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'First burkini cover girl': Sports Illustrated features Muslim model Halima Aden

Somali-American Halima Aden is the first Muslim to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated wearing a burkini. Credit: AP

A Muslim supermodel has become the first to wear a burkini while featuring on the front cover of US magazine Sports Illustrated.

Somali-American Halima Aden has "broken barriers" by appearing on the annual swimsuit issue wearing the garment which covers the entire body, except the face.

The model, who was born in a UN refugee camp in northeastern Kenya before moving to the US, travelled back to her birth country for the photo shoot.

"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," she told the magazine during the shoot.

She added: "Growing up in the States, I never really felt represented because I never could flip through a magazine and see a girl who was wearing a hijab."

The former refugee shot to prominence after becoming the first beauty pageant contestant in America to wear a hijab, while competing in Miss Minnesota USA aged 19.

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Ms Aden and Sports Illustrated, which is predominantly read by men, have been criticised by some for "hypocrisy" following the magazine's publication.

American-born Iranian Australian columnist Rita Panahi claimed the magazine was "celebrating" anti-women modesty culture.

She wrote on Twitter: "Thousands of women are arrested in Islamic countries protesting against veiling & yet your silly mag is celebrating a symbol of oppression...in the most absurdly incoherent way imaginable."

She added: "Any woman 'choosing' modesty culture should not be striking a sexy pose."

Political commentator Nervana Mahmoud appeared to go a step further by challenging the magazine to "show this photo to any Muslim scholar".

She wrote: "Halima Aden’s hijab and #Burkini may get a round of applause from the politically correct western elite, but devout Muslim will find it provocative and un-modest."

Despite receiving criticism from some, the front page and its featured model have been praised for "making history".

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The Twitter page of Times Up, the social movement which calls "safe, fair and dignified work for women", congratulated Ms Aden "who has broken barriers as the first woman to be featured in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue wearing a hijab and burkini."

Ms Aden, who says featuring on the cover is a "dream come true", told her fans "don't be afraid to be the first".

SI Swimsuit editor MJ Day said: "We believe beauty knows no boundaries," adding: "Whether you feel your most beautiful and confident in a burkini or a bikini, you are worthy."