By Fatima Kermali
As Muslim women in many parts of the world such as India and France are facing major challenges in observing their obligatory duty of the Islamic covering, namely the Hijab, Muslim women in the US are also beginning to feel these restrictions as well. But just like elsewhere where women are confronting the injustices, it is also happening here because where there is a will and determination for establishing freedoms, there is a way.
Noor Alexandria Abukaram demonstrated that the desire to defend one’s beliefs and then to pursue the course can project positive results.
In 2019 at an Ohio high school cross country meet Abukaram, then 16, had just run the 5K, finishing the course in 22 minutes and 22 seconds. But an official at the meet disqualified Abukaram because she wore a hijab while running.
During that time, the Ohio High School Athletic Association rules required student athletes wearing religious headgear to obtain permission before the event. Abukaram’s coach didn’t obtain that permission because it hadn’t been an issue all season until the regional qualifier meet.
It was both disappointing and devastating for the athlete. Abukaram said, “I feel like as an athlete, I’m a person that competes, and that’s just a part of who I am. So, when that tries to be taken away from me, especially for something like my hijab, which is something that I love and hold so dear to my heart. It feels really humiliating.
In 2020 OHSAA changed the rule to permit athletes to compete while wearing a religious head covering unless the official deems it will fundamentally alter the sport or is dangerous for the participant. However, Abukaram said the rule books have changed over time and it wasn’t enough to prevent discrimination. Abukaram remarked, “The law that prohibits organizations from implementing discriminatory policies is so important because rule books are subject to change and law needs to protect athletes from that.”
So, she decided to try to protect athletes by starting her own movement, #LetNoorRun. The movement received national attention on social media and was covered in The New York Times and The Washington Post.
Consequently, Sen. Theresa Gavarone, R-Bowling Green, reached out to Abukaram and her family when she heard her story on the news. They met and discussed which then altered the laws in Ohio regarding sports and discrimination. Not long after, the Senate Bill 181, sponsored by Gavarone, passed both the Senate and the House unanimously.
Gov. Mike DeWine’s office expects him to sign the bill into law. “This piece of legislation really brought the Christian, the Jewish, the Muslim community all together in support of this,” Gavarone said. “It was really just a beautiful thing.”
Now, Abukaram is a first-year student at Ohio State University. She continues to advocate for religious freedoms and to battle against discrimination.