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  • Sana Uqba

Dubai's Modest Fashion Week 'excludes' Black Muslim bloggers

Dozens of prominent, influential Black Muslim beauty and fashion bloggers have utilised their platforms in recent days to denounce the lack of diversity in the industry, after the Dubai Modest Fashion Week [DMFW] appeared to exclude the community group.

Muslim influencers from around the globe, including US-based Shahd Batal and the UK's Luul Hussein - known by her online pseudonym Asha Everyday - are among the many that mobilised to voice their views on the fashion event, which allegedly hosted less than a handful of female, black, Muslim bloggers despite a large international turnout.

"Black Muslim women have been overlooked for practically forever," Shahd Batal, popular YouTuber and blogger, told The New Arab. "Underrepresented when it comes to models, events, campaigns. It's a shame that the Western world has to notice Black Muslimahs for them to include us."

This year, the annual Modest Fashion Week event was held in Dubai on December 8-9, and invited 37 "special guests" according to the official website. Of the 37, only one guest - prominent model Halima Aden, who was the first hijab-wearing model to be featured on the front cover of Vogue and walk on international runways - represented the Black Muslim community, although Black beauty blogger Chinutay confirmed her attendance online.

"This isn't shocking at all, it's something that's been ongoing across most events for years now but I think what is most surprising is that despite the waves black women have been making for the modest fashion industry this year alone, attitudes remain the same," YouTuber and beauty blogger Luul Hussein told The New Arab.

Though the apparent move to exclude dark-skinned influencers is nothing new, the lack of diversity at the Dubai-based event is a reflection of how the industry and culture feels about Black people in general, Batal suggests.

"I think it's an issue with every modest fashion week. We often see the exact same people at every event. There may be a few Black Muslimahs but we forget how large that demographic is and it should be represented as such."

Nearly three days of outrage has seen hundreds of social media users come together to debate the topic and support existing yet overlooked Black Muslim bloggers under the hashtag #BlackMuslimahExcellence.

Najwa, a young British Black Muslim, curated the hashtag in the midst of the outrage as a more proactive response to dealing with the grievances.

"The hashtag was to celebrate, empower and reaffirm the validation toward Black Muslim bloggers," she told The New Arab. "I feel like people forget that we have social media to our advantage and we can change narratives and impact decision-making processes if we just come together as one."

#BlackMuslimahExcellence soon turned into a multi-platform social media campaign calling for users to share their most respected female Black Muslim role models in an attempt to counteract the industry's attitudes toward the minority group.

"We are not calling for recognition from event organisers, we are merely pointing out their mistake in excluding such a large and vibrant community – and let's be honest, one which sets the trends and has been consistently breaking the mould in recent years especially," Hussein noted.

"The silver lining here is that women of colour have all come together and have shown an incredible display of unity, love and celebration. Something that even other bloggers fail to do for each other," she added.

For much of the Muslim world anti-blackness is prominent, deeply entrenched and very much a taboo subject.

Among Arab and South-east Asian communities, the desire for "fair skin" is deeply-rooted in global beauty trends that often stem from the rich and powerful of the western world. White skin, blonde hair and blue eyes - for much of the Muslim world - represent beauty, because those who hold any sense of real authority also hold these attributes, writer Susan Abulhawa suggests.

The time for viewing the Muslim ummah [community] as one standardised group of people has passed - Luul Hussein

"That image rejects melanin-rich skin, coiled hair, broad or pointy noses, short stature, broad hips and big legs," writes Abulhawa.

"So we, too, reject these features, despising them in others and in ourselves as symbols of inferiority, laziness, and poverty. That's why the anglicising industries of skin bleaching and hair straightening are so profitable," Abulhawa notes.

Across the world, Muslims are represented as a homogenous group and images of Asians and Arabs dominate much of the discourse. While both groups account for the majority of the world's Muslim population, this rhetoric excludes minority groups, such as the Afro-Caribbean community and even converts of European descent.

But the status quo has been slightly shaken with the rise of independent female Muslim beauty bloggers online - many of which boast hundreds of thousands of followers despite the shade of their skin and use their platforms to provide a more realistic image of the non-homogenous identity of Muslims.

"The time for viewing the Muslim ummah [community] as one standardised group of people has passed. Social media has shown us just how beautiful and diverse this community is and it is time for the media and event organisers across the world to follow suit," Hussein said.

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