Vogue Magazine launched its first issue of Vogue Arabia on March 1, 2017. Available in both Arabic and English, the publication is distributed in 22 countries of the Arab League, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates.
— Vogue Arabia (@VogueArabia) March 1, 2017
Edited by Deena Aljuhani Abdulaziz, the magazine seeks to reshape the identity of the 21st-century Muslim woman and bring it to light in westernized culture. Abdulaziz has made it a key part of her editorial mission to eradicate misconceptions about the culture and fashion featured in the magazine. It’s a matter of communication, understanding and providing a cross-cultural bridge across multiple regions.
Although the magazine hopes to empower the culture and fashions of the Arab League, many were angered by the cover photo of the first print issue. On the cover, Gigi Hadid, who is half-Palestinian and half-Dutch, is pictured wearing a hijab. A hijab is a veil usually covering the head and chest that is traditionally worn by Muslim women. People were quick to point out that although Hadid is half-Palestinian, she is not a Muslim. Others were angered by the choice of model, with one twitter user claiming, “[Hadid] doesn’t claim her Palestinian heritage unless she can benefit from it.”
The largest cause of anger about the cover of the issue was the hijab itself. People claimed that the magazine was issuing propaganda and promoting the oppression of women. Many mocked the hijab, tweeting “modeling table cloths I see” and “I think she put her dress on wrong,” while others poked fun at the very real issue some women face. One response went so far as to say “Arms showing, she would be stoned to death. Nice try tho.”
Currently, Iran and Saudi Arabia enforce “hijab law”; in Iran, women must wear loose-fitting clothing and have their heads covered, while in Saudi Arabia, women must cover their heads, arms, and legs with a long cloak, even if they are not Muslim. It is when this kind of dress is mandatory, or, on the other side of the issue, banned, that the rules become oppressive.
In this specific case, the responders did not understand that although the hijab can be forced upon women, it is also a garment some women choose to wear. Some choose to wear hijab because they believe that God has instructed women to wear it and want to reflect their personal devotion to Him. Others wear hijab in order to visibly express their Muslim identity, although they do not perceive it to be obligatory to their faith. What many fail to recognize is that prohibiting women from wearing hijab is as bad as forcing them to wear one.
Besides attacking the hijab, the responses highlighted the divide prevalent in the United States right now, particularly regarding foreign affairs. Many comments turned political, one response tweeting “Calm down morons. After #ObamasHiddenAgenda is realized, this is as close to fashion as you’ll get,” followed by an image of a woman in a niqab, which is different than a hijab as it covers the entire face except for the eyes.
Another tweeted, “Absolutely disgusting. This is un-American and insidious encroachment of Islamism.”
Particularly in a time when anti-Muslim sentiment is becoming more prevalent, and the hijab is coming to symbolize oppression and terrorism, Vogue Arabia’s first edition is incredibly important. It challenges the ‘us-versus-them’ narrative through which the issues between the U.S. and Arab countries are so often represented. It provides a bridge for understanding between cultures, that will hopefully lead to a future of acceptance and not fear.