Khalifa entered the pornographic film industry in October 2014. She had been working at a Whataburger when she was approached by a customer who asked if she had ever considered appearing in pornographic films. With more than 1.5 million views, the 22-year-old Khalifa became the most searched-for performer on the adult video sharing website Pornhub. On December 28 that year, Pornhub revealed that she was the No. 1 ranked performer on their website.
Perhaps better known as ‘The hijab porn star’, Khalifa hit the headlines in 2014 when she infamously humped on camera wearing the traditional Muslim garb. The BangBros film initially sparked outrage in her home country of Lebanon with haters claiming she had brought disgrace to the nation and insulted Islam. Khalifa stated in an interview with Loaded that she felt she is being made a scapegoat for internet censorship in her native land, and many others there have since demonstrated against the government, showing support for the American porn star. They claim that although she may have sex, ‘She is still more decent than they are’.
— Loaded magazine, July 2016.
She received online death threats after she ranked No. 1 on Pornhub, including a manipulated image of a Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant executioner preparing to behead her, and a message warning her that she would go to Hell, to which she replied “I’ve been meaning to get a little tan recently”. Lebanese newspapers wrote articles critical of Khalifa, which she considered trivial due to other events in the region.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Khalifa said the controversial scene was satirical and should be taken as such, claiming that Hollywood films depicted Muslims in a far more negative light than any pornographer could. Among those who publicly spoke out to defend her decision to become an adult performer was British-Lebanese author Nasri Atallah, who stated, “The moral indignation … is wrong for two reasons. First and foremost, as a woman, she is free to do as she pleases with her body. As a sentient human being with agency, who lives halfway across the world, she is in charge of her own life and owes absolutely nothing to the country where she happened to be born.” Khalifa herself said of the controversy: “Women’s rights in Lebanon are a long way from being taken seriously if a Lebanese American porn star that no longer resides there can cause such an uproar. What I once boasted to people as being the most Westernized nation in the Middle East, I now see as devastatingly archaic and oppressed.”
According to data from Pornhub, from January 3 to 6, 2015, searches for Khalifa increased five-fold. Around a quarter of those searches came from Lebanon, with substantial searches also from nearby countries Syria and Jordan. Because of the hijab-related controversy, she was ranked No. 5 in a list of “The world’s 10 most notorious porn stars” by British men’s magazine Loaded in July 2016. Almaza, a Lebanese brewery, ran an advertisement showing a bottle of their beer next to Khalifa’s signature glasses, with the slogan: “We are both rated 18+.” In January 2015, pop band Timeflies released a song titled “Mia Khalifa” in homage to her.
In a July 2016 interview with The Washington Post, Khalifa revealed she had only performed in pornography for three months and had left the industry over a year before, changing to a “more normal job”. She said “I guess it was my rebellious phase. It wasn’t really for me. I kind of smartened up and tried to distance myself from that.” As of May 2016, Khalifa was still performing as a webcam model