As part of an ongoing series, Yahoo Canada is profiling personal experiences in open letters. Our third entry speaks of Saman Munir, a Canadian-born fashion blogger and hijab stylist who uses beauty and fashion to inspire what hijabs mean to Muslim women. For more from the series, click here.
As told to Nisean Lorde
My name is Saman Munir.
I am a wife, a full-time mother of three and a devout Muslim. I am also a Canadian beauty blogger and I review modest clothes and hijabs from all over the world.
My relationship with hijabs goes back a long way. I started wearing them in 1999. No one forced me to wear them. I was 18-years-old and only wore them because my sister wore them — she’s a year older than me. I felt like I was obligated to wear them, so I put them on. After my sister got married, about a year later, I didn’t feel comfortable wearing hijabs anymore. I felt it was not my decision to wear them in the first place, I was simply following in the steps of my sister. I was disappointed in myself, but I knew that one day I would wear them again, when I felt it was the right time.
In 2005, one day after my 24th birthday, I decided to go to work with my hijab on. There was no moment of epiphany for me – it was simply a decision that I decided to make and one that I was comfortable with. I got so many questions from my co-workers— I don’t think anyone knew much about hijabs— so I had people asking me questions.
“Did you get married?”
“Is this a birthday thing you’re doing?”
“Is it a cultural thing?”
They were curious. I told them it was part of my faith—that I should have been wearing it a long time ago, but now I felt ready to wear them again. Some of the questions were funny but most of the comments were supportive. Many people told me I looked more beautiful and more modest.
It was my first real experience learning how to respond to questions about my hijab styling—something that would come in handy a few years later when I started blogging.
I have always loved makeup. Growing up, I used to admire my mom as she carefully applied her makeup and experimented with different techniques. I wanted to explore with makeup, too. I used to buy makeup, but I didn’t know how to put it on. I was curious as to how Muslim fashion bloggers applied makeup and styled their hijabs, so I began looking up videos on YouTube. It was 2007, and more people were starting to become interested in YouTube channels. That’s where I found one hijab tutorial.
I remember watching this video of a beautiful Hijabi girl, wearing a hijab and giving a tutorial on how to put makeup on. I was really inspired. I remember thinking, “Whoa, she looks so good with her hijab and makeup on.”
Through her channel I found another Hijabi blogger who was selling hijabs and demonstrating how to style them through her social media channels. I bought a few hijabs from her shop and started styling them and tagging her. I got an amazing response, and people started asking me for tips on how to style a hijab.
I was 26-years-old and recently married. My husband wasn’t too comfortable with me posting pictures on social media.
“I don’t mind you having Facebook, but I don’t want any pictures on it,” he told me.
I said that was fine. We were still learning each other’s’ likes and dislikes.
In 2011, I had the opportunity to do makeup for a family friend. My friend liked how I applied her makeup and invited me to be the head makeup artist for an upcoming fashion event. She wanted me to apply makeup for all of her models. She asked if I had a website so she could pass my information on to the Asian Television Network, which would broadcast the show. At that time I had no business cards or even a Facebook fan page to showcase my work. I asked my husband if it was okay to create a fan page and he agreed. As it turned out, it was not hard to convince him. He was very supportive.
I had been wearing a simple, square, black hijab for six years—and just as I had been experimenting with makeup, I was experimenting with hijabs too. I watched videos by Rabia Z—videos that helped inspire me to turn my signature hijab style into something more classic, more elegant. I was really surprised with what you could do with a hijab.
I started my own YouTube channel in the spring of 2011. I wanted to show that a hijab doesn’t have to be boring. It can be elegant and beautiful—still fashionable. There are so many ways to style hijabs, their fabrics, prints, and colours—each of which gives a whole different look.
My videos responded well with people and my fan base began to grow; people couldn’t get enough hijab-styling videos. Soon I got modelling opportunities. Companies began to send me hijabs to style in my videos, I got them from all over the world—the U.K., U.S., Japan, Australia, Turkey, even Saudi Arabia!
In 2013, Canada’s FASHION Magazine contacted me for a photoshoot and a three-page feature. It was one of the biggest accomplishments of my career. I always wanted to be in a magazine—but to do so in a way where I wasn’t showing my body or my hair. I was modest. I wanted to show women that you can be fashionable, beautiful and covered.
This morning I woke up and sent my kids to school. I applied my makeup and set up my tripod and camera. I have a new hijab I was sent to review and decided to shoot a video on how to style hijabs for beginners. I have been blogging for five years now, have well-over 40,000 YouTube subscribers and nearly half a million views—and yet, I am still moved at the outpouring of support I receive on a daily basis.
“I simply love your scarf’s to bit’s your my true hero i love you sister Saman :D”
“Very unique! I’m in a hijab rut right now so I need to try something new! Thank you!”
“I really love wearing hijab but like wearing same old style every day makes me feel bored and ur styles makes ma day perfect love it.”
“Women shud be strong and beautiful which you are ..thankyou..xx”
Up until a few years ago there weren’t many hijab fashion bloggers. Now there are so many girls doing hijab styles. And we are all learning from each other on how to do it.
There’s negativity too, although not as much as there was at the beginning. I try not to respond, or if I do respond then it’s in a kind way. I apologize for offending the viewer. I won’t ever be rude because it’s not my thing. Sometimes when I don’t reply, my supporters back me up, but most of the time I’ll avoid responding to negativity because I don’t want any drama on my page.
Still, some critics can be persistent. They think the hijab and fashion don’t mix.
People expect you to be whatever they think is right. They do whatever suits them; they want you to be as good as they are, but everybody’s at a different level. The way I see it is: maybe one day I’ll get to your level, but I may not be at your level right now. They’re attacking me — but that’s not the way Islam is spread. You don’t spread Islam by putting people down. If you want somebody to get better, you can’t put them down in public, you need to send them a private message. Unfortunately some people just don’t care. Some people are straight jealous.
I am thankful to have the support of my husband. He not only appears in some of my videos, my vlogging has even inspired him to start his own YouTube channel about riding motorbikes.
So I ignore the critics and appreciate the love and support of my family.
I hope my videos will continue to empower and inspire women.
What do you think about Munir’s open letter? Let us know by tweeting @YahooStyleCA.