Hijab wearing model Halima Aden reveals her background, beginning, the importance of self-worth and the pride of her hijab, in an interview with Iman for CR fashion magazine......Read up!
Last November, one photograph changed Halima Aden’s life. Competing in her local beauty pageant, Miss Minnesota U.S.A., she wore her traditional hijab onstage. The image of Aden alongside a lineup of girls in plunging evening gowns opened a wellspring of online praise. Born in a Kenyan refugee camp, Aden moved to the United States at age six, her family settling in the burgeoning Somali-American community in St. Cloud, Minnesota. Today, as a college student suddenly armed with a following, she wishes to expand and redefine perceptions of young American Muslims. Aden spoke to her hero, Iman—a fellow Somali—about the importance of self-worth, the perils of representation, and the pride of the hijab.
HALIMA ADEN Oh my God, this is such a huge deal! Every time someone asks me who my inspiration is, I say Iman—someone who has broken the glass ceiling.
IMAN Oh thank you, but you have broken it yourself. The photos of you competing at Miss Minnesota were such a sensation.
HA I remember feeling so much gratitude, and I felt so proud of the media, because for a very long time they were pushing this negative image of Muslims.
IMAN I think often the West does not understand the history and the privilege of wearing a hijab. They always think of oppression.
HA Yeah, totally. I always tell them, “Just look around you, there are Muslim women who wear it and Muslim women who don’t.” We have to break the stereotype.
IMAN I’m going to be 62 years old in July. So the Somalia I grew up in—there weren’t so many women who wore hijabs. When I was growing up there, we all wore traditional clothes. Most of the time we didn’t even cover our heads. I’ve heard all types of critiques—as a Somali girl, as a model, as a mom, as a Muslim who does not wear a hijab, marrying a white man, my late husband David Bowie. But you know, I live my truth.
HA I love that.
IMAN You were your town’s first Muslim homecoming queen.
HA That happened last year, my senior year at my high school, which has a lot of issues with diversity. It happened so fast—I feel like the Somali population in St. Cloud started booming out of nowhere. So with that, there comes a lot of misunderstanding.
IMAN I hear that you want to someday be a United Nations goodwill ambassador.
HA I just think that there’s so much work to be done. I remember when I lived in a refugee camp, it was the people who weren’t Somali, the people who came from Western countries, who helped the most. I remember being six and thinking, I want to be one of those woman because I knew how much they helped us.
IMAN When I went to the refugee camp in Kenya, in 1971, the nongovernmental organizations helped me. They are like angels walking among us. They do so much without any fanfare.
IMAN So why did you enter the Miss Minnesota pageant?
HA I did it for a number of reasons. First, I wanted to meet other young women in my state—you don’t get that kind of chance every day. But I also wanted representation. This is a pageant that goes far beyond physical beauty, so I wanted young women who wear the hijab to realize that you could participate in such a thing.
IMAN What does the support you’ve received mean to you?
HA To me, it represents freedom of choice. A lot of people have the misconception that, as a Muslim woman, I am somehow against women wearing bikinis. No, I want women to feel comfortable and confident in whatever they wear.
IMAN Is there one supporter who really impressed you?
HA I didn’t think about how many different people this would affect. I went in thinking that I want something positive for young Muslim girls. But I’ve heard stories from parents who are Christians, telling me, “Thank you, I want my seven-year-old daughter to know that you don’t have to be half-naked to be beautiful.”
IMAN Yes, but sometimes people say, “You are my hero!” and that’s a lot of responsibility.
HA I wish I could tell them, “Hey, I’m not a perfect Muslim.” A lot of people had a misconception that I would be the perfect poster child for Islam. So I got a lot of Instagram comments like, “Oh, you don’t have your neck covered, you’re not a Muslim!” My thing is, stop judging women, especially if you’re a man, because you don’t know the responsibility that comes with wearing a hijab.
IMAN What’s next for you?
HA I want to see this message spread. As Muslims we just need more positive stories. Period.
IMAN I’m so proud that you are a Somali girl!
HA What do you remember from Somalia?
IMAN I was born and raised in Mogadishu, the capital, and so for me, there were universities, there were museums. When I went to film my documentary, I went back to a country that was totally demolished. There was nothing left. There was not a single thing working. All of a sudden, to realize that the schools have been closed for years—it was heartbreaking. Somalia was a country of one religion and one language—you could not think of a more unified people. And we became so divided—brother against brother, sister against sister. It broke my heart. It really broke my heart. And my heart still breaks. When my mom passed away this year, one wish I couldn’t grant her was to bury her in Somalia. Do you know how heartbreaking that is? To think that you have all the money in the world, and you still can’t do anything to make that last wish possible. That’s how my heart breaks for Somalia.
HA I’m so sorry, Iman. What are your hopes for Somalia?
IMAN I always felt that the future of Somalia lies in the hands of the girls and women. To hear young people like you speak about and think of Somalia, even when you haven’t witnessed it—rebuilding our country will be in your hands.
HA I want to feel that pride for Somalia.
IMAN I’m always my father’s daughter, and I’ll always be a Somali girl. And that is the pride that you put in yourself, the pride of yourself and never lowering your worth. You don’t have to lower yourself. They’ll meet you where you stand.