When I first read the news on CNN, I was so excited. Finally, an emoji that represents me and the millions of veiled women and girls out there! The hijabi emoji was revealed on World Emoji Day on July 17, 2017. The girl behind the idea was 16-year-old Rayouf Alhumedhi, a student of Saudi origin, who resides in Vienna. Rayouf came up with the emoji while engaging in a group chat with her friends on WhatsApp. At that time, she realized that there was no emoji that represented her as a young veiled girl.
Alhumedhi told CNN, “The fact that there was no emoji to represent me and the millions of other hibaji women across the world is baffling to me. I really had no initial idea in my mind of what it was supposed to look like. I just wanted it to be available in different skin tones-millions of women of different races do wear it.”
Alhumedhi proposed her idea to Unicode, the most renowned company which creates and edits emojis that are currently used on most social media platforms. The company quickly responded, and a member of the company’s emoji subcommittee worked with her to come up with the design for the emoji. Soon later, Apple accepted to release the emoji and announced that it will appear on all Apple devices towards the end of 2017.
The release of the hijabi emoji, in my opinion, will be a way to increase diversity and encourage both religious and cultural tolerance. The emoji, itself, represents a religious practice that has been adopted by multiple religions like, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and others. Not only that but also a shade of many through-out many cultures in the world we know today. Including it with other emojis will increase the range of emojis that represent religions and cultures that are available on different social media platforms. Moreover, the fact that Apple has accepted the emoji clearly shows that hijabis and the hijab, itself, are gaining more tolerance and respect from people.
Now, you are probably wondering, “Why is this girl so excited over something so silly as an emoji?”
For me and for many other hijabis, this emoji is not just any other emoji. It is a way of being able to express one’s self and show how proud a girl can be when she chooses to wear the hijab. Wearing the hijab has been frowned upon and viewed as a tool of oppression by many people. Having this emoji shows that not everyone agrees to this generally common view. Some people out there do not approach us with the belief that we need saving, that we are in any way less than others. Something that all hijabis in the West have struggled to deal with for many years, myself included.
Maybe, the actual presence of the hijabi emoji will trigger the curiosity in some people and get them to learn more about the veil and why some women choose to wear it. Maybe, people will learn that it is not a symbol of terrorism and that there are women from other religions, besides Islam, who choose to represent themselves that way. Maybe, if they stop seeing it as a sign of oppression they will become more accepting of the girls who wear it. Just maybe. We will never know though until it is released. What is certain is that to have a big and well-known company, like Apple, recognize that we, hijabis, are just like everyone else who deserve to be represented, is a small victory that is worthy of celebration.
by Susan Cheikhali
Susan Cheikhali is a Lebanese American girl who lives in New Jersey, the United States and she holds an M.A. in Forensic Psychology.