Michelle Leslie has raised questions about whether women can follow Islam and a career in fashion, writes Caroline Overington
November 29, 2005 BEFORE she became famous as the young woman arrested in Bali for possession of ecstasy, Michelle Leslie was one of thousands of young Australian girls trying to make it as a model. As part of her job, she posed in bikinis and underwear, and she once was photographed astride a motorbike baring her bottom.
After her arrest Leslie adopted a more modest wardrobe. At one court appearance she wore a sarong over her head; at another, she adopted the full, black burka, the garment worn by the most devout (and the most oppressed) women in the Muslim world.
Leslie's spokesman, Sean Mulcahy, says she converted to Islam at a private ceremony at a friend's house a year before she was arrested. Yet Muslim commentators, including Australian Federation of Islamic Councils head Ameer Ali, say Leslie can't be Muslim and a model. "There's an Islamic code of dressing [that] says women must be modest," Ali says. "You can't go cat-walking with a semi-naked body. That is not allowed in Islam."
But Leslie is not the world's only Muslim model; there are thousands working with the sanction of their parents and communities.
Eva Roslan, 22, is one example. She started modelling at 16, after getting permission from her Muslim parents. "I actually did ask my parents because it was important that they approved," Roslan says. "They had no objection. They were actually quite worried that I was still too young and I will be influenced, that I will get into dangerous stuff, because people are saying that modelling is dangerous. So my mother, she actually followed me everywhere, from when I was 16 until I was 19 and after that she trusted me. Then she said: 'Now I think you can go on your own, just don't break the trust."'
Roslan, who was born and reared in Singapore, says her religion is important, but Muslim society in Singapore is not as strict. "There are a few models who are Muslim," she says. Roslan follows Muslim teaching, she fasts at Ramadan and prays at the mosque, "although not five times a day".
She has not posed nude but has no objection to doing so in the future, depending on what the occasion. "I haven't so far, but I think I wouldn't mind," she says.
One of the first internationally known Muslim models was Iman Abdul Majid, who is married to David Bowie. The Somalian-born Iman, now 50, was reared by progressively minded Muslim parents. She was discovered at 19, living in Kenya, by photographer Peter Beard, who took pictures of her nude from the waist up, with her breasts covered by her hands and traditional necklaces.
In an interview in 1999, Iman said she knew her Muslim parents would not approve of the photographs, "known in the fashion world as artful nudes. My father would have found other words," she said. The photographer asked Iman to leave Kenya for a modelling career in the US. "But I was a Somali girl who had been raised a devout Muslim," she said. "I was a diplomat's daughter."
She was also secretly married and could not leave the country without her husband's permission, so she forged the documents she needed to get a passport and fled. She hated disappointing her father by becoming a model, a job he believed unworthy of her talents, and when her parents visited she collected photographs that showed her in any state of nudity and stored them until they left.
The father of supermodel Yasmeen Ghauri, who was born in Canada in 1971, also disapproved of her profession. Moin Ghauri is a former imam of the Islamic community of Quebec. In interviews, he has expressed strong disapproval of his daughter's chosen career. "She is still my daughter, but her actions are completely contrary to the teachings of Islam," he said in one interview. "She is doing something that encourages others to be doing bad things."
Yasmeen Ghauri has said she tried to become a devout Muslim, particularly after she once visited Saudi Arabia, where women are not allowed to drive or show any flesh. "I thought, 'OK, OK, I'm going to be really religious, I'm going to cut off school, I'm going to cover my head and everything.' Then I woke up and said: 'This is ridiculous, I haven't gone to hell."'
Oh, tie me up. I can hardly stand it.
Thanks to Pastorius at http://www.cuanas.blogspot.com/ for the title graphic.