Ebony S. Muhammad (EM): It is very apparent social media has a serious stronghold when it comes to promoting a message, creating a movement, and generating business especially for entrepreneurs. However, one very interesting element of social media is the power and attractive pull of imagery.
You are actually tapping into all of the above elements through beautiful photos of yourself modeling modest attire on Instagram, which is an image-driven platform.
Before we get into that, please share a little bit about yourself, your upbringing and how you became passionate about fashion and modeling?
Neelam Hakeem (NH): My name is Neelam Hakeem. I chose the name Neelam for myself at the age of 12 when my father came home one day and said that he’s converting from Christianity to Islam. He legally changed our last names from our slave name and gave me a choice to change my first name if I choose to convert as well. This showed me the power of choice, and that whatever change you make in a moment can define you for the rest of your life.
I picked one name from a list of holy/Muslim names based off how it looked to me and most of all its meaning (achiever, blue gem). That’s one name, one word. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then if I choose to present myself a certain way, I feel that I’m choosing to wear all of the beautiful names at once.
As far as my passion for fashion, I’ve always worked in retail and, like the typical girl, I like to dress nice for a good price. I always say you can’t buy style, so if you can make a great fit for cheap you got it. I’ve never considered myself a model, and honestly still don’t. In my opinion with the way social media is set up, everyone is kind of a model, at least on a good day.
EM: On April 1, 2017 you launched the rebranding your Instagram page to reflect the fashion side of yourself. What sparked the shift?
NH: I’ve always struggled with covering my hair and modest dress due to my love for cute hairstyles and clothes I used to feel was a must. I thought that covering modestly took away from the “fashionable” looks I use to go for. My opinion drastically changed on #MuslimWomensDay. On that day I looked through the hash tag becoming completely spellbound by the beautiful Muslim women and girls who slayed, modestly. It was at that moment that I decided to commit to modest fashion. I also wanted to possibly be an example, like the women who inspired me, so I decided by Allah’s Grace to try to push and promote my modesty decision. I’ve received so much love by Allah’s Grace from Muslim and non-Muslim women around the world, and it inspired me to keep striving to continue. I now know modesty is real beauty!
EM: In my humble opinion, you have collided with a major domino effect of other Muslim women on social media promoting a genre of beauty that is being celebrated on major magazine covers. Halima Aden who was recently featured on Vogue and Allure Magazine as “The face of things to come”. Also Ibtihaj Muhammad, the Olympic fencer, who has been featured on various magazines and newspaper covers. Even Rihanna, who doesn’t profess to practice Islam but has been featured on the cover of Harper’s Bazzar wearing Muslim attire in one of her most beautiful photo shoots to date.
What does this surge in modest fashion, Muslim models and covering beautifully with style say about the direction of the standard of beauty that was once considered to reflect the complete opposite?
NH: I feel that modest fashion has always been beautiful and an unstoppable force. I believe those at the top know that there is a huge growing market for this and ultimately want to control it so that they can profit off of it. The positive part is that this beautiful style is being presented more for women and girls to feel beautiful about them self through the representation.
On the flip side, those who ultimately control the market care only about money and will not hesitate to have us in modest fashion in spring and then convince us that we are liberated by taking it off in the summer time if its profitable. To me it’s more important that you stay true to yourself regardless of what the market is pushing.
EM: Being a citizen in the Nation Of Islam and a student in the MGT-GCC (Muslim Girls Training & General Civilization Class), how has social media enabled you to connect with other Muslim women interested in modest fashion from all over the world? How have aspects of being a MGT opened ways to promote sisterhood? For example the collaboration you are doing with Ruma B.
NH: On #MuslimWomensDay I followed many Muslim women and girls who are and have been modest giants in the social media world. I was shocked by the love and support I received after I made the change on my page. Its beautiful, because it’s all becoming a growing family that constantly inspires you. That’s the crazy thing about social media. Most of these girls I’ve never met in my life (with exception of a few), but you feel like you know each other.
Being an MGT has taught me sisterhood with women outside of your blood. So when I talk with other Muslims and women of color, I talk to them as sisters. Thus @Rumastyles who lives Detroit and is Bengali running for Jet Set magazine, I support her and all Muslim women to the fullest. Being in the Nation teaches you about supporting each other. So my support for them and their brands allows them to realize there is no threat just love! Most of them have beautiful spirits to match their outside beauty.
EM: The rise in Muslim women showcasing beauty and style is definitely getting the attention of the world, especially because it contradicts what the controlled media has projected of us. What do you see coming out of this shift? How do you see yourself contributing to what appears to be much bigger than an individual person but a world wide sisterhood and movement against the outright lies and the false beliefs that Islam oppresses its women and girls?
NH: I believe the skies the limit. We are dynamic and intelligent, and contrary to what most people think, Islam liberates the God given talents of a woman. I believe we will see a Muslim woman become the “Beyonce” of singing, the “Denzel Washington” of acting, an “Einstein”, a “Barak Obama”, etc.
I’m just enjoying myself keeping my mind and spirit open to endless possibilities.