Retired Egyptian actress stirs controversy after taking off hijab to return to acting

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After 12 years of retiring her acting career to focus on a more religious life, former Egyptian actress Hala Shiha has decided to make a comeback, by publicly announcing that she had taken off her Islamic headscarf and wants to return to acting.

Social media users across the Arab world were taken by surprise upon knowing Shiha’s decision, years after she had quit the entertainment business after donning the hijab in 2006.

In recent years, she married a Canadian convert to Islam, became a mother, and adopted a religious lifestyle away from the spotlight.

Last summer, Shiha even stirred controversy when what is said to be the first picture of her wearing an Islamic face veil or niqab surfaced online.

But, on Wednesday, an Egyptian newspaper published a photo of Shiha, without a headscarf, saying the actress wants to return to acting. The picture was hugely circulated on social media and was a most trending topic on Twitter, with users reacting differently to her decision.

Her sister, Hana Shiha, also an actress, confirmed to Al Arabiya English the authenticity of the picture, saying that her sibling intends to return to acting, without elaboration.

Though many on social media acknowledge that Shiha’s decision is definitely a personal one, yet they couldn’t grasp the retired actress's sudden change-- from one end of the spectrum to another.

Hala was born in 1979 in Alexandria, into a family of artists. Her father, Ahmad Shiha, is a visual artist. Together with her Lebanese mother Nadia Zeitoun, the parents encouraged their daughters -- Hala, Hana, Rasha and Maya -- to love different types of arts. Hala, the eldest sister, started her acting career, and her sisters Hana and Maya later followed in her footsteps.

As a rising star, Hala's career definitely stood out for her uniqueness. She starred next to almost all of Egypt’s top modern male actors.

Her acting debut was next to Egypt’s legendary actor Nour al-Sherif, in his TV series “Al Ragol Al Akhar” aka The Other Man, where she played the role of his daughter.

She then played next to Egyptian actor Karim Abdel Aziz, who was just starting his career too, in “Leh Khaletni Ahebak” (Why you made me fall in love with you).

Her actual success was measured after starring next to Egyptian actor Mohammad Saad in one of his best comedy movies “El Lemby,” when she played the role of his lover “Nousa”. The film garnered more than 30 million Egyptian pounds at the time, making her a shooting star of the silver screen.

She played two of her main roles as a lead actress in “The Ladder and The Snake” next to actor Hani Salama, and “Lost in America” next to Khaled al-Nabbawi.

But despite her success, Shiha briefly stepped away from acting and wore the Islamic hijab for a few months.

In 2004, she took it off and played one of her most important cinematic roles alongside Egypt’s top comedian Adel Emam in the movie “Aris min Geha Amneya” in 2004.

In 2005, Shiha decided to wear the headscarf again and declared that she will quit acting.

In the following year, she made a brief comeback by playing a role in Egyptian singer Amer Moneeb’s film “Kamel Al Awsaf” while wearing the hijab. Fans embraced her new appearance at the time.

She later left the acting scene and is said to have traveled to the United States to preach Islam. She is reported to have married a Canadian Muslim convert and now has two children.

After being out of the public eye for several years, in 2017 Shiha shared a photo of herself wearing the face veil or niqab, sparking backlash among users who questioned her wearing it.

Though she was heavily hurled with negative comments, Shiha asked users to avoid the hatred and negativity.

A Facebook page affiliated with Shiha, with around 39 thousand followers, includes very religious posts, such as her love for the Holy Quran and support for hijab.

However, in July, Shiha appeared with her actress sister Hana in a picture alongside their dentist, wearing a hijab but without a face veil and in casual attire.

Fans were shocked to see her without a face veil, and wondered if Hana has taken her sister's permission to share the picture.

But this week, it was definitely shocking to Arab fans that she decided to take off her hijab altogether. Shiha went from being a figure to look up to for many aspiring actresses, to a symbol for religious Muslim girls. But will the entertainment industry take her back, especially that she's been out of the acting scene for years?

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