New hijab fashion store opens, as Muslim community overwhelmed by support
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New hijab fashion store opens, as Muslim community overwhelmed by support

It's a brave step for anyone, let alone an Australian Muslim, but one Canberra woman has just set up a new store selling fashionable hijabs.

And it's a move Fatima Tabaja says has been welcomed by the community.

Fatima Tabaja has opened a new store selling hijabs and other attire at Belconnen Mall.

Fatima Tabaja has opened a new store selling hijabs and other attire at Belconnen Mall.

Photo: Jamila Toderas

Comments from Palmer United Senator Jackie Lambie and Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi last week calling to ban the burqa, and highly publicised police raids in Sydney and Brisbane have stoked tension in the respective cities.

But Ms Tabaja, the owner of the new store Modesta at Belconnen Westfield, said while it was concerning to hear of harassment against Muslims in other cities, the mood was yet to hit Canberra.

"We have been lucky so far in Canberra. I'm not going to say there have been no negative remarks, but the absolute majority have been fantastic, and really taken it on, and my customers have shot up, including non-Muslims," she said.

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The mother of two has lived in Canberra for 30 years, and recently expanded the business into a shop, after operating from home for two years.

"People would compliment me about what I wear. I soon expanded to pop-up shops and [would] get invited to do different events," she said.

"Then I started doing shopping centres, and then with high demand I opened in Westfield."

A keen designer, she is the eye behind many of the styles in her shop, which she said was the first of its kind in the capital.

Other Islamic fashion houses have been in touch, and are keen to see their stock on her shop's shelves.

Although she was born in Australia, she said growing up as a Lebanese Muslim hadn't always been easy, and she had had her share of judgmental comments when she first started donning the hijab two years ago.

"It was a big decision at that point - I worked in the government and it was rare to see a Muslim do a transition to the hijab," she said.

"It was very uncomfortable at first, and I did get a couple of remarks from people who I thought were closer than just colleagues - they were friends - that drove me to take the hijab off for a short period of time," she said.

But she persisted, and now, the shop is the realisation of a life-long dream to give women like herself more options when it comes to fashion.

"It's tough to dress modestly but fashionably so we fit into society, so we don't look too different," Ms Tabaja said.

"Women are coming in telling me, 'please don't go anywhere!' "

Meanwhile, the Canberra community has condemned the instances of violence and antagonism against Muslims in the wake of the police terror raids.

The President of the Canberra Islamic Centre, Azra Khan, said she had been overwhelmed by messages from the public in the past few days.

"There has been a reaction, but I tell you what, it's been a positive reaction," she said.

"We have had a number of calls and a number of emails from the wider community saying, 'we apologise and we believe it is unnecessary to single out the Muslim community in this way'."

But she said she had heard "third hand" of some instances of harassment of Muslims, and was considering increasing security at the centre.

In April, vandals attacked the centre, shocking the local community.

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