Islamic fashion returns to Tunisia

By Monia Ghanmi for Magharebia in Tunis
Once forbidden on the streets of Tunisia, conservative religious garments are gaining in popularity.
Islamic fashion is on the rise on the streets of Tunisia, in the latest sign of a growing religious consciousness in the country. After the ban on Islamic dress was lifted in the wake of Ben Ali's downfall, trade in the conservative garments took off. Shops began devoting a larger share of their windows to displaying the products, including the headscarf, the niqab and their supplies, from the robe to coverings for the head and face, eyes and also the hands.
Stores specialising in the fashions proliferated in many Tunisian cities, with young women coming to buy accessories for the veil, along with men to purchase religious clothing. For merchants, this was an opportunity to revive their trade and to offer the country new economic and cultural dynamism.

Shop owner Moez Bouabane told Magharebia that turnout was increasing little by little, especially among women. He expects that conservative clothing will have a big future in light of the expanding religiosity of Tunisians.

"The former regime was imposing control over the import of Islamic fashion and preventing the creation of specialised institutions for the manufacture of this type of clothing, but after the revolution and the success achieved by the Islamists in the elections, I expect this fashion to impose its presence in Tunisian markets in the period ahead," Bouabane said.

But he also noted the tendency of many Tunisians to wear headscarves and long, concealing clothing was not necessarily a sign of piety or evidence of religiosity, pointing out that Islamic fashion need not be linked to the conservative way of life or reduced freedoms.

"What we observe in Tunisia is that despite the increasing number of those wearing Islamic fashions, it has not and will not prevent them from exercising their rights and freedoms, and it will not separate them from their social life as happens with some Arab countries that still impose a certain dress on people, simply because there is awareness in society that religiosity is in the end a personal freedom," he added.
Farah Sellini had similar feelings, saying she tended to wear Islamic clothing only on certain occasions, such as religious holidays, family visits, or shopping, because she finds it more modest and dignified while also protecting her from the heat of the sun and the cold weather.
"At my age I am no longer allowed to wear modern, trendy clothes, thus I find this concealing fashion the most suitable for my age and current social status," commented Azza Rkik.

In addition, shops selling Islamic fashions have spread near mosques, as Salafist groups promote jalabiyas, robes and niqab accessories, as well as perfumes, musk, skullcaps and many products specific to Muslim men and women.

Although the phenomenon of the niqab is still a matter of extensive debate in Tunisian circles, merchant Sami Ghorbel told Magharebia that demand was increasing day after day.
Ghorbel explained that because of the lack of factories specialising in manufacture of this type of fashion, the clothes are imported - usually from Algeria and to a lesser extent from some of the Gulf and Levant countries - to be distributed at various shops located in Tunisian cities where they are marketed and sold.
"The next government must take the initiative to concentrate on establishments specialised in manufacturing Islamic fashions, because such projects will benefit the country, especially in creating new jobs for young people - particularly given that all projections indicate that this trade will have a great future," Ghorbel said.
He also called for an annual festival for Islamic dress to offer fashion shows featuring the latest innovations, with profits going to charities.
© Magharebia.com 2012