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Inland Muslim woman's store caters to the fashionably modest

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By David Olson


Jamesa Nikeima thinks dressing modestly doesn't mean you have to wear boring clothes.


The Corona woman creates and sells clothing that adheres to rules and traditions of her Muslim faith but have fashionable designs, bright colors and whimsical flourishes.


"A (Muslim) sister once told me that Allah sets limits, but we can do anything within those limits," Nikiema said.


Her company, Rebirth of Chic, is one of a growing number targeted toward women who want to combine their American and Muslim identities in their clothes. Websites, stores, booths at Muslim events, blogs with names like "hijabulous" and magazines such as Muslimette cater to Muslim fashion.


Some Inland Muslim women's closets are filled with tie-dye skirts, ruffled-sleeve blouses and stylish-looking, body-covering swimwear.


Nikiema's clothes "don't look old-fashioned," said Rebirth of Chic customer Kadijah Dafney, 42, of Fontana. "They look elegant. Every time I wear them, people compliment me."


The Quran and the sayings of the Prophet Mohammed teach that women must cover their bodies, except for their faces, hands and feet, said Muzammil Siddiqi, a Garden Grove imam who chairs the Fiqh Council of North America, which advises Muslims on Islamic law.


The clothes must be loose-fitting to conceal the woman's figure.


But, Siddiqi said, "If she's covering properly, there's nothing wrong if she looks nice" and the intent is not to appeal sexually to men.


Not all Muslim women observe those rules, and some do so only partially, combining a hijab, or headscarf, with form-fitting jeans. Some Muslim scholars believe Islam does not require the covering of the body or the head, only general modesty that can vary by country, said Nushin Arbabzadah, a research scholar in women's studies at UCLA.


Nikeima said she doesn't feel constrained by rules on covering her body.


Far from a sign of the oppression of women -- as some critics view the rules -- Nikeima views modesty as liberation from the objectification and sexualizing of women.


"We're not pieces of produce on a shelf," Nikeima said as she sat in her small Corona showroom wearing a yellow balloon-sleeve blouse and a black French-designed skirt with white pinstripes. "We need to remember that clothes dignify you. Clothes raise your value. Taking off your clothes lowers your value."


Nikeima, 30, predicted the trend toward cool-looking modest clothes will balloon as the U.S.-born Muslim population increases.


"Not only are their kids totally American," she said of Muslim immigrants. "But their kids are having kids, so we're getting into the third and fourth generations."


There are about a half-million Muslims in this region, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations of Southern California.


Nikeima grew up Catholic, the daughter of a Salvadoran immigrant mother and African-American father. She long questioned Catholic beliefs and, after seeking to learn more about Islam after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, she began reading the Quran.


One day, while visiting a Muslim friend, Nikeima saw a Sudanese woman walking through an apartment-building parking lot with a long dress. Nikeima was struck by her dignity and gracefulness.


"In that instant, I felt naked," said Nikeima, who was wearing a miniskirt and halter top. "I was overly exposed. I just felt I should cover up."


After Nikeima converted to Islam, her Indian and Middle Eastern friends gave her traditional clothing from their homelands. But she longed for American-style modest clothes, and she couldn't find what she wanted. That led her to create Rebirth of Chic six years ago.


Not all her customers are Muslim. Rocio Gutierrez, 42, of Corona, is a Jehovah's Witness who likes wearing modest clothes from Rebirth of Chic when she attends religious services and events.


Nikeima designs some of the clothes, but most are also sold at department and specialty stores.


Yet customers like Dafney said they used to spend hours going store to store in malls to find modest clothes that were stylish but not too tight. Dafney said she hasn't bought clothes at the mall since she discovered Rebirth of Chic.


In the summer, it's especially difficult to find modest clothing, Nikeima said. Rebirth of Chic sells heavier hijabs for the winter and lighter ones for the summer.


Ashika Ayob's problem was finding modest swimwear for the beach and swimming pool.


She wanted to take her children for swimming lessons when they were infants but didn't because she couldn't find clothing she could wear in the pool.


Ayob tried wearing cotton sweatpants and long-sleeve shirts at the beach. They were fine on the sand but were uncomfortably heavy when she got in the water with her children, and they clung to her body, partially defeating the purpose of wearing modest clothes.


Then Ayob, 30, of Corona, discovered Huntington Beach-based Splashgear, which sells modest swimwear that is loose-fitting and doesn't cling. A cord on some items prevents water from lifting up clothing.


"Now I can go into the water with my 9-year-old," Ayob said. "He loves the boogie board, and now I can have fun with him."


Ayob also likes the stylish designs. In the past, fellow beachgoers stared at her because she was wearing sweatpants. Her Splashgear products look like wetsuits and don't stand out, Ayob said.


"It looks pretty cool," she said.


(Courtesy: The Press Enterprise)
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