Halima Aden in a video ad for Vogue
Halima Aden in a video ad for Vogue

Amidst a continuing climate of hostility and suspicion toward Muslims in America, model and style icon Halima Aden made headlines by choosing her faith over fashion when she announced that she was taking a break from the industry. Citing pressure to compromise her religious values and practices in order to have a successful fashion career, Aden’s public embrace of her devotion to Islam and what it means for her to practice hijab has been an inspiration to other Muslim women struggling with similar dilemmas.

Originally a refugee from a refugee camp in Kenya, Aden became a model and ultimately an icon in the fashion industry, particularly as a Black Muslim woman wearing a hijab. As she embarked this path, she realized how many times her identity was compromised to fit the white man’s view of her after a photo shoot where she was told to wear denim as a headscarf. Eventually, she decided enough was enough and left the fashion industry altogether

As a Muslim woman who observes hijab, seeing Aden take such a strong stance was riveting and encouraging. There are many who feel pressured by the “fashionable” hijab that may go against Islam and this may entail sacrificing what is actually supposed to be done. What is portrayed as hijab in the fashion industry may not be really hijab as there are specific cultural and religious nuances to practicing hijab. For example, showing the neck is not part of hijab. Instead, everything is supposed to be covered with the exception of the hands and face and sometimes feet. Many Muslim women feel positive about Aden speaking out and sticking to her identity and principles. 

“I see it as Allah just showering her with His mercy, and it seems to me that it’s also in part to her mom’s prayers,” said Claudia Nour, founder of Claudia Nour Cosmetics. Nour has experience in pageant and modeling, and relates to Aden’s story. 

“To have the switch in your heart to see the industry for what it is, it’s an amazing thing,” Nour said. “And the thing is that we all know these things, once she started mentioning and speaking about her situation and how she had to slowly change herself and loosen up her beliefs, is not something that was so shocking to hear because that is what the beauty industry does, you need to fit into their standards or you won’t make it.” 

Nour had left the modeling industry and opened up her own business since she wanted to provide halal options for makeup, instead of settling for the limited options that are currently available. For her, Aden is an example of staying true to herself. 

“What is amazing is she [is] making the decision to get off the bandwagon and stick up for her heart and Islam, no matter the consequences, because she saw that the damage to her heart was going to be far greater and more destructive than any monetary or status gain she could get through the modeling industry,” Nour said. 

Similarly, Jumana Rahman, a makeup artist who follows Aden on Instagram, feels strongly as well. She appreciated Aden speaking about her hijab and the modern-day fashion industry, finding Aden’s reflection and self-criticism to be “eye-opening.” 

“What really stood out to me was her bravery on [hijab in the fashion industry]. Her ability to speak up about a controversial issue in such a large industry was truly admirable,” Rahman said. “Her statements resonated with me about how modern society tries to take religious factors, like hijab, and conform them to today’s ‘standards.’” 

Rahman feels that fashion is one of the most difficult industries in America for a hijabi and it required strength for Aden to speak openly about her criticisms. For Rahman, it was refreshing to see Muslim women as public figures who wouldn’t trade their religion for “materialistic benefit.” 

“I think it is important to remember your faith is your own at the end of the day. We shouldn’t judge others for how they practice their religion, but we should also be cautious of disrespecting a religion for the sake of convenience,” Rahman said. “[Aden’s actions are] a good reminder that nothing is worth sacrificing the beauty and authenticity of hijab to fit an aesthetic or a standard other than what God has written for it to be. This is one of the many reasons she is an inspirational woman.” 

As someone who enjoys makeup and hijab, Sarrah Ahmed, a fan of Aden, feels that hijab is much more than just a piece of fabric on one’s head. Ahmed was very much inspired by Aden’s actions, finding Aden a refreshing change from what she typically saw on the runways and among brand ambassadors. With everything Aden went through, Ahmed respects Aden’s decision to step away from the spotlight rather than compromising her spirituality.

“She really was a great representative for not only Muslims or girls, but for Black Muslim girls, [who] I don’t think get talked about much,” Ahmed said. “She did everything with much elegance and she did the hijab justice. Meaning, she wore it the way she normally does in daily life and didn’t loosen it or have them alter it in any way that would misrepresent her. In a world where Instagram ‘modest’ fashion is very much the rage, she really did come through.”

Despite all the pressures that Aden faced to conform and compromise her ideals to gain success in the fashion industry, she is a beacon of hope and role model for many Muslim women she embodies what it means to hold on to your faith regardless of how hard it may be, especially when it means going against entrenched industry practices and biases. For Aden, myself, and many other Muslims, having peace of mind where you are staying true to your religious identity supersedes all worldly matters.

Tasmiha Khan is a freelance writer and has published The New York Times, Business Insider, National Geographic, and Vox, among others. She covers topics related to health, race, politics, culture, and...