- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 20, 2008

While looking for a place to eat the other night, I discovered Ad-Diwan, a store in a Falls Church strip mall with a sign saying “Islamic clothing.”

The shop, located in a triangle that includes a Lebanese restaurant and an Islamic supermarket, was filled with shapeless floor-length abayas — cloaklike overgarments — made in Kuwait or Turkey. I could not find a price on any of them, and the lone cashier barely spoke English.

It occurred to me that such shops are few and far between and that Muslim women who “cover,” as the wording goes, often must go online to find what they need.

But cyber-shopping for female Muslim attire is not like scanning Victoria’s Secret. The models rarely look at the camera, often casting their eyes toward the ground. Several sites only showed the backs of models’ heads or had young girls model the clothing.

Although the Koran is a bit foggy on specific dress rules, many Muslim women cover everything except for face, feet and hands.

When I spent two weeks in the Kurdish part of Iraq in 2004, I was piqued to discover that my calf-length attire was inappropriate. Despite the more westernized Kurdish frame of mind, women there still wore ankle-length garments. The long skirts weren’t too bad, but the long sleeves I was required to wear in 111-degree temperatures nearly gave me heat stroke.

Scanning Islamic clothing sites was like entering a secret world. There were jilbabs, which are shapeless floor-length dresses; hijabs, which are all-enveloping head scarves; and niqabs, which cover the head and the nose and mouth. One site sold “Islamic gloves” (elbow-length gloves so one’s arms and hands cannot be seen) and burqas that came with an eye screen so that “you can see out yet prying eyes cannot see in.”

I talked with Terry Cormier, who co-owns Al Farah (www.al-farah.com), a store and Web site based in Anaheim, Calif. “Farah” means happiness.

“It’s really hard to get stuff from the regular market,” Mrs. Cormier told me. “You have to do a lot of layering, and you need clothing with a high neck and long sleeves. A lot of our customers are not familiar with the Internet, but there is nowhere else to go.”

She converted to Islam six years ago “and I couldn’t find anything to wear,” other than abayas and certainly nothing with pants. She and her husband began making their own clothing and imported more from Syria, Dubai and Egypt.

Typical fabrics are polyester, georgette, crepe or cotton, which work in hot climates.

As for Muslim bathing suits, www.splashgear usa.com has pajamalike suits thought up by a convert to Islam.

By far, the classiest wear was at www.artizara.com, based out of San Diego with chiffon empire-waist shirt dresses made of Indian fabric, peasant shirts, satin caftans, embroidered denim skirts, bolero jackets and tunics. Artizara’s creators had ditched a lot of Arabic names for English words, such as “long dress” instead of jilbabs.

Sarah Ansari, its owner, said she gets visitors from 140 countries who like how Americans are redefining Muslim garb.

“Online, the creativity in Islamic clothing is coming from the U.S.,” she said. “We wanted marketplace clothing that blended Islamic values with the modern American lifestyle. It’s about common ground: We’re all for letting people know that Muslims are similar to them in many ways.”

Julia Duin’s column runs Thursdays and Sundays. She can be reached at [email protected] washingtontimes.com.

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