Safia Mohamed Hussein – the hijab attired beauty queen
A beauty queen in a hijab! Yes, the beauty and fashion worlds are slowly but surely coming full circle. Today more young women do not have to choose between culture, religious beliefs and their dreams. And one such is Safia Mohamed Hussein. The 22-year-old beauty of Somali origin who holds the Miss Earth Somalia 2022 title never had to take off her hijab to realise her dream. But her journey has not been one without challenges. Below Safia talks about her aspirations, achievements, goals, staying true to her beliefs and her desire to end the stereotype view of Somalia.
Safia and I met at the Vice Versa Global offices in Nairobi for our interview. At the appointed time, the 5 feet 9 inches tall beauty queen walked in accompanied by a young man whom she introduced as her friend and bodyguard.Dressed in a stylish maxi orange long sleeved dress, complemented with her sparkling jeweled beauty queen’s crown that she wore on her immaculate white hijab. Safia was every part the beauty queen she is. She exuded confidence.
Of Somali origin, Safia was born and raised in Kenya where her parents sought refuge when they escaped political instability in Somalia. Kenya hosts the largest number of registered Somali refugees. In 2020, the UNHCR reported having registered 218,873 Somali refugees and asylum seekers in Kenya.While Somali boasts of the longest coastline in Africa, it has for decades been threatened by drought and desertification caused by climate change. It has also over the years been ravaged by war. Located in the Horn of Africa with a population of almost 14 million people, while women and girls in Somalia consist of fifty percent of the country’s population, women and men are far from equal.Globally, Somalia is placed fourth highest on the gender inequality index. This inequality is aggravated by poverty, disability, social class and harmful practices that violate women’s rights in Somalia. Women are exposed to gender-based violence and sexual violence, an issue that is heightened in areas of conflict.
That is why today, Safia is using her title as Miss Earth Somalia to bring to the forefront environmental protection and the rights of the girl child amongst the Somali community in Kenya.
Born in a strict Muslim family, Safia made her father proud after joining high school. “While in high school, I adored public speaking and always gave Arabic speeches during assembly time,” says Safia.Adding; “there is this one time I gave a speech in Arabic, it was recorded and broadcasted widely. This made my dad so proud. From then on, he began appreciating the role education played in my life and gave me his full support. He even bought me a phone for a gift.”Safia found herself drawn to the beauty and modeling world while in Class 6. Scrolling through the internet, she was star struck by the models and started dreaming of one day making it on the runway.
“There is this time we attended a relative’s wedding. For the first time, I wore makeup and felt so beautiful. I took a photo then posted it on social media and the only caption I could think of was ‘Miss Somalia’.”Little did she know that her dreams would one day come true. In 2017 she met Audrey Rendo from Reign Pageant Academy and expressed an interest in modelling. “She was very encouraging but had doubts about my making it in the industry based on my Muslin beliefs that do not allow women to expose their bodies. However, I wanted to try modeling without compromising my beliefs,” she explains.
Mastering the art of cat walking was no easy feat for Safia. After hours of training at the academy, she would then continue training at her home. Her hard work paid off when she took part in her first ever contest for the Reign Queen clad in a hijab.“It was heartbreaking to hear some of the judges saying I was not dressed appropriately. To them, I was overdressed for the runway, however deep down I knew I had done my best.” Safia never won the contest, but she still felt like a winner.She did not give up and went on to register for more modelling competitions. “In 2022 I competed for the Miss Africa Golden Kenya that took place in Nairobi.” She continues, “It was a very tough competition and once again I was the only Somalian among the contestants.
During the question-and-answer session I remember speaking passionately about my motherland Somalia, while I had never lived in Somalia, I have always been a proud Somalian,” says Safia. While the contest was to crown Miss Africa Golden Kenya, Safia was exceptionally crowned Miss Africa Golden Somalia which made it possible for her to represent Somalia on a global platform.
Winning the title provided her with the opportunity to travel to Somalia and prepare for the African competition. “It felt like a dream come true. Once in Somalia, I received a heroic welcome. I stayed in Somalia for eight months and realised there is more to Somalia than just the bad news we get from the media. There are wonderful parks for animals, there is a rich culture, and the people are wonderful. Though it broke my heart when I saw the drought affected areas.” Says Safia.
With support from the Somalian government, Safia later travelled to Nigeria to take part in the Miss Golden Africa representing Somalia. She made it to the top four. While she would have loved to win, Safia says this paved the way for more opportunities.Upon returning to Kenya, Safia received another invitation to travel to Uganda where she was crowned Miss Earth Somalia. It was the first time Somalia was represented at the Miss Earth Pageant.
Miss Earth is an annual international major beauty pageant based in the Philippines that advocates for environmental awareness, conservation and social responsibility. Along with Miss World, Miss Universe, and Miss International, it is one of the Big Four international beauty pageants.However, it has not been a walk in the park to get where she is today. Safia has met with scammers and is saddened by the sexual scandals within the industry. But this is not stopping her.
Today Safia is working to improve the lives of the Somali community in Eastleigh. She has equipped an already existing cultural Centre with Somalian artifacts in order to keep her culture alive amongst her community.“My idea was to create a ‘Somalia’ in Eastleigh where so many of us have been born and raised. The Awjama cultural Centre was simply a library before but through my idea and support from different sponsors, it is now transformed tremendously.”
She has also spearheaded several fundraisings in partnership with different sponsors to help the people in Garrisa, Wajir and Mandera in the Northern part of Kenya that were recently hit by drought.In addition to her duties as Miss earth Somalia, the second-year student, who is currently pursuing studies in project management and fashion also set up the Eastleigh Pageant Academy in March this year. Safia plans to use the academy to train young girls, mostly Muslim and of Somali in modeling, within a space where they are not judged, harassed or scammed.
“My dream is to have an annual international pageant that will be held in East Africa where contestants will be judged on personality and not only beauty, one that will allow Muslims to contest in hijabs and cover their bodies as much as they want,” says Safia.
Adding; “It will be a pageant that will contribute towards empowering young women and put an end to the discriminations many are faced with in the fashion and beauty industry.”