Muslim Refugee Makes History At Miss USA Pageant

Published November 28, 2016
Updated March 16, 2021

The first Muslim contestant in the Miss USA pageant to ever wear the religion’s traditional attire took the stage this past Sunday.

Halima Aden, who was born in a Kenyan refugee camp before moving to the U.S. when she was six, made history when she competed at the Miss Minnesota USA pageant while wearing a hijab. The 19-year-old then wore a burkini during the swimsuit competition.

Speaking to CBS, Aden said that she hopes that her performance is an opportunity to combat misconceptions about Islam.

“For a really long time I thought being different was a negative thing. But as I grew older, I started to realize we are all born to stand out, nobody is born to blend in,” Aden said. “How boring would this world be if everyone was the same?”

The Somali-American teen has worn a hijab her entire life, according to Minnesota Public Radio, who Aden spoke to before the pageant. Aden told them that she’s used to bullies ridiculing her for her beliefs, but added that it mostly came from those lacking any understanding about her religious and cultural beliefs to begin with.

“This pageant is so much more than just beauty. Their whole message is being confidently beautiful, so I didn’t think that I should allow my hijab to get into the way of me participating,” Aden said. “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.”

Furthermore, Aden said that the pageant has come at a time when her community is especially in need of positive representation. Indeed, racial slurs against Muslims and other ethnic groups have appeared across Minnesota, and the U.S. as a whole, in the weeks since President-elect Donald Trump’s surprise victory earlier this month.

“What I wanted to do was to just give people a different perspective,” Aden said. “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.”

However, while Aden made it to semifinals, she did not advance to the finals. Ultimately, Minneapolis’ Meridith Gould was instead crowned Miss Minnesota, and will thus go on to compete in the 2017 Miss USA pageant.

Trump himself once owned that very pageant, but infamously sold it off after two television partners refused to broadcast the pageant upon hearing Trump’s negative campaign comments about Mexican immigrants.

Watch the videos below to see Aden compete for yourself:

Next, read about CoverGirl’s first hijab-wearing Muslim spokeswoman, before checking out the more than 200 incidents of harassment that have occurred since Donald Trump was elected president.

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John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.