Hijab Success Stories

Contrary to popular images, the hijab is not a hurdle to the Muslim woman’s progress.  In fact, it probably helps.  Don’t believe me?  Well what would you say to a 15-year-old Harvard freshman, a Division 1 basketball star, a fencing champion, an Olympic sprinter, a newsanchor, a sportswear designer, and successful active women all over the world who choose to wear the Islamic veil?  These are their stories…

Saheela Ibrahim

Saheela Ibraheem, 15-year-old Harvard Freshman


Bilqiis abdul-Qaadir

Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir, Division 1 Basketball Star


Ruqayya al-Ghasara

Ruqaya al-Ghasara, Olympic Sprinter


‘Ulaa al-Barqi

Ola al-Barqi, Awtan TV Newsanchor


ahiida swimwear

Aheda Zanetti, Owner and designer of ahiida Islamic sportswear


Anonymous Robot Designer

HijabisDoingThings.tumblr.com- a site showcasing successful, active and happy hijabis


Ibtihaj Muhammad

Ibtihaj Muhammad, Fencing Champion


Kulsoom Abdullah, Weightlifter


Hijab Success Story: 15-year-old Harvard Fresh(wo)man

Piscataway girl, 15, decides to go to Harvard after being accepted to 13 colleges

By Kelly Heyboer/ The Star-Ledger

Saheela Ibraheem wasn’t sure any college would want to admit a 15-year-old. So the Piscataway teen hedged her bets and filled out applications to 14 schools from New Jersey to California.

“It’s the age thing. I wanted to make sure I had options,” said Saheela, a senior at the Wardlaw-Hartridge School in Edison.

In the end, 13 colleges accepted her — including six of the eight Ivy League schools.

After weeks of debate, Saheela settled on Harvard. She will be among the youngest members of the school’s freshman class.

“I’ll be one of the youngest. But I won’t be the youngest,” the soon-to-be 16-year-old said.

Saheela is among the millions of high school seniors who had to finalize their college decisions by Monday, the deadline for incoming freshman to send deposits to the school of their choice. Nationwide, this year’s college selection process was among the most competitive in history as most top colleges received a record number of applications.

Saheela joins a growing number of New Jersey students going to college before they are old enough to drive. Last year, Kyle Loh of Mendham graduated from Rutgers at 16. In previous years, a 14-year-old from Cranbury and two of his 15-year-old cousins also graduated from Rutgers.

For Saheela, her unusual path to college began when she was a sixth-grader at the Conackamack Middle School in Piscataway. Eager to learn more about her favorite subject, math, the daughter of Nigerian immigrants asked to move to a higher-level class. The school let her skip sixth grade entirely.

By high school, Saheela said, she was no longer feeling challenged by her public school classes. So, she moved to the Wardlaw-Hartridge School, a 420-student private school, where she skipped her freshman year and enrolled as a 10th-grader. Her three younger brothers, twins now in the ninth grade and a younger brother in second grade, all eventually joined her at the school.

School officials were impressed Saheela, one of their top students, didn’t spend all her time studying.

“She’s learned and she’s very smart. But she keeps pushing herself,” said William Jenkins, the Wardlaw-Hartridge School’s director of development.

ibraheem-2.JPGAaron Houston/For The Star-LedgerSaheela Ibraheem, a 15-year-old senior at Wardlaw-Hartridge School in Edison, has been admitted to 13 colleges, and chose to attend Harvard this fall. Photo taken during a Wardlaw-Hartridge softball game in Piscataway.

Saheela also excels outside the classroom. She is a three-sport athlete, playing outfield for the school’s softball team, defender on the soccer team, and swimming relays and 50-meter races for the swim team. She also sings alto in the school choir, plays trombone in the school band and serves as president of the school’s investment club, which teaches students about the stock market by investing in virtual stocks.

Saheela began applying to colleges last fall. Her applications included her grade point average (between a 96 and 97 on a 100-point scale) and her 2,340 SAT score (a perfect 800 on the math section, a 790 in writing and a 750 in reading).

