Noor Abukaram has been wearing her Nike sport hijab without any problem for the last three years while running cross country for Ohio’s Sylvania Northview High School, WTOL-TV reported.
But after the 16-year-old’s meet last weekend, that all changed.
Officials commenced normal uniform checks prior to the race, the station said, adding that when Abukaram saw officials talking to each other, she assumed it was about her hijab.
“And in the back of my mind, I was like, ‘Are they going to say something about my hijab? Or about my uniform because it is different?'” she told WTOL.
Nope. Turns out officials approached Abukaram’s teammate and told her that her shorts were out of uniform and that she needed to change in order to run, the station said, adding that nothing was said to Abukaram.
With that, Abukaram ran her fastest 5K of the season: 22 minutes, 22 seconds, the Toledo Blade reported.
But after crossing the finish line, she didn’t see her name on the board, WTOL said.
“And they were like, ‘You got disqualified,’ and I was like, ‘For what?’ and they were like ‘For wearing your hijab,'” Abukaram told the station.
The Ohio High School Athletic Association requires coaches to provide a waiver for athletes wearing anything that’s not a part of league-approved uniforms, the station said, adding that Abukaram’s family and coach were unaware that she needed a waiver since she’s been competing in multiple sports for three years with her hijab with no issues.
“And, like, my heart dropped,” she told WTOL. “I felt like something horrible happened to me, something that I always thought could happen but never has happened. I think I was mostly embarrassed because like I never expected that to happen.”
Abukaram now has a special letter saying she can wear her hijab while competing, the station said, but she’s not happy for needing it in the first place.
“It’s a part of me, I’m not going to take it off so I can run,” she told WTOL. “I just don’t want this to happen to anyone else, like any girls … younger than me that are wearing hijab. I don’t want them to ever have to worry or to have to write a letter so that they can go run.”
Abukaram added to the station that her coach and teammates have been supportive of her wearing her hijab and also are confused about this rule.
WTOL said the Ohio High School Athletic Association noted that the race official was simply enforcing the rules — but didn’t explain why Abukaram wasn’t told her hijab was an issue before the race.
Abukaram’s mother, Yolanda Melendez, told the Blade that she and her husband have contacted an Islamic civil rights attorney and will send OHSAA a letter after this weekend’s race about the disqualification and ask for a rule clarification.
“We ultimately want a dialogue,” Melendez told the paper, “to speak out not just on Noor’s behalf, but on future athletes.”