Despite submitting a waiver for her religious headwear, high school cross-country runner Noor Alexandria Abukaram was disqualified for wearing a hijab.
Noor Alexandria Abukaram is a 16-year-old cross-country runner at Sylvania Northview High School in the state of Ohio. Though she studies at a private school in the area, she competes at Sylvania Northview as her own school does not offer sports activities. At a district meet on Saturday, October 19, she achieved her personal best. Although she didn't win the race, she did clock in at 22:22 minutes for the 5K run. However, her run wasn't considered by The Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) as she was wearing a hijab, a traditional Muslim headwrap, CNN reports. According to the association, Abukaram did not submit the appropriate waiver that would have permitted her to wear the hijab. Now, she's fighting back.
In an interview with CNN, the athlete stated, "It was like your worst nightmare to have to compete and then find out that you got disqualified and it's because of something that you love. Why should you have to sacrifice your religion and a part of who you are to run, to do another thing that you're very passionate about?" And she's right. She shouldn't have to sacrifice her religious beliefs or jump through special legal loopholes in order to participate in a sporting event. While the high school junior has been competing on the school's soccer and track teams for two years now, qualifying for varsity on the cross-country team earlier this year, this was the first time Abukaram was told that her hijab was a violation of a uniform or dress code.
OHSAA spokesman Tim Stried affirmed in an official statement, "Cross-country runners may participate in competitions with religious headwear, provided the runner has obtained a waiver from the OHSAA and submitted it to the head official before the race since it is a change to the OHSAA uniform regulations. The official was simply enforcing this rule since a waiver had not been submitted." Following the race, the school got in touch with the association to submit a waiver. It was approved, and Abukaram can now participate in a regional competition taking place next weekend — but her previous time will still be nullified.
Speaking about the experience, the disheartened runner said, "When my teammates clarified what happened to me, it broke my heart. I was sobbing. I couldn't even explain how difficult it was to explain to my father that I got disqualified for my hijab. It was so hard for me because my parents have anyway been my number one supporters when it comes to my hijab... Personally, my hijab is like my nose. It's so important and it's a part of me. The thought of not wearing it and of having to choose something other than my hijab, having to choose to do something else and having to warn people that me and my hijab are coming to this race is disgusting and disheartening." Thankfully, the OHSAA is working on reviewing their policy. Stried added in his statement, "The OHSAA is also already looking at this specific uniform regulation to potentially modify it in the future, so that religious headwear does not require a waiver." Abukaram is happy about being able to take part in the upcoming competition, but she, like other runners who wear religious headwear, should not be subject to special rules that act as barriers to entry and participation.