Ebony S. Muhammad (EM): The M.G.T. & G.C.C. (Muslim Girls’ Training & General Civilization Class) have coined your clothing line as “Sister Carmen’s garments”, but what is the official name for your line?
Carmen Muhammad (CM): It’s “Al-Nisa Designs”. Of course Al-Nisa comes from the Holy Quran (Arabic for ‘The Women’). Therefore, with dealing with the woman and the dress of the woman and the importance of the woman, I chose Al-Nisa.
EM: Yes ma’am thank you!
Where did your love for fashion design come from and how were you introduced to the fashion industry especially with modest fashion?
CM: I’ve always loved fashion, even as a child. I think most of us have experienced this when we were growing up. We didn’t have all of the technology that we have today, but growing up as a child I did a lot of playing with dolls. I always loved making doll clothes, and I wanted to dress the dolls. That’s where it all started. I made coats for my baby dolls.
As I got older from Elementary School to Junior High, I was always very conscious of my dress. When I was introduced to Islam, it was prior to 1975, I was a teenager. Once I learned more about the faith, itself, I was intrigued to want to dress more modestly. At first I was like, “I can’t wear that. That’s too hot! How can they wear all that?” (laughs) The more I learned about the faith, the more I embraced the idea that I wanted to be covered as a young woman coming up in high school.
So when I converted to Islam I was going into the 10th grade of high school, and at that time I was going to public high school. Everyone that knew me, knew me as being an outgoing individual. Therefore, my transition from being involved in Christianity and coming over into Islam was something that everyone was waiting to see. It was like, “Oh we cannot wait until school starts to see what she is going to wear!” They knew we had to have our head covered all the time. That is what really got me very, very involved and interested in wanting to style myself.
I had all these friends with me prior to becoming a Muslim, and they were waiting to see what I was going to look like. That challenged me to have my own clothing made. I didn’t want them to look at me and be like, “Oh my gosh, she looks like a nun!” I wanted to be modestly dressed with style. You know, cutting edge fashion. After becoming a Muslim I knew that I didn’t want, for a lack of a better word, to look like my Grandmother. I’ve got to be able to come with it.
Also it was my way of getting to those that maybe wouldn’t come to the mosque with me, because some were like, “I like what they’re talking about, but I just could never dress like that”. So when they would see me and the clothing that I was wearing, it was something that allowed me to open the door and make them more comfortable with coming and hearing the Teachings. I saw that the fashion and the way that we would dress become a conversation and a way of having a dialogue with individuals about Islam. So that’s where it started.
EM: Absolutely beautiful! You are answering questions that I know other people, especially women, would have. Most women love what we are teaching/learning and what we stand for, but covering may very well be the one barrier to them joining. We want to be and feel attractive and that’s how the enemy gets us. They come through our desire to be attractive and our need for attention. However, the way that you explained your approach to modest fashion definitely proves that we can be stylish and still be modest.
You have a very major event approaching this coming October in Atlanta: The Islamic Fashion Weekend – 10,000 Fearless Dressed Women Backing the 10,000 Fearless Men. How did the idea of this event, especially with that subtitle, come about?
CM: Honestly speaking, I’ve been doing clothing for sisters in the Nation (Of Islam) for about 15 years. I saw the response that my daughters would get and other women would get when they would be in the grocery store or somewhere else. I’m attend a lot of Hollywood industry events with my clothing on, and I had high profile women approach me and say, “Where did you get that? Clearly you’re with the Nation because you have the headpiece on, but the rest of that…I’ve never seen anything like it!” The more that I was hearing that, the more I understood that we needed this as women in the Nation Of Islam to support the Teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan.
It had gone beyond creating a brand. This is something that has to happen. I’ve got to do something where I bring together Muslim women designers and have our own fashion week. We premier to the world who WE are through the clothing line. That’s when I came up with the title: “A New Dress. A New Mind. A New Woman”. Until I can get you to put your clothes back on…see that’s the first thing. I’ve got to get you to understand that you don’t have to reveal all and everything to everyone. So first, I’ve got to get you to accept a new dress, because once you accept the dress and the modesty of the dress, you understand what it represents as a woman to the world. They are looking at your attire. First they see your attire. They don’t get to visit your mind. So first, I’ve got to get you to put your clothes back on, and I can give you a new mind through the Teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan. Then ultimately you WILL become a new woman, but it’s a process that has to happen. Once we do all that, then now we can get 10,000 fearless women, modestly dressed women to back the 10,000 fearless men that the Minister is calling for. So now we’ve become a team and we’ve become one. That’s how that came about.
EM: Yes ma’am!
Minister Farrakhan teaches that when the Honorable Elijah Muhammad put the woman in the garment for her to cover, that was an act of warfare. When Minister Farrakhan brought the M.G.T. & G.C.C. up before the world during 10.10.15, that was an act of warfare.
