World Hijab Day is on February 1 and in honor of the occasion, we celebrate the Muslim female athletes, politicians, musicians, and activists breaking new ground around the world. From Libyan-American journalist and activist Noor Tagouri to the first-ever hijab-wearing model Halima Aden, read on to know more about the women who continue to inspire.
Raffia Arshad became the UK’s first hijab-wearing judge in 2020 when she was appointed as a Deputy District Judge on the Midlands circuit after having pursued a career in law for 17 years. Even with a successful career dealing with cases involving Islamic law, forced marriage, and female genital mutilation, Arshad was no stranger to discrimination and prejudice in her field of work. The judge went through one of the most life-changing moments when she was advised by her own family member to not wear her hijab to an interview for a scholarship at the Inns of Court School of Law in 2001. Speaking of her decision to Metro she said, “I decided that I was going to wear my headscarf because for me it’s so important to accept the person for who they are and if I had to become a different person to pursue my profession, it’s not something I wanted.”
The first chapters of Aden’s life story could not be further removed from the fashion industry. She was born in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, an arid, desolate space that’s home to more than 160,000 refugees. Soaring temperatures, disease, and no means of generating income or agricultural enterprise make it a harsh place to live in. After relocating to the United States with her family when she was six, Aden would go on to make history as the first veiled contestant in the Miss Minnesota beauty pageant, before making her New York Fashion Week debut at Kanye West’s Yeezy Season 5. Bookings at Alberta Ferretti and Max Mara in Milan soon followed. She has gone on to land major campaigns and editorials, becoming the first hijab-wearing model to star on a Vogue cover with Vogue Arabia’s June 2017 issue, and later, appearing on Vogue‘s first group hijabi cover (alongside models Ikram Abdi Omar and Amina Adan), with the April 2019 issue. Although Aden has bid farewell to the fashion industry, she continues to inspire Muslim women to go after what they want in life while staying true to their beliefs.
In 2016, CoverGirl named Muslim beauty blogger Nura Afia an ambassador for the new So Lashy! BlastPro Mascara, making her not only the first hijab-wearing woman, but the first-ever Muslim figure to star in a campaign for the beauty brand. The Moroccan-American vlogger joined the ranks of other CoverGirl ambassadors, including Sofia Vergara, Halle Berry, and Katy Perry.
At first glance, Neelam Hakeem, with her Instagram following of 460,000, may give the impression of being just another modest influencer, posing in brands like Dulce by Safiya, Culture Hijab, and Hayah Collection. Then you play one of her videos, and she starts rapping about everything from political and social injustices to women’s rights. In a matter of months, her lyrics, rapped to songs by some of the world’s best-known artists, had made impressive rounds on social media. Diddy, Will Smith, and Erykah Badu have all reposted her songs.
As a Nike Pro Hijab ambassador, the first Emirati figure skater Zahra Lari has already succeeded in breaking the obvious #ArabFirst of being a professional ice skater hailing from this Middle Eastern country, and becoming a global household name to boot. Using her sphere of influence to send out positive messages to girls the world over to pursue their dreams no matter what obstacles they experience, we look ahead to see what Lari does next.
Ginella Massa became the first hijabi woman to anchor a major late-night newscast in Canada. But her first groundbreaking moment came in 2015, when Massa landed her first on-air post at CTV News in Kitchener, Ontario, and became the first hijab-wearing television reporter in Canadian history. Her appointment was a massive stride for diversity and inclusion in North America.
When Ibtihaj Muhammad stepped into the fencing piste at the 2016 Rio Olympics, she made history as the first American athlete to compete in the games wearing a hijab. In 2017, the New Jersey native made headlines again when it was announced that she was the inspiration behind Mattel’s first hijab-wearing Barbie. In an interview with team Vogue.me before her 2016 Olympic win, Muhammad stated, “People told me that my goals weren’t attainable for whatever reason – especially when I was trying to achieve a feat that has never been done before – and that was discouraging.” Her message to the next generation of sporting stars of Muslim faith? “Never allow anyone to dictate your journey.”
After beating out five other candidates in September’s primary race to represent Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, the 39-year-old Democrat, who was born in Somalia and grew up in a Kenyan refugee camp before fleeing to America with her family aged 12, became the first African refugee and hijab-wearing woman to serve in Congress. Omar ran as her state’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party’s nominee. The candidate took over the seat vacated by Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, who became the first Muslim elected to the United States House of Representatives.
Noor Tagouri is a hijab-wearing journalist and activist. Born in 1993 to Libyan parents in West Virginia, her family moved to Maryland, where she grew up and found her passion for journalism. “I just knew that I wanted to ask questions for a living,” she recounted to Vogue Arabia. Tagouri went on to study Broadcast Journalism at the University of Maryland at 16 years old, where she landed an internship at CBS radio a mere year into her studies. She is the brainchild behind a thought-provoking documentary series A Woman’s Job, which explored females working in male-dominated industries. Occupations included a female mechanic (who runs a beauty bar attached to her car shop), as well as the first and only female NFL coach.
In 2022, Fatima Payman made history as the first elected official to wear a hijab in the Australian parliament. Born to a refugee family from Afghanistan, Payman also the youngest serving Senator, the first Afghan-Australian to be elected, and the third youngest Senator in Australian history. “For those who choose to judge me on what I should wear or judge my competency based on my external [appearance], know that the hijab is my choice,” she says. “I want young girls who decide to wear the hijab to do it with pride and to do it with the knowledge that they have the right to wear it. I won’t judge someone wearing boardies and flip-flops across the street. I don’t expect people to judge me for wearing my scarf.”