Is it haram to wear high heels?

What exactly does God have against having hair loose?

Anyone who is enthusiastic about Islamic fashion should not fail to recognize its repressive side.

By Susanne Schröter

The exhibition "Contemporary Muslim Fashion", which opens on April 4th at the Museum of Applied Arts in Frankfurt, is already triggering different reactions. While some celebrate the aesthetic representations of veiled female models as a commitment to cultural diversity, others see it as the trivialization of an Islamist gender order.
Not surprising. We have been debating Muslim dress codes since 1997, when the then-teacher trainee Fereshta Ludin went to court to teach in a state school wearing a headscarf. The aspect of fashion is one of the newer aspects in the controversy. So-called hijabistas stage the Muslim headgear known as the hijab as a cool accessory, advertising has discovered the woman wearing the headscarf, and an international fashion industry is making millions in profits with products labeled as Muslim. Are those right who see nothing more than a new level of social heterogeneity in the headscarf, which, in addition to a woman in a tank top, also gives space to the Muslim woman who has freely decided to cover her body and looks attractive at the same time?
I got to know Islamic fashion more than ten years ago while taking a walk in Indonesia when a heavily made-up woman on high heels suddenly appeared in my field of vision between inconspicuous functional buildings. She wore a stunning floor-length dress with an ornate headdress and was posing for a photographer. I spoke to her and she invited me to a fashion show she had just come from. Shortly afterwards, I found myself fascinated among dozens of women and girls who had wrapped themselves in elaborately designed robes that only left their faces and hands free. It was overwhelming. A frenzy of colors, glittering applications and silky shimmering fabrics.
When I asked, I learned that the event was organized by an Islamist party that was fighting for stricter clothing practices across the country. Among other things, she introduced a so-called anti-pornography law in parliament, which declared everything to be pornography that could stimulate a man's desire. Depending on the design, this includes traditional costumes, T-shirts, short skirts, tight trousers or bikinis. Violation of this law can be severely punished.
The fashion show took place in the province of Aceh, which had recently brought the entire legal system into line with Sharia law. Since then, the headscarf has been compulsory for women and part of the school uniform for girls. One district chief said that trousers were not allowed for women under Islamic law, and threatened any woman who did not cover her body with a long robe with rape. Men, according to the rationale, are so sexually aroused by female skin, hair and the contours of their bodies that they can no longer control themselves. The question of guilt in the case of sexual assault had already been clarified.
But the obfuscation doctrine did not come alone. It was part of a package of measures, all of which serve to curb "un-Islamic" behavior. This included extensive gender segregation and the prohibition of illegitimate sex and homosexuality. Sharia police patrol day and night to arrest those who do not obey strict order. Then there are drastic penalties. Public flogging began in 2005. According to a self-description of its residents, Aceh is known as the "terrace of Mecca" and one is proud of its Islamic convictions.
In other parts of Indonesia it has not yet come to that, although hardliners are trying successfully to implement Islamic norms here as well. First and foremost, it is always about the headscarf and the covering of female bodies. Just a few years ago, the majority of Muslim Indonesian women were unveiled, wearing jeans and short-sleeved blouses. Now more and more women are veiled, some of them even with the face veil. The pressure is increasing. There have been attacks by fanatical young men on women who did not cover their hair in public. In some cases their heads have been shaved in order to humiliate them.
Many Indonesian Muslims now consider veilings to be morally pure, and open hair as shameful. It starts with children. Running around with bare hair and playing with boys is no longer possible in some places. They should be modest, the little girls, and watch out that they do not expose themselves. At the same time as this tightening of the rules for girls and women, an Islamic fashion industry began to boom. Women's magazines flooded the market, making it clear to buyers that they had to square the circle: on the one hand, Islamic authorities expected them to cover themselves, on the other hand, the husbands expected a seductive woman.
The solution was Islamic fashion, often defined as modest fashion, although the fabrics and expensive applications show the opposite. The term is aimed less at clothing than at women, who are subject to a religiously founded order that puts them at a disadvantage compared to men in several ways.
An Islamic fashion industry has now established itself in many Muslim countries. In all of these countries normative constraints were simultaneously enforced to which women and girls are subjected in the name of Islam. This always led to restrictions on their freedom of movement and to multiple forms of discrimination. But what about the hijabistas, the women who in Europe and the United States confidently wear the headscarf and present veils as a style element? Aren't they the counter-argument that has become material?
Differentiation is necessary here. Of course, there are women who of their own accord decide to wear a veil and perhaps also to cover their bodies as much as possible. That has to be accepted without any ifs or buts. Some of these women even see themselves as feminists and actively oppose any kind of discrimination against women and girls. On an individual level, there are many reasons for dressing "Islamic".
However, this individual level must be distinguished from a social one. The headscarf is by no means just a fashion item, but is understood, also in the self-definition of the hijabistas, as a duty imposed by God. And this is exactly where the problem begins. If God has ordained women to have their heads and bodies covered, then every Muslim woman who does not wear a headscarf violates this rule. If this rule is also justified with ideas of respectability, then we are in the well-known dichotomy between shameful and shameless women, between godly and unbelieving, between those who supposedly acquire the kingdom of heaven and those who are prophesied of hell.
Even in a free society like ours, such attributions lead to considerable repression for Muslim women and girls. They lead to religious bullying in schools, to the devaluation of women and girls who do not submit to religiously based rules, and in many cases even to violence. This should be borne in mind when one is inspired by Islamic fashion, the sight of which undoubtedly represents an aesthetic pleasure, but a pleasure that literally disguises the repressive corset underneath.
The author teaches ethnology at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt, where she heads the Global Islam Research Center.

By Susanne Schröter from the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, April 3, 2019, features section, page 11. © All rights reserved. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung GmbH, Frankfurt. Provided by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Archiv