Muslim fashion takes hold in Bay Area
- March 21, 2012
By Matt O'Brien
Bay Area News Group Staff Writer
Ruhollah Habibi dresses sharply in a suit and tie each morning for his job at JP Morgan. But the banker also carries a thobe to work on Fridays, slipping on the Arabian-style tunic for afternoon prayers.
"I just take off my suitcoat and throw that on over my button-up," said the 28-year-old San Ramon resident. "It's our etiquette to wear Islamic clothing when you're going to learn the sacred knowledge."
From kufi caps to veils and ankle-length abayas, multicultural Muslim clothing is in demand among the Bay Area's young and devout. American-born Muslims who once shunned their immigrant parents' Old World attire now mix and match between global Muslim styles from the Middle East, Asia and Africa, choosing clothing that is modest but rarely ascetic.
"It's a matter of balancing our Muslim identity, our cultural identity, and at the same time being American," said Sadaf Siddiq, 24, who wears a pricey, beaded abaya for formal religious occasions but usually gets her clothes from H&M.
The Internet replaced traveling abroad as the best way to acquire well-made Muslim clothing -- what Habibi calls the Guccis of Muslim wear -- but now some merchants are capitalizing on the trend by allowing Bay Area Muslims to browse clothes and feel the fabrics locally.
"Thobes, abayas, hijabs, topis, khuffs and more!" says a sign outside Maqbool Islamic Clothing, a new store next to the post office in the historic Alvarado district in Union City.
Entrepreneur Jabir Tarin, 20, dressed recently in blue Vans sneakers, a bright plaid shirt and a taqiyah cap, opened the shop March 1 with his older brother and a friend. They couldn't find the clothes they wanted to wear, so the Cal State East Bay students began importing them.
"It's totally normal for us to wear this in public," said the bearded college student, walking through a store that sells everything from Arab yashmagh scarves to the tropical lungis and sarongs favored from Bangladesh to Indonesia.
Tarin said what Muslim youths wear is inspired by Islamic scriptures, longstanding cultural traditions and a desire to emulate others whose clothes they admire. It doesn't hurt that the Bay Area is an accepting place, he added.
"One of the blessings of living in the Bay Area is there's so much diversity," Tarin said. "You could all but go naked and nobody will say anything."
Like many of his peers, Habibi never wanted to wear Islamic clothing as a child growing up in an Afghan-American family in Fremont. He avoided the perahan tunban, the long shirt-and-trousers combo his father wore at home and to cultural events.
"My mom wanted me to wear the clothes, and we would rebel and say, 'No way, we're not going to wear that stuff.' It wasn't cool. We were kids. We wanted to fit in," said the San Ramon banker.
Now he wears Arab garb his father would never think of wearing. Habibi said he had a change of heart three years ago as he began to take his faith more seriously and found a new pride in his Muslim culture and community.
"Every single day, I've got to look sharp, especially with clients," he said. "I kind of look at Islamic clothing the same way."
He's on the lookout now for a new thobe of the Yemeni style he spotted on a passer-by some weeks ago. He called the Union City store to see if they have it.
"I'm not really a big fan of wearing a collar. I told him, 'Hey man, are you going to get any of those Yemeni thobes there? I can't find one.'"
Not yet, Habibi said, but someone's bound to start selling them soon.