At a bench on the streets of Stockholm, Imane Asry, Shama Vafaipour and Maryam Dinar touch up their makeup and adjust their artfully wrapped hijabs. In pointy heels, wide-leg trousers and loosely draped neutral tones, these three women who look like they could be models are preparing to take photos for their Instagram accounts. The resulting shots are seen by their hundreds and thousands of followers.
Like any modern-day fashionista, Muslim women are expressing their style and showcasing it to the world through social media. The added twist, however, is doing so in a way that maintains the sense of modesty dictated by Islamic values.
Swedish photographer Elin Berge explores this subject in her photo series, "Hijabistas."
"They really combine their faith and culture with Muslim values in a very organic way, which feels important to show these days where the image of Islam is very dark and people are very afraid of Muslims," Berge said.
Photographer Elin Berge Credit: Alexandra A. Ellis
From the burkini bans across France to a renewed wave of Islamophobia sweeping across Europe, even the simple act of unveiling oneself to the world as a veiled woman seems like a bold statement. Though the hijab has been making some inroads into mainstream Western fashion, like H&M's first ad showing a Muslim model
wearing a hijab last year, Berge saw something unique in the women she calls hijabistas.
"It was interesting to see how ordinary girls became fashion icons on Instagram while Western fashion ignored this group," Berge said. "They seemed to dare more and to wear (the hijab) differently and mix it with fashion. They were expressive and they were not afraid to take up a lot of space."
The hijabistas Berge follows combine Muslim fashion with Scandinavian minimalist aesthetic. Faduma Aden, a 27-year-old designer who produces modest workwear, is seen in one photo holding up a crisp, blush-colored coat. Imane Asry embodies a similar style on her @fashionwithfaith account, pairing an intricately wrapped, rose-colored headscarf with a bomber jacket in one post.
To Mariam Moufid, another hijabista, being able to choose what she wears is freedom. Showcasing her fashion sense to the more than 630,000 followers on her @hijabmuslim account is a way of staking out her own space.
"In the public debate, it was other people who were thinking and talking about this and I saw that the girls themselves ... their voices weren't really heard," Berge said. "If their voices were heard, it was like, 'Aren't you oppressed?' "
While Muslim women face backlash from Western society about being oppressed, they also face backlash from some members of the Islamic community. Referred to as the "haram police" by the hijabistas, these stricter Muslims say wearing Western clothing and modeling for Instagram goes against the hijab's original purpose of maintaining modesty.
For the most part, however, hijabistas like Moufid say the comments they receive are positive. The hijabistas are changing the image of the modern Muslim woman, and clearly people are paying attention.
"To wear the headscarf with clothes, they experimented," Berge said. "I thought this movement was interesting because (the hijabistas) were taking the power in their own hands to inspire each other. "But I'm not sure that's their intention or anything. I think they just want to have fun and do fashion."