Chicago Modest Fashion Week brings Black, Indigenous, Muslim designers and designs center stage
by Tariqah Muhammad, Shawntell Muhammad, Abisayo Muhammad and Audrey Muhammad
CHICAGO—Since the founding of the Nation of Islam over 90 years ago, modest fashion for women and girls has been at the forefront of Black Muslim culture. The Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad gave us the culture of Islam that Master Fard Muhammad, the Great Mahdi, brought which is different from the way of this world. He desired the woman of Islam to model something new that represents the new civilization, the kingdom of God.
He gave us a style and manner of dress that sets us apart as the new standard of beauty. From Mother Khadijah Farrakhan’s designs at Newell Apparel to the TaHa 20 designs presented by Mother Tynnetta Muhammad, the great standard of dignity and beauty has been set.
Following in this great tradition, the fashion show presented by Women Working Together Inc. at Navy Pier continues to uplift modest fashion, uniting designers from around the world.
Carmen Muhammad, owner of Al-Nisa Designs and Women Working Together Inc., hosted the 2nd Annual International Arts Award Gala and first U.S. Modest Fashion Week Event, at the Lakeview Terrace Navy Pier Convention Center and Contemporary Arts Museum. The event’s theme was: “Fashion is an Ambassador to World Peace.”
“I feel like Chicago is my home, this is my stomping grounds,” Carmen Muhammad said. “This is where my National Center is, so I wanted people to be able to come to Chicago and see us—those that really represent the city of Chicago in a very positive way. … I felt like this is the place that this event needed to happen,” she added.
“I started in fashion during my junior (11th grade) year in high school, and this was also the same time that I started processing to become a member of the Nation of Islam.”
The women and girls in the Nation of Islam under the guidance of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan are taught that they are co-creators with God in establishing a new civilization. In the lecture titled, “A New Mind, A New Woman,” the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan states, “The women in Islam are the most important work for the Messenger and the Nation.
Anything that corrupts the woman, anything that makes an improper use of women is destructive to the national aim of God and His Christ because their aim is that we must become a new people—a new creature. And we can never become a new people and new creatures unless we have a new woman.
And we cannot have a new woman without a new mind in that woman. And that mind that is being offered to the woman is the mind of God, Himself.” As a Muslim woman functioning from this premise with a passion for fashion, it was only natural that Sister Carmen worked to introduce modest fashions in line with the new standard of beauty and choose as her motto “A New Dress, A New Mind, A New Woman.”
Those in attendance were wowed by the designs.
“I think it was phenomenal. I loved all the designers,” said Desiree Young, who is from Chicago. She said she was impressed by the variety of designs. “I loved what they presented, from casual wear to men’s wear to a couple of wedding dresses. I was very impressed.”
The brightly lit stage and elegant ambiance set the tone for the show while designers such as Saffiyah Muhammad, Sara, Queen Aminah and Carmen Muhammad herself showcased dozens of garments.
Designer Lareesha Jimenez of Mexico stated, “I have always dressed modest since I was a little girl, and to be able to sew and make fashion of my own, made it interesting. When I moved to Mexico from Los Angeles, I opened a manufacturing company, so we make clothes.”
Kayla Lookinghorse, another designer, promoted unity in her styles.
“I collaborated with Yonasda Lonewolf with leisure wear, where we created the fusion of African American and Native American,” she said. “We wanted to send the message of unity, because people have different backgrounds, and we want to motivate people to embrace who they are.”
Even the models were impressed by the designers’ work.
“I have been modeling for six years, and I have modeled in traditional fashion shows,” said Jenae Brooks from Mesa, Arizona. “I see that modest fashion is the empowerment of the woman in modest fashion and the fact that there is this perception that modest fashion can’t be fashionable. However, modest fashion is fashionable and high fashion at that, people underestimate modest fashion.”
Isaiah Muhammad, 21, was onstage for the first time and said he received compliments all day whenever he put on a stylish design. As a newcomer to the fashion scene, he states, “This is all brand new, innovative and I really do support this fashion show,” he told The Final Call. “I hope to be in the next one.”
Model Qiyamah Muhammad of Benton Harbor, Mich., enjoyed being able to express herself. She was born and raised in the Nation of Islam. Her parents are Abisayo and Marcus Muhammad.
“Modest fashion gives me a chance to express myself for who I am as a Muslim,” she said. “Modest fashion gives the world a chance to see that there’s more than just exposing your body, and you can still be beautiful.”
Others agreed. So, in giving us a new style of dress, Minister Farrakhan teaches the women in Islam, “God has chosen you out of the world to make you and me examples of His new civilization. So, all of us are models, models … So model, put your garment on, check yourself out and model. Walk with your head up. Be proud of who you are. Don’t be ashamed. Wear your garment with pride.” This was the spirit on the runway of modest fashion week.
A’ishah Muhammad from Baltimore, Md., shared, “A lot of fashion that we wear are made by those who oppose us, so they want to see us in things that do not bring out our light. She [Carmen] wants to give the world a new woman, a new refined woman through modest wear.”
