Sufism, derived from a branch of the monotheistic religion Islam, revolves around individuals seeking the Truth and “divine ethics”. With over 500,00 members, the mystical religion contains a variety of important symbols, one being the crescent-shaped representation of the word “God.” Use of this symbol has recently sparked worldwide controversy among Sufis, accusing the luxury Italian perfume maker, Robert Cavalli, of objectifying their religious symbol by using it as a marketing tool.
Cavalli, who has been using the symbol since 2011, claims there is no resemblance between the two. A side-by-side comparison may prove otherwise, with many Sufis pointing out the symbol “Just Cavalli” flipped to the side is the religious word “Allah,” which represents peace and harmony. The symbol, trademarked by the School of Islamic Sufism, can be seen in a few of Cavalli’s new ads, depicting models with sexual undertones bearing the symbol on their bodies. Many Sufis see this as “disrespectful, degrading and cheapens an important religious symbol for corporate profit.” Although several attempts had been made by the religious group to stop the use of the symbol, the European Union sided with Cavalli, rejecting the request made to ban use of the symbol. This has not deterred Sufi activists, who have been holding protests in major cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and London, as well as using social media outlets such as twitter, to campaign and raise awareness on the issue at hand.
Robert Cavalli’s use of objectifying Sufism symbolism is not an isolated case. Only a decade earlier there were outcries from the Hindu sect after his company released a bikini line portraying Hindu gods, which was eventually removed. There has been controversy in the fashion industry over display of religious items and symbols on clothing and when used as fashion accessories or marketing tools, ranging from Christian crosses, rosaries, Buddhist prayer beads, bindis and “evil eye” references seen on many celebrities, who may not know the symbolic meaning and importance carried in these items. Use of “fashionable” turbans has become quite popular on designer runways, though commonly used by males in the Sikh religion. Lady Gaga received negative outlash from Muslims after seen bearing a religious burqa in sultry photos, promoting her new album. An invisible line is crossed when cultural exchange becomes cultural appropriation, where one is simply taking from another culture without respect or consideration.
Followers of the Sufism religion will continue their protests and activism, creating a petition on Change.org with 3,000 signatures and a documentary on YouTube with the title #TakeOffJustLogo. Only time will tell if their continuous attempts and stubbornness will convince the EU or Cavalli to remove the religious symbol for good. This may raise awareness on the general controversy of religious symbolism, such as the Sufi symbol, used in advertising or as a marketing logo, out of context. Does slightly altering an important religious symbol for corporate profit make it insignificant enough to completely renounce the pleas and protests of these groups? Should the fashion industry which prides itself in self-expression, adhere to certain guidelines, or would restrictions be a violation of free speech? The answer is relative to one’s own moral standpoint, food for thought.
By Obeydah Chavez