It’s called the Abu-Nafkha-style Hijab. It’s popular, especially among teenagers and women with a flare for the flamboyant, and it has clerics and fashion aficionados fuming.
Abu-Nafkha is a relatively new style of Hijab, the religious headscarf worn by Muslim women, and is slowly gaining popularity throughout the Arab world.
The style is called Abu-Nafkha, or “puffed” because it involves creating a bulge under the scarf, usually by placing a large floral hair clip at the back of the head to add volume. This makes women look as if they have very thick hair.
But some argue this is wrong, because it gives a false impression. In essence, they say, the Hijab is meant to hide the hair as an act of modesty, not draw attention to it.
The Abu-Nafkha-style Hijab first appeared in the Gulf and is spreading across other countries in the Middle East, though it is apparently less common among Muslim women in the West.
Along with its rising popularity, it has also drawn criticism for being too outlandish, alien-like, distasteful, immodest, or awkward.
One web forum launched an Internet campaign against the puffed Hijab, likening it to a tilted camel’s hump.
There are at least three Facebook groups calling to ban the style, who back this up by citing Quran verses and religious oral traditions.
“The Abu-Nafkha Hijab has become so widespread, to the extent that sheikhs have discussed it in televised speeches and clarified that it is haram [forbidden] because it draws attention in a way that’s unnatural,” one of the Facebook group administrator wrote. “These girls have become the butt of everyone’s joke. It shamelessly mars their appearance.”
The Internet is awash with cartoons poking fun at the puffed Hijab, such as one in which a policeman is giving a woman a ticket for damaging a bridge by not abiding by restrictions on height, or another with a caption reading “Help me! This Abu-Nafkha Hijab is heavy!”
In Yemen, where, young girls don the enhanced headdress, clerics are taking on the role of fashion police.
According to the London-based website Elaph, several so-called radicals from different schools of thought have declared war against the puffed Hijab. At the University of San’aa, anti-Abu-Nafkha sentiments were manifested on billboards, brochures and through cartoons and statements.
Some of these fliers and posters around campuses in San’aa said the bearers of the puffed Hijab “will not find paradise or even smell it.” They were signed by a group made up of lecturers from the Islamic studies department at San’aa University.
Inas Samir, the Cairo-based owner of the online Muslim fashion store agreed that the style is gaining footing, but said this was mostly restricted to the lower classes.
“In Egypt, some women are seen wearing such a style, but not from the upper, middle or high-class Muslim women,” she told The Media Line. “In Egypt women with good taste in fashion don’t like that style at all. We believe that it became popular because it reflects that women’s hair is long, and it’s a symbol of beauty in Arab countries to have long, soft black hair.”
“As for Muslim scholars,” said Samir, “the word Hijab means a screen and the purpose of [the] Hijab is to hide the shapes and curves of a woman’s body. A Hijab is not meant only [as] a head covering but [it is meant to cover] the entire body, so wearing tight abaya dresses or wrapping the Hijab in a way to reflect that you have long hair or a big bust or a big bottom is not considered Islamic dress code. Dressing correctly means that what you wear should not describe your body.”
“Religious authorities say that this wrap doesn’t comply with Muslim dress code,” contended Samir.
Sawsan, a Yemeni science student who champions the Abu-Nafkha-style Hijab, told Elaph she paid no attention to rulings against the style, although admitted that they did scare her.
“This fever will pass when it turns into a more general matter and isn’t limited to a small number of girls,” she said. “They’ll come to see that this has become a reality, in the same way that new styles of pants came into fashion.”
Jana Kossaibati, editor of Hijab Style – “The UK’s first style guide for Muslim women” – said she noticed the emergence of this style mostly among the younger generation.
“Young women are always eager to try out new trends, especially those that come out of the Gulf, as they are often associated with luxury and high fashion,” she told The Media Line.
“Religious authorities always seem to be trying to control women’s expression of fashion, perhaps for fear that trying unconventional styles is somewhat a rejection of religious values. However, I believe it should be treated like any other fashion trend that will probably die out with time.”