Ghana sisters blending style, tradition for Muslim women

In this photo taken Monday Jan. 22, 2018, Sekina Abam a muslim hijab fashion designer helps a customer to set up a hijab in her workshop in Accra, Ghana. (AP)
Updated 01 February 2018
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Ghana sisters blending style, tradition for Muslim women

ACCRA: Two sisters in Ghana are creating Islamic-friendly fashion from the locally produced fabrics that are wildly popular across West Africa.
Sekina Abam, 27, said it can be difficult for women in Ghana to avoid discrimination when wearing the Islamic headscarf known as the hijab. Muslims make up 18 percent of the population.
She and her 32-year-old sister Nefisa found that many hijab options sold in the markets of the capital, Accra, came from outside the country. None came in the vibrant print fabrics for which Ghana is internationally known.
“I said to myself, ‘Why not come up with something from myself that will meet the hijab rules while using African prints?’” she recalled.
Now she and her sister share a workshop where they turn out colorful headscarves and flowing, conservative dresses. Sekina is in charge of the clothing line known as Libaas Hilaan that includes everything from casual wear to special occasion apparel, while Nefisa directs the Nefeesah Hijab brand.
Hijabs sell between 30 ($6.50) and 100 ($22) Ghana cedis, while dresses and abayas can sell for as much as 850 cedis. To meet the steady demand for their product after five years, the sisters are now helped by their mother and two other workers.
In recent years, Muslim women in Ghana have been able to wear the hijab more freely at school and in the workplace. In 2015, former President John Mahama proclaimed freedom of faith, opening the way for more displays of religion in the secular country.
For the Abam sisters, the struggle is to find the right balance between fashion and Islam, being mindful of tradition while making something that younger women will feel comfortable wearing on the streets of Accra.
“A woman naturally wants to look beautiful, and coming from an African setting where is Islam is minimal like in Ghana here, it’s difficult for her to wear black or something that is print-less, design-less,” Sekina said. “She wants to fit in but she also wants to try to obey God a bit. So I decided to come up with these designs that would meet such needs.
“The idea is to make it easy for our Muslim sisters and mothers to wear their hijab so that they will be always motivated to wear the hijab,” Nefisa added.


Ramadan recipes: My Egyptian grandmother’s old school kunafa

Updated 27 May 2018
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Ramadan recipes: My Egyptian grandmother’s old school kunafa

CAIRO: Believed to have originated in the Levant, kunafa is said to have been introduced to what is now known as Egypt during the era of the Fatimids.

However, if you spent any time at all in my grandmother’s household, you would think that she herself invented the deliciously crunchy dessert, she is such an expert.

She often tells me of how, when growing up in Cairo, she would purchase the dough from a street-side man swirling the batter round and round on a drum-like furnace made of clay.

My generation has revamped the age-old favorite and a range of outlandish fillings — from mangoes, to Nutella and avocados — are now available across Egypt and the wider Middle East.

Ramadan is the perfect time to try this popular dessert and while it is easy as pie to pop to your local bakery, there is nothing quite like making it at home.

The original gangster of the kunafa world will always reign supreme, in my humble, well-fed opinion. So read on and give it a go for iftar today.

Ingredients:

• Katafi (shredded phyllo dough).
• One-and-a-half cups of granulated sugar.
• One cup of water.
• One juiced lemon.
• One teaspoon of rose water.
• 1/3 cup of finely chopped pistachios.
• Ghee as needed.

Method:

Grease an oven dish with melted ghee then place the shredded katafi pastry in a bowl and mix it with ghee. You can cut the already shredded pastry further if needed.

Take the mixture and layer it into the greased pan by pressing lightly with your hand.

Bake for 30 minutes at 350F.

On the side, prepare the sugary syrup by adding one cup of water, the granulated sugar and lemon juice to a pan. Stir and bring the mixture to a boil. Let the liquid simmer until it reaches a syrupy consistency. Remove from the heat, let it cool and add the rosewater (or even a few drops of vanilla essence).

Let the shredded pastry cool and drizzle over with the syrup, before you add a sprinkling of the finely chopped pistachios.

If you're looking for something a little different, bear in mind that Ramadan is kunafa season in Egypt and every year, the shredded wheat dessert gets tens of creative makeovers as bakers across the country — and indeed across the Middle East —buck tradition with their innovative fillings.

Why not try one of these delicious variants of the kunafa?

Mango 

When Ramadan began coinciding with the summer season, mango kunafa emerged as a tradition-breaker. The sweet fruit became a popular filling, replacing longtime favorites, such as nuts, cheese and cream. It combines spun-shredded wheat with whipped cream in a dish that is topped with chopped mangoes. 

Chocolate  

This recipe proved irresistible to many when it first caused a storm on social media. The kunafa is filled with hazelnut chocolate filling and is served in various forms, such as chocolate kunafa cones or the molten volcano kunafa. Some bakers even add a layer of peanut butter on top to seal the deal.

Red velvet

This type of kunafa emerged during the recent red velvet craze that swept Egypt.  The creation combines a layer of red velvet cake with shredded wheat and whipped cream.   

Avocado

This one’s sure to please avocado-loving millennials. Last year, a small bakery in Egypt became the talk of the town when it began using avocado as a kunafa filling. It may not be as popular as various other fillings, but it definitely got tongues wagging.

Biscuits 

Oreo cookies are being used to update the humble kunafa this year. Delectably crunchy Lotus biscuits are also being used to create achingly sweet kunafa treats.

Watermelon 

Yes, you read that right! Another seasonal fruit has just joined the club. It remains unclear if the trend will endure, however, as the idea of combining watermelon with shredded wheat is quite unusual. It is ideal for the soaring temperatures this summer, but will it win over dessert lovers? Only time, and empty plates, will tell.