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How Social Enterprises Are Changing Lives Of Palestinian Women




“Our mission is to create jobs for Palestinian women”, Cayley Pater, Assistant Director of Child’s Cup Full (CCF), puts it simply for me during our interview about their non-profit social enterprise.

CCF was founded in 2008 by Dr. Janette Habashi, Associate Professor in educational psychology at the University of Oklahoma. The project started out as a student-led initiative which raised funds to support education programs in the Jenin area of the West Bank for refugee children.  Upon realizing the need for economic independence, the project was transformed into a social enterprise whose aim was to empower women by giving them economic agency through jobs that offer a living a wage.

CCF creates economic opportunities by creating educational toys and learning materials which cater to children in elementary schools. All its products are handmade by refugee women employed in its West Bank artisan center located in the northern village of Zababdeh. The center employs six full time artisans with several others employed on a part-time basis. The educational toys are made from soft fabric which fulfills a unique demand in the market; the company’s sensory learning materials are particularly well suited for play-based settings such as Montessori schools. They aid the of development of diverse skills such as memory retention and cognitive development. The products are designed in Arabic, English and Spanish, aiming to reach as wide an audience as possible.

Over the course of our conversation, Cayley explains to me the growth of the company since its founding. She travels frequently to trade shows where their brand is starting to get more and more recognition from educators and schools. CCF also recently become Fair Trade Certified; an arduous and long process but worth the effort, given the competitive edge it gives to their products. The company proudly claims that its products are not only Fair Trade, but also help empower Palestinian women artisans.

In addition to designing educational products, the organization has expanded into the ethical fashion world by launching a new fashion brand called Darzah. Darzah, which in Arabic means to stitch, specializes in creating products which carry a traditional form of Palestinian embroidery called tatreez. Tatreez is a centuries-old tradition which has been passed down from mother to daughter to the present day. It consists of colourful and vibrant patterns that can found stitched on clothes, shoes, and accessories.

Darzah seeks to introduce tatreez to the Western fashion market through his high-end fashion products. Like the educational toys of CCF, all its products are hand-made by refugee and low-income women. The leather used to manufacture these items is sourced from a family run manufacturer locally in Hebron, thus making all its products completely made in Palestine. The company is also dedicated to preserving and archiving the unique tatreez patterns in the form of a digital database; they launched a successful LaunghGood campaign this past Ramadan and raised over $37,000 for the cause.

The dream for Darzah is to be featured in places like Nordstorm, Holt Renfrew and Pottery Barn. In addition to selling through its online portal, it is already featured at select boutiques and craft expos such as the West Coast Craft Show.

CCF is not alone in its mission to bring economic independence to Palestinian refugee women. Sitti Soap is another social enterprise which is helping Palestinian women by preserving the art of Olive-oil based soap making.

Over our phone conversation, Toronto based co-founder and social activist Noora Sharrab shared with me the story of Sitti Soap. It all started when Sharrab co-founded an NGO called Hopes for Women in Education; an initiative meant to promote higher education amongst Palestinian refugee women. During her time at the Jerash camp in Jordan, she came across a group of Gazan women who were trained in the art of traditional olive oil soap making. Many of these women had tried in the past to create home-run businesses without success.  Seeing an opportunity to create a sustainable economic opportunity given her background in non-profit management, Sharrab teamed up with journalist Jacqueline Sofia and founded Sitti Soap.

Sitti, meaning “my grandmother” in colloquial Arabic, aims to preserve and promote the ancient Palestinian tradition of Nabulsi cold-pressed olive oil soap. Using all-natural and locally sourced ingredients, Sitti produces beautiful bars of soap handmade by refugee women. These soaps are becoming popular gifts that are given away at weddings and corporate events. Sitti employs about eight women full-time and several others part-time at its production site in the Jerash refugee camp. The site is located inside the camp to make it easier for the working women who often have challenges traveling.

