U.S. Muslim athlete banned from race for wearing hijab

Noor Abukaram

A teenage Muslim athlete in the U.S. state of Ohio has been disqualified for wearing a hijab during a race.

Noor Abukaram, 16, said she was not warned her attire was against the rules until after crossing the finish line.

The Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) says it is looking into changing its religious waiver rules for next season.

Noor had been running for the Sylvania Northview school team all season, and her hijab had never been an issue before the district level race in last Saturday in the city of Findlay.

Noor wrote on Facebook that when the officials inspected her team, they informed one of her teammates that her shorts were in violation of the rules and allowed her to change. But they did not say anything about her Nike athletic hijab, though she said she saw her coach discussing something privately with the officials.

After finishing the 5km race with her personal best time of 22 minutes and 22 seconds, Noor was surprised to find her name was not on the score boards. Her teammates then told her she had been disqualified.

Her coach had failed to submit a religious waiver for the race, but has since filed one for Noor’s upcoming regional competition this weekend, and OHSAA has accepted it.

While the association’s rulebook does not specifically mention hijabs, it states religious headwear requires a waiver, local media has reported.

An OHSAA spokesman told the Associated Press that they have previously considered dropping the religious waiver requirement, and the issue is being taken seriously in light of this incident. The spokesman also noted that the rule is not always enforced, including in some instances of runners wearing hats in cold weather.

“I felt like I had got hit by a truck and punched in the gut,” Noor told the BBC’s Outside Source programme. “It’s not because they’re looking out for my safety, or because they are concerned that I have an advantage, because I definitely don’t have an advantage wearing my hijab. I think it’s discriminatory against my religion.”

Noor said she felt “humiliated” after the race, especially since officials said nothing to her beforehand. “I looked like a clown running that race and I only ran it for those officials,” she said.

Noor believes no-one should have to sign a waiver for something like a hijab.

“They don’t need to alter the course for me specifically. I’m running just like everyone else, I’m starting on the same start line and finishing on the same finish line.”

But she says that she’s seen a lot of positive feedback from her community, and across the U.S.

“I’m really happy that I decided to let this story go public because it really brings out a dialogue, and a lot of different people have been reaching out to me saying that similar things have been happening to them.”

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