In cosmopolitan Karachi, women prefer hijab to burqa

November 17th, 2010 - 2:34 pm ICT by IANS  

By Shilpa Raina
Karachi, Nov 17 (IANS) Young girls in jeans and T-shirts roam freely in the upmarket Zamzama road of Pakistan’s largest city that houses many fashion boutiques and cafes. So do many women clad in the traditional salwaar-kameez, though they cover their head with a hijab.

Women in burqas, however, are not a regular sight in this cosmopolitan port city.

“Wearing a hijab or a burqa’ or not covering your head at all is just a matter of choice. If a woman wants to wear the hijab - and not the burqa - it’s because she has been brought up by a steady dose of modernity,” Aamna Haider Isani, a senior fashion journalist, told a visting IANS correspondent.

“You will see a lot of single women, single mothers, all types of working women here. Many corporates are giving Pakistani women an opportunity to change the perceptions of people around the globe who think Pakistan is a conservative country,” she added.

This correspondent, to her surprise, found a lot of women from various walks of life choosing to just cover their head.

“You will be surprised to know that it was only the Prophet’s wife who was supposed to wear a burqa so that she could be identified, but then some fanatics forced it on women to protect them from the glare of the public eye,” Huma Adnan, a fashion designer, explained

“Islam preaches that a woman should be well covered so that she doesn’t attract unnecessary male attention, and the reason why she has to cover her head is because hair is considered to be an attraction for men,” she added.

During private parties, a lot of women don elegant dresses, evening wear and off-shoulder gowns, but skin-show is limited. The majority of women here shy away from showing their legs, arms or back - the idea is elegant dressing.

An average woman in Karachi covers her head and dresses in a salwar-kameez and heads off to work.

Usma Khan, who works as a helper in a wealthy household of Karachi, doesn’t believe in wearing a burqa though she does cover her head.

“With inflation on, one can’t think of running a household only on the husband’s income. So I started working and I do follow Islam religiously, but I only believe in covering my head because you can’t work in a ‘burqa’. This is a more practical way of living,” said Khan.

According to designer Sahar Atif, Pakistan is a multi-cultural society, particularly Karachi, and Lahore is more conservative when it comes to women’s dressing sensibilities.

“You see, considering an Islamic country, there is a lot of difference in a way women dress in Karachi and Lahore - Karachi women are more liberal, but there are some parts which are very conservative. Karachi people are loaded with money; so are Lahore people, but Karachi is more cosmopolitan than Lahore,” said Atif, who is a Lahore-based designer.

Adnan agrees with her. She told IANS: “In Karachi, I can roam around in track-pants and no one will give me that stupid look, while in Lahore I can’t do the same. There people are more conservative. Though I don’t care, sometimes you have to dress according to the sentiments of that region to avoid unwanted attention.”

Atif herself covers her head with a hijab while her clothes relfect Western sensibilities; so sometimes she is accused of being a hypocrite.

“I started covering my head for religious reasons. Covering your head might be considered backwards, but the richest people in Karachi and Lahore are very conservative and you will find them in the most stylish and branded clothes, but underneath a burqa,” she said.

“So my design sensibilities have nothing to do with my hijab. If a woman wears one, it doesn’t mean she is conservative,” she added.

But Farishtey, an atheist, doesn’t cover her head and says women in hijab are simply following norms.

“They wear it because they have been brainwashed. I know a lot of models who used to drink, smoke and do everything and suddenly one day they started wearing the burqa just to atone for their sins. It is ridiculous,” said Farishtey, who works in a corporate firm as a marketing manager.

“One has to be firm in what one believes in and should stick by it,” she added.

(Shilpa Raina can be contacted at

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