The goal of the organization is to bring this tradition to the marketplace where it can be recognized for its uniqueness and become a means of economic empowerment for women. Using the profits from the soap bars, Sitti funds hard skills development and educational programs for refugee women and girls. The organization runs the Hopes-Sitti Center in the Jerash camp which acts as a social hub for women and offers numerous social programs and workshops. It hosts a computer lab which is home to the Bannat Connect program; a virtual language exchange which connects students of Arabic to local women in Jordan through Skype.

CCF and Sitti Soap are examples of two enterprises helping bring real, sustainable change for Palestinians and removing dependence on foreign aid. Projects like these are often under supported from the activist community who tend to focus on more popular movements such as BDS. While BDS is important, the approach to helping the Palestinian cause needs to be multi-faceted. The pressure on institutions to stop aiding the occupation needs to be coupled with support for ventures that help build the Palestinian economy. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the occupation; with no end to the conflict in sight, the status-quo is likely to continue in the foreseeable future. The need to support social enterprises that improve everyday Palestinian life is therefore now greater than ever.

Waleed Ahmed writes on current affairs and politics for MuslimMatters. He focuses on Muslim minorities, human rights and the Middle-Eastern conflict. Based out of Montreal, he's currently pursuing a Ph.D. at McGill University in fundamental physics. Waleed also has a keen interest in studying Arabic and French. He spends his spare time reading, playing basketball and praying for Jon Stewart to run in the next presidential election.

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Earth Day Vogue – How Choosing Our Brands Can Save Lives And Our Planet





By Afshan Khan


The Muslim fashion industry is growing, and is expected to grow even further reaching $327 billion by 2019, according to a study by Dinar Standard. It’s no wonder then, that over the last few years major retailers and  brands are actually recognizing our needs and representing us – I mean, we are after all a considerably large, and profitable segment that cannot be overlooked.

Some brands such as H&M have featured a hijabi model, American Eagle has introduced their denim hijab, while others are reaching out to hijabi influencers in order to cash in on the modest fashion bandwagon. Muslim women have already been shopping at these retailers for a while, so it is indeed wonderful to finally be represented. We all get really excited about these campaigns lending its share and we are constantly talking about it on our social media. All the same, I say we should ditch these big “fast fashion” retailers.

“But why?,” you may ask.

Well, firstly, fast fashion is like fast food- quickly and inexpensively producing short-lived trends. But this mainstream fashion industry has reached a critical point. Being the second most polluting industry, it is a major contributor to climate change. Over 50% of our clothes are made up of cheap synthetic fibers like polyester that are not biodegradable. They remain on the planet for thousands of years and are not breathable either, which means our bodies can not lose the heat we produce, and we sweat a whole lot more! Each time we put our clothes in the wash, they release microparticles that end up in the ocean, and eventually find their way to our food chain. Not to mention the toxic and carcinogenic dyes that destroy our rivers and are linked to cause cancer. All this affects the health of fashion industry workers, animals, plants, environment and eventually us the consumers as well.  


Second, fast fashion means poorly made garments that are designed to last just a few wears; this keeps consumers coming back for more. We don’t feel bad disposing them because they never cost that much to start with. Besides, we have the next fashion trend to follow. Eventually, we end up buying a lot more garments then we actually need, spending a lot more than what we would have in buying perhaps, a well made garment that lasts.


Thirdly and most importantly, fast fashion means cheap labor. Most of our fast fashion clothes are made in developing countries that have no regulations, and often times exploit labor. When a price of a t-shirt is just as much as your latte, you should know someone somewhere is paying the price for it. Prices are kept down artificially at the cost of slave labor. Garment workers are abused,exposed to dangerous working conditions, and made to work long hours without overtime pay. One would think that the garment factory collapse in Bangladesh that took the lives of 1,034 workers in 2013, would have been a huge wake-up call to change in the industry, but unfortunately, four years down the line and 2017 was reported to be the deadliest year for workers in Bangladesh. Bangladesh: a majority Muslim country and the second biggest exporter of garment. This should mean something to us.

