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As Halima Aden quits modelling, how can the fashion industry support Muslim women?

While Aden made history by being the first hijab-wearing woman to appear on British Vogue in 2018, it begs the question: why did it take so long?

This week supermodel Halima Aden announced she was quitting modelling. The US star, who fronted Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty campaign and walked in Kanye West’s Yeezy show, said the fashion industry had forced her to compromise her religion.

In a series of Instagram stories, Aden said, ‘Fashion loves to use and discard humans as if they are disposable. Before it ever got to that point, Allah opened my eyes.’

Speaking of a campaign she starred in with American Eagle Outfitters, she said, ‘Why did I allow them to put jeans on my head when at the time I had only ever worn skirts and long dresses?

‘I went back to my hotel room & just sobbed after this shoot because deep down I knew this wasn’t it. But was too scared to speak up. The truth is I was very UNCOMFORTABLE. This just ain’t me.’

She added that she will no longer do runway shows as ‘it never sat well in [my] spirit’. Aden said, ‘They could call me tomorrow and not even for $10 million would I ever risk compromising my hijab again’.

The star, who appeared on the cover of British Vogue’s May 2018 New Frontiers issue as part of a group of models ‘changing the face of fashion’, also claimed she got ‘carried away’ with modelling, writing, ‘I wish I never stopped bringing my black hijab to set, because the minute I got comfortable… well, let’s just say I got too carried away.

‘I was just so desperate back then for any “representation” that I lost touch with who I was.

‘I can only blame myself for caring more about the opportunity than what was actually at stake. I blame myself for being naive and rebellious. What I do blame the industry for is the lack of muslim women stylists.’

Aden moved to the US when she was a baby after being born in a refugee camp in Kenya to Somalian parents.  She made her modelling debut at New York Fashion Week in 2017 and quickly became the world’s first Muslim hijab-wearing supermodel. But her success made it even more apparent that the industry still has a lot of learning to do when it comes to supporting Muslim women. So what can we do to ensure they feel respected, supported and seen?

There are various definitions of modest fashion and it can be interpreted in different ways. However more generally, it is used to describe clothing that conceals the shape of the body. This can include hijabs and burqas, but also tops, dresses, trousers and jackets.

Muslim women wear this type of clothing for religious and cultural reasons, although modest fashion can be worn to attain a certain aesthetic for some women. Not all Muslim women wear hijabs, as in the UK it is a matter of choice.

In Islam, standards of modesty call for a woman to cover her body – particularly the chest. The Quran instructs women to ‘draw their head-coverings over their chests,’ which some Muslim women interpret to require head coverings. The Prophet Muhammad instructs that women should cover their bodies except for their face and hands, so some Muslim women will opt to cover their entire body, including the face and hands with a chadur.

Muslim women’s clothing must not outline the shape of the body, so tight clothing is discouraged, while the clothing must be thick enough to conceal the colour of the skin – so sheer dresses are a no-no for stylists dressing Muslim models, while shiny or flashy clothes are also discouraged.

When it comes to fashion campaigns, editorials, e-commerce and shoots in general, Muslim women must have the final say of what they feel comfortable wearing. This is a personal choice and one rule doesn’t fit all. If the stylist is not Muslim or doesn’t have in-depth knowledge of the Islamic religion, it’s important to check in with the model and ensure she feels at ease in what she is wearing.

While clothing is vital to consider when working with a Muslim model, Aden also mentioned missing prayer time at work due to a lack of understanding of her religion. Muslims pray at set times, five times a day. These times are of course non-negotiable, so a team working with a Muslim person must respect this and ideally, offer a space in which they are able to carry out their prayers.

While Aden made history by being the first hijab-wearing woman to appear on British Vogue in 2018, it begs the question: why did it take so long? Muslim women need to be more visible in the fashion industry, period. This may mean in front of the camera, but they must also be included behind the scenes too – and no, we’re not just talking about making the garments. Fashion brands and companies must make a conscious effort to employ more Muslim women at every level to give them greater visibility, create better understanding of the religion and to tackle the Islamophobia that has become rife in Western culture in recent years.

We certainly hope that those working in the industry take note of Aden’s decision to quit modelling and that it hasn’t happened in vain.

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