On Thursday, June 2, members of UC Irvine’s Muslim Student Union gathered at Delta Hotels by Marriott in Garden Grove for the club’s banquet.

Banquets are an occasion to dress up, and for student and model Rahan Alemi, they’re also a time to express herself through fashion.

No matter the occasion however, Alemi has one accessory she wears with every outfit: hijab.

“One huge aspect of hijab is people assume that we are oppressed if we wear hijab,” said Alemi, “but it is actually quite the opposite. Hijab gives me liberty, hijab gives me freedom … freedom from societal standards and beauty standards.”

Hijab is a head covering worn by some Islamic women, but it refers to more than just a head scarf. Hijab is a lifestyle that has a commitment to living modestly with love for God at its center.

Alemi said when she began modeling for Muslim-owned fashion brands last year, she began to embrace hijab.

“It was around 2021 that I started modeling for Muslim companies and modest clothing companies that also sold hijab and modest clothing and dresses,” said Alemi. “That is what got me into practicing hijab outside of home and outside of the mosque.”

Alemi said as she increased her knowledge of her religion and applied it to her life, she fell in love with the meaning behind the practice and felt empowered wearing the Islamic head-covering.

“It really made me feel happy and comfortable and proud to be wearing it,” Alemi said.

In August 2021, Alemi committed to wearing hijab fully.

“I had been wanting to wear hijab for a couple years, but I never had the courage or strength to actually follow through with it, with the way society is. I was honestly scared of how I might be treated or the opportunities I may lose because of judgment and stereotypes,” said Alemi.

Rahan Alemi began wearing a hijab full time in August 2021.

Rahan Alemi began wearing a hijab full time in August 2021.

(Spencer Grant)

Alemi is the first woman in her Afghan family to make such a commitment.

“I am the first woman in my family on both my mom and dad’s side to be wearing hijab. At first it was a difficult concept because within our culture many people don’t wear hijab” said Alemi. “It is a stereotype that it is an Arab culture thing, but in reality it is an Islamic thing.”

Alemi, who has been active on social media since 2019, also removed all photos and videos that showed her hair. Her family became impressed with her commitment.

“Eventually, my family saw my love and passion for it, and now I am so happy to have my parents and my siblings be so proud of me for taking that step not only for our family but for our community,” Alemi said.

Alemi continues to be active on social media, posting herself in high-fashion outfits or modest swimwear, but always with hijab. This year during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, Alemi teamed up with Human Concern International to raise money for orphans and children in need in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Syria and more.

“Human Concern International is a nonprofit organization that reached out to big influencers who can make an impact and raise money in order to help,” said Alemi.

Alemi’s campaign raised $1,245.

Rahan Alemi poses for a selfie as her sister Ombahran watches.

Rahan Alemi poses for a selfie as her sister Ombahran watches.

(Spencer Grant)

She said her platform has also allowed her to make connections with other Muslim women in the community.

“Being a role model for other woman online, I have had many people reach out to me saying how much I helped them in their journey, by seeing my journey. I have been on social media for years now, and for my IG followers and my new followers, to see a young woman in Southern California surrounded my non-Muslims being able to do that for myself is very inspiring for them.”

Her representation of hijabi woman isn’t just online but at fashion events in real life.

“At OC Fashion Week, I was invited as a model and influencer and was the only hijabi woman there,” said Alemi. “It was a surprise to many people as well because they were not expecting to see that, or they weren’t expecting to see [a] Muslim woman in the fashion industry.”

Rahan Alemi poses for a selfie as seen on her cellphone screen.

Rahan Alemi poses for a selfie as seen on her cellphone screen.

(Spencer Grant)

Alemi said attending events like OC Fashion Week give her a chance to demonstrate that women who wear hijab are not necessarily oppressed.

“They can see that I am not what people may stereotype Muslim woman to be,” said Alemi. “Many of my friends and my peers have told me they are so happy to have a representative like me to show that Muslim woman aren’t oppressed and they are allowed to be creative and be artistic and express what they love to do.”

Alemi graduated from Irvine Valley College this year and will be attending UCI in the fall, where she plans to be active in the Muslim Student Union and pursue a degree in law, all while wearing hijab.

“My hijab is my crown,” said Alemi. “I am really proud of it.”

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