A high school in Portland, Me., is believed to be the first secondary school in the United States to offer its Muslim student athletes performance hijabs, the Associated Press reports.
The sport hijabs, which are specifically designed to stay in place during rigorous activity, will now eliminate the need for female Muslim athletes at the high school to provide their own head coverings, which often shifted or threatened to fall off during play.
The new headwear makes “a huge difference,” Deering High School tennis player Tabarek Kadhim told Portland’s CBS affiliate WGME. “I feel so comfortable now. I can play without my hijab falling off.”
The biggest benefit, students said, is that the new gear has given them a confidence boost on the field.
“I’ve always wanted to be able to show that I am a Muslim teenager who plays sports and now with the sports hijab that Deering high school brought, it’s like I can do that on the field to and it’s amazing because my school can show how great of a place it is,” lacrosse player Sulwan Ahmed added.
Interestingly, the initiative to have the high school provide sport hijabs to Muslim athletes came from the co-captains of the tennis team, Anaise Manikunda and Liva Pierce, who are not Muslim. They started an online campaign to raise funds and earned more than $800 to go toward the purchase of 25 hijabs at $45 a pop from a Minnesota-based manufacturer to cover Muslim athletes on all its high school teams. According to the AP, the two decided to raise the funds themselves through private donations to avoid possible criticism about taxpayers footing the bill for what’s considered religious apparel.
“We wanted to help students feel more included,” Pierce told the local news, expressing a sentiment that appears to be shared by Deering High School athletic officials.
“Kids know that when they come in through our doors, they’re safe, they’re honored and we honor individuality,” Rams Athletic Director Melanie Craig told WGME. “This was one way that we can do it.”
Deering’s move comes on just months after Nike announced its plans to start manufacturing a sports hijab.
Called the “Nike Pro Hajib,” the headwear was inspired by several Muslim athletes including Sarah Attar of Saudi Arabia, who wore a hijab in 2012 while competing in the 800 meters at the London Olympics, and weightlifter Amna Al Haddad of the United Arab Emirates who was slated to compete at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro last summer before an injury sidelined her.
“We worked with Amna and a variety of other athletes to see what they needed and wanted in a performance hijab,” a Nike spokeswoman told Al Arabiya English in March. “What we heard was that women were looking for a lightweight and breathable solution that would stay in place without concern of shifting.”
The market for performance hijabs will likely grow in coming years, as more sports authorities give the headwear the go-ahead to compete in.
Among them are the International Basketball Federation (FIBA), which passed a new rule last month to allow Muslim athletes to compete in hijabs starting on Oct. 1. The organization chalked the new rule up to practical purposes, rather than any effort to increase participation in the sport worldwide.
“The new rule was developed in order to minimize the risk of injuries and preserve consistency of the color of the uniform,” FIBA said in a statement.
FIBA’s ruling followed others made by USA Boxing, which cleared the way in early May for a 16-year-old Muslim boxer to wear her hijab in the ring, and FIFA, which lifted its ban on head coverings in 2014.