Ohio HS Cross-Country Runner Noor Alexandria Abukaram Disqualified Over Hijab

Kyle Newport@@KyleNewportFeatured ColumnistOctober 25, 2019

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 24: Competitors race in the Girls 13 years 3k U14 event during the Australian Cross-Country Championships at Kembla Grange on August 24, 2019 in Wollongong, Australia. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)
Jason McCawley/Getty Images

Sylvania (Ohio) Northview High School cross-country runner Noor Alexandria Abukaram was disqualified from last weekend's Division 1 Northwest District meet for wearing a hijab, which violated uniform regulations.

"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's Christina Zdanowicz on Thursday. "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?"

Abukaram had posted her best 5-kilometer time of the season, unofficially clocking in at 22 minutes and 22 seconds at the meet. Unfortunately for the 16-year-old runner, though, her time will not be recognized by the Ohio High School Athletic Association (as of now) due to the fact she did not have a signed waiver that permitted her to wear a hijab during the race.

According to Zdanowicz, Abukaram has previously competed for her school's soccer and track teams, adding the cross-country team to her activities this year. Never before had the junior been notified that her hijab was a violation of OHSAA rules.

Abukaram told the Toledo Blade's Kirk Baird:

"I couldn't ask for a better support system. My coach is completely on my side and my teammates are so supportive. I've been a student-athlete for as long as I can remember and wearing hijabs since 2016 ... which is why I was so appalled when there was an issue. It's never happened to me before, and I certainly didn't expect it to happen to me at cross country."

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The OHSAA said in a statement to the Blade, "Cross-country runners may participate in competitions with religious headwear, provided the runner has obtained a waiver from the OHSAA and submitted to the head official before the race." 

Abukaram's parents have contacted an Islamic civil rights attorney, according to Baird, and plan on reaching out to the OHSAA to receive clarification on the rule.

"We ultimately want a dialogue to speak out not just on Noor's behalf, but on future athletes," Yolanda Melendez, Abukaram's mother, told Baird.