in the following
April, a second store opened in Stockland Mall, Merrylands.
Owner Tarik Houchar has set out to create a sophisticated,
modern take on what it’s like to be a fashionable young
Muslim woman living in the 21st century, through striking
fashion shoots and the careful coordination of marketing
images and the colour palette of their in-store products.
Unlike the more traditional Muslim women’s clothing
retailer, which typically stocks and displays imported
garments in bulk, Hijab House makes shopping more
convenient by packaging and marketing their products
as ‘essentials on the run’. Staple wardrobe items like
the popular long T-shirt abaya, cap and headscarf are
sold in beautifully decorated boxes, on ring hooks or in
transparent pouches.
Hijab House is Sydney based but retails to a global market
through an online store and Facebook. The design and
contents of the more recently opened Merrylands store
have been influenced by customer feedback on Facebook,
with wider aisles to accommodate prams, garments
organised according to colours, patterns and trends,
and larger changing rooms. “We really like to push retail
boundaries and peoples’ expectations … we listen to our
customers’ suggestions and include them in our future
plans”, says Tarik Houchar.
“We received mixed responses when Hijab House
first opened. The general public were afraid to
see a hijab store smack bang in the middle of
a shopping mall, while the Muslim community
thought we were too expensive just based on
our look. We worked very hard to get people into
the store, so we held tea party events that tied
in with our promotion, we held charity events,
we continuously worked on our Facebook
page to give the hijab a beautiful and a really
approachable context.”
“We were walking in Darling Harbour one
day and saw a sculpture with big metal rings
attached. And I thought customers could buy
a scarf on a ring and the ring could actually
become the handle for the box so they can walk
out with a really nice box and a ring they can
use at home as a scarf hanger. So no more of
this digging through piles of fabric or rushing to
three dierent stores to find an outfit. We really
are starting to push the convenience factor, and
again, that is what separates us from dierent
hijab stores.”
Photo courtesy Hijab House
Randa Abdel-Fattah is an Australian-born
Muslim of Palestinian and Egyptian heritage
who works as a lawyer but describes her real
passion as writing. She is an award-winning
author and in 2011 was named Australian
Muslim Role Model of the Year.
Can you tell us about your writing?
I wrote the first draft of Does My Head Look Big in This?
when I was fifteen. I was in Year 9 and I felt very passionate
about being an Australian Muslim girl who felt a sense of
being misunderstood by the wider community because of
my beliefs and also because I wore the hijab as part of my
school uniform. I felt compelled to write a book that would
somehow allow readers to look past the veil and see the
person within and realise I wasn’t a walking stereotype. I
wrote the first draft and sent it to publishers and they were
interested in the concept but ultimately turned it down.
They felt it was a bit too didactic and preachy.
When I returned to it in 2003 I thought this time I was
going to do something dierent, which is use humour and
I really wanted to write a funny book about just an average
Australian Muslim girl who is trying to negotiate her place
in the world and figure out the age old question ‘Who
am I?’ But at the same time she’s got the added burden
of having to deal with people’s prejudices because of her
decision to wear the veil while she’s at a snooty private
school in Melbourne. So I guess it’s a book about her
longing to belong and to be accepted for who she is.
After writing Ten Things I Hate about Me in 2006,
looking at what it meant to be Lebanese in Sydney, I felt
passionate about wanting to explore the Israeli occupation.
So I wrote Where the Streets Had a Name, looking at the
occupation from the point of view of a 13-year-old girl
growing up in occupied Bethlehem. It’s a story that I wrote
because of my heritage as the daughter of a dispossessed
Palestinian, and it’s a cause that I’m deeply passionate
And after those three books I felt “Wow! They’re quite
weighty topics”, even though I tried to inject comedy
into them. I wanted to do something dierent, so I wrote
Noah’s Law, which is a legal thriller and the protagonist
this time is a 16-year-old boy. I’ve now started writing for
children, and have just started a four-book low-fantasy
series. I’ve also written my first adult book, called No Sex in
the City, which was enormous fun to write and is a spin on
the traditional chick lit with a Muslim/Jewish/Greek/Indian
What do you hope to achieve as a writer?
One of the things I hope to achieve when I write
in the mainstream media is to counter a lot of the
misconceptions about Muslims and Islam, about Palestine
and about refugees, and provide an alternative voice. I
don’t ever represent myself as the Muslim voice. I’m not
speaking on behalf of a monolithic community and I
suppose part of my writing is to reinforce the idea that
there are many voices within Muslim communities. I also
like to challenge people’s idea of what we mean when we
say mainstream. Is a Muslim voice seen as some deviation
from the norm, or can we accept that Muslim voices
contribute to the mainstream space and are part of the
mainstream? They are not just a sexy niche voice, an exotic
other but are actually part of this ‘us’ collective. Or are we
constantly going to be referenced as ‘them’?
My human rights work has become more about writing
and using a platform in the media when I have the chance
to try and raise awareness about issues that don’t get
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enough attention. When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict, we don’t often hear the Palestinian point of view.
When I first started it was very dicult to even get an
editor to entertain the idea of having a Palestinian write an
opinion piece. We are getting more space now. There is still
a long way to go but that’s what I try to do, use my writing
and media interviews to bring across a voice that’s often
stifled. As for my novels, my first and strongest impulse is
the sheer joy of story telling.
