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Malaysia: Fashionably faithful
2008-11-29 15:30:45counter(0)  Writer:***   字体:A+ A-
KL show finds itself linked to debate on modern and conservative Islam
By Hazlin Hassan, Malaysia Correspondent
The show's designs went against the perception of Islamic style as drab but did not compromise on modesty. -- PHOTOS: ISLAMIC FASHION FESTIVAL
KUALA LUMPUR: Even as Malaysia hosted a high-profile international Islamic fashion festival this week, the spotlight was on how this country hopes to balance conservative religious traditions with contemporary views, after the Muslim authorities recently decreed that even a woman's fashion sense can endanger her faith.

While the government-backed four-day Islamic Fashion Festival aimed to showcase Islamic fashion that was stylish while not compromising on modesty, some of the designs included loose pants for women.

Wearing such apparently manly outfits could prove a minefield in Malaysia, as its top Islamic council recently decreed that tomboyish behaviour was forbidden in Islam. The ban, aimed at preventing lesbian sex, included 'dressing in clothes men wear'.

But this week, Muslim fashionistas, ranging from princesses to wealthy housewives, did not seem to heed such warnings and flocked to see designs for every conceivable occasion, from prayer wear to figure-hugging swimwear.

Sheer headscarves were paired with luxurious silk, chiffon and organza gowns and clingy trousers elaborately embellished with lace, sparkling Swarovski crystals and tassles.

Certainly some of the designs on display during the festival would appear to go against the images of traditional Islamic fashion, frequently pictured as drab and shapeless.

Such opulent displays of fashion belie a tug of war between the progressive image of Islam that the government is so keen to portray to the world and the rising influence of conservative Islam.

Since coming to power in 2003, Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi has promoted a progressive, modern Islam that is tolerant and moderate in its views.

But a row over a controversial yoga fatwa this week exposed deep divisions simmering in Malaysia, prompting him and several royal rulers to intervene.

The Sultan of Selangor state said the Fatwa Council should have consulted the country's nine hereditary sultans, who are considered upholders of Islam, before announcing a fatwa, while Mr Abdullah said Muslims could carry on with yoga if it had no elements of worship.

Analysts say that the rise of conservative Islam, which has created a backlash from the country's minority Chinese and Indians, stems from a fear that the religion is under threat.

Law professor Azmi Sharom of the University of Malaya said: 'The Fatwa Council is trying to assert its authority and trying to remain relevant to society. But it focuses on trivial things.'

Even responses in the blogosphere to the two fatwas asked why edicts were made on trivial matters when problems like corruption remain widespread.

A tongue-in-cheek e-mail warning of future fatwas has also been making the rounds.

'Muslims are being oppressed every day. Not by the Chinese, Indians, Jewish or Christians, but by fellow Muslim Malays,' it said.

Some of the future edicts it predicted included prohibitions on swimming, eating at Indian restaurants, travelling overseas and even thinking.

But Ms Maria Chin Abdullah, of the rights group Sisters-In-Islam, noted that the sheer volume of public discourse that followed the fatwas signalled hope that a moderate form of Islam would prevail.

'As long as we are alert, we can stem the trend of conservative, archaic interpretations.'

As for the ban on trousers for Muslim women, Malaysian fashion doyenne Tom Abang Saufi, who showed off her form-fitting designs at the Islamic Fashion Festival, said: 'I am a modern Malaysian woman. I don't cover my head. It doesn't make me less Islamic in my behaviour at all.'

'Religion should be beautiful and nice. It shouldn't be politicised,' she told The Straits Times.

hazlinh@sph.com.sg

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