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The Hijab Emoji Project
via The Hijab Emoji Project

The 15-year-old Saudi girl behind the potential hijab emoji

Rayouf Alhumedhi’s proposal has gained the support of Reddit’s co-founders and emoji users worldwide. Here she discusses why it’s important for Apple to get inclusive

Since the emoji was introduced onto iPhones in 2011 we’ve seen little yellow smileys diversify in ways such as skin colour, gender and sexuality – the latter thanks to the recent introduction of a rainbow flag. For anyone who’d rather speak in pictures than an actual language (me), these additions have helped iPhone users all around the world feel able to represent their self more authentically. And, as controversial as it was of an announcement, the Oxford Dictionary naming the “Face with Tears of Joy” as 2015s word of the year only underlined our global interest of emoji.

While these advancements are promising, obviously, there’s still a while to go and one 15-year-old student from Saudi Arabia, studying at an English school in Germany, is taking matters into her own hands. Rayouf Alhumedhi submitted a proposal for the introduction of a hijab emoji and has received the support of Reddit’s co-founders.

“Roughly 550 million Muslim women on this earth pride themselves on wearing the hijab. With this enormous number of people, not a single space on the keyboard is reserved for them,” writes Alhumedhi in the proposal, highlighting the importance of the hijab to a woman’s identity, and as a signifier of their faith. “To say it’s an integral aspect of women’s lives is an understatement”

Although ranked as one of the most popular requests on Emojipedia, at the moment, the only app providing the option of the hijab is Bitmoji. As her proposal begins to gain momentum, we spoke with her about its progress and why it’s so important that her proposal is taken seriously.

Since you first submitted your proposal and have now gained the support of Reddit’s co-founders, have you had any updates you can share with us?

Rayouf Alhumedhi: We have created a website to keep people updated on the emoji. For now, the proposal is undergoing a few improvements. Alexis (Ohanian is the co-founder of Reddit) has been continuously promoting the proposal.

What has the reaction been since you shared your proposal?

Rayouf Alhumedhi: The reaction has definitely been mixed and that's to be expected. Some really are supporting the idea and have helped push it through signing petitions and requests. On the other hand, there were many not fully on board and believed that the hijab emoji would be an unnecessary addition.

Why do you think the hijab emoji has been overlooked until now?

Rayouf Alhumedhi: I personally believe that the inclusion of a headscarf emoji has been disregarded because no one formally did something about it. Although, petitions are helpful in getting some things done, they don't always prove to be the best method of implementing something. If more people were aware of how to submit and request an emoji, I believe a proposal would have been created a while back.

What do you think of emoji as being called a language?

Rayouf Alhumedhi: I think the emoji is referred to as a language because of its high amount of usage among today's society. There are several instances when I opted to type a whole text simply using emoji instead of words. Emoji really are a short cut, with what you want to say using five words, could be done with one emoji  (a picture is worth a thousand words).

You mention in your proposal that the headscarf is often seen as an item of oppression rather than a signifier of identity – why do you think this?

Rayouf Alhumedhi: The hijab is seen as a symbol of oppression by many due to the fact that several unfortunate incidents happened in which women were forced and assaulted to wear it. And these horrible events are what reach major news headlines, thus people generalise all women wearing the headscarf as being oppressed. Which is why it's extremely hard for people to grasp the notion that a Muslim woman can have a choice. I, my mother and my friends have a choice. And that choice is to wear the hijab.

What else would you like to see updated or included in the emoji keyboard?

Rayouf Alhumedhi: Before I sent in the proposal, I wanted for there to be females playing sports. Which is actually what has happened with the new IOS 10 update.