On the heels of the National Federation of High Schools doing away with its rule regarding the need for a waiver for religious head coverings for volleyball, which includes hijab, the NFHS announced two more high school fall sports are also following suit: field hockey and soccer!
The NFHS, which is one of the major associations overlooking high school sports across the United States, announced in two separate press releases (click here for field hockey
and here for soccer
) that religious headwear will be permitted without needing state (sport) association approval. Many Muslim girls in different high school sports have faced various struggles over the years to play with their hijab, sometimes getting banned when they (or their coach) did not obtain a waiver or permission.
Najah Aqeel, whose story we’ve been reporting on since it broke in September of 2020
, is one of them. The 14-year-old freshman volleyball player for Vallor College Prep in Nashville, Tennessee, was forced to sit out the second game of her season due to her coach not obtaining a waiver for her hijab.
Back then, when we interviewed Najah and her mother, Aliya Aqeel, Najah told us that her hijab wasn’t a safety concern at all as she was wearing it in a bun around her hair. “It wouldn’t hurt anyone. We’re not even close to each other on the court to hurt anyone.” The Aqeel family decided they would make it their mission, along with help from the American Muslim Advisory Council and Haute Hijab, to get the rule changed – not only in Najah’s school district, but across the state.
Well – because of Najah’s fight and the fight of Muslim athletes before her – now the rule has changed on a national level, and not just for volleyball.
Najah Aqeel (image source: Aliya Aqeel)
Over the past few months, HH met with Lindsey Atkinson, NFHS director of sports and liaison to the Volleyball Rules committee, to present information about hijab, hijab accessories (pins), how it is worn, fabrics used, the construction of sports hijab, and how risk factors regarding hijab have been overblown. That information was included in the meetings material and in Lindsey’s presentation at the end of the fall sports season to the Volleyball Rules committee, which was attended by representatives from field hockey and soccer.
I spoke with Theresia Wynns, Director of Sports and Officials with NFHS about the rule change for soccer, asking her why there was momentum for change now after years of young women struggling with regards to hijab and other head coverings.
“I think the momentum has come out as a result of more athletes who are religious and want to show their religious belief in wearing whatever garment [or head covering] they need to wear for that particular religion.” While she hadn’t seen any challenge from a Muslim athlete come up in soccer, Najah’s story helped propel the rules committee for the three fall sports to make changes.
We are so thrilled to see these changes occur and are hopeful that the NFHS rules regarding religious head coverings for winter and spring high school sports will also follow suit.
In our continued coverage of Najah’s story, we know hijab bans are still happening
in school and collegiate sports, in businesses and other places across the country. Last year high school cross country athlete Noor Alexandria Abukaram was disqualified by the Ohio High School Athletic Association as she was running a 5K and beating her personal record because her coach had failed to apply for a waiver for her to run with her hijab.
Every time a Muslim female athlete like Najah is out there playing volleyball, or running, playing basketball, kicking a soccer ball, weight lifting, fencing, boxing, ice skating, doing martial arts or whatever the sport is, the message is clear: We just want to play, and you can’t ban us.
We are proud to join these fierce women, like Najah and our HH Sport Ambassador Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir, in their fight against hijab bans with our “Can’t Ban Us” campaign that aims to elevate these stories (share your story with us here
) and work with athletes and athletic associations and organizations to educate about hijab and how it should never be a deterrent to participating in individual or team sports. Bilqis knows plenty about this injustice. The basketball player and cofounder of Dribble Down Barriers was banned from her dream
of playing in the WNBA and internationally because of her hijab nearly a decade ago.
Check back in with the blog for continued coverage of this story and other stories of fierce Muslim women working hard to do their thing.