Singer Arian Nicole, who is from Phoenix, was asked by Carmen Muhammad to create a song specifically for the show. “To perform it, I’m speechless. This was amazing!” she said.
Her performance was met with a standing ovation as she, too, modeled a beautiful and modest, blue hooded dress that was just for the main evening.
Individuals behind the scenes, who helped make the fashion show a reality, were equally excited to express their appreciation for modest attire.
“I have been putting on fashion shows with Sister Carmen for 17 years, and we have been all over the world together,” said Sonya Muhammad of the Nation of Islam and from Monroe, La. She was one of the executive producers of the fashion show. “I have always loved to cover myself and I feel that we are beautiful when we are covered, and we’re not putting ourselves on display.”
Hannibal Muhammad, who attends the NOI mosque in Phoenix, was one of the male models—and he helped in other ways. “I designed the website for this fashion show, and shortly after, I was contacted directly from Sister Carmen, and that led me to become part of the team. I assisted with the graphic design, putting together digital build boards, putting music together for the show, as well as modeling. I believe that modesty is one of the most important things.”
At the end of the show, Carmen Muhammad came onstage and thanked the audience and designers for participating in the project. She said she was very passionate and persistent in producing the show. “I was pregnant with an idea!” she exclaimed.
She thanked Allah (God) for blessing her to produce, with the help of supporters, the vision for the new standard of beauty as taught by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan.
The July 4 weekend event did not stop there as the grand finale included an awards show and banquet that took place July 3. It was an evening that celebrated and saluted Carmen Muhammad’s team, honorees, and guests and to declare the success of the event was only the beginning.
The awards gala and dinner were held at Maggiano’s Little Italy restaurant downtown. The crowd welcomed honorees from the U.S. and Africa, excited to make connections and future business partnerships with the host. The regal and intimate setting was very fitting for the occasion to introduce a small group to a big vision.
Each awardee was presented with first-class, beautiful glass trophies to represent the high value Carmen Muhammad holds for their achievements and support of her vision. Other honorees selected included Mother Khadijah Farrakhan, wife of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan. She was given the “Global First Lady Queendom Award” for her design of the official garment of Muslim women in the Nation of Islam.
One highlight of the evening was the connection made with honored guests from Africa invited by Carmen Muhammad in an effort to take this idea of the business of fashion further while making lasting relationships abroad. “We have to do the work,” said award recipient Uzo Udemba of Lagos, Nigeria, regarding bridging the gap between the Black family from the U.S. and Africa. Mr. Udemba is founder of “Smart City Lagos.” Smart City Lagos is said to be the future of Nigeria that will attract people from around the world.
“We have been talking about building bridges, we’ve been talking about connectivity so the next step forward is to actually build the infrastructure that would assure connectivity and the collaboration across the two sides of the river,” he said. Mr. Udemba was awarded the “Global Future Award.”
Hosted by Hannibal Muhammad, the audience was treated to delicious food, engagement and entertainment from concert violinist and composer Henri Star Muhammad of Buffalo, New York.
Emotional testimonies were shared by Hannibal Muhammad who accepted the award on Mother Khadijah Farrakhan’s behalf, showing love and gratitude for what she means to the Nation of Islam.
“Today was my first day arriving here in Chicago for the gala with Sister Carmen and it was a beautiful experience from beginning to end,” said Malika Divine Muhammad of Mosque No. 7 in New York City.
“I feel we made history with our sister and we did a lot of connecting, divine connections with our sisters and brothers in Africa that we will be doing business with and partnering with and fulfilling the will of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad. So, I’m really thankful to be a part of this experience and I look forward to our prosperity,” she said.
Other award recipients included Carmen Muhammad’s longtime friend and supporter Maki Mandela, daughter of the late Nelson Mandela, with the “Rising Star Award” for the House of Mandela’s “Struggle Series” StreetWear Collection and Zubair Mughal who received the “Global Gateway Connection to The World of Modest Fashion” award.
African honorees traveled a long distance to receive their awards and observe the fashion designs, but they were mostly attracted to the unity displayed the entire weekend. Lexi Mojo-Eyes, African fashion ambassador and chief executive officer of Legendary Gold Limited, received the “Hands Across Africa” award. As he made his acceptance speech, Mr. Mojo-Eyes shared how thankful and impressed he was and his observations of the weekend.
“I’m so encouraged by the way I have seen the entire team work together,” said Mr. Mojo-Eyes. “The only way to succeed and take it to the next level is when everybody works together and continues in the same spirit until next year,” he said.
Saudah Muhammad, a registered member of the Nation of Islam for 37 years, traveled approximately 300 miles from St. Louis to attend. She has participated in the Women Working Together events over the years and knew she had to be here when Carmen Muhammad shared her vision with her.
“Trend setting. A new world, a new woman, a new mind, especially covered girls. I love the garment, but I want for my sisters what I want for myself, so I had to be here and experience us, the sisters, the women of God showcase on the runway. … I just had to be here,” she said.
For more information, visit chicagomfw.com.
Donna Muhammad contributed to this report.