She was delighted when she got her first acceptance in December from California Institute of Technology. “I was so excited. I got into college!,” Saheela said.

More acceptances followed from Harvard, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, Cornell, Brown, Williams College, Stanford, University of Chicago, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Washington University in St. Louis.

On March 30, she got her sole rejection letter — from Yale. Saheela isn’t sure why the Ivy League school didn’t want her.

“My parents were thinking it was the age thing,” she said.

Saheela was torn between going to MIT and Harvard. A visit to both campuses last month made the choice easy. “She went to Harvard and she fell in love with the place,” said Shakirat Ibraheem, her mother.

Saheela said she wants to major in either neurobiology or neuroscience and plans to become a research scientist who studies how the brain works. As for her own brain, Saheela insists she is nothing special.

She credits her parents with teaching her to love learning and work hard. Her father, Sarafa, an analyst and vice president at a New York financial firm, would often study with her at night and home school her in subjects not taught at school.

“I try my best in everything I do,” Saheela said. “Anyone who’s motivated can work wonders.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story mistakenly reported the number of Ivy League colleges. There are eight. Saheela Ibraheem did not apply to Dartmouth College.


Hijab Success Story: Fencing Champion

Fencer With Headscarf Is a Cut Above the Rest


When Ibtihaj Muhammad fastens her headscarf, or hijab, around her chin, one of its purposes is to deflect unwanted attention.

[FENCER_cov]Associated PressOlympic hopeful Ibtihaj Muhammad will compete this weekend.

But when she wears a hijab in a sporting arena, it often has the opposite effect.

The New Jersey native is currently ranked 11th in the world in women’s sabre, a discipline of fencing. Only one American ranks higher: Mariel Zagunis, the two-time Olympic and world champion.

Both women will compete this weekend at a World Cup fencing event at the New York Athletic Club to earn points toward qualifying for the 2012 London Olympics.

The International Olympic Committee and the U.S. Olympic Committee do not track athletes’ religion, but if Muhammad makes the Olympic team, she would likely be the first practicing Muslim woman to represent the U.S. at the Games.

When she competes, photographers often zoom in on the name Muhammad on the back of her fencing jacket. Her mother, Denise, recently saw such a photo and said, “I realized: my God, she’s representing all of us.

NYC World Cup

Friday, June 24 ? Sunday, June 26
New York Athletic Club, 180 Central Park South
Night sessions/ medal bouts $15 and up All-day tickets $2

“You feel the pride. Muslim women are struggling around the world. She’s not on the front lines but when she stands up there, she’s making her mark for them, for freedom, to have their voices heard.”

To make the ultra-selective squad?a maximum of two women per country will compete in sabre in London?Muhammad has been training 30 hours per week at the Fencers Club on West 28th Street in Manhattan and another three to four hours a week with a conditioning coach near her home In Maplewood, N.J.

“I’m one of these people with tunnel vision,” said Muhammad, 25. “I’m convinced that I can do anything with enough practice and enough work.”


Natalie Keyssar for The Wall Street JournalShe is the 11th ranked female sabre fencer in the world and the second ranked American. She is trying to earn a spot on the Olympic team that will go to the 2012 Games in London.

Playing sports was a given for the third of five children growing up in an athletic household, but Muhammad always wore long clothing under her volleyball and softball uniforms to conform with Islam’s emphasis on modesty.

When Ibtijhaj was 13, her mother drove past the local high school and saw fencers in the cafeteria who were covered from head to toe. Her mother turned to her and said, “I don’t know what that is, but when you get to high school, you’re doing it.”

Then, one day at practice, “Out of this mild young lady came a roar,” said her Columbia High School fencing coach, Frank Mustilli. “She got hit, got mad, and under that calm facade was a very aggressive individual.”

At 16, she dropped epee for the lightning-quick sabre discipline, which targets everything above the waist (except hands) and allows scoring with the edge of the blade as well as the tip.

As team captain, Muhammad helped her high school win two New Jersey state team titles. Later, her youngest sister, Faizah, became a two-time state individual champion in sabre. (Faizah, 19, will also compete at the New York World Cup.)

