TEHRAN (IQNA) –A high school athlete was disqualified from playing at her school’s volleyball game after a referee cited that her hijab violated the rules.
Najah Aqeel, who is a ninth grader at Valor Collegiate Academies, a public charter network based in Nashville, Tennessee, was due to play at an away game for the freshman volleyball team on Tuesday. Right before the start of the game, the referee told Najah and her assistant coach that her hijab violated the rules set by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), the national body that writes the rules for numerous sports for most high schools across the country, and that she required special permission to play.
Neither Najah nor her coaches knew anything about the requirement. She had already played games wearing the hijab. Angered by the lack of communication and the arbitrary enforcement of the rule, Najah began to cry.
“I was crying, not because I was hurt. I was crying because I was angry. I just thought it was unfair,” Najah told HuffPost. Najah’s mother, Aliya Aqeel, who was present to watch her daughter play, was devastated and tried to get answers.
“My baby’s crying. She was upset and I am that mom that’s like, ‘No. You can’t make her cry,’” said Aliya. “This was an injustice. It was because of her religion. It was because of her hijab.”
Najah is not the first Muslim student-athlete to have been disqualified from a high school competition due to the hijab. In 2018, Muslim teen Noor Alexandria Abukaram was disqualified from her race in Ohio after completing her personal best time because officials said her hijab violated the uniform and she needed to have a waiver.
Beyond schools, Muslim athletes in professional leagues have also faced similar challenges due to their hijabs, and many said they felt forced to choose between their faith and their passion for sports. Advocates have since called on both athletic departments and international leagues alike to end singling out Muslims and update what they call antiqued rules that have particularly targeted Muslim women.