The big box corporations are rushing to get our attention with their huge budget campaigns.What that tells us is that our collective buying power matters, and that our dollar has the power to make a change. There is a revolution taking place in the mainstream fashion industry, and we should make sure that as Muslims we lead the way to better the lives of our brothers and sisters.


As the modest fashion industry takes off and veiled Muslim women claim their spot in the industry, it is essential that we don’t fall victim to the problems and narrative created by fast fashion. Rather, send a strong signal that modesty not only means the outward expression of our faith, but also the inward morals and values of Islam that accounts for the well-being of others, in us acting as the true guardians of this earth. We won one battle by getting the representation, now lets win the war by setting the industry on the right path.

 – Get involved with movements such as fashion revolution to call brands to change

 – Educate yourself, and read labels to make informed decisions on your purchasing

 – Support brands that producing clothing in a responsible and ethical manner

 – Take small steps like mending your clothes, upcycling, or thrifting


All of which will surely add up in the end, and hopefully create a greater impact on the betterment of our world.


Afshan Khan is a former Human Resource specialist and founder of Purple Impression. She is passionate about sustainability, using her experience in HR to develop the skills to foster entrepreneurship and training of women artisans.

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Legacy of Khan: Eyebrows or the Lack Thereof

Zeba Khan



When I was 14, my blonde mother sat me down- unprompted- and did what blonde ladies do to tidy up their eyebrows…I think. She shaved the top half of my eyebrows off and told me to keep it up. This might have worked for her. After all she was descended from a variety of European heritages. Irish, Scottish, and some German. My mother’s family came from many places but none of them were near Mongolia.

Being a non-blonde and bi-racial though, my Genghisesque eyebrows began growing back in full, immediate force. Instead of having thinner eyebrows, I now had a sort of gradient system going, starting from the darkest on the bottom and the lightest towards my forehead.

Later that same year, my sister and I went to spend the summer with our cousins in Pakistan. Being non-blonde descendants of Genghis Khan and his many savvy wives, they took one look at me and said: “What the heck have you done to your eyebrows!?”

They staged an intervention and threaded my eyebrows into the Pakistani equivalent of a bow that is meant to shoot the arrow of my glance straight into a young man’s heart.

Pakistani icon Noor Jehan is a classic example of “bow & arrow” eyebrows. Pew pew!

It was years before I learned that overhauling (versus tending) your eyebrows is not permissible in Islam, but by then, three things had already happened:

  1. I had forgotten what my real eyebrows actually looked like.
  2. I had grown to believe that my real eyebrows were hideous and that growing them out would cover the top half of my face.
  3. I was so far down the eyebrow rabbit-hole that I was more Golden Arches than Ghenghis.

It took me almost fifteen years to finally stop reshaping my eyebrows. It was hard at first – they grew in seemingly random places and kept straying further and further from the invisible boundaries that I had assigned to them.  I would look at myself in the mirror and sigh. Transitioning my eyebrows from “overgrown” to “growing out” took months.  My one source of encouragement- believe it or not- was my husband, and he had no idea what an emotional ordeal I was even undertaking.

He walked past me one day and casually said; “Hey, have you done something to your eyebrows?”

“What? Me?” I squeaked, my conscience guilty for wishing that I had. “I’m letting them grow in.”

“Oh,” he said.  “They look really nice.”

I was dumbstruck. It was another few months before my husband noticed the next boundary grown over, and this time he said, “I like your eyebrows this way.”

“Are you sure?” I asked, “Don’t you remember what they looked like when we were married?”

“I do,” he said. “I thought they looked…fake.”

I glared at him and went to the sock drawer where all truly important family records are kept. I found our wedding photos and to my surprise, my old, thin, highly manicured eyebrows struck me as looking… fake. While I wasn’t yet in love with the eyebrows au-naturelle, I was at least disillusioned with the artificial looking alternative.

If you’re a brother reading this article and wondering what place eyebrows have in the modern Muslim experience, trust me- it’s front and center. The clash between spirit and self happens on a daily basis for your sisters. Faith versus Fashion is the epic battle that rages daily in the hearts, closets, and bathroom mirrors of Muslim women every day.

