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Muslim teen ‘humiliated’ after being disqualified from Ohio race for wearing hijab

Muslim teen disqualified from race in Ohio for wearing hijab
Noor Alexandria Abukaram said it was only when she made it to the finish line that she found out her hijab violated the uniform policy.

Noor Alexandria Abukaram was elated when she ran a personal best time during a 5K in eastern Ohio last weekend.

When she made it to the finish line in 22 minutes and 22 seconds, she found out that she’d been disqualified.

Abukaram told the Huffington Post that officials said her hijab violated the uniform policy and her run wouldn’t count.

“At first it was just so humiliating and then was huge disbelief,” she said. “This has never happened to me.”

READ MORE: Toronto Raptors launch team-branded hijabs in effort to be more inclusive

The 16-year-old Sylvania Northview High School athlete told the publication that she’d competed in previous cross-country meets without any issue.

Now, she was being told she needed a signed waiver to approve religious headwear, something she’d never been asked for in all her years competing.

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Her cousin, Zobaida Falah, took to Facebook to share Abukaram’s experience.

“The officials did not give her the courtesy of informing her of their problem with the hijab,” she wrote. “Instead, they let her run the race thinking she was fine and after the race, while she was searching for her time alongside her teammates, she discovered her time wasn’t there.”

Abukaram also chimed in on the post, writing that she’d been suspicious of the officials just before the race even began.

“Something suspicious was happening between my coach and the officials,” she wrote. “My coach came over to the team and one of the officials looked at him and said, ‘Don’t tell her now, wait ’til after.'”

“Now, my mind is fluttering with different thoughts regarding what the officials and my coach could be talking about. At this point, the race was about to start and I knew that I needed to clear my mind and focus on the race ahead.”

READ MORE: Aspiring teachers denied employment as Montreal school boards apply religious symbols ban

The high school student described the moment she was told she was disqualified for her hijab as a punch “in the gut.”

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“My dad called me and I could not stop crying on the phone. I was humiliated, disappointed, rejected and in denial. I couldn’t believe what just happened,” she wrote.

“I feel like my rights as an athlete were violated this weekend because this rule does not exist in writing.”

Speaking to HuffPost, an Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) representative said religious headwear is allowed if competitors “obtained a waiver from the OHSAA and submitted it to the head office before the race since it is a change to the OHSAA uniform regulations.”

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In the Facebook post, Abukaram says a uniform check prior to the race is normal. That day, one of her teammates was told she had to change her shorts.

“Why wouldn’t they tell me about my uniform violation just like they told the girl on my team? Why wouldn’t they give me that same respect that they gave her?” Abukaram said. “I felt disrespected. I felt humiliated.”

Her mom, Yolanda Melendez, told The Toledo Blade that she and her husband have contacted a civil rights attorney.

“We ultimately want a dialogue,” she said. “[We want] to speak out not just on Noor’s behalf, but on future athletes.”

READ MORE: Laurier university students wearing hijabs questioned about what it is to dress ‘Canadian’

The Facebook post has since been shared nearly 3,000 times. In the comment section, Romin Iqbal claims to be the attorney at CAIR-Columbus who “will be taking action next week as per the family’s wishes.”

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CAIR-Columbus, a chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, is a non-profit organization that focuses on legal service and interfaith outreach and education.

Abukaram told The Blade that she doesn’t harbour any anger towards her school, despite the ruling.

“I couldn’t ask for a better support system. My coach is completely on my side and my teammates are so supportive,” she said. “I’ve been a student-athlete for as long as I can remember and wearing hijabs since 2016.

“I certainly didn’t expect it to happen to me at cross-country.”

meaghan.wray@globalnews.ca