Muslim women Aneesa Adam and Asha Bulle are used to donning headscarfs and modest clothing that covers their bodies from head to toe.
But on Thursday, the pair will have to overcome their shyness when they hit a makeshift runway during a celebration of Islamic fashion at the Kilbirnie Library in Wellington.
About 25 Muslim women from Pakistan, Ethiopia, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh will model a mix of traditional Islamic clothing and more modern threads during the female-only event, part of the fifth annual Islam Awareness Week starting today.
Spokeswoman Rehanna Ali said Islamic fashion had evolved since the 1970s, with many designers now making lines exclusively for Muslim women, though the principles of covering all but the face, hands and feet were maintained.
In Australia, for instance, a head-to-ankle swimming costume, dubbed the "burquini", allowed Muslim women surf lifesavers to keep covered. In New Zealand, tae kwon do uniforms had been adapted to include a headscarf, and changes were under way to allow netball players to wear long-sleeved T-shirts and tracksuit pants.
Ms Adam, an IT trainer, said she liked wearing the traditional headscarf, called a hijab, because it confirmed her identity.
"At work people won't swear around me ... they won't talk about getting drunk. If they swear, they say, `Sorry Aneesa', as if I am a nun. It makes it easier."
This year's Islamic Awareness Week theme is "Strong Families, Better Society". Governor-General Anand Satyanand launches it today at the Wellington Islamic Centre and it runs till Sunday. It aims to build awareness of Muslim beliefs, values and practices and Islam.
Ms Ali said there was often a misconception that women were the inferior sex because of their clothing, but a dress code applied to men, too, and with 1.7 billion Muslims worldwide, the rules varied.
The number of people who identified themselves with Islam rose from 23,631 in 2001 to 36,072 in the 2006 census, according to Statistics New Zealand.
Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand president Javed Khan said though most people were tolerant, there was "quite a bit of ignorance as far as religion is concerned".
"Since 9/11 various sectors of media can be blamed for misrepresenting what Islam is and what it stands for. People with closed minds ... make up their minds by reading what's in the media."
Mr Khan urged people to seek better understanding of Islam, "[which] is like any other religion which teaches peace and harmony".
Dress codes for Muslim women:
* Clothing must cover the whole body apart from the face, hands and feet.
* Clothing should be modest and not close- fitting or so eye-catching as to attract undue attention.
* The hijab (hee-jab) or headscarf is compulsory, though some choose not to wear it.
* A burqa covers the entire head and face and is specific to certain cultures, for example, the blue burqa worn by women in Afghanistan.
Source: Rehanna Ali, Islamic Awareness Week spokeswoman
- The Dominion Post