You may have noticed lately that Muslim women in headscarves have been popping up more and more in ads for American businesses.
Recent incidents include a supermarket spot featuring a Black woman in hijab, a Muslim mother enjoying cookies with her daughter for a department store ad, and an image of two hijab-clad college students enjoying a break between classes.
These images, of course, aren’t necessarily new, but the frequency with which hijabi women are being featured in nationwide ad spots on television and across social media seems to have increased.
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With World Hijab Day, founded by Nazma Khan, marks its ninth year on Feb. 1, the new development seems fitting, and Joyce Ait-Ali, a 44-year-old Muslim-American convert, called it a step in the right direction.
“It excites me to see increased representation of hijabi women in advertising. While Muslims account for just over one percent of the total U.S. population, the Muslim community continues to grow steadily in America. It is only fair that this is reflected in advertising,” she told AboutIslam.
She called the imagery a positive development, particularly in light of some news coverage of American Muslims.
“I find the news (about Muslims) is negative or unfavorable, and the general public adopts these distorted views of Muslims, but ads can capture more realistic images, with diverse people in the real world doing real activities,” Ait-Ali said.
Maryam Han, a 15-year-old Muslim high school student in Houston, Texas, admitted she’s noticed the ads because “they stand out because you don’t see many people with headscarfs on (in media),” but said, in this day and age and especially for kids her age, it’s not such a big deal in terms of people’s reaction.
“For a while now it’s been so obvious that they weren’t just putting white people in ads anymore, but there are still less hijabi women that we see,” she said. “But still, when you see hijabi women you realize they’re just regular people.”
Maryam said the prevalence of social media and young people’s use of it has helped to shape her generation’s more accepting and open-minded views about the world and the people in it, particularly on the issue of racism and general negativity toward people who don’t look or believe like they do. She described it as being “woke.”
“On social media you can see people from around the world, and we’re exposed to more things, so we know not to mock someone’s cultural beliefs,” she said.
In fact, Maryam said being racist is decidedly uncool to most of her peers.
“If you’re racist at my age people will be like, ‘Come on, are you serious right now?’” she said.
Still, she admitted there are outliers. She’s heard a few of her male peers refer to the visibly Muslim students at her school as “weird and uneducated,” but she said they and their opinions are definitely in the minority.
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Those “weird and uneducated” sentiments aren’t completely surprising to Ait-Ali. She said she understands some Americans will be turned off by ads prominently featuring Muslim women in hijab.
“Those are the same people who struggle with accepting the changing demographics of America,” she said.
“They might think increased representation of hijabi women is done intentionally to sell Islam. Whether this type of advertising campaign will be effective, of course, depends on who views the ads and if they keep an open mind.
“Maybe naysayers will be able to connect with something they see, and these ads can help them move toward a greater acceptance of people different from themselves. Some people, however, will remain unconvinced of the advertisements’ significance.”
Despite what some “naysayers” may think or those young high schoolers who view their Muslim classmates as strange and foreign, Ait-Ali said World Hijab Day is a wonderful opportunity for all women to stand in solidarity with their Muslim counterparts and hopes the event and the ads with Muslim women provide society with more positive awareness of Islam.
For Maryam, who plans to adopt the hijab when she heads to college, she said she’s just grateful to be coming of age in a time when more people are accepted and able to live how they want to live, even if that means donning a hijab.
“I’m excited about wearing it in college,” she said. “I’m ready to find cool styles to wear it in and to match it to my outfits.”