While going through the names of competitors, she noticed her time wasn’t included in the rankings. In complete disarray, she asked her teammates about the results. They informed her she was disqualified because of her ‘hijab’,
Noor Alexandria Abukaram competed at the Ohio district on October 19, 2019. When she reached the finish line in a 5K personal best of 22:22, she was ecstatic with her progress and went straight to the grades board to celebrate with her teammates.
“I went blank,” Abukaram says.
Growing up in Sylvania, Ohio, the 17-year-old has participated in sports for most of her life. Both of her parents are runners too.
“Running forces me to think about everything that’s going on in my life so I think about my day and set my intentions,” Noor says.
When she was disqualified, her initial thought was that the officials made a mistake. But after her coach informed her he didn’t complete the waiver that would allow her to race with religious headwear, in accordance with the Ohio High School Athletic Association rules. She felt a wave of humiliation.
“Why do I need special permission to do something that everyone else is doing?”
After the race, Abukaram’s sister encouraged her to speak up about her experience to ensure that the next generation of Muslim women doesn’t endure the same treatment.
She informed her cousin, local activist Zobaida S. Falah who shared the runner’s experience on Facebook, and the post went viral. Soon news stations and major publications picked up the story. In June 2020, Abukaram worked with Ohio senator Theresa Gavarone to write Senate Bill 288, which prohibits schools and interscholastic organizations from adopting rules banning the wearing of religious apparel during athletic events.
“What the bill entails is that you can’t have any discriminatory policies in extracurricular activities so it doesn’t just include cross country, it’s speech, it’s debate, it’s chess club, it’s anything that anyone is trying to pursue,” Abukaram says.
After Abukaram testified that she’d been discriminated against in the cross-country race because of her hijab, the bill passed unanimously by the Ohio Senate on June 24, 2020.
In the year since Noor was disqualified, the high school senior has emerged as an activist through her initiative, #LetNoorRun. Just as she received support during her experience, she seeks to assist and advocate for fellow athletes in the fight against discrimination in sports.
“I’m a Muslim and I’m competing in this sport, and I’m a part of this sport just as much as anybody else,” Abukaram says.