I managed to get into contact with Sajida Madni, one of the ladies featured in the Primark shopping trip in the last episode of WiB. Here's what she had to say:
Hayah: What encouraged you to take part in the programme?
Sajida: The BBC called Birmingham Citizens, the community organisation I work with asking if I'd be willing to take part in a TV programme about Muslim women to dispel those myths that Muslim women are not supposed to be seen or heard. I used to write a column for Emel magazine and sometimes I would refer to fashion and new trends in that column. The producer of the show read it and was interested in getting me involved. I also wanted to get rid of these misconceptions that Muslim women, especially those who choose to wear the abayas or hijabs, are unapproachable and anti-social. They also said they wanted us to go shopping with them and which girl can refuse that? (Primark was the only store that would allow them to film in it).
Hayah: Did you feel that Thursday's episode was representative of Asian Muslims in the UK?
Sajida: I didn't feel that Thursday's episode was representative of Asian Muslims in the UK as there are many, many communities within the larger Muslim community and they are all wonderfully different and I certainly don't claim to represent any one community. I was representing myself and I know that not all Muslims would have agreed with my style of clothing. In fact, I received an email from someone who watched the programme stating that I, as a Muslim, should have worn shalwar kameez on the show. It is another thing that appealed to me about the show and this was that not all Muslims wear the same dress. Even the abaya can be worn in so many different styles, as the hijab can...as long as you are living by the Islamic modesty guidelines. I think there was a diverse range of Muslim women on Thursday's show. Some Asian women who, like my friends and I, embrace all styles of clothing and fashion them according to Islamic guidelines, whilst others prefer to wear the abayas and shalwar kameez. So, whilst they tried their best to have very different Asian women on the show, I can't say they were representative of the wider community. They could have asked the elder generation, who only ever wear shalwar kameez, what it means to them to wear these clothes. It is more than fashion, it is their culture that they are hanging on to and their Asian heritage that they cherish. Plus, the Asian community doesn't consist of Pakistanis alone! There are Indian Muslims, Chinese Muslims, Bangladeshi Muslims, Turkish Muslims, Indonesian Muslims etc etc and all have varied styles. These were not shown, unfortunately.
Hayah: Why do you choose to dress the way you do?
Sajida: My style varies every day! My friends and I have recently returned from a two-week stint in Morocco and we brought back a suitcase full of beautiful abayas! We wear them out and about and feel good about doing so. Also, we have just had about ten shalwar kameez suits tailored and we are now in the thick of our 'Asian suits phase'. We truly feel that anyone can wear anything as long as they look and feel confident wearing it (within Islamic dress code of course). On a day to day basis, I would probably feel most comfortable in a long top over jeans. It's just what I feel most comfortable in. I used to think that abayas and shalwar kameez are only to be worn on special occasions but increasingly people in the UK are wearing them as casual wear and looking good! I love that young women are embracing their culture and mixing things up! I have friends that wear the abaya full time and they accessorise them with belts and long necklaces and they look so elegant!
In addition, this is what she had to say about the series:
Sajida: As far as the series is concerned, I'm not sure how I feel about Women in Black to be honest. There is more to us than just spending lots of money and wearing bling. I felt that they could have asked what it actually means to us to dress the way we do. I'm not sure they achieved that aim of dispelling any myths but perhaps adding another one: Muslim women are excessive shopaholics and not much more to them than that. No, we aren't 'shapeless black blobs', but we aren't all 'diamante encrusted gowns' either. The significance of wearing clothes the way we do and the meaning behind the hijab and abayas was not outlined. The message isn't all there and that's quite sad.