the hijab emoji project
a fight for representation
September 2016 fell in the midst of the refugee crisis in Europe, and naturally also the rise of islamophobia around where I lived. Growing up in Berlin and Vienna, any discussions about the hijab or Muslim women were almost always followed by a comment regarding our presumed oppression (often being spewed in a room full of non-Muslims.)
i felt a growing frustration over the misconstrued messages being had and wanted to do something about it. The best way I knew how? an emoji!
i pursued the project with two goals in mind:
Representation: As a young Muslim woman, I didn't like how I was being represented in the media; always in a negative light and I know my peers thought the same. An emoji was something fun and light-hearted and in many ways a symbolic message of the future
Dialogue: I believed that there was a strong need to recenter the conversation being had about Muslim women's choices so that it finally includes us. I hoped that the project would fuel an open dialogue about the hijab as a choice.
Hijab Emoji Proposal to Unicode Consortium
Media Campaigns: CNN, BBC, Reddit AMA
Pitch to Unicode Consortium in SF
Always Arabia Campaign
MIT Solve Speech
Tribeca Film Festival
Cooper Hewitt Muesuem Acquires Hijab Emoji
In order to make my idea come to fruition, I wrote a 7 paged proposal to Unicode, detailing the importance of including the 'Woman with Headscarf' emoji with insights into its expected frequency usage, compatibility, and transiency.
Working with Unicode Emoji Subcommittee Vice-Chair, Jenny 8. Lee, Reddit Co-Founder Alexis Ohanian, and Designer Aphe Messer, I made multiple drafts to make it as robust as possible.
Now, my next step was to get the whole world on board with my plans.
First stop: San Jose, CA.
I pitched my idea to a team of Google, Apple, and Twitter engineers and answered nuanced questions like "What should the official name of the emoji be: hijab or headscarf?"
Second Stop: Reddit
Working with Reddit Co-Founder Alexis Ohanian, we scheduled an "Ask Me Anything"on the Sub-Reddit TwoX Chromosomes and answered tough sociopolitical questions about the hijab. In hindsight, I realize that answering complex political questions was a crazy responsibility I assumed on myself at 15.
The ball was finally rolling! Now - it's time to make some noise. In the span of two weeks in September, I talked to 15 different media outlets, ranging from CNN to BBC to NYT. I would crawl out of my chemistry class to talk to reporters at the Washington Post, doing everything in my power to convince the world that representation was long overdue.
between Sep 2016 to Nov 2017, I also was featured in a documentary titled 'The Emoji Story.' A surreal experience with no doubt.
Though I was overwhelmed by the support I got from young Muslim women around the world, I also faced harsh criticism about what I wanted to do. While I was receiving a wave of supportive dms, I was also getting hate letters sent to my home and trolls harassing me on the internet.
I came out of this experience with thicker skin, realizing that any worthwhile initiative will always stir up some trouble.
A few years later, you may be wondering what's the legacy of the emoji?
Well, in January 2021, it was acquired by the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian museum to be included in their Cellphone: Unseen Connections exhibition. it's a surreal ending to my journey; knowing that something I created at 15 will be memorialized for future generations to learn about warms my heart.