Noor Abukaram ran her personal best cross country race last weekend for Sylvania Northview High School in Findlay, Ohio, according to Fox 6 News. Her time was 22 minutes and 22 seconds. However, the 16-year-old junior’s time will not appear in any records of the meet. The Muslim teen was disqualified for wearing her hijab during the race by the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA). A hijab is a traditional covering for the face, head or body, and it is worn by Muslim girls and women to observe Islamic standards of modesty.
Abukaram had competed on the cross country team for two years and made the varsity squad this year. There had been no previous issues with her wearing the hijab while she raced. On Oct. 19, race officials claimed that Abukaram broke the rules because she did not sign a waiver for a religious exemption to wear the hijab as per the OHSAA’s guidelines.
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The devastated teen learned of her disqualification from teammates after her name failed to appear on the runners’ board. Abukaram thought there had been an error.
Abukaram’s said her heritage and faith are extremely important to her.
“It was like a nightmare came true,” she told Sports Illustrated. “My race is supposed to be under my control, but that control was taken away from me because of my hijab, something I hold so close to my heart. I felt so let down by the sport that I had trained so hard to run in. It was humiliating and embarrassing and upsetting.”
Her coach, Jerry Flowers, apologized for the manner in which she found out she was not eligible for the regional event. He admitted to not being concerned about her hijab because Abukaram always wore it. However, he did acknowledge that officials become more strict about the rules and regulations as runners advance in the competition.
“The officials asked me for my paperwork, and I had heard that you need a waiver to compete in the past, but [Noor] had been running all season without a problem,” Flowers told Runner’s World. “This was the first time it was ever brought to my attention in this manner.”
Abukaram’s family also was disappointed by the disqualification. Her cousin, Zobaida Falah, took to her personal Facebook account to express her opinion on the matter.
“My 16-year-old cousin Noor was disqualified last weekend during her district cross country meet in Findlay, Ohio because of her hijab,” she wrote. “Noor is on the Sylvania Northview Cross Country Team. The officials did not give her the courtesy of informing her of their problem with the hijab.
“Instead, they [OHSAA] 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. When she asked why, her teammates responded, ‘because of your hijab.'”
OHSAA spokesman Tim Stried said in an emailed statement to DiversityInc on Friday that the association is looking to modify the uniform regulation so religious headwear won’t require a waiver in the future.
“If the coach or school had obtained the waiver previously, all this could have been avoided,” Stried said in the statement. “The race 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. This emphasizes our continual requirement to also assist in educating our coaches on all sport rules. We support the student-athlete and wish her the best of luck this weekend at regionals.”
Sylvania Northview qualified for a regional event this past weekend following the Oct. 19 race. Abukaram competed in the event, wearing her hijab. She turned in a new personal best time of 21:51.01.