As one of the largest and most diverse schools in New Jersey, Clifton High School pleasantly surprised many with its student vote of Abrar Shahin, a Muslim girl who wears hijab, as the “best-dressed” of Class of 2015.
To Shahin the award represents something greater than a popularity contest. She was honored to receive it from fellow students, especially given recent Islamophobic tensions across the United States.
“I really believe that’s the beauty of my generation,” said Shahin, 18 years old. “We are more accepting, and we’ve learned from the mistakes of the past.”
Shahin said acceptance comes with time, as today’s American Muslims are now being embraced in various subcultures all over the nation. “People are starting to look past the hijab, and see who we really are.”
As the youngest of six siblings who also attended the school, Shahin and her family were amazed to hear about the award. In the past, no one from her family has received any award from their class vote.
“My friends admit that their parents may not share their views when it comes to race,” said Shahin. “But growing up surrounded by diversity really changes things.” She added that misrepresentation in the media doesn’t help with public opinion of Islam and that Muslims shouldn’t have to be afraid of getting stopped every time they step into an airport.
However, Shahin feels safer and more confident while donning the hijab. Shahin said not only does the hijab represent strength and independence, it gives her the power to let people see who she truly is – and not just what she looks like.
Shahin began to wear the head covering when she was 13. “I started the summer before seventh grade, so I was terrified what that first day of school would be like,” Shahin said. “But it turned out just fine, and my family was there for me through it all.” Shahin’s sisters had gone through the experience as well.
Yasmine Helwani, classmate and friend of Shahin, said she was not surprised by the award. “We all voted for her because it’s clear she should win,” Helwani said. “Her fashion is unique and she’s gotten more bold and expressive over the years.”
Helwani said that despite negative views of Muslims and stereotypes about the hijab, Shahin had managed to celebrate her fashion and faith simultaneously.
Having been friends with Shahin for over five years, Yomna Elbeyali said she is proud of her for preserving her identity while proving others wrong about their misconceptions of Muslims. “Holding on to our identity is what’s gotten us this far,” said Elbeyali.
Given her great enthusiasm for fashion, the award reaffirmed Shahin’s success in creating an Islamic wardrobe adapted for American trends. “For me it’s important to maintain my modesty, but that doesn’t mean I have to hate what I wear.”
Inspired by hijabi fashion bloggers online, Shahin says her own Muslim community has been very supportive. “Many of the girls in my community are also very interested in fashion, so we love to share ideas and create new ways to wear modern trends in an appropriate way.”
Shahin graduated from high school in June and looks forward to new experiences at Rutgers University, hoping for an environment as accepting as Clifton’s.