A Somali-Norwegian model whose Instagram post criticising a proposed ban on the hijab in France went viral has said she wants to fight “deeply rooted stereotypes” against Muslim women.
Rawdah Mohamed posted a selfie on Instagram with “hands off my hijab” written on her hand, starting a campaign that has been trending on Twitter, Instagram and TikTok.
Handsoffmyhijab, along with its counterpart #PasToucheAMonHijab, has been taken up by the Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad and the US congresswoman Ilhan Omar, as well thousands of women internationally. They have used the hashtag to protest against the French senate’s vote to ban anyone under 18 from wearing the garment in public.
“I started the hashtag as I felt the need to humanise the movement,” Mohamed told the Guardian. “Ethnic minority women are always spoken for. I wished to take back the control of our narratives and tell our stories.”
Mohamed added that the proposed legislation “stems from discrimination and deeply rooted stereotypes against Muslim women”.
France was the first country to ban the niqab in public spaces, in April 2011, and French towns have banned the burkini, starting a national conversation around nationalism, identity and feminism.
“I wanted my oppressors to see my face and the women who look like me,” she said. “They don’t get to hide in their luxurious parliament offices and regulate women’s bodies without a fight.”
On Instagram, Mohamed wrote: “The hijab ban is hateful rhetoric coming from the highest level of government and will go down as an enormous failure of religious values and equality.”
The model went on to relate a story of being told that she could not wear her hijab to school as an anti-bullying measure. “Sitting in a room full of adults discussing my body and what I could and couldn’t wear as a young girl left more scarring than the bullying itself,” she explained. She said it only made the bullying worse. “I have lost count of the many times I was rejected for a job because of my hijab and not because of my lack of skill.”
Speaking of her experience in the fashion industry, she claimed she had been rejected for lots of jobs because clients feared a backlash from politicians and the media for featuring a woman in a hijab in advertising campaigns.
“I constantly have to fight against inaccurate representation and biased perceptions coming from the highest level of government, which is further perpetuated with the general public [and] the fashion industry,” she said.