There are countless ways to paint a picture. The ambience of a bustling cafe situated in a popular avenue sets up for an alluring canvas. A spectrum of characters drawn together over a common communal activity – drinking an unnecessary amount of coffee – is more theatrical than one might expect. And within that drama, there she was, Maisha. Sitting at a table close enough to be showered by the sun-setting light through the glass walls of the cafe, her outfit exposed shades of peach, appropriately fitting her Instagram handle. Her deceivingly petite silhouette was soon overshadowed by her pleasantly overwhelming and charming personality.
She was a subtly striking image that, and I can’t lie, caught me off guard. It’s one thing to admire our group of fashion bloggers from afar and another experience to have in the flesh. Then, to my surprise, another unexpected turn showed its face. I soon realised this young lady, even at the age of 20, was wise beyond her years. There was a mutual understanding, an open-minded approach to almost every aspect of life. It felt like I was talking to a childhood friend I hadn’t seen in years.
There were plenty of laughs to be had, ideas exchanged and the out-of-our hands regret why we hadn’t met before. While we can’t disclose everything we discussed – naturally as best friends do – the more important topics were quite revealing.
Modest Habibi, on Instagram, turned one-year-old at the end of April. This also happens to be her last month in Dhaka before she heads off to Canada to complete her studies. With current events in mind, I thought it was best we discuss everything fresh out the oven.
Mahmood Hossain: Plenty of significant changes are happening right now. You hear about the Saudi crown prince making it no longer mandatory to wear the abaya?
Maisha Fairuz: Yeah, you know, I can’t speak for the women in Saudi Arabia, but one thing has to be very clear: There is a misconception that modesty is limited to clothing. Wearing a burqa or an abaya only describes the physical aspects of a woman. Whether she’s a good human being or not, no one will really know. Wearing a burqa or abaya doesn’t really define your modesty. A hijab or abaya is just a piece of clothing; it’s fashionable, yes, but you can cover up in other ways too.
MH: And there’s a fine balance of that on the runway recently, ie Dolce & Gabbana. Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with it, you?
MF: Truth be told, we’re still a minority in the fashion scene. So when high-end labels take our everyday style choices onto the runway, they are actually sharing our culture with the rest of the world. It also slightly drives the fear away from wearing hijabs and the stigma that follows it. I feel like when you wear a hijab, there’s a huge burden on you; you have to follow this code of conduct.
MH: To play a little devil’s advocate, you don’t see any hints of exploitation from these high-end brands promoting modest-wear on the runway?
MF: No, not at all. If you’re wearing a hijab improperly, like with a skirt – God forbid – then, that’s obviously representing that style of fashion in the wrong way. Hijab appropriate clothing is more like it. And so far, they have presented it in a respectful manner. That’s perfectly fine with me.
MH: Respect is the keyword here, especially during Ramadan. How do you think women should approach their fashion choices during those given days?
MF: Well, what I usually do during Ramadan – actually, on any day – is keep things simple and basic. If I need to run errands, I just put on a basic abaya and get on with it. I don’t want to sound like a pest, and I’m not the type to judge, but don’t just cover up for that one month only. Don’t feel like you need to but do it because you want to.
MH: But along with the ignorance and hate, there is the appreciation.
MF: Oh, of course, most definitely! Being someone’s inspiration or when you have a positive effect on someone’s lifestyle is such a big deal for me. It’s so rewarding. I have so many young women messaging me on IG on how I have served as an inspiration. You cannot imagine how much that means to me. Or maybe you can?
MH: To a certain extent, sure. Do you get the same support from family and friends?
MF: To be honest, it took a lot for my mother to come around to the idea of what I do on social media. I mean my father still wants me to become the regular 9-5 banker. And it’s understandable coming from them. The media has its criticisms, and it weighs heavy on young adults.
MH: That’s also a big part of why you do it, right? Contributing in a positive way for the youth?
MF: For sure. And you know the response I get is through the quality of content. It’s not just about the quality of the images or whether you take pictures on a phone or a DSLR; it’s how you present it. I see so many people buying editing software; I haven’t used a single editing software to date.
MH: With that in mind, where do you see your blog going next?
MF: What I thought about is, once I reach 10k followers and I’m in Canada, I’ll sign up under the ‘influencer’s list’ so it’ll be easier for international brands to find me. I’m looking forward to blogging, which my father doesn’t know about because it never feels like work to me. It’s simply something I love doing! But if I ever find myself no longer wanting to do it, I’ll just stop. For now, I’m in love with what I’m doing, but I have no delusions of blogging forever. There will be a day where I might be completely tired of it. And I’m totally prepared for that too.
Maisha has garnered an admirable following in such a short time with absolute grace. And the number of unique followers continue to grow, stating to the rest of the country the type of influence the youth actually wield.
Follow Maisha on Instagram @ modest_habibi
Photographs from Maisha Fairuz