This Muslim Model Breaks Down Your Stereotypes About Islam in America

Living in America, land of the free, is pretty great all around, but we’ve got some major issues with the way we view, discuss, and interact with the religion of Islam. To say the least.

Naima Abdi, a 22-year-old African-American studies major at University of Minnesota — who you can find on Instagram at @sheikhyabootyy — agrees.

“There isn’t really an in-between when we consider Islam in America, and there should be an in-between,” she tells Galore. “I know many people who don’t wear hijabs and are still practicing. And it’s frustrating, because I have to work twice as hard, both as a black person and a Muslim. I always have to apologize for things that have nothing to do with me.”

Naima reached out to Galore to help us break down our about our most pressing questions about her aspiring model career, growing up Muslim, and of course, our favorite topic: sex and dating. Got another question? Don’t be afraid to ask her for answers. Open conversations are part of her religion.

What’s being a Muslim model like? Supermodel Coco Rocha won’t pose nude due to her religion — are you able to take off your hijab for pictures?

So I was originally scouted in Target, but every time I’ve talked to any agency, it’s pretty clear that there’s not much space for Muslim models in the fashion industry yet. There was a woman wearing a hijab in an H&M campaign last year, and I do think images of Muslim women will become more prevalent, especially we’re such a huge part of the market, but right now, I just don’t think I’m what designers are looking for. I can’t pose for pictures without my headscarf either, which I’ve been told over and over again that it would be a problem, unfortunately.

“As a Black person, and a Muslim in America, I always have to apologize for things that have nothing to do with me. I always have to explain or apologize for things I didn’t do.”

What does being Muslim mean for you on a daily basis?

I’m a practicing Muslim, but I’m more spiritual than religious. I try to pray five times a day, or as often as I can. My family doesn’t monitor me — they’re supposed to advise you, and teach you about religion, but as you grow up, it’s up to you to decide whether you want to do it or not.

Is it okay to talk about sex? Do you date?

Sex is a taboo subject, because you’re not supposed to have sex before marriage. My mom finds it really weird that sex is taught in school (the old generation mistakes between sex and sex education), but I think sex education is really important regardless of religion. There shouldn’t be a cultural factor to learning about your body. For example, I am on birth control, both for medical and personal reasons, but I won’t have sex before I get married. I date though! Also, my brother-in-law is Muslim, but half-German and half-Mexican—so in terms of who I date, my parents care more about religion than they do about culture, or race. 

“If you’ve never met a Muslim, then please, talk to me, I’m here, let’s have a dialogue—I will listen and I will hear you out.”

Are people actually outwardly racist to you?

Since the Paris attacks, the casual racism I’ve experienced on a daily basis has definitely escalated. People haven’t always outwardly reacted to me so strongly. I have had one situation where I got on the train going to a football game, and there was a white couple sitting across from me. The man looked at me, and then the woman looked at me. Right in front of my face, he said, “Do you want to move?” Then she looked me up and down again and said, “I don’t think she’ll do anything, it’s alright.”

I took my headphones and was like, “Excuse me? There’s plenty of space on this train, so you can let me know if there’s an issue.” And then both of them just seemed surprised that I said anything at all. 

“I’ve had a lot of experiences where I’ve had to explain to people that just because I’m an immigrant doesn’t mean I’m a freeloader.”

What does Islam teach you to do in those situations?

Recently, I was inside of a coffee shop, and I saw an old man on his computer, Googling terrorist memes, and writing all these incredibly hateful comments on YouTube videos. 

So I bought him a mint tea, and went up to him, and said, “Hey, you seem like you’re misinformed about Muslims and Islam, is there something you want to know?” In our culture, if you feel somebody is misinformed, you’re supposed to introduce yourself and talk about it. If you’ve never met a Muslim, then please, talk to me, I’m here, let’s have a dialogue — I will listen and I will hear you out.

Anyway, he looked at me, and he was like, “What?” No, thanks.”

Do you care about politics? 

I’m voting for Bernie Sanders. I do love Hilary, but I don’t think she’s the perfect candidate. I was very hurt by the Donald Trump campaign at first, especially about what he said about immigrants. I’ve had a lot of experiences where I’ve had to explain to people that just because I’m an immigrant doesn’t mean I’m a freeloader. When we moved from Somalia to the States, my mother was a maid, and worked multiple jobs. Three years of that, we stopped taking government assistance. I’m just interested in whatever way makes it possible to create open dialogues with people. 

What’s your favorite song right now?

I listen to everything, but “Master Blaster” by Stevie Wonder is my jam right now.

Do you drink and/or go out?

No alcohol. I’ve tried it when I was a little younger, because that’s when everybody was starting drink beer and wine and stuff. But I tasted it, and was like okay, ew, no, this is gross. I go out though! It’s so cold right now, but in the summer, I love going to movie theaters, galleries, and whatever is going on in the twin cities. 

And so why’d you choose to tell your story to Galore?

I was reading an article that you guys wrote about Kylie Jenner, and I just thought the whole site was so awesome, and so empowering for women. At the same time, I reached out to a bunch of other magazines, and all of them told me, no, sorry, we’re not looking for content like this at the moment. I think it’s so awesome that you guys are into showing so many sides of empowering women!  •

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