Mariah Idrissi is a United Kindom-based Pakistani-Moroccan model. She was recently featured in a national fall ad campaign for recycled clothes. Almost as soon as the klieg lights went out, she stepped into controversy. Idrissi is not a cookie-cutter poster girl, but she is rapidly becoming a model that all can look to and respect.  As a person, a progressive young Muslim woman, she is turning heads with a combination of surprise and excitement.

The 23-year old England-based model was discovered by a scout on Instagram. She stars in H&M’s latest denim campaign, “Close the Loop,” The campaign furthers the concept of eco-friendly, sustainable fashion, through fashion.

Idrissi was skeptical about the opportunity when a model scout for H&M approached her. Her exuberant confidence and screen presence come from her teenage exposure to stage performances where she would recite Islamic poetry. Her commitment to Islamic/religious studies and history show her strong faith and upbringing.

Idrissi appears to represent the beautiful and spiritual modern Muslim woman.

She also understands the global impact and morphing mindsets this opportunity has created. She is helping to revolutionize the modern, yet fashionably modest, Muslim.

Some observers believe that modeling conflicts with traditional Islamic beliefs, but Idrissi disagrees. “I’ve seen a few comments from people against it, but there’s nothing that says there is anything wrong. In our religion, anything that is not explicitly forbidden is permitted,” said Idrissi.

Idrissi’s advice to other aspiring models who happen to be Muslim?

“Make sure your motivation is correct. Know why you are doing it. Hijab is not a fashion, but it can be adjusted to fashion. Just remember that the sole purpose of the hijab is to be modest,” says Idrissi.

“The hijab is about modesty,” explained Emma Khan, owner of Hidden Pearls, a hijab shop in London marketing across UK, Europe, America, and Asia. “It’s about modesty not only in the way that you dress but in your character and in the way you speak.”

Muslim Spending Power

Muslims are projected to spend over $480 billion on clothing and footwear by 2019. H&M was exercising a smart business strategy when it decided to make affordable and luxurious fashion available to over 1.5 billion Muslim consumers globally.

Shelina Janmohamed, vice president of Ogilvy Noor, said her research indicates that advertising doesn’t have to be specific in their focus on Muslim women.

“They don’t require anything that says, ‘Muslim woman: This is for you,” said Janmohamed. “What they like to see is they are treated as any other consumer.”

Muslims are in the news and political discussions daily. That attention makes some brands nervous about reaching out to Muslim audiences. Janmohamed feels that if brands would be brave and bold, they will find Muslim audiences responsive and loyal.

“There’re many different outfits that could be modeled by a hijab, such as a trench coat,” says Idrissi. “The hijab is just a bit of material on the top of your head, but that little material will free up doors to a complete other business.

Psychological Benefits

A recent study found that the hijab benefits the wearer psychologically. The research also showed that British Muslim women, who wear the hijab, usually feel better about body image than those who do not don the hijab.

Dr. Viren Swami, the researcher from the University of Westminster who conducted the study, said, “In the West, anxiety about body image is so prevalent to be considered normal.”

Women between 18 and 70 participated in numerous tests. Of the 588 Muslim women surveyed, 218 had never worn hijab, and 369 had worn hijab on at least one occasion. The group was asked to rate body dissatisfaction, to tell how they felt pressured by the media to look beautiful and how religious they felt.

The results seemed to indicate that women who wear the hijab have a positive body image and were to be less influenced by the media.

Another Slice of Controversy

There was a time when the word “hijab” wasn’t as divisive as it is today. Since 9/11, Americans have gotten paranoid about anything that doesn’t look, well, “American.” The days when cultures were blended into, and accepted by, Americans may have disappeared.

For many Americans, the hijab represents something unfamiliar; sometimes the unfamiliar is frightening, but it doesn’t have to be.

The hajib should be no more threatening than a Jew wearing a yarmulke, a Sikh wearing a colored turban or a Christian wearing a multi-hued WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) bracelet.

Idrissi sums up the controversy when asked about her appearance in the H&M commercial. While many observers talk about the commercial being about fashion, media representation or religious expression, Idrissi says it was about none of these.

“To be honest, it’s about recycling. That’s what the commercial is really about.”

Apparently, everyone is incorrect.