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Muslims Who Model – Part 3 of 3: Ikram Abdi Omar

Ikram Abdi Omar in a brown hijab. (Vogue, 2018). Photo Credit: Vogue Magazine.

This series has so far explored the lives of two models who refuse to wear the hijab when modeling. Ikram Abdi Omar is an exception.  It’s her goal in modelling to represent her religion authentically by insisting on wearing the hijab.

Growing Up Multicultural

Omar was born in Stockholm, Sweden to a Muslim family.  At a young age, the family moved to Bristol, UK.  When Omar was old enough, he parents sent her to live in Africa for six months.  Once there, she attended an Islamic private school which reinforced her faith.  As a child, Omar loved to play with makeup and loved to dress up which made her eventually pursue a career in modeling.

Rocking the Runway

In an interview with Emma Davidson of DazedOmar said, “I was modelling for some brands and keeping up with fashion on my social media, and eventually I applied to become a model with the agency I’m now with. I was really nervous, but they loved me, so I signed with them there and then. Since then I’ve been working with the likes of The Modist, whose front cover I was on recently. And then that led to walking for Molly Goddard at London Fashion Week.”

Ikram walks the runway during London Fashion Week. (Haute Hijab, 2018)

Omar is signed to Bookings Management and is the second hijab wearing woman to be signed to a modelling agency ever.

The hijab is a controversial headscarf that Muslim women wear as a sign of devotion to God and to protect their modesty.

The fashion world has generally been void of the hijab, but Ikram Abdi Omar is determined to change that.

In an interview with BBC, Omar said, “I’ve always looked into magazines and have always seen not enough representation and I thought that I could be the person to change that.  I’m most definitely not oppressed. It is a choice of mine to wear my headscarf.  It liberates me.  I feel strong, powerful, confident and it’s who I am.”

The History of Hijab

When Omar said that it’s a choice for her to wear the hijab, she’s not joking.

In the Quran, the word ‘hijab’ is used to define a literal and metaphorical curtain that separated visitors from Mohammed’s house and his wives’ dwelling.

Over time, this idea of a curtain shrouding the wives of Muhammed became a physical representation.  Women began to cover their hair, upper chests and most parts of the body except the face, hands and feet.

Modern hijabs are a required garment for women to wear outside the house in some countries like Saudi Arabia, but generally, women have the right to choose to wear it.

In parts one and two of this series, models like Shanna Bukhari were ostracized by their community for not wearing a hijab.  The hijab is culturally significant, traditional and one of Islam’s oldest practices.  This makes it hard for non-Muslims to understand that wearing it is a choice.

Mira Muhammed from the Denver Islamic Society said, “It’s nice to see women like Ikram breaking down these walls because not everyone is blonde with big hair.  Some of us keep our hair covered because we want to.  Many will say that the hijab is a sign of oppression, but the only kind of oppression I see are fashion companies looking over an entire population of people who want to feel pretty too.  When I see Ikram in magazines, it makes me feel excited for an inclusive world.”

Ikram strikes a pose in a black outfit covered from head to toe. (Bookings, 2018)

Reshaping Diversity

As the second model to be signed to a modelling agency who gave her the freedom to wear the hijab, Ikram Abdi Omar is on a path to redefine what a model can be in 2018.

On the topic of her trail blazing success, Omar said, “I hope that we’ll see a shift to fashion becoming a more diverse, inclusive place that reflects the multicultural world we live in. There are so many different kinds of beauty and I hope to see a broader range of it celebrated on the catwalk.”

Whether you’re a model who wears a hijab or one who doesn’t, it’s a brave step forward for Muslim women who wish to walk the catwalk.  As they shed some layers or stay covered up, the fashion world is on its was to becoming a more inclusive place.

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