LONDON A Somali-American teen has made history after she wore a burkini and a hijab when participating in the semifinal of the Miss Minnesota USA pageant.
Halima Aden was met with rapturous applause when she stepped out on stage in a burkini during the swimsuit segment of the contest.
The 19-year-old St Cloud college student was born in a refugee camp in Kenya, which borders Somalia, and moved Minnesota as a young child.
A burkini is a full-body wetsuit that covers the torso, limbs and head and is worn by some Muslim women. The garment became the centre of a controversial debate in France earlier this year, after officials in at least six towns on the Mediterranean coast banned women from wearing it on beaches.
“This pageant is so much more than just beauty. Their whole message is about being confidently beautiful, so I didn’t think that I should allow my hijab to get into the way of me participating,” Aden told Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) ahead of the competition.
“This is a great platform to show the world who I am. Just because I’ve never seen a woman wearing a burkini (in a pageant) it doesn’t mean that I don’t have to be the first,” Aden continued.
Indeed, Aden’s participation is particularly poignant given the recent reports of hate crimes directed towards American Muslims. In the immediate aftermath of the U.S. presidential election, Muslim women expressed fears on social media about wearing the hijab in public. Recently, a Muslim woman at San Jose State University in California reportedly had her hijab ripped off her head.
Aden told MPR that she wanted to show people a different perspective through her participation.
“We just needed one more thing to unify us. This is a small act, but I feel like having the title of Miss Minnesota USA when you are a Somali-American, when you are a Muslim woman, I think that would open up people’s eyes,” Aden continued.
Sadly, Aden won’t be progressing to the next round of the competition. Posting on Facebook on Sunday night, the student said the contest had been “such a fun experience” and that she had been inundated with private messages of support.
Halima Aden didn’t immediately respond to Mashable’s request for comment.