Indonesian singer Dewi Sandra stepped out of a car in one evening in Paris. Looking stylish as always, she wore her gray hijab underneath a small hat. First impression: chic and playful.
It has been five months since she decided to become a hijabi, being one of fashionable hijab wearers promoting the hijab spirit that is far from the stigma of oppression. Her trip to the fashion capital has allowed her to share her hijab journey with other Muslim women.
While Dewi and many hijabis took their faith to the next level by doing what they call as "syiar through hijab", critics seem to have stalled them, lamenting these women for promoting the so-called "hijab gaul" (hip hijab) that deviates from Islamic principles. Even prominent cleric Yusuf Mansur became the target of such criticism for his Islamic clothing line Mae, with critics questioning his colorful, fashionable collections.
The "correct" hijab, according to them, is one that is big enough to cover the woman's silhouette and doesn't strangle her neck, non transparent, not colorful, and not decorated by patterns and other adornments. In addition, it mustn't be perfumed and mustn't copy headscarves worn by non-Muslims (like that of Catholic nuns). Consequently, we could now find "hijab gaul vs. hijab syar'i" debates in Indonesia, which is set to be the Islamic fashion capital by 2020.
"Actually, I'm still learning by doing, but people have quickly judged everything," Dewi, 33, said. "People tend to not respect the process, the efforts..."
Dewi's hijab journey itself is worth an appreciation. In her 15 years of career as a singer, model and presenter, she often felt uncomfortable every time she was wearing tiny, tight dresses. Every time she stepped down from the stage, she felt herself divided in two.
"I felt like there were two Dewi Sandras — one who was wearing revealing clothes, and another one wanting to cover her body," she opened up.
Finally came one moment when she decided to don hijab, just when she still had a contract with a hair product brand. She opened her closet and got rid off her sexy clothes.
"I quickly put them out of my sight, as I was afraid I would be tempted [to wear them again]."
French Muslim convert Lana, not her real name, made another effort. Falling in love with both Islam and fashion, she once posted her stylish hijab tutorial on YouTube. But instead of receiving compliments, she received harsh criticism. "It gave me headache. They said my hijab was wrong — it should be big, not colorful... I've given up posting videos since then," she said.
In a nod to Lana and Dewi's efforts, young Islamic fashion designer Dian Pelangi prefers not to put distinctions in hijab. "The term 'hijab gaul' seems to carry a negative meaning, while it actually brings fresh air — there are more and more Muslim women attracted to hijab now. Some say these women are just following a trend, but it's better to follow a positive thing than a negative one," emphasized Dian, who accompanied Dewi that evening.
Dian recalled dozens years ago when Islamic attire was still exclusive, available only in designers' boutiques with expensive prices, and in limited styles. However, thanks to Islamic pop-culture movement, with Muslim female netizens across the globe sharing their different ways of wearing hijab, the hijab popularity started to grow in Indonesia around 2006 and 2007.
Islamic attire has since been found everywhere, and has become more attractive and affordable. The mushrooming Islamic fashion blogs have inspired Indonesian hiiabis, with Japanese-British convert Hana Tajima being one of inspirations because of her chic and out-of-the-box look. Hana, also a designer, has made her way to numerous international media, promoting the fresh, "friendlier" look of hijab.
Dian Pelangi herself remembered her first fashion show in 2009, when many were captivated by her colorful, ready-to-wear creations. Since then, more young Islamic fashion designers have come on the scene, and late 2010 saw the launching of Indonesia's Hijabers Community.
"I'm optimistic that more and more women will wear hijab," Dian said.
"We can have our different kind of fashion, and we have set the target [with the government] to make Indonesia the Islamic fashion capital by 2020."
In the meantime, however, she called people not to undervalue fashionable hijab wearers, as everyone has her own process. "You can't tell people to go directly from elementary school to senior high school," she said.
"Imagine you're in the dark, then flashed by sudden bright light — it will blind your eyes. But if the light comes gradually, you would see your surrounding clearly."
Faith indeed requires patience. As many Muslims tend to build too many walls and not many bridges, it's time to start respect one's spiritual process and allow meaningful experiences take place.