What does Islam mean to you?
Islam to me is many things, but first and foremost it’s
about a relationship with God. For me Islam nurtures
my spirituality and I believe that having that God-
consciousness and one-to-one relationship with God in
turn aects my lifestyle, the choices that I make, my ethics,
the way that I interact with people and the environment,
the way that I go about my work, my citizenship. It’s ironic,
but people often see being Muslim and Australian as
somehow mutually exclusive, but I really believe that if I am
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practising my faith to the best of my ability, then really what
I am trying to be is the best human being I can be, trying to
ornament myself with the highest virtues and ethics.
What do you see as some of the challenges of being an
Australian Muslim?
I think the major challenges for Muslims — especially young
people — living in the West, and in Australia in particular, is
overcoming the tendency to define your identity in terms
of resistance: you need to be able to find who you are in
Australia and make a contribution, to ignore the media and
the so-called war on terror and the way it feeds into how
people perceive Muslims, to overcome the Islamophobia,
and still make something of our contribution to Australia
that’s positive.
What I mean is to be able to create rather than just
react. We are seeing that happening a lot more now. We
are seeing more comedians and artists and writers and
poets and poetry-slam artists and people who are using
something that is potentially quite negative, which is the
stereotyping and prejudice, and channelling that anger into
something positive and creative. I think that’s really exciting
and something that gives me a lot of hope about what
Muslims are going to bring to Australia.
How would you describe your style?
I’m not the sort of person who follows fashion. I just wear
what I feel comfortable in and meets my standards of
modesty, and makes me feel good as well. My modest dress
is a personal choice. I will decide what is shown in the public
space and what isn’t and I think, frankly, it’s no one else’s
business why I eschew certain fashion trends because I feel
they’re too revealing.
I think speaking to Muslim women and girls, the sense I get
from the vast majority is that it can become quite draining
to have this constant preoccupation with what we wear
at the expense of who we are and what we are doing and
These are choices that
we make ... We are
embracing modesty
and having fun with it.
what we want to achieve. To constantly have a focus
on our dress as something that defines us can be quite
frustrating. When you look at the bigger picture it’s almost
as inane as asking a woman why are you wearing short
sleeves today, and long sleeves tomorrow.
The flip side of that is that more and more people are
recognising that we are making our own choices, that we
are not being forced to dress a certain way to appease a
male guardian; that these are choices that we make and
that we are embracing modesty and having fun with it. I
think that’s really exciting, that we can create this space
where our choices aren’t belittled, that they are actually
respected and we can talk about them comfortably and
freely in a discourse of choice, not oppression.
We would like to thank the many individuals from
Australian Muslim communities and organisations who
assisted with the development of Faith, fashion, fusion:
Muslim women’s style in Australia. Our thanks in particular
must go to all those who have generously given their time
to share personal stories and take part in the filming and
fashion shoots that make the exhibition and publication so
visually and emotionally rich.
Thank you to the Powerhouse Museum team who have
brought their skills and expertise to the development
of the exhibition and the publication. Our thanks also
to the Powerhouse Museum’s NSW Migration Heritage
Centre and the Community Relations Commission for a
Multicultural NSW for their ideas and input during the
development of Faith, fashion, fusion.
About the contributors
Glynis Jones is a curator of design and society at the
Powerhouse Museum with responsibility for the fashion
and dress collection. Glynis has curated a number of
exhibitions including Frock Stars: inside Australian
Fashion Week (2010), Sourcing the muse (2002) and
the annual Student Fashion display (1993-2012). Glynis
has contributed to various publications including
Subcultural and alternative style in Australia for the The
Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion (2010),
Smartworks: design and the handmade (Powerhouse
Publishing 2007) Absolutely Mardi Gras (Powerhouse
Publishing 1996).
Melanie Pitkin is an assistant curator of design & society
at the Powerhouse Museum. She has curated displays for
National Archaeology Week and contributed to a number
of publications including Retro: a connoisseur’s guide
to mid-century design (2011) and A collector’s century
(2009). Melanie is also a PhD candidate in Egyptology
at Macquarie University studying the history of the First
Intermediate Period and a student of Arabic.
Shakira Hussein is a postdoctoral research fellow at the
University of Melbourne’s National Institute for Excellence
in Islamic Studies. Her writing has appeared in various
publications including Crikey, New Matilda, The Australian,
The Grith Review and Best Australian Essays.
Christina Sumner is principal curator of design and society
at the Powerhouse Museum, specialising in traditional textiles
and textile technology. She has curated numerous exhibitions
on the textiles and other arts of the Asian region, including
Bright flowers: textiles and ceramics of Central Asia (2004),
Trade winds: arts of Southeast Asia (2001) and Beyond
the Silk Road: arts of Central Asia (1999) and co-authored
their associated publications. She has also contributed
to publications and exhibitions including Spirit of jang-in:
treaures of Korean metal craft (2011).
This absorbing publication explores a relatively new sector in the local Australian fashion industry —
one where faith and fashion form a new relationship in the emerging modest fashion market. It also
introduces a diverse group of Australian Muslim women who relate their own stories and experiences
of building understanding within Australian communities.