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Halima Aden and shaping one's own hijab journey

  • 26 November 2020
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.

Much like Aden (pictured), I too was born in a Kenyan refugee camp and fled abroad to the West and grew up wearing a hijab from a very young age. It was my choice. I wanted to look like my mother and older sisters. I wore the same pinless little hijab in primary school that Aden shared on her Instagram and so many other hijabi girls did. In a school photograph of mostly non-Muslim children, I always stuck out, the one with fabric covering her hair. From my skin to what I wore on my head, it was hard to be so visibly different. Yet I continued to wear the hijab throughout the horror years of high school — despite what names I was called.

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