Style & Design

Muslim siblings promote diversity with fashion and flowers

by Yuka Nakao

Kyodo

Raised by Indonesian Muslim parents in Tokyo, Aufa Yazid and Ghufron Yazid, two siblings in their 20s, bring a cross-cultural perspective to fashion and art while adhering to their faith.

Wearing a hijab sets Aufa apart from the crowd in Japan, where Muslims are a minority, but what makes the 24-year-old freelance fashion creator really stand out is her style.

Aufa is part of a growing modest fashion movement in which Muslim women seek to express themselves stylishly while still adhering to Islamic requirements to cover up.

“Although not talked about much, modest fashion is spreading in Japan,” Aufa says. She adds that Japan has a tradition of modest female attire in the form of the kimono, and also points to current fashion trends that focus on stylish loose-fitting garments. Regarding her own style, she says, “I want my work to be seen as art and to inspire others.”

Around the world, more high-end brands are entering the modest fashion sector. They include Dolce & Gabbana, which launched a collection of hijabs and abayas in 2016, and Burberry, which released its Ramadan collection the same year. In Japan, casual fashion chain Uniqlo now sells hijabs and a range of modest clothing.

Muslim women were estimated to have spent $44 billion on modest fashion in 2015, according to a Thomson Reuters economic report. Revenues are expected to reach $368 billion by 2021, the report says.

Aufa has around 69,700 Instagram followers. She posts editorial-style selfies, showcasing varying styles, from edgy street to kimono fashions, all the while giving her take on Muslim attire. Instagram featured her as one of the women around the globe making an impact in its community.

Many of the photos have Tokyo landscapes as the backdrop. One of her more popular images was taken on a station platform and featured her wearing jeans and a black cap over a long, loose-fitting hijab.

Most of Aufa’s outfits, she says, are from Japan because she believes brands from Muslim countries are not the only options for a modest look. While many women in Indonesia wear hijabs with bright colors, she mainly chooses monochrome beige and khaki colors to blend in with everyday life in Tokyo.

She takes particular care to achieve balance in her outfits, as she says covering up can make her appear “flat or heavy.” Also, by varying her hijab arrangements — sometimes tight, other times loose, and often worn with hats and berets — she can achieve as much impact as a change in hairstyle.

Although some consider Islamic teachings to be repressive toward women, Aufa doesn’t think this is the case. She sees her faith as uplifting and liberating, not confining.

While not all Muslim women might think the same way, she says if they do choose to wear a hijab, they can find value in doing so.

“Choosing what to wear means it’s beautiful for the person,” Aufa said. “The hijab is a tool to live beautifully.”

Aufa’s brother Ghufron, 28, also adheres to his Muslim faith and, like his sister, he doesn’t feel restricted by boundaries.

“Our parents taught us the basics of Islam but never forced us to follow the religion,” he says. “Instead, we were always told to think about what we should live for.”

Both Aufa and Ghufron went through struggles in their teens regarding relationships, their plans and identity, before choosing to live as Muslims.

As a graduate student of art in the United States and Britain, Ghufron was influenced by how open his friends were about their religion and culture.

“There was an environment where everyone could feel accepted,” he says.

Last year, while working as a curator at Tokyo Camii, one of the biggest mosques in Japan, which also serves as a culture center, Ghufron started a new career as a freelance flower arrangement artist. Now he holds workshops and takes orders for bouquets and decorations for special occasions, such as weddings. Recently he decorated the Osaka branch of a major jewelry retailer and prepared bouquets for customers as gifts in an event on Mother’s Day.

Ghufron was inspired to pursue this new path when he purchased a bouquet of roses for his parents’ wedding anniversary and was moved by the vibrant yet fragile nature of the flowers.

“In the Quran, it says to observe the world and search for the signs that God has placed around. So for me, appreciating the beauty of flowers is part of my religion,” he says. “Flowers are a gift from God.”

Although it is not entirely his intention, Ghufron feels his flower arrangements — both those he creates for events and his artwork on Instagram — also reflect the Japanese traditional aesthetics of wabi-sabi and mono no aware.

Wabi-sabi is often explained as a quiet, simple and austere type of beauty based on transience, while mono no aware is an aesthetic ideal, involving a deep, empathetic appreciation of the ephemeral beauty manifest in nature and human life, and hence usually tinged with a hint of sadness.

An upbringing in Japan led Ghufron to develop an admiration of these aesthetics.

“I think flowers have been a way for me to express these feelings, which are also related to my religion,” he says.

The Yazid siblings say their activities are also aimed to inspire young Muslims growing up in Japan, which is still a mostly homogenous country coming to terms with the concept of diversity.

“For young Muslims born and raised in Japan, Islam is their parents’ culture, which is foreign to them,” says Ghufron, who also holds monthly events at Tokyo Camii as a way to bring young Muslims living in Japan together. “We hope our activities encourage these young Muslims and help Japanese to become familiar with Islamic culture. I believe showing who we are and how we live could enrich Japanese society as well.”

Aufa believes that rather than trying to change the narrow view of Islamic culture that people in Japan may have, showcasing the “beauty found in diversity” will ultimately lead to a more cosmopolitan society.

“Every one of us lives with different thoughts,” she says. “I think the world can be enriched if we each recognize (that in) one another.”

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