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Islam and/or Hipness? Arab Women Weigh In

A recent video showcasing Muslim women “somewhere in America”—set to the Jay Z track of the same name—has made waves big enough to reach the Arab World.

In the video, a diverse crew of stylish covered women skip, skateboard, and stroll the streets of America. They are Mipsterz, the tongue-in-cheek name of a loose network of “Muslim Hipsters”– though the group’s Facebook page says it is “open to all people, whether you are a Muslim and/or a hipster, or neither.”

The video went viral, stirring up a fierce debate about the relationship between female coolness, or women’s public projection of their own identities, and Islam—not only in the US, but also in Beirut, Cairo, and other Middle Eastern cities.

Many women and some men defended fashion as a valid form of self-expression for Muslim women. “Fashionable Muslim women who wear the hijab…[have] always been seen in the streets of the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait,” one woman commented.

But a Syrian Muslim woman argued, “in the Middle East, girls are not allowed to be attractive or different”; there, she said, Mipsterz are rare, “and they are called really bad names [by others].”

Others rejected the notion of linking hijab and religion generally to fashion, found stretch pants incompatible with hijab, and asked why the video didn’t show any women in abayas or niqabs.

Meanwhile, somewhere in the Arab World, women in hijab are now tagging their Instagram selfies #Mipsterz.

For more info – The video / #Mipsterz on Instagram

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Jennifer MacKenzie

Poet, writer and teacher Jennifer MacKenzie grew up on Bloomcrest Dr. in Bloomfield Hills, MI, which inspired her to wonder about places with patterns other than floral. Following her education at Wesleyan University's College of Letters and the University of Iowa's Writers Workshop, she followed a zig-zag course that included a pilgrimage across the top of Spain and a long sojourn in Syria in pursuit of the language of Muhammad al-Maghout and Moudthaffar al-Nawwab. While in Damascus she completed the books of poems "Distant City" and "My Not-My Soldier" (forthcoming from Fence Books) and edited the magazine Syria Today. Her poems and essays can be found in numerous journals including the Kenyon Review online, Guernica, Quarterly West, and Lungfull. She currently lives in New York.

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