Why you should care
Because religion need not stand in the way of sporting excellence.
It’s nearly 2020, yet discrimination continues to run rampant in the world of sports. Women of color, particularly those who wear hijab, are victimized regularly just for daring to take part.
For observant Muslim women, wearing hijab means covering the whole body, apart from the hands, face and, sometimes, feet. While this is doable in most sports, society imposes arbitrary standards that make it difficult for Muslim women to engage in some forms of physical activity. At best, uniforms can often be alienating for observant Muslim women; at worst, they can be used as standards that lead to athletes who cannot adhere being barred from participating.
It’s time that sports teams address these ludicrous standards, account for diversity and respect differences. The first step? Alter uniforms to better accommodate Muslim women.
Such restrictions only serve to undermine the overall talent pool.
Even exercising at local facilities can be challenging for hijabi athletes. Nuha M., from Evanston, Illinois, often avoids going to the gym. “I don’t feel comfortable running or bending over or doing weird contortions of my body where men can see,” she says. “And I often have to wait until the gym is relatively empty, usually late at night.” Late-night workouts are not sustainable, Nuha says, given how early she must start her workday.
In October, 16-year-old Noor Alexandria Abukaram made headlines when she was disqualified from a high school cross-country meet in Ohio because she was wearing a hijab. The Ohio High School Athletic Association said that Abukaram needed a waiver to wear anything besides the team uniform during the race, including a head covering.
In Miami, Khadijah Diggs faced a similar problem. After she qualified for the U.S. World Championship Team as a triathlete, she was briefly disqualified for not signing a waiver to don her head garb.
For other hijabi athletes, though, there have been big wins. Rabah K. from Glendale Heights, Illinois, was impressed by her high school basketball team coach’s response when a referee told Rabah and her coach that the Illinois High School Association required a license for Rabah to play in a “religious head wrap.” Rabah’s coach responded that she had never heard of such a requirement. When the referee insisted that Rabah could not play, her coach forfeited the game. She knew, Rabah says, that “it was wrong to have a player sit out a whole game only because they didn’t have the ‘eligibility’ to play with their headscarf on.”
“We cannot back down and stay silent. We have to put our voices out there to be heard,” Rabah adds.
Yes, there are individuals who think rules and uniforms should not be changed. But such restrictions only work to undermine the overall talent pool. Let’s push sports and academic associations to pass politics that promote diversity and allow for inclusion to be more representative of Muslim American women who observe hijab.
Tasmiha Khan is a California-based writer focused on social impact. Follow her at @CraftOurStory to learn more.