When I opened model Halima Aden’s Instagram story it was like watching a landmark moment in history — hijab history that is. As I continued to read her confessions and revelations about being the first hijabi model, I couldn’t believe what I was reading. She was blowing the lid on something deeper than a disdain of the pressures associated with the fashion industry. She was tackling her highly praised — and criticised — public journey with her hijab and setting the record straight.
It was only until I got out into the adult world that I began to feel less and less connected to my hijabi identity. I was confronted with the possibility of having limited job opportunities. Finding a job as a young woman was hard enough, add black and hijabi and it was overwhelmingly difficult.
When I did eventually get a job, the focus was uncomfortably on my hijab — less interest and more scrutiny. I began to think maybe if I wore my hijab in a turban, it wouldn’t be as noticeable, or maybe if I only ever wore lighter coloured hijabs I would be less ‘confronting’. I allowed so many people to make unwarranted and inappropriate comments, like ‘You’d look great without a scarf on your head’, or ‘It’s good you don’t have to wear the one that covers your entire face’. It hurt, it was awkward, and I felt what Aden described as ‘wanting to be the hot hijabi’. By all means, you can be both. However, ‘hot hijabi’ is the biggest oxymoron.
A hijab is a symbol of modesty, a symbol of the Islamic faith for a woman who chooses to value character over physical appearance. When you wear a hijab, it is a bond between Allah and yourself. It is a deeply personal relationship. The only thing that should be considered ‘hot’ when wearing hijab is your character.
Aden was a first and a trailblazer for a group of people — who before her — were long ignored in the mainstream fashion industry. She has many regrets and admits she made mistakes, but for a fresh-faced teenager who was given this huge responsibility, she says, she did good. I say different, she did bloody brilliant. Today, she has set the standard. No longer is she allowing the fashion industry to change the hijab aesthetic to be more palatable for wider society.
‘No longer should hijabis feel the pressure to conform to what is deemed cool, edgy, fun or my least favourite, “modern”. We shape our own journey with our hijab, no matter who feels comfortable or uncomfortable with it.’
Aden’s declaration of taking ownership of one’s hijab journey cannot come at a more crucial time. In July, Muslim women protested against Belgium’s hijab ban in higher education while on campus. A Belgian court maintained it did not violate freedom of religion. Belgium is not unique in its ‘hijabi ban’, France has been doing it for years and even Turkey, a Muslim country, recently overturned its policy on hijabs in university.
Women who wear the hijab live in a world where we are always trying to make ourselves smaller to ‘blend in’. Today, more than ever I am proud to be able to see young role models, like Halima Aden, say enough is enough. No longer should hijabis feel the pressure to conform to what is deemed cool, edgy, fun or my least favourite, ‘modern’. We shape our own journey with our hijab, no matter who feels comfortable or uncomfortable with it. In the words of Aden, ‘Cancel me, who gone cancel me? I’m bowing out gracefully.’
Najma Sambul is a Somali-Australian writer. She writes both non fiction and fiction, but is adamant fiction writing still has a future. She has a number of unpublished short stories and a half completed comedy screenplay on her laptop. She remains optimistic about their future.
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