Her runner's high turned into a low in a matter of seconds after crossing the finish line. High school athlete Noor Alexandria Abukaram was disqualified from her fastest race of the season because she was wearing a hijab, something that is apparently not in line with the uniform regulations.
The 16-year-old is a student at The Bounty Collegium in Ohio. She had signed up to take part in a race with a cross country team - with whom she was a part of for the past three years - over the weekend. She recently recalled the incident via her cousin's Facebook, verifying that officials from the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) had checked the team's attire just ahead of the race.
"Immediately, I began to wonder if they were going to call on me next since I was wearing all black pants and hijab," Abukaram wrote. They called on one athlete to change her shorts to match all others but didn't say a word to Abukaram.
"At this point, the girl on my team changed her shorts and I was relieved that they had not said anything to me," she said.
The high school athlete then noticed something was wrong as her coach and the officials were debating. She overheard one of the officials telling her coach to "wait till after" to tell Abukaram that she will be disqualified unless she removed her Nike sports hijab. This conversation was not relayed explicitly to the student until after the race was over. More specifically, until she realized her name and time were not listed on the board.
"I found out my team was going to regionals and we were so happy, so me and a couple of my teammates head over to the awards to get recognized then we head over to look at the placings of the race to see my time. As we looked closer, I realized my name wasn't on there," the 16-year-old said.
She was then informed that she had been disqualified. Her teammates explained that it was due to her hijab.
"Immediately my heart drops, I become nauseous and feel like I got punched in the gut," Abukaram wrote. "This is something that I had always feared which has now become a reality. I just walked away and my teammates didn't say anything else."
Religious discrimination 101
Speaking to Yahoo, the coach Jeffrey Flowers said officials had asked him to provide a "written exemption letter" for Abukaram's uniform violation, something he did not have ready at the time.
In a statement to CNN, spokesman Tim Stried explained that "cross country runners may participate in competitions with religious headwear" only if the waiver is obtained from OHSAA and submitted to the head official prior to the race.
Since Flowers did not obtain the waiver beforehand, he was then given three options: Either substitute Abukaram with another runner, ask her to remove her hijab, or let her race though she will be disqualified at the finish line.
Flowers said that "the official didn't feel he had the authority to do the right thing and not disqualify her." Her coach ran a timer for Abukaram, knowing it wouldn't be officially counted. She ended up finishing the run in 22 minutes and 22 seconds, her personal best of the season.
"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 OHSAA to allow me to race due to my religious head covering. Hijabs are not specifically prohibited by OHSAA rulings," Abukaram wrote.
Since the disqualification last weekend, Flowers obtained an approved waiver letter, according to CNN, which means Abukaram will be competing in the regionals this Saturday.
Discrimination against hijabis is everywhere and it's appalling
The discrimination against the religious headscarf is evident in countries across the world, even in Arab countries like Lebanon. It's affected hundreds of hijabi women in the workplace, in public areas, and in sports competitions.
In 2018, an Egyptian woman in Germany received a job rejection from officials at a medical institution because of her hijab. In a response email to the woman, the employer wrote:
"Why did you send us a job application in the first place, there isn't a place for you with your hijab in this suburban area, think before you contact people for jobs."
In 2017, Europe's top court said employers can ban religious clothing (including hijab) at the workplace. In a video published that year by The Guardian, three Muslim women discussed how their lives had changed because of that ruling.