Muslim teen is on a quest to create a hijab-themed emoji - here's her story
Posted September 25, 2016
A Muslim teen has issued a passionate appeal to the organization that oversees the creation of emojis, proposing a number of symbols that represent her faith, including a man wearing a keffiyeh (headscarf) and a woman wearing a hijab.
Rayouf Alhumedhi, 15, wrote a proposal to Unicode Consortium, the group that oversees such pitches, saying she believes it is essential that Muslims be represented. She wrote that "pictures prove to be a crucial element in communication" in the "age of digitalization," according to The Huffington Post.
Alhumedhi, who lives in Germany, also noted that, while the hijab is deeply tied to Islam, faithful women from other religious traditions also wear headscarves. She believes it is essential that these people receive digital representation.
"Emojis are more impactful and utilized than ever before," she wrote in her proposal. "Millions use them to convey feelings, appearances and stories."
With so many people — especially women — wearing headscarves, the proposal said that offering related emojis simply makes sense.
"Roughly 550 million Muslim women on this earth pride themselves on wearing the hijab," the proposal continued. "With this enormous number of people, not a single space on the keyboard is reserved for them."
Alhumedhi's proposal has already earned the support of Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, who helped the Saudi-born teenager host an "Ask Me Anything" event on the platform the other day.
Alhumedhi told the BBC that she came up with the idea for the emoji series while chatting with her friends on social media.
Each girl in the chat chose an emoji to represent themselves, but Alhumedhi quickly realized there wasn't any images available to represent a hijab-wearing woman such as herself. She told Motherboard in an interview that she couldn't understand why.
"There was no reason not to have it," she told the outlet.
In a separate interview with the BBC, Alhumedhi further expounded on why she believes it's important for Muslim women and men to see themselves represented on keyboards across the globe.
"There are so many Muslim women in this world who wear the headscarf. It might seem trivial," she said. "But it's different when you see yourself on the keyboard around the world. Once you experience that, it's really great."
Alhumedhi said she first sent an email to Apple about her idea, but never heard back. Then, a few months ago, she drafted the official Unicode proposal — an effort that grabbed the attention of Jennifer Lee, a woman who sits on Unicode's emoji subcommittee, according to Motherboard.
Lee helped Alhumedhi refine the proposal, which is now being officially considered before the committee. She also connected the teen with Ohanian, who has been incredibly supportive throughout the process.
Ohanian published an Instagram post Wednesday saying he's proud to be working with Lee and Alhumedhi on the proposal, saying that Alhumedhi is "easily among the most impressive 15 year olds" he's met.
"Emoji have become such a big part of our communication ... that to leave out hundreds of millions of people is glaring," he wrote. "As a white American man I've greatly benefited from the different perspectives I've found on communities like r/islam where people are speaking freely about feeling marginalized."
Ohanian said emojis are an excellent and simple way to help people feel connected and represented.
The push for hijab-themed emojis comes as debate in Europe rages over head coverings and other related religious attire. Most recently, the "burkini" made headlines, with debate over restrictions on head coverings continuing to ensue.
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