If you’re a sister reading this article, then you’ve heard conversations like this before:

Sister 1: “Wallah, my eyebrows are so unruly. I know we’re not supposed shape them but I feel like such a neanderthal!”

Sister 2: “What are you talking about? Your eyebrows look fine. Now, MY eyebrows… they look like I ordered them from a Jim Henson catalog.”


Sister 3: “You’re both crazy and your eyebrows frame your eyes perfectly! Now *my* eyebrows, they look like a handlebar mustache without a sense of direction…”

The circular consensus seems to be everyone has a real problem with their eyebrows, but everyone else looks fine and they’re just stressing for no reason.

Recently, heavier eyebrows have come back into fashion, I think this is a great time to piggy-back on the bandwagon and wave the flag for more natural looking eyebrows. While Muslims, of course, don’t wait for fashion to agree with religion before deciding to become religious, it is nice when fashion can do a part- even a teeny tiny one- to help boost our natural-looking self esteem when it comes to eyebrows.  Yes, the women are all still uncovered, photo-shopped, artfully painted and arranged by professionals- but the point is, they have big eyebrows and they are daring you to make caterpillar jokes about them.

I haven’t come as far as to say I’m in love with my natural eyebrows, but who am I to even suggest that Allah made a mistake in how He made them?  Allah Himself designed what my face and eyebrows were going to look like, and it should go without saying that His designs for what humans should look like are Divine (with a capital D) and everything else we do is just fixing what isn’t really broken.*

(*like when God makes women’s teeth too square.)

Please note- this doesn’t mean I’m saying that things like cleft palates are Divinely created and who are we therefore to alter them. Defects in the original human design are permissible to correct, like replacing a lost eye or reconstructing a face after an accident or congenital birth defect.  There’s a difference between correcting a defect to meet the standard and redesigning the standard altogether. Deciding that all of femalekind has been designed with the “wrong” kind of eyebrows is an attempt to redefine acceptable parameters for the female design.*

(*like when God makes women’s necks too short.)

While women in general has a problem accepting themselves in different shapes and sizes, accepting a tiny part of us- like our eyebrows- is a good first step. Eyebrows are perfectly designed for whatever it is that Allah designed them for.  Whether your naturally drop-dead gorgeous arches are meant to be a life-long battle with ego, or whether your hirsute forehead is an exercise in accepting the Qadr of Allah, they have a place in your life.*

*On your face.

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Haute History Made: The Importance of A Muslim Designer Showcasing Hijab On New York Fashion Week Mainstage





NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 12: Anniesa Hasibuan takes a bow on the runway at the Anniesa Hasibuan during New York Fashion Week: The Shows at The Dock, Skylight at Moynihan Station on September 12, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for New York Fashion Week: The Shows)

NEW YORK, NY – SEPTEMBER 12: Anniesa Hasibuan takes a bow on the runway at the Anniesa Hasibuan during New York Fashion Week: The Shows at The Dock, Skylight at Moynihan Station on September 12, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for New York Fashion Week: The Shows)

By Melanie Elturk

It’s an interesting time to be a hijab-wearing Muslim woman right now. In between flashes of political turmoil on TV, hate crimes, burkini bans and endless condemnation posts on social media, there’s a lot going on in the life of a “hijabi” these days. Despite learning how to navigate this tricky landscape, I’m optimistic. At no other time in recent memory has it been so amazing to be a woman in hijab. We’re that cool diverse face that mainstream big hitters like H&M, Dolce & Gabbana and YouTube are putting in their ad campaigns. We dress amazingly well thanks to the plethora of options when it comes to modest dressing – just search “hijab tutorial” on YouTube and you’ll get a quarter of a million results – and counting.

