Despite her name being removed from the runner board, a Muslim teen insisted on wearing her hijab during the race. After finding out that she was disqualified, she voiced her outrage. However, instead of wavering, the athletic association doubled down on their decision.
While competing in cross-country events at Ohio’s Northview High School, 16-year-old Noor Abukaram always wears her Nike sports hijab. For many track meets, her wardrobe hasn’t been an issue — that was until she signed up for a race in Toledo.
For millions of teens across America, sacrificing certain recreational activities in order not to violate religious beliefs is a personal decision that’s made without complaint. However, for Abukaram, there’s no room for compromise.
Ahead of the event, Abukaram could see officials talking amongst themselves. Subsequently, her name was removed from the runner board, which made it clear that she wasn’t on the roster to run. At first, she heard that she had violated uniform rules because of the long pants she was wearing, Breitbart reports. Still, she decided to go ahead and compete without asking officials if she was actually disqualified.
Abukaram went on to run her fastest time for the season in the 5K race — 22 minutes and 22 seconds. However, her excitement was soon crushed when she discovered that it wouldn’t officially count.
The teen said that her teammates told her, ‘”You got disqualified,’ and I was like, ‘For what?’ and they were like, ‘For wearing your hijab.’ And, like, my heart dropped. I felt like something horrible happened to me, something that I always thought could happen, but never has happened,” Abukaram added. “I think I was mostly embarrassed because like I never expected that to happen.”
Abukaram explained that asking her to run without her hijab is like asking her to compete without an arm. She simply cannot unveil herself, even to compete in a coveted competition.
“My hijab is a part of me. Like if you’re asking me to run without my hijab, you’re asking me not to run. That’s period. Point blank,” Abukaram told NBC affiliate WNWO.
However, Abukaram was never expected to compete without a hijab. In fact, the Ohio High School Athletic Association grants special privileges to competitors to wear prohibited garb for religious reasons as long as they obtain a waiver. Unfortunately, Abukaram and her coach had never applied for permission.
“The official was simply enforcing this rule since a waiver had not been submitted. After the race, the OHSAA communicated with the school, which then submitted a waiver request. The request was approved immediately, which will permit the student-athlete to compete this weekend at regional competition,” the spokesperson told NBC News.
Despite the disqualification being an error on her and her coach’s part, Abukaram has painted the ordeal as a flagrant act of anti-Muslim discrimination. Of course, for making the simple mistake of failing to comply with the rules, Abukaram has gained quite a bit of fame. Along with a Teen Vogue spotlight, her face was plastered across every major news publication, and supporters called for Nike to give her a promotional deal.
“I feel like my rights as an athlete were violated this weekend because this rule does NOT exist in writing. I should not have to get a waiver signed and approved by OSHAA to allow me to race due to my religious head covering,” Abukaram said.
Of course, the association has strict clothing rules for a reason. If they allowed competitors to flout the rules by simply claiming a religious exemption, individuals may abuse the safety regulations. Still, Abukaram won’t consider this reality and can only see her own plight.
“When you get that taken away from you and your placing in the whole race is taken away … I don’t know … it was disappointing, I guess,” Abukaram said.
Abukaram’s coach explained that he now has a waiver to allow the runner to compete in her hijab. Still, the young woman continues to complain that the rules are discriminatory and should be abolished.
The athletic association has confirmed that the decision not to count Abukaram’s race time stands. However, they have also admitted that, because of this one runner’s complaint, they are considering doing away with the requirement for competitors to sign a religious waiver.