How I Became a Hijabi Runner
“Why don’t you just take it off?” The question reverberated around my head as I was walking across the basketball court, curious eyes following me. Together with a massive smile and barely contained excitement, I was wearing loose pants, a long-sleeved shirt and a red scarf tied around my neck. “You can’t work-out like THAT!” my very first American friend had said when she saw me get ready for the first sports practice that I had ever had in my entire life. I was 15, suffering from homesickness, and overwhelmed by the unwritten expectations and complex rules at my New England elite boarding school. I was also Muslim and Hijabi, i.e. I had chosen to continue to cover my hair and my body the way I had done growing up in a conservative Afghan mountain town.
“Are you forced to cover?” my new friends had asked, concerned. “That seems like torturing yourself. Why would you even want to dress like that?” the less compassionate said. I told myself that they would get over it. But for the next two years at my school, not one person looked like me on the basketball court, the ice hockey rink, the lacrosse field or the athletics track.
As much as I want to say that, somehow, all of sudden, I found a secret super power; I can’t. Learning to exercise without caring about the stares was a process filled with baby steps. Five years later, after having played sports in many states and cities across the USA, I realize that the stares I received at school that time are representative of the reactions to veiled runners from the American population at large. Muslim women playing sports in hijab are still considered as something extraordinary - there are simply not enough veiled Muslim women who have chosen to lead an active lifestyle. I firmly believe that misconceptions about veiled women in sports will diminish when more hijabis publicly become engaged in sports.
Today, I run because I hope to change the narrative around veiled Muslim women. Muslims’ lifestyle have been stereotyped and demonized for decades and the current political climate in the US has hit many minorities and Muslims the hardest. My choice to cover, now more than ever, has raised concerns and eyebrows, and has created hesitation even while training and running marathons.
I want this blog to be a useful – and entertaining! Resource for both Muslims and non-Muslims.
It will provide non-Muslims an insight into the daily struggles faced by Hijabis who want to play sports and lead active lifestyles. But I also aim to help Muslim women gain an insight into my struggles to become a runner, as well as to learn about how I was able to overcome challenges. Additionally, I will answer questions of the followers and help them defeat their uncertainties. But amidst this very serious issue, we also aim for some hilarity. I hope my journey to preparing for a 38-miles (60KM) race will help non-Muslims gain an understanding for the issues we have, and ways to support Muslim women and for Muslim women to choose an active lifestyle and be more present in their own lives and their communities. Enjoy my blog!