Burkini-wearing SI model draws ire from across the political spectrum

NEW YORK — There’s one thing people on the left and right can agree on in this contentious political climate: showcasing a Muslim woman in a hijab and burkini in the pages of Sports Illustrated’s annual swimsuit issue is a controversial concept.

The model in question, Halima Aden, has a wonderful story to tell. The Somali-American was originally born in a refugee camp in Kenya, where she lived until age seven before moving to the United States. By age 19, Halima became the first woman to wear a hijab in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant, where she was a semifinalist.

“I keep thinking [back] to six-year-old me who, in this same country, was in a refugee camp,” Halima told the magazine’s website on Monday. “So to grow up to live the American dream [and] to come back to Kenya and shoot for SI in the most beautiful parts of Kenya — I don’t think that’s a story that anybody could make up.”

It certainly isn’t a story anyone can make up, but is the photo spread tasteful? Sports Illustrated thinks so. The issue featuring women in skimpy swimsuits dates back to the 1960s. Over that arc of time, the swimsuit edition has been controversial to religious Christians who deem it as inappropriate content. Feminists, largely on the political left, have also expressed the view that, as the National Organization for Women, once said “promotes the harmful and dehumanizing concept that women are a product for male consumption.”

Add a burkini and hijab to the mix and the woman to appear in the spread with arguably more clothes on than any other model in the magazine’s history has made for some controversy.

Why feature Aden in a burkini and hijab?

“We believe beauty knows no boundaries,” said SI Swimsuit editor MJ Day. “I admire Halima, and I consider her an inspirational human for what she has decided to use her platform for and her work with Unicef as an ambassador. She is, in my opinion, one of the great beauties of our time, not only outside but inside. When we met, I was instantaneously taken by her intelligence, enthusiasm and authenticity.”

In a 2017 BBC interview, Aden called her hijab a “crown" and explained how fashion designers react to her religious headwear.

“It’s almost surprising we haven't seen a hijab-wearing model,” she said. “It should be normal, it shouldn't be any different to any other model.”

The mainstream news coverage of Aden’s SI spread has largely been positive. Words like “history” and “empowering” were frequently used to describe Aden’s photoshoot.

Not everyone liked it. Social media platforms, such as Twitter, have erupted over the past 24 hours with posts that were either pro or con Aden’s magazine spread.

Aside from calling the the notion to highlight a burkini as “absurd,” some thought it even endorsed Sharia, a religious law derived from Islamic traditions that has been used to govern several countries in the Mideast and other Muslim-majority nations around the world.

The issue, which will be available on newsstands May 8, also drew the ire of others who claimed it elevated Islam over other faiths.

Some on Twitter took it as an opportunity to poke fun at the photos, imagining what it would be like if Roman Catholics and even Amish women were to be featured in the future.