Muslims in Moscow Work to Break a Stereotype

Moscow — Dozens of women dressed in colorful hijabs and floral dresses gathered under gray skies recently in the garden of a four-star hotel here for a charity fashion bazaar. They tried on styles from local designers and sampled new cosmetics, posing for selfies and dropping sunny filters on the images before posting them to Instagram and Facebook.

“We’re making Muslims the trendsetters,” said Natalia Narmin Ichaeva, a public relations specialist who organized the charity event in May. Ms. Ichaeva, who converted to Islam two years ago, is among a small group of young Moscovite Muslims who are trying to help redefine the image of Islam in Russia.

In recent decades, Islam here has been associated largely with terrorist attacks, two wars against separatists in Chechnya and a continuing insurgency in the North Caucasus. Muslim women in particular have been stigmatized because of so-called black widows, women who become suicide bombers to avenge the deaths of their fathers, brothers and husbands. Russian tabloids and television have reinforced that stereotype.

But in the last year and a half, as turmoil in Ukraine has dominated the news media’s attention, Ms. Ichaeva and others like her saw a new window of opportunity to change perceptions.

The Russian government’s strained relations with the United States and Europe have the Kremlin looking to strengthen ties with other parts of the world, notably China and countries in the Middle East with large Muslim populations. Muslims in Russia have also received a public relations boost from President Vladimir V. Putin’s recent emphasis on conservative values, including religion.

“I noticed Muslims moved out of the spotlight,” said Rezeda Suleyman, a 23-year-old fashion designer. Ms. Suleyman said it had become easier to go out covered and sell her modest clothing to non-Muslim women.

This short documentary shows Muslim activists like Ms. Suleyman and Ms. Ichaeva, as they try to improve the public perception of Islam and raise the the social status of other Muslim women.

As Zulfiya Raupova, a composer who calls herself a secular Muslim, put it, “It’s always a good time to break stereotypes.”