Muslim model Halima Aden speaks at UNC MSA Live event
As the audience entered the Great Hall on Friday night, the scene was reminiscent of an haute couture fashion show. A sea of black ties, maxi dresses, and multi-colored hijabs filled the room – even a hot pink cowboy hat made its way through the crowds.
Muslim model Halima Aden took the stage to the cheers of the audience.
Each year, the UNC Muslim Students Association hosts an event called MSA Live, which features a discussion on an important topic of the faith with an influential Muslim figure. Aden, known for making the covers of Vogue Arabia, British Vogue and Sports Illustrated, was the guest speaker at this year’s event.
Aden’s talk was titled “Navigating Faith and Fortune: Working in this World for the Future,” where she spoke about her decision to step back from her modeling career to focus on her faith. in November 2020.
Aden’s work now continues to focus on raising awareness and visibility for refugees and Muslim women.
“As a Muslim girl who wears a headscarf, you face all of these difficulties in integrating yourself,” said Saratu Garba, host of Friday’s event. “People always look at you, make comments, so seeing such a powerful icon in the fashion industry, trying to show everyone that it’s okay to take a step back and focus on your spirituality touches me a lot. . “
Like Garba, some participants said they saw pieces of their own history in Aden’s journey of faith and her experience growing up as a Somali refugee.
“We are from the same country. She’s Somali-American and so am I, ”said Habon Ahmed, the mother of a recent UNC graduate.
Ahmed said it felt good to hear Aden tell his story, noting some of the similarities in the trajectory of their trips to the United States.
“This is my home, this is my country,” Ahmed said. “Every time I travel I get goosebumps when I come back. I came here in 1984, I didn’t speak English, I went to school, I worked hard and I love it. “
Aden also said in her speech that she did not speak English when she moved to the United States, and she noted the positive impact of her education on her.
“When I first started modeling my family didn’t approve, but my mom made me promise that I would pray on set,” Aden said.
At first, Aden said that was exactly what she did – even when she was shocked and disrespectful from those around her. She said she felt pressure to comply.
“Then I started making exceptions,” Aden said. “I started to lose part of my Muslim identity, which was a test I felt I had failed.”
Aden then turned her attention to the audience.
“How many of you have struggled with your faith? ” she asked.
Almost everyone raised their hands.
“Trying to practice Islam the way you want in a country where you are stigmatized can be very difficult,” said Dalal Azzam, vice president of UNC MSA. feel like we can do it. Halima shows that you can still be passionate and make your dreams come true while carrying your faith. “
Aden closed her speech with some simple tips for the participants.
“Be proud of who you are and don’t feel the pressure to shrink your hijab. The right people should accept you for who you are, ”Aden said. “We are few, but we are resilient. We are here to do amazing things.
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