‘Hijab tutorials’ on Youtube disprove notions of Muslim conservatism
by Julienne L. Joven
All around YouTube, friendly netizens have uploaded various instructional videos for their fellow viewers, ranging from house repair to memorizing K-Pop dance routines. For many young girls, YouTube has also been the go-to site for fashion tips and beauty advice, where they get to learn how to put on makeup or how to properly curl their hair using a flat iron.
However, in another side of the YouTube universe, Muslim women have also found a way to keep up with their unveiled sisters. With Islam’s teachings banning women from indecently exposing the arousing parts of their body (which includes hair for many Muslims), girls online have realized that they did not exactly need to style their hair to be fashionable. Instead, they style the “hijabs” or the headscarves that safeguard a woman’s modesty and privacy.
A search of “hijab tutorials” on YouTube yields 4,040 results and counting, with a new video every hour. The videos range from the everyday look, to the trendy ones, to bridal hijabs. The oldest YouTube video with the tag “hijab tutorial” is Hijab Style 8: The Indonesian Wedding Style Tutorial which was created on December 1, 2008; however, there are many more hijab videos to be found, including the ones without tags, and even the ones outside YouTube.
Much like common hair and makeup tutorials on YouTube, hijab tutorials usually involve a woman sitting in front of her webcamera, ready with an arsenal of bright-colored cloth, pins, and brooches. The videos include step-by-step procedures on following intricate knots and folds of the hijab. Sometimes, they pair it with an outfit, or find a way to tie the hijab to their tops. Women may use one or a lot of hijabs, and they may also include makeup tutorial, especially for the bridal videos.
Professor Gerard Rixhon from the Ateneo de Manila University Sociology and Anthropology Department specializes in Islam life in Southeast Asia. Although Muslim fashion is not his particular specialty, Rixhon does not believe that these women on YouTube are conservative Muslims. If the videos are not homemade, many of them come from Muslim fashion companies that are based in modern cities such as Dubai.
“No, my guess is that they are young, educated, and free from supervision. In many instances, the more conservative of their religious teachers banned exposing part of a woman’s body (such as the face) to the public as in YouTube showings,” he said.
Rixhon supposes that some do it for business while others do it for the sake of social networking. In young adults’ quest for directions and company in a fragmented world, they find satisfaction and meaning through the network they build on Facebook and other sites online, whether these be faceless viewers on YouTube who appreciate their fashion sense.
Unlike popular perception, not all Muslim women wear the hijab. Nadira Abubakar, an MA Philippine Literature student from the University of the Philippines Diliman, is a Tausug lady who does not believe that doing away with the hijab makes her less of a Muslim. According to her, the perception of Muslims as traditional or conservative is one “ascribed” to them by the media and by popular perception. After all, there are still people whose only knowledge of Muslims ranges from the Qur’an to terrorist bombers or to the Afghan women completely covered up.
“If you met me in person, I do not actually wear the hijab and some people actually ask me twice (even thrice) if I am actually Muslim,” Abubakar said. “For me, being Muslim is not just a state of dress… If these videos and those magazine scans I’ve seen are any indication, my opinion is that they want other women to think that they can still be creative with a hijab in the same manner as non-hijab wearing women (regardless of religion) will change hairstyle and color as they please. The hijab really is is a multi-faceted issue. Or better yet, it should not even be an issue.”
Abubakar also said that family dynamics plays a crucial role in defining religious sensibilities and how liberal one can truly go, in terms of interpreting tradition. “I am a bit different from the Maguindanao and Maranao Muslims, though we share commonalities,” she said. “My cousins who wear the hijab do not ask me or make me wear the hijab. It is a personal decision for us in the family, though family members may comment if they wish but no one really does that.”
It is undeniable, however, that there are still Muslims who are not ready for this much liberty. Rixhon, who has done research in Tawi-Tawi and Sulu, shared such observations.
“It is true that a number of Muslim educated women (and they are a minority of Muslim women in the Mindanao and Sulu as a majority of women there are uneducated) yearn for more freedom of expression and modern ways of relating to a wider circle of people. This will take time as the majority of religious teachers (imams and ulamas) are extremely conservative,” he said.
For Rixhon, the existence of hijab tutorials on YouTube is indeed a positive step for Muslim society. However, he believes this is something non-Muslims cannot participate in; they are only passive observers who can express their desire to see Muslim women freed from discrimination.
“Yet eventually that form of dressing will have to eventually go,” Rixhon said. “The hijab is a fairly recent development in the Philippines and Indonesia. Nobody can tell for how long but it has a limited life. But that is another story.”
Hijab tutorials are also a kind of storytelling, according to Abubakar. “Perhaps [it is] not a full narrative in the typical senses but more of glimpses into the lives of Muslim women – what they do, what events or places they go to and how they incorporate or adapt the hijab to those environments and events,” she said. “They might even mention an anecdote about something as they go along in the instructional video but the focus is more on the act of wearing the hijab.”
In YouTube, the search bar gives suggestions such as ‘hijab tutorials for wedding,’ ‘for round face,’ ‘for school,’ ‘for graduation,’ and even ‘for party.’
“It’s something creative and even collaborative thanks to the Internet since girls can now share and spread different ways of wearing a simple head cloth,” Abubakar said. “You could say, it’s breathing life and flair into a simple piece of cloth. If I’m not mistaken each country even seems to have its own way or variations to wearing the hijab. I even remember seeing on the news a feature on Muslim women fashion designers and et cetera–and yes, the hijab is there too!”
In itself, the hijab is not a negative thing really, and much depends on where these Muslim hijab tutors are–or how those countries or places are respond to such videos. After all, no world religion demonstrates complete homogeneity. So even if Islam has basic tenets, a Muslim from the Arab world will still differ somewhat from the Muslims in Southeast Asia and the Philippines.
“A Muslim woman can be progressive, proactive and positive even with a hijab – no matter how she wears it. It only shows, marks us that we are Muslim women. It’s what we do with our lives and our society with or without it on [our] heads that matter most of all,” Abubakar said.