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Burqa takes the fashion route

Once a symbol of religious significance, the garment is of late in high demand for its myriad design elements.

fashion and trends Updated: Aug 07, 2007 15:50 IST
Kamal Siddiqi

The times they are a-changing. Even the burqa is no longer the shapeless, dull, all-concealing garment it used to be. The proliferation of multi-coloured and heavily embroidered burqas in the markets of Karachi shows that a new trend is evolving amongst certain sections of women, The News recently reported.

Women and dress designers have found a way to subvert the religious scholars intentions, even while seemingly observing their edicts. Shopkeepers openly admit that even burqas have more to do with making a fashion statement these days and less with religion.

A survey conducted by The News, found that the hijab is fast losing its religious significance as demand for colourful, embroidered as well as crystal embossed burqas is growing. From simple cotton to georgette to expensive silk, burqas are now available in different kinds of fabrics.

The embroidery designs and layout, however, vary, depending on the demand of different customers. <b1>

Nafis Siddiqui, a sales representative of Hijab-al-Hareem, a boutique located in Zamzama, a trendy city shopping area, says that he mostly caters to the people of Clifton and Defence, high end localities of the city.

His burqas are all custom made, they have to be ordered. Siddiqui disclosed that some of his orders exceed Rs6,000 per burqa.

"In fact I once sold a burqa for as high as Rs10,000 too," he recalls with pride. The exorbitantly high price is due to the demand for embossed crystals, which are bought from different countries like Austria and Czechoslovakia, he informed.

The minimum price of a burqa at his shop is Rs1,500, not leaving much room for clients to haggle since it is "designer" clothing.

"I think the rates are reasonable and worth it because you occasionally wear such burqas. I only use them for weddings or other formal gatherings," said one customer Alifiya Parveen, who otherwise wears plain burqas.

Siddiqui also said that there was a marked difference in the demand of his local customers as compared to those women who have migrated to Karachi from Western or Gulf states.

"In the Gulf states, wearing a burqa, which is also wrongly referred to as an abaya (meaning 'sleeveless gown' in Arabic), is a tradition and the Asian Muslims who settle there usually adopt their culture."

Moreover, he pointed out, local clients are on the hunt for more fancy burqas appropriate for social gatherings, while those women who have moved from the West are attracted towards more simpler ones.

"A designer veil that is colourful and embroidered defeats the entire religious purpose of the hijab which is to prevent men from looking at you," says the mother of one 19-year-old school student, Sidra Irfan.

And yet that demand grows. Asif is the owner of a burqa shop, Hafiz Cloth Store in Meena Bazaar, who claims that the demand for colourful burqas is greater among college and university students. "If not a

burqa

, they at least wear a

makna

(headscarf)," he said.

Also, wearing a hijab is more common among women residing in low-income areas of the city who feel safer in it when they step out.

"It is not just fashionable, but also safe," says one university student adding, "no matter how modestly a woman dresses in Karachi, she will not be looked at with respect unless she covers herself behind a veil, so I don't have a choice."

However, whether or not a hijab restricts oglers from harassing women is debatable.

On inquiring about other reasons behind the changing trend, it was also learnt that women who observe the veil see no harm in choosing an embroidered burqa over a plain one.

"Every woman wants to look presentable and because I spend most of my day in a burqa, wearing the same plain black garment everyday would make me look no different so I am glad there are a variety of colours and designs out there to meet our needs," says a schoolteacher Nighat Imam.

To many, this is an ironic statement. Shopkeeper Asif comments that earlier the hijab was limited to the conservatives in the society but it is fast gaining popularity among others as well who are mostly influenced by the Arabs, where wearing a hijab is a traditional practice rather than a religious one.

It is due to this attitude Karachiites do not particularly regard the burqa as an 'Islamic outfit' but as a deterrent. "Whatever the reason is, what I care about is my sales that have immensely increased over the past three to four years," comments Asif with a content smile.