A Muslim refugee model is rising to the top of today’s fashion world

Born in a refugee camp, she would later walk the runway for Kanye West and be hired by one of the most famous agencies.

Model Halima Aden on the runway for Max Mara, Women's Fall/Winter 2017/2018 in Milan, February 23, 2017. Miguel Medina | AFP

Her name is Halima Aden, and she’s 19 years old. She was born in a refugee camp in Kenya, and ever since Kanye West cast her in his most recent runway during New York Fashion Week, the barrage of praise and work offers hasn’t ceased (even an offer to be signed to the same agency as Gigi and Bella Hadid).

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It wasn’t the first time that Aden received public attention; she also made the news when she became the first woman to use a burkini and hijab during the Miss USA competition last November, representing the state of Minnesota. Nonetheless, it was West who gave her celebrity status.

Now she is also on the cover of the CR Fashion Book, a magazine by Carine Roitfeld, former editor-in-chief of Vogue Paris. Halima appears with a provocative expression on her face, but with her head otherwise completely covered, since one of her conditions for working as a model is she always be allowed to use her hijab.

@crfashionbook family ❤️ Shot by the one and only , the ICONIC @mario_sorrenti 💞

A post shared by Halima Aden (@kinglimaa) on

According to Aden, her mission is to send a positive message to young Muslims, but she has 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.’”

Nevertheless, not all in the Muslim community see her intentions in a positive light. “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.”

Halima wants to become a United Nations ambassador and make her contribution to overcoming the false perception that all Muslims are terrorists, and other stereotypes related to her religion.

Little Princess 👑

A post shared by Halima Aden (@kinglimaa) on

Personally, I have always considered fashion to be a powerful language, and I believe that her intentions are good; she doesn’t intend to impose her religion or profit from it, but rather to make it known from a positive perspective. I only hope that she doesn’t lose her way, and that she finds good people who will help her to fulfill her mission and make this world a more tolerant one, not find people who will just take advantage of her for merely political reasons.

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Why do I say this? Aden isn’t the first openly Muslim model. Supermodel Iman is, too, but she hasn’t been as traditional and explicit in her clothing. Last year (right around the same time as when Aden participated in the Miss USA competition), 24-year-old Mariah Idrissi became the first model to use a hijab in a large fashion campaign for H&M. Unlike Aden, she was born in London and doesn’t want to be an ambassador of Islam, but rather of modesty, and she wants to collaborate in reducing the breach between East and West.

I think both have very good intentions. It is interesting that fashion is becoming more flexible, while in other areas, such as sports, prohibitions stay in place. But only when we cease to refer to them as “Muslim models” (and they define themselves as such), will we really be able to say that we have made progress in building a more reconciled world.

Adriana Bello
Adriana Bello
Adriana is the editor-in-chief of a fashion and lifestyle magazine in Venezuela. She believes elegance is a matter of good taste, not money. Her fashion icon is Coco Chanel but most of the time she feels like Bridget Jones.

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