Model Halima Aden hosted the fourth International Somali Awards (Picture: Anti-Tribalism Movement)Halima Aden is a 21-year-old model who was born into a refugee camp.
The American-Somali was the first hijab-wearing model to be featured on the cover of Vogue, advertise a headscarf for Nike, and be part of a Kanye West Yeezy presentation. She recently became the proud designer of 27 new headscarves.
So when Halima came to London to host the fourth annual International Somali Awards (ISA), we had to chat to her about Muslim identity and being part of the diaspora.
Where Halima is from in the US, Minnesota, has the largest Somali population but doesn’t have many community events due to funds.
‘As a former refugee, I know firsthand the problems that the diaspora faces so to have a day like this as a celebration of the hard work and dedication that Somalis are putting in makes me so proud,’ Halima told Metro.co.uk.
‘I’ve had a great experience modelling so far, it’s been scary too, I took a risk being the first Muslim woman to do x, y, z. It’s scary to go into the unknown but now seeing so many girls enter the fashion industry wearing the hijab, it’s amazing.’
(Picture: Anti-Tribalism Movement)After featuring on the cover of Vogue Arabia with two fellow Somali models Amina Adan and Ikram Abdi Omar, who was also at ISA, the trio were praised globally for representing black Muslim women.
‘It was a monumental occasion,’ added Halima. ‘It’s such an exciting time because representation is everything, it’s important to me and so many Muslim girls who never had that.
‘I want them to think “Oh I can do that now” or “I can go out and do this now”. It’s not enough yet but it’s something.
‘In modelling there’s like 10 hijabis and even with designers, there are more emerging and I have so much faith in the next five to ten years.’
Last year, Halima was filmed having a conversation with her mum, who had reservations about her daughter’s fashion career. When asked how she navigates resistance from older and conservative members of the community, the model said it’s about open discussion.
‘I had the chance to explain why it’s so important to me,’ she explains. ‘That conversation is so important.
‘In the beginning, I faced a little bit of criticism because people didn’t understand modelling or fashion. Because it’s a different culture, it’s not a Somali thing.
Maya Jama who is half Somali also hosted an award (Picture: Anti-Tribalism Movement)‘But explaining why it’s important for anyone growing up in America who looks like me is a crucial conversation. My mum understood that and its impact.
‘I’m not just a model either and that’s helped with the elder community, like my work with UNICEF, I’ve not forgotten where I came from.’
She adds that it’s easier to be a visibly Muslim woman in the US now because people are not as scared about the hijab – but there’s still a long way to go.
From her mostly positive experiences, she says people only question her beliefs from a point of wanting to be educated, not from hate.
She left us with a message for young Somali or other Muslim girls in the homeland or the diaspora: ‘I like to give the advice my mama gave me: “When you stay true to yourself, you really can’t go wrong”.
‘So be authentic to who you are and your values. Never spread yourself too thin to fit into a mould. Be fiercely you, unapologetically yourself.’
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