At Duke University, Muhammad was a three-time All-America and graduated in 2007 with a double major in international relations and African-American studies (and a minor in Arabic).

Two years later, she began to work with the 2000 U.S. Olympian Akhi Spencer-El in Manhattan.

“It completely changed my fencing,” she said. “This is the first time I’ve ever been taught to fence tactically.”

In 2009, Muhammad won the U.S. national title. A year later, she made her first quarterfinal at a World Cup event (losing to Zagunis, 15-8, in Brooklyn, N.Y.). And in November 2010, Muhammad finished 14th in her world championship debut in Paris. All the while, observing her Muslim faith.


Natalie Keyssar for The Wall Street JournalIbtihaj Muhammad practices her thrusts at the New Jersey Fencing Alliance on Thursday.

Every day, Muhammad prays five times. The fourth prayer, Maghrib, usually coincides with training so she will say it at home later, or pray in a utility room.

Last year, during the holy month of Ramadan when eating and drinking are prohibited from sun-up to sundown, Muhammad woke up at 90-minute intervals in the middle of the night to hydrate during a high-altitude training camp in Colorado Springs. (In 2012, the entire London Olympics will occur within Ramadan.)

But what bothers Muhammad’s mother most is the fencing etiquette that entails shaking hands with male referees and seeing her daughter travel without a male guardian.

At airports, fencers are always scrutinized because they carry on bulbous facemasks, metallic jackets and electrical wires. A hijab adds to the questioning. In Belgium this month, Muhammad was told to leave the airport if she did not remove her headscarf.

Her father Eugene, a retired cop, taught her, “The more you [protest], the more you have to take off.” Diplomacy eventually prevailed. Usually, Muhammad speaks her mind. She used to be an emotional fencer. Now she is more controlled, but retains her trademark feistiness.

“On the strip, she’ll fight for every single touch and not budge,” Zagunis said.

But ultimately the referee decides who scored the first touch and, early on, Muhammad sometimes wondered if her minority status affected the outcome of her matches. If so, she figured it had more to do with being African-American than Muslim.

“I have a hard time imagining someone would treat me different based on my faith,” she said. “So when I come across anyone being rude to me or anything of that nature, I attribute it to race. I guess that’s my first instinct.”

Six-time Olympian Peter Westbrook told her, “You cannot allow ‘because I’m Muslim’ or ‘because I’m black’ into play in fencing. The minute you put those in, you’ve lost.”

“I have to remember my purpose,” she said.

Very few Muslim women have earned Olympic medals since Nawal El Moutawakel of Morocco ran to victory in the 400-meter hurdles in 1984 wearing shorts and a tank top. Muhammad hopes to add to that in hijab.

“I’d love for other minority women and religious minorities [in the U.S.] to believe they can excel in something outside the norm?not just sports, anything where they’re breaking the barrier,” she said, “and not be deterred by what the image is just because they fall outside that box.”

Copyright 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved


Hijab Success Story: Worldwide…


Hijabis Doing Things!

So here’s the deal. The past decade hasn’t exactly shed the best light on Islam. Muslim women are portrayed as oppressed, helpless, voiceless, and faceless in the mainstream media. The truth is, we’re everything but. And here is the proof. Here is our collection of pictures of women that wear hijab (the traditional Islamic dress covering the head) doing all kinds of things.[This blog is run by three hijabi sisters, living in London, Ontario]
Ahiida Swimwear (my wife has one!)

Hijab Success Stories: Islamic Sportsgear



Muslim Athletic Wear Covers Skin Without Cramping Style

Jennifer Cutraro
for National Geographic News
April 27, 2006
The design of most modern sportswear puts many Muslim women athletes in
a curious bind: adhere to their faith and have their motions hampered or
compromise their beliefs in the name of athletic performance?

The Koran requires women to cover everything except their faces, hands, and feet, says Tayyibah Taylor, editor-in-chief of Azizah Magazine, a publication geared toward Muslim-American women.

