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Teen behind new hijab emoji: 'I just wanted an emoji of me'

Posted July 18

Headscarf-wearing women now have an emoji of their own, thanks to a 16-year-old Saudi girl.

Rayouf Alhumedhi, who now lives in Vienna, proposed the idea last year to The Unicode Consortium, the non-profit corporation that reviews and develops new emojis.

And she's delighted that Apple accepted it. It was unveiled Monday on World Emoji Day as one of a collection of new emoji characters available on Apple devices later this year.

"I'm really happy with what it looks like," Alhumedhi told CNN on Tuesday. "I saw so many ideas, different colors and styles but I didn't know what it would finally look like. I'm just so excited because it's finally came out after all the work, all the writing."

Alhumedhi saw the new emoji for the first time Monday night when a friend sent her a message linking to a BuzzFeed article. "I got the news just like everybody else!" she said.

Lack of hijabi emoji was 'baffling'

She first had the idea in her bedroom in Berlin, where she lived with her family for five years after moving to the German capital from Saudi Arabia.

"My friends and I were creating a group chat on WhatsApp," Alhumedhi told CNN in an interview last year, "and I obviously had no emoji to represent me."

"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 said. "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 from different races do wear it."

She drafted a proposal on her laptop and sent it to Unicode. "I did it very quickly. I did not understand how big a deal this was," she said Tuesday, reflecting on the process.

And she quickly gathered support. Jennifer 8. Lee, a member of the Unicode emoji subcommittee, put Alhumedhi in touch with Aphee Messer, who worked with the teenager to design the emoji.

Although many people were supportive, some described the emoji as "unnecessary" and a "part of patriarchal constructs that oppress women."

Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit, also backed her proposal and hosted an online discussion where Alhumedhi talked about her idea and responded to critics.

Although many people were supportive, some in the discussion described the emoji as "unnecessary" and a "part of patriarchal constructs that oppress women."

And reaction on social media since Monday's announcement has been equally mixed.

"The hijab is a symbol of oppression," wrote Joeymp on Twitter, replying to a tweet by Apple's CEO Tim Cook. "By including it as an emoji you are showing your support for the oppression of women."

"They are coming out with a woman wearing a hijab and a breastfeeding mom emoji," wrote ANEGIRL. "My faith in humanity is slowly being restored."

'The Muslim community will benefit'

The Unicode Consortium has dramatically increased the number of official emoji in recent years. It has approved 2,666 emoji as of June, up from 722 just two years ago. It's also made a greater effort to include diverse skin tones, flags and occupations.

Alhumedhi is aware that the emoji is contentious. "It will cause controversy," she said Tuesday. "Some people will try and pervert it, use the emoji in a hurtful way to perpetuate stereotypes.

"But overall, I think the Muslim community will benefit from it. Even if only in terms of representation. It's only an emoji. It's not a game changer. But it will make people happy. I hope so."

And she hopes it will promote tolerance too. Once women wearing headscarves "begin to show up on our phones, that will establish that notion that we are normal people carrying out daily routines just like you," she said last year.

"I wanted to be represented, as simple as that. I just wanted an emoji of me."

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