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Halima Aden Making History for the Muslim Arab Community

posted on: Jan 4, 2023

Halima Aden Making History for the Muslim Arab Community
Halima Aden Featured on the Cover of Elle Middle East. Photo: @halima

By: Souria Dabbousi / Arab America Contributing Writer

Halima Aden, now a Somali-American Muslim model, was born in Kenya in the Kakuma refugee camp. She moved to the U.S. at the age of 6 and has been a huge inspiration to many Muslim women today. She has broken many stereotypes of what Muslim women can or can’t do and set an example to millions.

Like any child in school, Halima Aden received a homework assignment, however she had difficulty in completing it: draw a Disney princess who looks like you.

“I came to school empty-handed,” Halima told TODAY. “Like so many little girls, I never had anyone like me to look up to.”

Halima Aden Competing in the Miss Minnesota USA Pageant

In 2016, Halima made history in becoming the first Muslim woman to compete in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant fully covered and reaching the semi-finals while wearing the hijab. Although she didn’t win the competition, it was a huge win for the Muslim and Arab world.

Having this type of representation opened many doors for the Muslim world. It shutdown many of the misconceptions about Muslims, specifically Muslim Woman.

Having been only 19 at the time, she was also the first contestant to wear a burkini during the swimsuit round.

“For a really long time I thought being different was a negative thing. But as I grew older, I started to realize we are all born to stand out, nobody is born to blend in,” Aden told CBS. “How boring would this world be if everyone was the same?”

How It All Began

It all started when Aden submitted her application to the Miss Minnesota USA pageant. Attached to her application included a headshot of her wearing the hijab. She didn’t have much hope however to her surprise, she was congratulated with an email saying she had been accepted into the pageant. She further inquired and requested to wear a Burkini during the swimsuit round, and to her surprise again, they also accepted.

The Miss Universe Organization is a company run by women, for women, built on a foundation of inclusion and continues to be a celebration of diversity,” Denise Wallace, executive co-director of Miss Minnesota USA, said in a statement.

“The decision to allow Halima to wear a swimsuit that would be deemed acceptable by her culture and that she would be comfortable wearing on stage is in line with the values of the Miss Universe Organization in empowering women to be confidently beautiful. The Miss Universe Organization knows that a confident woman has the power to make real change.”

Aden placed among the top 15 and has since had the chance to connect with women from all over the world using the Miss USA platform.


Halima in a shoot for CR Fashion Book’s March 2017 issue. Photo: TeenVogue

Her debut on Miss Minnesota USA allowed her fame to grow and made international news. She was signed to IMG Models and became the first hijab-wearing model working with the biggest modeling agency in the world. She wrote on Instagram, “I signed with the top modelling agency in the WORLD and still wore my hijab as my crown. Don’t ever change yourself … Change the game.”

Her first debut was at New York Fashion Week for Yeezy Season 5. From there, she was featured on many different magazines and modeled for many designers. She participated in Milan Fashion Week as well as London Modest Fashion Week. She made the cover of Vogue Arabia, Allure and British Vogue and in May 2019, she became the first model to wear a hijab and burkini featured on Sports Illustrated Swimsuit.


Halima Aden’s interview with designer Tommy Hilfiger. Photo: The National News

Despite the amount of support that Halima had received for this great accomplishment, she still faced many difficulties. The modeling and fashion industry isn’t known for being Muslim friendly, more specifically, hijabi friendly.

Aden placed two non-negotiable requirements into her modeling contract at the age of 19: “Hijab and no male stylists.” These were the rules that every fashion brand that wanted to collaborate with her had to follow. Aden told The National in an exclusive interview earlier this year that as her career developed, she discovered that a lot of the style she was subjected to, did not accurately reflect the basic fundamentals of wearing the hijab.

“The first two years of my career, I was the stylist and came to set with hijabs, of all different types of fabrics, leggings, turtlenecks, and I would be in charge of doing my own hijab,” the former model said. But, as the years passed, Aden let her guard down. “I let them style me and got comfortable.”

Designer, Tommy Hilfiger, expressed his own thoughts and opinions on this issue. He voiced his displeasure with the way the fashion industry continues to function, particularly in the instance of a Muslim model wearing a headscarf being requested to wear a revealing dress and change in a park.

“I think it’s outrageous and I think it’s disrespectful. Obviously, she’s working with someone without any empathy whatsoever and that really angers me. It’s embarrassing to be part of a business and part of a community that has such outrageously antiquated ideas and not caring about the people they’re working with.”

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