Previously known by her handle The Tattooed Hijabi, Kendyl Noor Aurora rose to social media fame following the growth of her “modest fashion” blog and a stint on MTV’s docuseries True Life. Loved and hated for her alternative approach to Islam, Aurora has been criticized for her tattoos, wearing the hijab part-time and for being an outspoken pansexual/queer Islamic convert.
Frustrated by MTV’s representation of her identity on True Life and unable face an onslaught of critique from the Muslim community, Aurora deleted her blog and social media accounts in 2015. After spending a year travelling and studying she is back online, and while The Tattooed Hijabi is no longer, Aurora remains active on Twitter and Instagram, speaking out on halal beauty practices and LGBTQ issues within the Muslim community.
Raised by a Roman Catholic family in upstate New York, Aurora began her path to self discovery at age 16 when she decided to forgo confirmation at the local church. It was around the same time that she got her first tattoo, became “straight-edge,” and started working in the music industry. “I thought that was going to be my career until I got sick,” Aurora says of her time working as a tour assistant. “My GI condition was just affecting my work too much, the amount of physical labour, no sleep, and high stress was just not good for it. I had to re-route my life and that was where Islam came in.”
After converting at age 18, Aurora started blogging as a way to make friends within the community. “It happened so quickly after I converted,” Aurora says of the rise of her modest fashions blog. “I didn’t know that there was a hijabi fashion scene at all. I wasn’t ready for it.”
Aurora was immediately chastised by other hijabis for violating the Hadith, a collection of sayings from the Prophet Mohammed that states that it is haram (forbidden) for women to be tattooed. But to Aurora, getting tattooed is no different than applying makeup, another popular beauty practice that is forbidden under Islamic law.
“People don’t believe in wearing a lot of makeup if you’re going to wear a hijab because the whole point is to be modest” Aurora says. “I typically don’t wear a lot of makeup…But I see a lot of sisters who [do], and at the end of the day it’s moreso about your intentions. They are trying to wear certain clothes and wear a hijab in this world that is so hard to wear a hijab in right now. If they wanna wear some false eyelashes and some lipstick, who cares? Do whatever you need to do as long as you’re taking steps.”
Instead, Aurora wants to see more women supporting each other online. “A lot of times we encounter what we call the haram police on Instagram who want to tell you everything that’s wrong with what you’re doing,” she says. “It’s better for girls to encourage other girls to get closer to hijab, or to get closer to their faith and say ‘hey, just because you like wearing makeup doesn’t mean you can’t be religious’…I meet a lot of people who say ‘oh, I could never do that because I wear makeup and I do this that or the other thing.’ Who cares? Do it on your own terms and take one step at a time.”
And that’s exactly how she did it. Aurora, who initially had issues with hijab (the heavily contested topic of her MTV episode), has since come to terms with her Islamic identity by pursuing a slow conversion to the faith. “I didn’t know who I was as a Muslim yet,” she says, of her time as a modest blogger. “So when I took a break from social media and… took some time to look at why I was having issues with hijab, I realized it had nothing to do with hijab. It had to do with all the issues that I had inside that I needed to deal with. Instead of dealing with those I was just putting hijab over them to feel like a part of the community…[I realized] that I’m never going to be happy wearing it or fulfilled wearing it unless I’m doing it for God, for my own religious journey.” Aurora now wears a turban full time, and while it’s still not proper hijab, it’s what she’s most comfortable in. “I feel very balanced,” she says. “I feel like I’m able to express my personal style, who I am, my personality, and still stay true to my morals and beliefs.”
“I get to come at it from my own perspective and not have it through the lens of culture, or through my family,” she says of her somewhat controversial approach to the faith. “It’s said in the Quran that you should question things but a lot of kids these days are just following what their parents told them.”
It’s often true that culture is intertwined with religion, and while Aurora’s approach to Islam is aspirational for young Muslimahs seeking to carve out an alternative identity within the Muslim community, it’s a privilege to be able to formulate a religious practice outside of the influence of familial patterns and structures.
This is why many of Aurora’s naysayers like to call attention to the fact that she is a white convert. And while Aurora takes issue with this (she recently found out that her mother is Moroccan) she also realizes that being an outsider isn’t detrimental to her faith. “I had to find a place where I didn’t need to be validated in my ethnicity by other people,” she tells me. “Before if I saw other hijabis I would pull my sleeves down and make sure they didn’t see my tattoos. Because I wanted them to notice me as ‘one of us’…And now I’m like salam, you don’t want to say it to me, that’s fine, whatever.”
Aurora is more concerned with finding her own community within the religion, particularly after coming out as a pansexual/queer-identified Muslim woman. “It upset a lot of people in the community since Muslims share similar views with the other two abrahamic faiths on the topic of homosexuality,” she tells me. “I spent a lot of time reading literature on it and it’s still something I’m learning about from other LGBTQ Muslims. I chose to come out to the community a little while back because I knew there had to be others who were struggling to come to grips with their identities as LGBTQ Muslims like I had, and I hoped if they could see someone else like themselves, being out and not loosing their faith at the same time, it may give them some hope.”
“That’s also what I hope to do with girls who are finding their definition of halal beauty,” she says. “I have been open about my struggles and shared photos wearing and not wearing hijab because it’s my truth, it’s my journey, and not a lot of people want to be honest about how hard all this really can be. I hope that my brutal honesty and perseverance can help other women realize that it’s okay to struggle, as long as you keep making strides towards being the best person you can be.”
by Taylore Scarabelli