“The idea is that your modesty in dress and behavior is a passport to public space,” Taylor said. “It makes the statement that a Muslim woman’s body is not a part of the public conversation.”

Recently Muslim women living in a Somali refugee camp in Kenya (see map) were given unique new volleyball uniforms.

Designed through a partnership between Nike and the United Nations, the uniforms permit the women athletes to dig, spike, and set while covering their bodies and heads in a way that remains true to their faith.

But don’t look for such specialized gear at your local mall or sporting-goods store just yet.

Nike spokesperson Alan Marks says the Beaverton, Oregon, company currently has no plans to commercialize the product. And most other major sportswear manufacturers have no lines specifically targeting Muslim women.

Today a scattering of small companies is the only commercial source of sportswear for the modest-minded.

Modest Yet Fashionable

Finding appropriate exercise wear is something that Muslim women have struggled with for years, says Laila Al-Marayati, spokesperson for the Los Angeles, California-based Muslim Women’s League.

She says some women and girls choose to work out in long-sleeved shirts and sweatpants, but that is only a partial solution.

“Muslim women sometimes will prefer to go to all-female gyms or work out at home, so they can exercise comfortably and not be overwhelmed with heat exhaustion,” Al-Marayati said.

An additional challenge is the need to keep the head covered with a hijab, a head scarf girls begin to wear in early adolescence (related photo: young Iraqi girl trying on a hijab).

“As an active Muslim girl, I found it difficult to participate in most sports, because of all the excess clothes we were wearing. And the veil—very unpractical when playing sports,” Aheda Zanetti wrote in an email to National Geographic News.

Zanetti is the owner of Ahiida, an Australian company that designs women’s sportswear.

“All of that excess fabric had to go, and that’s when I introduced the Hijood—a hijab shaped like a hood,” Zanetti wrote.

The Hijood is a close-fitting head covering made of a lightweight fabric.

A Danish company called Capsters produces a similar product. Designer Cindy van den Bremen says her goal was to develop a sportier hijab for girls to wear in school gym classes.

Zanetti also developed a line of swimwear for Muslim women, which incorporates a long-sleeved top, close-fitting hood, and long pants, all made of a stretchy, lightweight fabric.

Turkish clothing manufacturer Hasema likewise produces modest yet fashionable swimwear for women, men, and girls.

That’s welcome news to girls like Zarina Jalal, a high school student who lives just outside of Albany, New York.

“If there was a way that I could do swimming without baring myself as much as I’m required to, then I’d definitely take up swimming more often,” she said.

Jalal gave up soccer in middle school because of the requirement to wear shorts as part of the team uniform. She says clothing requirements can be a barrier for Muslim girls who want to play sports.

“The stereotypical clothing when you’re doing anything athletic competitively is a very big turnoff for Muslim girls, in my opinion,” she said.

To Market?

Taylor, of Azizah Magazine, sees great market potential for sportswear more appropriate for Muslim women.

“In another 15 years there’s going to be a sizeable Muslim consumer market and lots of demand,” she said. “I think we’re where the Hispanic market was 20 years ago, and today the Hispanic market is a big consumer market.”

Arun Jain, a marketing professor at the University of Buffalo in New York State, agrees.

He says, given the growth potential of the Muslim community in the United States, major sportswear manufacturers could be missing out on an opportunity to break into an emerging market.

“I believe it’s a strategic blunder on their part,” Jain said. “My feeling is that they don’t think there’s that much buying power, but I am certain that they’re mistaken.

“If customers are given what they are looking for, they will be willing to pay, even at a higher price,” he said.

That “strategic blunder” might pay off for the specialty shops that cater specifically to the needs of Muslim women in sports, he says.

Yuka Nakamura, a doctoral candidate in physical education and health at the University of Toronto in Canada, has studied Muslim women’s participation in sports.

She says there’s definitely a need for modest sportswear, even beyond Muslim communities.

She cites a program at a pool in Calgary, Canada, that tried to encourage more Muslim women to take up swimming by allowing them to wear T-shirts in the pool.

