Apple's New Hijab Emoji Sparks Both Controversy and Hope
“I just wanted an emoji of me.”
Last year, Rayouf Alhumedhi was sitting in her bedroom in Berlin creating a group chat with her friends when she had a realization:
"The fact that there wasn't an emoji to represent me and the millions of other hijabi women across the world was baffling to me," she told CNN.
The Saudi-born teen decided to take action. She created a draft of a hijabi woman emoji and sent it to the Unicode Consortium, the nonprofit responsible for reviewing and developing new emojis.
“I just wanted an emoji of me,” she recalled.
On Monday night, her wish was granted. Alhumedhi found out “just like everyone else” that her emoji had been accepted; her friend messaged her a link to a Buzzfeed article which detailed the plans to release the new emojis in Apple products in the coming months.
Emojis have grown more inclusive over the past years, expanding their catalogue to feature a wide range of skin tones. Beyond the hijab, emoji is set to release gender neutral and breastfeeding women emojis later this year.
Apple’s inclusion of the headscarf-wearing emoji did not come without contention. Some people took to social media to express disapproval of the company’s decision. One user said that, by adding the hijab emoji, the company is expressing “support for the oppression of women.”
the hijab is a symbol of oppression. by including it as an emoji you are showing your support for the oppression of women.— Joeymp (@joeymp123) July 17, 2017
Alhumedhi is of the opposite mindset. Her family moved to the German capital from Saudi Arabia – a nation notorious for its oppression of women – when Rayouf was a child. She views the emoji she proposed as a means of increasing representation of Muslim women, and possibly even a vehicle to “indirectly promote tolerance.”
There has been a spike in hate crimes against Muslims since the 2016 United States presidential election. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) reports that 15% of the time, headscarves act as the trigger for attackers.
Alhumedhi hopes that the new emoji can help reduce the stigma against hijabs, and illustrate that the millions of women who choose to wear a headscarf are “normal people carrying out daily routines just like you.”