Brunel University London has become the first UK university to unveil a sports hijab for its Muslim sportswomen.
The university says it hopes the move will help bolster traditionally-low sports participation amongst hijabi students.
“Brunel is one of only four UK universities to offer a free sports programme, and we noticed that there was a gap in female sports participation,” said Ranjeet Rathore, President of the Union of Brunel Students, who has driven the hijab’s introduction.
“When we narrowed it down, we found the main gap to be in BAME female sports participation – specifically, we found there to be a barrier to Muslim women taking part in team sport.
“Of course, they were participating in sports on their own and in private, but they weren’t really going out to competitions, or using sport as a social tool to get involved in activities.”
Rathore said the hijab is made of materials specifically designed for keeping the wearer cool, whilst respecting their religious beliefs.
A 2017 study by Sports England reported that just 18% of Muslim women participate in regular sport, against 30% of the UK’s female population as a whole.
“The new hijab is made of really light, high-quality material which is light on the head, and contains small pores which allows the skin to breathe more easily,” said Rathore.
Initially the hijab will be available in two sizes and come in “Brunel Blue,” although there are hopes to introduce a broader range of colours in the future. It will initially cost £15.
Amongst those who will be wearing the new sports hijab is Faith Al Saad, a business management student at Brunel who says she’s “one-hundred percent confident” that sport hijabs will encourage more of her peers into sport.
“It’s great. Really lightweight, really easy to wear, really comfortable – it feels like you’re wearing nothing on your head, which is amazing, especially when doing sports,” said Faith, a keen gym-goer.
“The traditional hijab is basically a cloth you wrap around your head and then pin down. You can’t really run in it, it’ll literally fly off. The pins come out and it falls off – it’s not comfortable.
“Especially in sports, you run, you sweat, you fall – the traditional hijab gets in the way. Wearing the sports hijab makes it ten-times easier, and I genuinely think it’s a lifesaver.”
The Union of Brunel students now hopes that other universities will follow its lead and introduce their own sports hijab to further encourage greater participation.
Rathore said: “There are now other unis that want to partner with us, who want to take samples off us, who want to do their own hijab – which is great news.”