"Modest and fabulous": Muslim women get new magazine

SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - There’s a beautiful model on the cover, a teaser about an article on sex and a swimsuit spread, but what makes Asia’s newest women’s magazine stand out is its audience: stylish, modern Muslims.

Veiled women walk past a mannequin at a shopping bazaar in Sanaa March 1, 2009. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

“Aquila,” which means sensible and intelligent in Arabic, was launched last month by founder and publisher Liana Rosnita Redwan-Beer as the first magazine to cater for young, educated Muslim women with a worldly outlook who also want to remain true to their faith.

“Modest and fabulous” is the magazine’s slogan.

“This is a magazine for someone like me, like my sisters, women who have careers, who wear suits, jeans, gladiator sandals, who may or may not wear the hijab headscarf, who may or may not look like what a Muslim women is supposed to look like, but who are very much Muslims,” said Redwan-Beer, a Singaporean now based in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

While there are plenty of magazines in the Middle East and Asia targeting women in general, Aquila, published in English, distinguishes itself by focusing on a market that would normally read Western-style staples such as Cosmopolitan, Vogue and Marie Claire, and who crave something that addresses issues more relevant to them.

“We’re not a magazine that preaches, we don’t tell our readers what is right or wrong; but we help them live their lives to the fullest by including information about Islam in the context of modern living,” Redwan-Beer told Reuters.

Redwan-Beer set up Aquila last year and said the idea for the magazine, published every two months, came after her husband asked why there wasn’t a publication for modern Muslims like her.

“We looked into potential markets and we asked all our friends in Europe, Asia and around the world to see if there was a similar venture. We came up with nothing,” she said.

After setting up a company, Redwan-Beer and her team launched the first issue in March in Muslim nations Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei, as well as Singapore, and feedback has been positive.

“I don’t think we’re flying off the shelf yet,” she said.

“But as a crossmedia company, we work with a self-mined database of more than 10,000 affluent and influential Muslims in the region and we’re going strong online, with our Facebook page getting lots of posts from Switzerland, Guatemala, Indonesia and Singapore.”

The magazine doesn’t accept advertisements from businesses considered “haram,” or unlawful, such as wine and beer firms, and travel articles include a list of halal restaurants and mosques.

Still, some of the features in the first issue might raise eyebrows in traditional Muslim circles.

There’s a fashion spread that features a heavily made-up model in tight-fitting clothes with a headscarf that still shows off a lot of her hair; another about the all-covering burqini swimsuit; an article on premarital sex and virginity, and an opinion piece on what to do if your daughter dates a non-Muslim.

Redwan-Beer points out that this is standard fare in most women’s magazines, and adds that religious references are checked by a Singapore-based Muslim cleric and legislator.

“What we’re doing is not bold; it’s no more daring than any other women’s magazines out there. We’re just tending to the needs of Muslims. We talk in the language of cosmopolitan Muslims.

“If we happen to be able to explain, or educate, a little bit about Islam or Muslims, we think that’s cool,” she said.

Editing by David Fox