More and more, we’re no longer seen as weak, voiceless or my personal favorite – oppressed. Hijab wearing women are proving to the world that the exact opposite is true. We’re strong, vocal and yes, empowered. I know I’m not the only one who beamed with pride as hijab-wearing American Ibtihaj Muhammad brought home bronze at the 2016 Olympics. We all cheered on MasterChef’s Season 6 favorite Amanda Saab as she broke all our hearts with her tearful goodbye. We lovingly watched Mariam Jalloul deliver a heartfelt commencement speech to her fellow Harvard graduates at her 2016 commencement.

This past week at New York Fashion Week was no different. In my front row seat, the lights dimmed and I wondered to myself whether Indonesian designer Anniesa Hasibuan would actually show her designs at New York Fashion Week the way she did at Istanbul Modest Fashion Week – in head to toe hijab. Lights up, music on – the first model walked onto the runway. There she was, in full-on hijab and what a sight to see. Model after model in full hijab – in a stunning array of metallic and pastel hues, intricate lace, embellishments and plenty of traditional Indonesian jacquard fabric.

There was something electric in the room that night. Attending show after show with models baring skin for the upcoming Spring/Summer ‘17 season, the striking contrast of Anniesa’s designs were noteworthy to even the most nonchalant of observers. We all knew we were witnessing something groundbreaking. That night, Anniesa made history as the first Muslim designer to showcase all her designs on a NYFW main stage in full-on, head-to-toe hijab.

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 12: A model walks the runway at the Anniesa Hasibuan during New York Fashion Week: The Shows at The Dock, Skylight at Moynihan Station on September 12, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for New York Fashion Week: The Shows)

NEW YORK, NY – SEPTEMBER 12: A model walks the runway at the Anniesa Hasibuan during New York Fashion Week: The Shows at The Dock, Skylight at Moynihan Station on September 12, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for New York Fashion Week: The Shows)

The implications behind this show are enormous. While many think fashion is frivolous, I believe in the power of fashion. It’s a form of non-verbal expression of our identity and values. And it’ll be one of the many outlets in which we make a cultural shift in today’s society to normalize hijab in America – to break down stereotypes and demystify misconceptions. Anniesa’s show was a huge leap in that direction. We need to be present in all disciplines – not just medicine and engineering, but politics, entertainment, journalism, and yes, even fashion. The arts, more than anything defines a culture. And if we’re left out of that conversation, what does that say about our role in American culture? Well, nothing. Which is exactly the problem.

As hijab is introduced more and more into mainstream culture by way of fashion through commercials, magazine ads, and mannequins at the mall, to the rest of American society, hijab (and Muslims as a result) will slowly start to become familiar; less foreign. The inherent other-ness associated with hijab, and even fear, will slowly start to dissipate. It will be replaced by a notion of awareness built on the concept that we are part and parcel of the American cultural mosaic.

The audience, overwhelmingly not Muslim, showed their affection with a standing ovation at the end of the show. “I’d wear a hijab just to walk my dog!” exclaimed one excited onlooker, who like me, was in awe of the beauty we just witnessed. Fashion is universal. It speaks to everyone, regardless of race or religion. The implications of this groundbreaking show are poignant in today’s political and social climate. In the midst of anti-Muslim rhetoric, Anniesa’s trailblazing show informs the world that we are here and that we have a significant contribution to make to fashion. It showed the world that Muslim women are not slowing down, that we’re proud to hold onto our beliefs and take part in society. We’re not sitting on the sidelines, waiting for the world to become a better place. We’re making our mark on society informed by the wisdom of the Quran and the example of our beloved Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). If not us, who?

Melanie Elturk is the CEO of Haute Hijab, one of the largest U.S. brands for modest fashion. Melanie aims to empower hijab-wearing women worldwide, and in addition to her fashion line, she facilitates support for those struggling with hijab. She has propelled Haute Hijab from a cult favorite to a household name with a loyal following and dynamic social media presence. She is a regular contributor on, has been featured in the New York Times, NBC Today, CBS News, USA Today, Buzzfeed and others. She is an industry expert in modest fashion and has spoken in Malaysia, Italy, Nigeria, Istanbul and across America.



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