It was in the middle of her seventh cross country race of the season, the previous six having been run with no objections to her hijab, that high school athlete Noor Alexandria Abukaram was disqualified by the Ohio High School Athletic Association – after beating her personal 5K record. Her coach had failed to apply for a waiver for her to run with hijab, which Noor says didn’t make sense and was entirely humiliating.
She immediately fought back, launching the #LetNoorRun initiative to fight prejudice in sports, invite athletes to speak up on issues they are facing and offer different forms of support. “We strive to end discrimination in sports,” Noor says in an exclusive HH interview. She has come to be recognized as a player in the fight to end hijab bans in sports. But what you may not know about her is that she is an avid soccer player as well as running cross country. Noor attends The Bounty Collegium, a non-traditional high school in Ohio that challenges students to identify their passions, something that has served her well. In addition to sports, she loves fashion and is interested in textile engineering.
After school you’ll find Noor either on the track or at soccer practice; she competes in both sports for Sylvania Northview High School. Competition is important to her, and her experience of being banned from competing – disqualified while she was racing – made her realize that many other people are challenged with similar experiences. I spoke with Noor about how she confronted her identity after being disqualified, her work to end the discrimination of religious expression in extracurricular activities in Ohio schools and her favorite thing about Haute Hijab Sport.
You were thrust into the spotlight in October of 2019 when you weren’t allowed to run in a cross country meet with your hijab. What did you learn from that experience?
The biggest thing that I learned is that I am so much more than a runner. When you do something for so long, that’s the only thing that you start to identify with, and this experience almost forced me to identify with other things that I’m great at – like the fact I’m a good student and also my hijab [and my identity].
The hashtag #LetNoorRun became a rallying cry for so many Muslim athletes and those in the running world. It’s become a movement and an initiative to end discrimination in sports – tell us about some of the goals of this initiative.
When we started this initiative, we hoped to offer a platform that invited athletes to speak up on the issues they’re facing and offer different forms of support that will allow them to continue to do what they love. We strive to end discrimination in sports. Our first event, in January of 2020, emulated this mission beautifully by merging perspectives and discussing ways of preventing other athletes from going through similar struggles. We hope to continue having events like this for the youth of many communities across the country to further fight all forms of discrimination in sports, including my personal struggle with religious discrimination.
Have you seen any change come out of the work you’re doing with this initiative?
The biggest change that I’ve seen has been with [Ohio Senate Bill] SB 288, which will protect religious expression in extracurricular activities. SB 288 officially passed the Ohio senate in June.
What is the most significant long-term impact you want to have on sports and fitness from your experiences?
I hope that sports become the safe haven [to which] a lot of athletes turn. That the only thing that [should matter] is what you put on the pitch, court or track.
Is cross country running something you want to continue beyond high school, or would you like to explore other sports?
I will probably always run and play soccer, [but] probably not in college or professionally. I've never known life any other way. They are also two different types of outlets for me. They balance each other out. With soccer, I get an opportunity to [ignore] the rest of the world and only think about the game at hand. With running I have all the time in the world to reflect and think on various things, unless, of course, I’m racing.
What drew you to working with Haute Hijab on this new sports hijab line?
[It was] the tech of the hijab. It was made with so much thought of the athletes and the lives that they lead.
What were your challenges or frustrations around hijab and sport/fitness?
Before I started to wear sports hijabs, I never realized how difficult it was to breathe or how hot I was getting; one day I couldn’t find a sports hijab, so I had to wear an Amira, which I haven't done in forever, and I felt like i was suffocating at practice that day. So, the breathability [of Haute Hijab Sport
] is the biggest thing for me. [Other hijabs] also always look so sloppy, and I’m a big “look good, play good” [kind of] gal!
What kind of sports hijab from this collection do you prefer the most and why?
[I like] the FlexFit hijab. I love the scrunch in the back around the bun, so it shapes it really well. I also really love the length of it. It's not too long to tuck in, and it's not too short [that I can’t get some] extra coverage. I’m also really loving the Tech Cap. I never got to try it, but I have to wear an underscarf, and I’m a big head sweat-er, so I’m excited for the cooling tech on that.
What’s most important to you in a hijab when running or working out?
That it is long enough to tuck in, and it's not flapping around; that I don’t need to adjust it and that there is a limited [amount] and breathable fabric around the neck.
We’re so excited to have you as one of the athletes for Haute Hijab Sport! What message would you like to share with other young Muslim women athletes?
To never compromise your values to make the person next you feel more comfortable.
Find Noor Alexandria Abukaram on Instagram @nooralexandria; on Twitter @noorabukaram.