CM: That’s right!
EM: So you’re speaking about the mind of a new woman who is willing to cover herself as an act of war against an industry who seeks to uncover her. What kind of woman and what kind of mind does it take to cover her adornments to declare war against an enemy who seeks to disrobe and dishonor her?
CM: First, what I think you have to do; there has to be an understanding of the woman’s relationship with God. If women would really establish that one-on-one relationship with God…You have to be willing to do that. In order to be able to do that you have to be willing to do the things that are pleasing to God, and what’s pleasing to God is that you are the covered woman. You have to be in a certain mindset in order to be able to receive righteousness. You can’t be in an unrighteous mindset and receive righteousness in a way that it will change you and help elevate you. In order for a woman to be that woman, she has to first be willing to turn herself over to God.
To me, it means to be able to commit yourself to understanding the role of the woman, understanding that when I disrobe I’m dishonoring myself. When I disrobe I’m allowing Satan and that whole environment and that mindset to take control of who I am. So in order for me to be willing to put my clothes back on, I have to understand first of all who I am and what my relationship is to the Divine Being, which I am that Second Self of God. Once I understand these things, then I can begin to evolve into that person that I need to be.
EM: I, personally, have been blessed to be in one of your previous fashion shows, and it was nothing short of a major fashion production. I’ve been in quite a few runway shows in my life, and yours was one of the most visually stunning, dignified and it was beautifully presented.
CM: All Praise Is Due To Allah!
EM: Yes ma’am! For those who may have attended your shows before, in what way can they expect something different this coming October for the Islamic Fashion Weekend? I have a feeling that this will be unlike any other show that you’ve hosted.
CM: People are going to see an evolution of cutting edge fashion. They’re going to see the beginning of that purification process that takes place when you decide to be a modestly dressed woman. It’s going to tell a story.
The opening scene; this is what I personally want to do…Mother Tynnetta Muhammad was to all of us very precious. There was a relationship that I had with her that I thank Allah that I was able to have with her. Due to my background and where I come from (Los Angeles), working with a lot of entertainers and professional athletes and then my exposure prior to 1975, it really shaped me into the Muslim woman that I am today.
Whenever I was going to do something that was “out of the box”, and what I mean by that is where I was putting everything on the line, I would always consult her (Mother Tynnetta Muhammad), and she would always tell me, “Yes ma’am, Sister Carmen, you must do that!” She was always very encouraging. I had the blessed opportunity of working with her in California with a lot of her productions that she was known for on universal levels. I am going to dedicate the opening scene to Mother Tynnetta Muhammad.
EM: All Praise Is Due To Allah!
CM: And we’re going to take some footage of her and a couple of pieces of the fashion that she did. It’s going to be a presentation, which I think will present what she represented on a more universal level when it came to high civilization of a woman in the Nation Of Islam. I am so excited about that. I don’t want to give everything away, but I’m really excited about that. So I’m opening the show with a dedication to her.
Another very special aspect of the show is going to be the throwback Hip Hop scene. The throwback Hip Hop scene is going to be each designer’s vision of Hip Hop wear for today. During this segment we will also have Sister Akilah Nehanda perform. She is a Hip Hop artist out of Houston and Vanguard in Muhammad Mosque No. 45. What we’re going to try to do is introduce to all of those young people who want to dress in Hip Hop; this is how you can be cool and this is how you can “slay” somebody with your Hip Hop wear without taking your clothes off! (laughs) So that is another attraction of the show outside everyone’s collections.
Then we’re going to close the show with a special tribute to Prince.
EM: Oh wow!
CM: And that scene is going to be an all purple scene. A lot of people don’t know it, but Mother Tynnetta Muhammad and Prince had a very special relationship. She knew him, had spoken with him and visited with him. He received a lot of the Teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad through Mother Tynnetta Muhammad. So we’re opening the show with her and we’re closing it with a tribute to Prince, which I think is befitting.
EM: Oh yes ma’am!
CM: It will be Islamic fashion, but it’s going to be the evolution of Islamic fashion, and how we will one day control this whole industry in terms of fashion.
CM: People will look to us for the trends and what’s going to be for the next season and what the colors will be and what we should be wearing.
EM: I know that’s right! Not the New York Fashion Week but the Islamic Fashion Week!!!
CM: Right! Right! Right! Yes ma’am!
EM: You also mentioned that in April 2017 you’ll be bringing the Islam Fashion Weekend to Dubai. What is that going to be like?
