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Rayouf Alhumedhi is a 15-year-old student in Berlin, Germany. She’s been wearing a hijab—the traditional headscarf worn by Muslim women—since age 13. But when Saudi Arabia-born Alhumedhi and her friends text and use social media on their phones like all other teenagers, they found that something important was missing.
There is no hijab emoji. But after Alhumedhi watched a Mashable Snapchat story on how to submit an emoji proposal to Unicode, she became determined to change that.
In a Reddit AMA on Tuesday, Alhumedhi explained more about why she and so many others want a hijab emoji.
“I would like to be represented and acknowledged,” wrote Alhumedhi in the AMA. “Because with the massive amount of women that wear the headscarf today, there should be at least one place on our keyboards reserved for them.”
Many of the commenters on the thread focused less on the emoji aspect and more on challenging the teen’s use of the hijab, criticizing Islam and Muslim culture. One commenter asked, “Are you also going to ask for emojis depicting other realities of life for Muslim women, such as female genital mutilation and/or stoning for adultery? What about an emoji for honor killings?”
But Alhumedhi held her ground.
“Might seem baffling, but when I wear the headscarf I actually feel liberated because I’m in control of what I want to cover,” she said. “The headscarf allows for people to see past a women’s beauty and see her for her knowledge. Now I know that some women are forced to wear it, but that is micro in comparison to those who see the beauty in it.”
In an email to the Daily Dot, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian said that “uncomfortable conversations” are one of the benefits of AMAs, and the platform’s total honesty helps educate participants and expose them to new perspectives. But Ohanian didn’t just host the teen emoji creator for an AMA—he’s also helping to pitch the emoji to Unicode.
“I basically discovered her proposal at the same time I was working with a friend (Jennifer 8. Lee) to find a way to pitch the headscarf emoji after I’d seen so many discussions on Reddit communities like r/islam and r/twoxchromosomes about challenges Muslims face with identity online,” Ohanian told the Daily Dot. “The timing couldn’t have been better. And Rayouf couldn’t be a better champion for this. I was floored when I learned she was only 15.”
In the official hijab emoji proposal, Ohanian is listed alongside Alhumedhi and several designers. The designs pitched include a headscarf emoji, a hijab emoji, and some “ghost” options that show the scarf alone. The proposal points out that a staggering 550 million Muslim women across the globe wear the hijab—a number that doesn’t even include Orthodox Jewish, Orthodox Christian, Catholic, and other religious communities in which women wear some sort of head covering.
“People who are well-represented in media—be it movies, television, magazine ads, or even emoji—often take it for granted,” said Messer. “But for groups that are usually cast in a bad light or not seen much at all, the idea of equal representation is a powerful one, and one to aspire to. I’m really glad Rayouf decided to take action, and that the movement for a hijab emoji is getting so much attention.”
Alhumedhi herself was unavailable to comment immediately, but in a BuzzFeed interview on Tuesday she expressed how stunned she was by Unicode’s enthusiastic reaction to her initial pitch. After she submitted a short paragraph, the company assigned an emoji subcommittee member to work with her on creating a seven-page draft and connecting with Reddit and designers.
“The most I’ve written are lab reports at school, so this was really a new experience for me,” the teen told BuzzFeed.
In the Reddit AMA, Alhumedhi emphasized how many women and girls would benefit from her emoji project.
“You can’t go on with anything in life without facing a negative reaction,” Alhumedhi wrote. “There will be people opposed to it because they believe that it will represent ‘oppression’ or some other crap. But that is nothing to worry about, as this emoji will serve as a representation for millions across the globe.”
Mary Emily O'Hara is an LGBTQ reporter. Her work has appeared in Rolling Stone, NBC Out, Daily Dot, Broadly, Vice, the Daily Beast, the Advocate, Huffington Post, DNAinfo, Al Jazeera, and Portland's Pulitzer Prize-winning newsweekly Willamette Week, among other outlets.