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Student-athlete disqualified from Ohio race for competing in hijab without approval

"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," Noor Alexandria Abukaram said.
/ Source: NBC News

Noor Alexandria Abukaram ran her fastest 5K race of the season for Ohio's Sylvania Northview High School last weekend: 22 minutes and 22 seconds.

But the 16-year-old's celebration was stopped short when officials disqualified her for wearing a hijab during the race.

"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.

Runners are allowed to compete with a hijab, but they must have a waiver from the Ohio High School Athletic Association granting permission before the race, according to a representative from the association.

"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.

Abukaram's disqualification from the Saturday meet drew widespread attention after her cousin, Zobaida S. Falah, shared an account of the incident in a Facebook post Wednesday.

"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 OSAA to allow me to race due to my religious head covering," Abukaram is quoted in the post as saying.

Abukaram, a junior on the school's cross-country team, runs in a Nike hijab, which the company specifically created for female Muslim athletes. She had competed in several races before and was never questioned about her attire, until now.

"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.

Her coach, Jerry Flowers, said that he now has a waiver for Abukaram, and her previous disqualification will not bar her from competing in the upcoming race.

"She's had a good week of practice. She seems focused. She's a tough kid. Hopefully, she'll have another season-best," Flowers said. "I'm excited we get another chance."