Halima Aden is the first Muslim women to be named twice as a Muslim Women to Watch, Muslim Girl’s annual list of the prolific Muslim women making our year.
Halima Aden might be the fashion world’s first hijab-observing Vogue cover model, but her hero story started much earlier than that.
She was born and raised in Kakuma, a refugee camp located in Kenya for war victims fleeing from Somalia. While Aden has had numerous achievements within the fashion industry, her trailblazing determination was first demonstrated during her early years as a student. At the tender age of seven, she migrated to the United States with her family and settled in Minnesota. While only being able to speak Somali and Swahili in an all-English-speaking school, Aden soon found herself accelerating to Advanced Placement (AP) classes. Within school, she became the first-ever hijab-observing Muslim and Somali homecoming queen.
In 2020, Aden announced her abrupt departure from the modeling world due to how the supermodel’s hijab and modesty were compromised.
On Nov. 26, 2016, 19-year-old Aden competed in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant while wearing the hijab and a burkini in one of the segments, making this the first Muslim representation in the pageant’s 65-year establishment. During this event, Carine Roitfelt, a French fashion editor, cast Aden as the cover model for her fashion book. From there, Aden’s modeling career skyrocketed. She has appeared in Elle Singapore, Vanity Fair, The Observer Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue Arabia, Paper Magazine, and more. She has also been a runway model for top designers, including Max Mara, Dolce and Gabbana, Sherri Hill, and Alberta Ferretti. In 2020, Aden announced her abrupt departure from the modeling world due to how the supermodel’s hijab and modesty were compromised.
In a series of now-deleted Instagram stories, Aden shared numerous photographs of her fashion and runway campaigns in which the clothing modeled did not align with her religious beliefs. Being a top model in the fashion world, Aden was transparent about her spiritual struggles where she would miss prayer times and given odd items to cover her head with such as, a pair of denim jeans.
“I can only blame myself for caring more about opportunity than what was actually at stake,” she stated in an Instagram story. However, there were also times in her career when designers would allow Aden to observe the proper hijab that she would bring to set with her. One such designer was Rihanna when the model was cast to feature in a Fenty Beauty ad campaign.
“(Rihanna) let me wear the hijab I brought to set. This is the girl I’m returning to, the real Halima,” Aden said. Further, she also called out the world of fashion for continuing to have a lack of understanding of the hijab because the industry has yet to include female Muslims as stylists to help designers understand what can or cannot align with the values of a hijab. Aden’s strict mention that her hijab would be non-negotiable in modeling contracts further emphasizes this point. Yet in the beginning, she explains that young Muslim women would also be critical of the modest wear that Aden would model.
I remember wanting to be the ‘hot hijabi’ as if that didn’t just defeat the whole purpose.Halima Aden
“Fellow Muslim sisters would send me DMs and even publicly tag me at the start of my career to say ‘stop dressing like an old woman’… which made me feel like I was doing something wrong … I remember wanting to be the ‘hot hijabi’ as if that didn’t just defeat the whole purpose,” Aden said. “A hot mess is what it was truthfully.” In the age of the influence of Muslim women and digital media, Aden is not only a paragon for the Muslim women community on remaining strong within their boundaries but also brings forth the critical discussion of diversity within the fashion industry once more to the table.
Having millions of followers, it’s not easy for any Muslim woman to openly discuss and be vulnerable about her struggles. With the story that Aden shared on her social media page, many designers, models, and other influential individuals within the fashion industry rose to her support and now Aden walks proudly embracing her hijab in a way that empowers her modesty.