CM: Oh my god! (Excited) Every year since 2005, what we’ve tried to do is an annual women’s event where we deal with issues that were conducive to the positive growth and development of women. It was dealing with women in politics, women in entertainment, women as mothers, and just women in general with some of our issues and challenges we would face. The core group of women designers, their apparel is aimed at women in Islam, women in Africa and in the Middle East. Therefore, I thought this would be a great place to go and introduce our designers to this core group of women that represented $237 billion in retail annually. We wanted to go into a region that was pretty much safe, and for now Dubai represents that region. Not only that, but Dubai is like that central location where people come for retail trade from Africa and London. Dubai was that target place where people would come to for shopping. So we decided that we were going to go to the Middle East, of course we wanted to go into an area that was safe, but we also wanted to go into a region where they were building. They’re continuously building and they’re continuously growing. They have a world platform in terms of media attention.
We decided that we would do this international show in Dubai where we will introduce the women Islamic designers from our country to the women in that region and we would be able to see the fabulous fashion to purchase, partake in and wear.
The second part of that is to bring the two cultures together, because at the end of the day we’re all Muslims and we have to be able to be in unity. We are going to change the way the world sees us and thinks about Islam. Therefore, I thought the infusion of the two different cultures; us getting to know their culture and them learning our culture under the Teachings of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan. We’ll create a greater appreciation for sisterhood and bonding. So that’s the other element of doing the show there.
EM: Incredible Sister Carmen!
Will we be able to view that event in Dubai, maybe via webcast or Periscope? Personally, I would love to see how this show will be presented with the two cultures coming together in such a way as you described!
CM: It’s going to be totally different in Dubai. The show here (America) will be designed around our culture, but when we go into Dubai we’re going to infuse some of their culture differences in the music and things like that along with the fashion presentation to introduce who we are. So it’s not that we’re going take one their lifestyle, but we will infuse some of that into the show.
EM: I can imagine! Will we be able to view it online?
CM: I think the closest we’re going to get to that is recording it, and maybe make it available that way. As of right now we haven’t explored anything hinted around webcasting it. That would be awesome!
EM: Yes! I’m sure people would love to tune in and to continue following your work and all that you are doing. You’re introducing something revolutionary and contrary to what this world has for the woman right now in fashion. So for us to be able to continue to watch and support you… absolutely!
CM: Yes ma’am! All Praise Is Due To Allah! The Teachings of The Honorable Elijah Muhammad will definitely be front and center, because when we talk about beauty and being fit, we’re going to incorporate How To Eat To Live as a part of that presentation. If we’re eating properly, we are the proper weight and we are healthy. Then we’re going to do another presentation called “Looking for My Sister”, and it’s going to be done more like the women in Scripture through this presentation. We’re going to chronicle the women in Scripture right down to present-day.
Often times the reason you have these separations of classes in religion is because one feels it’s better than the other. They feel that they see themselves in Scripture and they don’t see you, but we’re going to break that down for them!
EM: I know that’s right! Yes ma’am! Is there anything else you would like to add or share?
CM: The Honorable Elijah Muhammad said that our unity is more powerful than an atomic bomb. The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan really implemented this last year when we did the boycott (#RedistributeThePAIN) during Christmas where we all unified and we followed his instructions. We didn’t shop and for those who did shop, we shopped with Black retailers. What we have to understand is that if we want to make a statement, if we want people to understand that we are in unity and that we are requiring certain things of them, then we have to be in unity and be able to show that.
My statement is that they (mainstream fashion) never recognize us, and we don’t care about that, but now you’re seeing all of these major designers now moving towards establishing an Islamic line. That’s because they know that retail businesses represents $237 billion a year. They say, “Why wouldn’t I design something for the Middle Eastern women?” However, what we have to do is come together and show them that we’re strong and we’re one.
My message is that this (Islamic Fashion Weekend) is all people should really be talking about! “Have you heard about this Islamic Fashion Week? What is that all about”? And when people come there it should be, “We don’t have any more room. We would love to have you come in and see the show, but we just don’t have the room”. People should be intrigued about what Islamic fashion looks like. Islamic fashion is not just the hijab. It’s not just about being a woman with an African tie around her head. It’s not just the headpiece. It really is a way of life for us. We have that opportunity to show people who we are, what we are and the beauty of it and maybe even convince people to put their clothes back on. (laughs)
So we have to be committed to supporting each other. I want this world-class presentation, I want to set the industry on fire! I want there to be a buzz, and I want those women that’s spending that kind of money to say, “Where can I find Sister Aminah in L.A., because I saw something that I like”. “Where can I find Sister Diana?” I want them to start looking to us to supply them with some of their clothing.
The biggest thing is come out, support and be a part of something that is so historic and significant, because this has never been done before. We should be wanting to write our own history. We shouldn’t wait for someone else to write it before us. We can write our own history if we unite, if we pool our resources together.
EM: Brilliantly said Sis! Thank you so much for your time and your hard work! I am so proud of you and excited for these events and all that Allah has in store for and with you!
CM: Thank you! All Praise Is Due To Allah! It was an honor Sister Ebony!
Learn more about the upcoming Islamic Fashion Weekend and purchase your tickets at IslamicFashionWeekend.net