Ann Crews Melton
Fawzia Hassan, Summaya El Garani, Rola Koleilat, Dina Ezzeddine and Maisa El Garani exhibit a spectrum of modest, colorful style at the Bismarck Muslim Community Center. (Megan Milbradt)

Alix Hart, Cami Russon and Joy Taylor, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Bismarck, prove that modesty and style are not mutually exclusive. (Megan Milbradt)

Fusing fashion trends with religious modesty guidelines presents a unique sartorial challenge, but several local Muslim and Mormon women are creatively carving out a personal style within the boundaries of their faith traditions.

At the Bismarck Muslim Community Center, the type of dress is often as varied as the individual women gathered. Some Muslim women find room for expressing personal style while wearing a hijab -- modest clothing including a headscarf in which all parts of the body are covered except the face and hands.

"When you go out, you have to be as modest as possible," explains Rola Koleilat, a native of Lebanon and longtime Bismarck resident. "But you do the opposite at home. At home women are encouraged to put on makeup, to be attractive for their husbands and to try to keep love and bonds inside the marriage."

Within the Muslim faith, Koleilat says, modesty is encouraged for all women but there are no restrictions on colors or materials used. Adherence to Islamic modesty guidelines varies by the individual, and often the type of dress preferred depends on the woman's culture of origin.

"In India or Pakistan they wear salwar kameez, a type of pants. In Saudi Arabia they wear an abaya, which is a longer dress. So (clothing) reflects each culture, the country where you are born," Koleilat says.

Fawzia Hassan, an NDSU nursing student, is from Somalia but grew up in Saudi Arabia during the Somali civil war. She maintains a bright, colorful wardrobe and shops for Somali-style clothing in Minneapolis, in addition to purchasing scarves at Walmart and Target in Bismarck.

As a busy mother of three, Hassan says some days it is easier to wear an abaya, which is typically black and loose to provide thin coverage in desert climates.

"At school sometimes I wear abaya, when I don't have the time to coordinate too much color," she says. "Underneath I'm wearing my pajamas."

Hassan occasionally receives questions about her mode of dress from native North Dakotans, but says she doesn't mind.

"I prefer them asking me questions instead of stereotyping," she says.

Dina Ezzeddine, a native of Lebanon, began wearing a hijab at age 13 but took it off when she immigrated to the United States at age 27.

"My husband worried that we were not going to be accepted," Ezzeddine says. Both she and her husband worked at a Seventh-day Adventist hospital in Ohio, where the Adventists also followed guidelines for modest dress.

"The truth is when I took (my hijab) off, I felt I am also okay this way," she says. "It's easier to blend in and be part of the community without the need to constantly explain yourself."

Ezzeddine does not wear a headscarf but still dresses modestly, avoiding deep V-necks, short skirts and shorts. She shops at Herberger's and JCPenney but wears traditional clothing on holidays.

"Your tradition gives you identity," Ezzeddine says. "Hijab to me is an identity. I'm proud of who I am."

For local Mormon women, their modest mode of dress is less distinct than a hijab but still presents shopping challenges, especially in the summer.

"In the summer I search far and wide for shirts that have sleeves," says Cami Russon, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Bismarck. "We do a lot of layering."

Like many Mormon adults, Russon wears temple garments under her everyday clothing as a reminder of her faith. The garments, which resemble a plain white T-shirt and shorts, are presented in a Latter-day Saint temple ceremony prior to marriage or missionary service. Covering the garments is a way to dress modestly, since shoulders and legs above the knees must be clothed.

"I've heard (garments) compared to how other religions would wear symbols of their faith on the outside, like a cross or yarmulke," Russon says. "But this is worn on the inside, right close to us. It's the first thing we put on and reminds us of our covenants and promises for the day."

While Russon shops locally at Scheels and prefers bohemian prints and eclectic jewelry, Alix Hart leans toward more of a classic personal style. She shops through online retailers like Garnet Hill and J.Crew and describes cardigans as her "best friend" in keeping her shoulders covered year-round.

"We do cover our garments, but for me personally it's not just about the garments," says Hart, a member of Bismarck's Latter-day Saint community. "I dress to be comfortable, and I embrace that I'm a woman. I love shopping and things that are fashionable."

Joy Taylor, a native of Bear Lake, Utah, raised her daughters within the Mormon faith and says a particular challenge is finding modest formal wear for proms.

"I've added a piece here (in the front) or a piece on the back, or added sleeve extensions," Taylor says. "Fortunately there are really great alterers in town who are always very accommodating."

Mormon women teach their daughters that their bodies are temples of God, which is reflected in how they dress.

"We try to instill in our children a love for Christ, and we feel that if that inner testimony is strong, that will translate out into their clothing and their desire to cover themselves and keep that sacred," Russon says.

"Still, I think there's a lot of room for fun," Taylor adds.

Ann Crews Melton is a writer and editor who lives in Bismarck. Reach her at