As I'm sure all of you amazing Muslimahs know, fashion entails much more than wearing the latest styles and following the recent trends. In order to be a true fashionista Muslimah we must always hold compassion, awareness and empathy in our hearts, for our brothers and sisters throughout the world. We must, of course, look out for our fellow Muslims first and foremost, but I strongly feel that it is also our responsibility to support the health and well-being of our brothers and sisters in humanity as well, whether Muslim or not.
It is rare that we see a large corporation within the fashion industry get involved in humanitarian efforts, but alhamdulillah this is becoming more and more commonplace. There are a few smaller brand names that make concentrated efforts to donate a portion of their profits to different charities here and there, but I think one of the greatest examples of fashion and compassion working hand in hand, is Macy's Baskets from Rwanda.
To give history of the violence and upheaval that Rwanda has experienced in the past 20 years would require much more room than my modest blog allows, but I will give a brief summary for those sisters who may not be so familiar with the situation there. Insh'Allah any sisters who are better educated than I am with this, please feel free to correct me or add any pertinant information in the comments.
Rwanda is largely occupied by two different (yet very similar) tribes called the Tutsis and the Hutus. According to BBC.co.uk, in 1957 the Hutus issued a manifesto calling for formation of a Hutu government in an attempt to give them more power due to their majority numbers, and shortly thereafter force the Tutsi King Kigeri V along with tens of thousands of Tutsis into exile. In 1961 Rwanda was declared a republic, and was subsequently ruled by a Hutu president. In 1963 Tutsi rebels killed around 20,000 Hutus in an uprising based out of Burundi, and ten years later the Hutu president was ousted and replaced by Juvenal Habyarimana who was elected president five years later. From 1978 there is sporatic civil unrest, until in 1993 a power sharing agreement is signed with the Tutsis in Tanzania, claiming (fruitlessly) to end this fighting; UN mission sent to monitor the peace agreement.
In 1994 the Rwandan and Burundian presidents were shot down while their plane was flying over Kigali, and the Hutu militia and elements of the Rwandan military began the systematic slaughter of the Tutsis. Within 100 days roughly 800,000 Tutsis, and their Hutu sympathizers were massacred. This continued on, with very little to no intervention by any outside forces, despite the fact that Belgian, French, and American forces were stationed there with vague intentions of keeping peace. The situation became so distorted that refugee camps in Zaire designed to protect the Tutsis were actually placed in Hutu control, and in 1995 extremist Hutu militias and Zairean government forces attacked local Zairean Banyamulenge Tutsis; Zaire attempted to force refugees back into Rwanda.
Much of this mob mentality was initiated and encouraged by local Rwandan media outlets, who referred to the Tutsis as "Cockroaches" and actually praised those Hutus who were participating in these brutalities.
In 2001, after President Paul Kagame was elected as Rwanda's new president, the new government undertook the overwhelming task of attempting to bring these mass murderers to justice. Due to overwhelming prison populations, and the inability to try all of the thousands of suspects who participated in these massacres, roughly 60,000 prisoners were released between 2001 and 2007, including the former president after a formal Presidential Pardon was issued.
Today, these Hutus and Tutsis live side by side, sometimes with killers living right next door to family members of people they slaughtered. According to CNN.com such is the case of Iphigenia Mukantabana who is friends with the wife of, and lives right next door to, the man who murdered her husband and five of her children in 1994. She says, "In my heart, the dead are dead, and they cannot come back again. So I have to get on with the others and forget what has happened."
One way she has worked through the horror and grief of that day over 15 years ago is by weaving baskets with the Rwandan Path To Peace Project in cooperation with Macys Department Store. This project was started by Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), and businesswoman Willa Shalit (learn more here). Rwandan women wove these gorgeous baskets for a full year before introducing the modest line of beautiful and intricately woven baskets in 2005 on Macys.com. Now there are over 40 different styles of these amazing baskets in all shapes and sizes available on the Macys website and at their flagship Herald Square location. You can read more about the amazing women who have made this project possible here, and learn about the impact these jobs have had n these women, and their children who were devastated by the massacres in Rwanda by going here
From a fashion standpoint, one look at these baskets and you will see the time, effort, and skill that is required to complete even one small basket. The colors are vibrant, the patterns all varied and ornate. Add a beautiful touch of culture and flash of color to any room in your house, and every time you look at that basket you can feel the connection that you have with a woman not so different than yourself, who is working hard to overcome the dark ghosts of a past that has been quickly forgotten by much of the world.
Here are a few of my absolute favorites:
Some of the baskets can be quite pricey, but when you consider that you are helping a woman to earn an income, to take pride in her skills, and to have hope in her future it is well worth it. Insh'Allah there will soon be a similar effort to help our sisters in Gaza who are living through the oppression and violence there, as well as our sisters in Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, and throughout the world. It only takes one very strong, and very persistant voice to stand up and do something to make the world take notice. Now that Macys has chosen to take a stand and do something beneficial for humankind, insh'Allah other leaders within the fashion industry will do the same.
Because truly, there is nothing more fashionable than helping our sisters in humanity.
Ma'Salaama and Happy Basket Shopping!
The (Peace Loving) Mujahada in Prada