Emojis have become an integral part of mobile phone communication to the majority of people. As of writing this, 1,486,034,189 people have used the “Face with Tears of Joy Emoji” on twitter since 2013. It’s not only teens who have become dependent on emojis to express themselves; a 2015 study found that around 76% of 25-29 year olds used emojis frequently while more than 60% of the 35+ group reported using emojis frequently too. Beyond their popularity, a further indication of the emoji becoming an accepted in the public consciousness was the Oxford Dictionaries decision to award 2015’s Word of the Year to the “Face with Tears of Joy” emoji.
To much fanfare, last year was the year in which the emoji keyboard took a significant step towards being more racially inclusive. Prior to this, most of the human faces on offer were a default and unchangeable white/pale colour. This left darker toned individuals having to compromise their racial identity when selecting a face to represent themselves. The new range of colours, spanning the Fitzpatrick scale of human skin colour, allowed users to opt for one of five skin tones, or chose the default yellow colour that was outside of this scale. While the way in which this attempt at inclusiveness was not without detractors, including some who argued that while the tones were darker, the facial features were not diverse, on the whole it’s fair to say that this was seen as a positive step. So it might not be the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, or the Racial Equality Act of 1976, but it’s another step in the right direction.
Barring the Kaba’s addition to the last update of the emoji keyboard, which is in itself a nice touch, there are no other emojis that explicitly represent Muslims. Enter the 15-year-old pioneering spirit of Rayouf AlHumedhi. This Germany-based, Saudi Arabian teen decided that it was time for Hijabis to be represented on the emoji keyboard. A further testament to the power being harnessed by young people and their interaction with social media is found in knowing that Rayouf discovered how to propose an emoji by way of a Snapchat story. She composed a two-page justification and sent it to the Unicode Consortium, the company assigned the task of updating the emoji keyboard. The proposal caught the eye of Jennifer Lee, one of Unicode’s subcommittee members who offered to help Rayouf in her proposal. The proposal was accepted and will be included in the next Unicode emoji update, expected to be coming in mid-2017.
It’s important to note that Rayouf’s proposal also includes a man with a keffiyeh, which would further add to the diversity of emojis. And it’s not only Muslim women who might benefit too; as Rayouf points out, Orthodox Jewish women and female believers in Eastern Orthodox Christianity also wear headscarves and so also have a stake in this move. It’s not only women from religious communities who wear headscarves, it can be worn by individuals with cancer or can simply be used as a fashion accessory. The success of Rayouf’s proposal is another step in the right direction towards increasing the visibility of hijabis, a recognition of their existence and perhaps most importantly in these turbulent times, a normalisation of their use. At a time when some are trying to associate the hijab with extremism, their inclusion on the emoji keyboard will be a welcome statement about their benign-ness. The success of Rayouf’s proposal is a victory for anyone who appreciates diversity and acknowledges the beauty in our different ways of dressing.