Noor Alexandria Abukaram ran her best time at a cross-country event on Saturday; 22 minutes 22 seconds. It was her seventh sporting event in the season, which included soccer and track. From all reports, the 16 year old was ecstatic afterwards, celebrating with her teammates.
She learned shortly after the race that even though she participated her time wasn’t recorded because she’d been disqualified. She had needed a waiver to wear her hijab, and she didn’t get one.
— Halimah DeOliveira (@BeYouInHD) October 27, 2019
Her coach, Jerry Flowers, told reporters he was made aware of Abukaram’s disqualification when the teenager was already at the starting line, but chose not to relay the information to her.
“She had earned the right to race with the varsity, so I felt the best thing to do was to let her run unhindered,” Flower said.
Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) had advised Flowers to tell his athlete to remove her hijab or swap her out for another runner.
Flowers told The Washington Post in an email, “My hope is that this incident highlights how detrimental this rule can be and spurs positive change for our sport.”
The OHSAA argued their decision to disqualify the runner for wearing her hijab is a “standard enforcement of their OHSAA uniform regulations”.
“Cross country runners may participate in competitions with religious headwear, provided the runner has obtained a waiver from the OHSAA and submitted it to the head official before the race, since it is a change to the OHSAA uniform regulations. The official was simply enforcing this rule since a waiver had not been submitted,” Tim Stried, spokesman for the OHSAA, told CNN.
Abukaram told NBC, “My hijab is a part of me. If you’re asking me to run without my hijab, you’re asking me not to run.”
The Sylvania Northview High School student from Ohio took to Instagram to publicise the OHSAA’s discriminatory rule.
View this post on Instagram
As I sit here overwhelmed with emotions, I’m a little unsure what to write to properly depict the gratitude I am feeling. Before all of this, I felt crushed, betrayed by a sport that I have grown to love so dearly. I was scared with apprehension that my coach and teammates would be negatively affected by all the media. I was conflicted. I didn’t want to offend anyone but I knew I had to do something so that no other student athlete competing in hijab would ever endure the humiliation and anguish that I went through last weekend. I am so thankful to each and every person who has shown me love and support. You guys don’t realize what that did for me, so thank you! #letnoorrun #westandwithnoor
“It was like your worst nightmare to have to compete and then find out that you got disqualified and it’s because of something that you love,” Abukaram told CNN. “Why should you have to sacrifice your religion and a part of who you are to run, to do another thing that you’re very passionate about?”
High profile figures including Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren took to Twitter to support the teenager spurring, on a number of hashtags across various social media platforms, including #WeStandWithNoor, #IStandWithNoor and #LetNoorRun.
I’ve got your back, Noor. Every kid should be able to feel safe and welcome at school—and Muslim students should never be denied participation in school activities. My public school plan fights discriminatory dress codes that exclude students like Noor. https://t.co/cNEZfnk3vy
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) October 24, 2019
@OHSAASports DO 👏🏾 BETTER 👏🏾
I can work with you to make recommendations about your outdated policy. And make suggestions on how to move forward (incl: required cultural sensitivity seminars for all your staff, and coaches). #LetNoorRun
— Shireen Footybedsheets Ahmed (@_shireenahmed_) October 25, 2019
Flowers told reports he eventually obtained a waiver for Abukaram, and her previous disqualification will not prevent her from competing in future races.
“She’s had a good week of practice. She seems focused. She’s a tough kid. Hopefully, she’ll have another season-best,” he said. “I’m excited we get another chance.”