“It wasn’t just Muslim women who wanted this,” she said. “An increasing number of women felt more comfortable being covered up and even larger men who felt uncomfortable in a bathing suit and preferred to be in a T-shirt.”

Azizah’s Taylor agrees. “It’s not only Muslim women who are making attempts to be modest when they go out,” she said.

“There’s also a contingency of Christian women and Jewish women and others who just don’t feel that they need to show their bodies. Other women are striving to be modest as well.”

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Hijab Success Story: News Anchor

Fully-veiled presenters hit Saudi screens

Amani Fikri
BBC Arabic Service

Until recently you would never have seen women presenting television programmes dressed from head to toe in the niqab or burqa. But on the Saudi religious channel Awtan TV it has now become the norm.

"We don't introduce ourselves as beautiful women who put on layers of make-up. Our audience is focusing on...our ideas and our discourse."

Female broadcasters at the station are draped in the all-enveloping dresses, which are usually black and also cover their faces.

The work environment too is very different. Male technical assistants do not enter the studio while the women are presenting.

There are more than 60 religious channels across the Middle East. Some allow women to present programmes without being fully covered or dressed in black.

Others have no women presenters at all.


Awtan TV decided to take a unique approach. The station was launched in 2008, and last month it set a precedent by allowing women to present, but only on the condition that they wear the niqab.


“ We report from the field in the niqab and it does not stop us from doing anything 
Ola al-Barqi Awtan TV presenter

Ola al-Barqi anchors a breakfast show, as well as a quiz show for girls called Mosabqat Banat.

A key element of the programme is the relationship built between presenter, contestants and the audience – something that might be more difficult if the presenter is totally covered up.

“The face is not the only way to build a relationship,” explains Ms Barqi, speaking to BBC Arabic.

“We’re always receiving calls from viewers in various countries encouraging us to keep doing what we do.”

And, as Ms Barqi points out, women are not just confined to the studio at Awtan TV.

“We report from the field in the niqab and it does not stop us from doing anything.”


Wahhabism, the strain of Sunni Islam that is officially practised in Saudi Arabia, is considered one of the religion’s most conservative forms.

Some critics say that Awtan TV is restricting women’s freedom by making it compulsory to wear the niqab if they want to be presenters.

The issue recently returned to prominence when a leading Egyptian cleric, Sheikh Mohammed Tantawi, said he would issue an edict stating that the niqab was a “custom that has nothing to do with Islam”.

Many Muslim scholars take the position that the niqab is not obligatory.

But Ms Barqi says nobody “forced the niqab” on her and she does not intend to force it on her three daughters, who watch their mother on television and feel proud of her.

However, the presenter thinks that when the time comes, her girls will want to wear the niqab because that is how they were brought up and it is, she argues, part of Shariah – Islamic law.


Ms Barqi says there are other good reasons why she wears the niqab.

It helps her to concentrate more on her work rather than anything else, and what she looks like is irrelevant.

“We don’t introduce ourselves as beautiful women who put on layers of make-up. Our audience is focusing on what we present to them, our ideas and our discourse.”

Ms Barqi believes some people work in the media to become famous. But that is not why she became a presenter.

“We don’t need fame,” she explains.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2009/12/09 10:29:55 GMT

© BBC 2011

Hijab Success Story: Olympic Sprinter



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Austrade media release

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Bahrain’s Olympic short distance running champion, Ruqaya Al Ghasara will turn heads today at her first Beijing race (200 metres Tuesday 19/8/08 at 12:21 EST) stepping out in an Australian designed and manufactured body-covering top including the modern Hijab in accordance with Muslim tradition.

Ruqaya Al Ghasara of Bahrain #2013 celebrates winning the Women's 200m during the 15th Asian Games Doha 2006 at the Khalifa Stadium December 11, 2006 in Doha, Qatar.

Ms Al Ghasara, currently ranked number seven in the world, said that wearing the specially designed Hijood Sports Top from Australian company Ahiida had improved her performance.
“It’s great to finally have a high performance outfit that allows me to combine my need for modesty with a design made from breathable, moisture controlled fabric that allows freedom of movement and flexibility,” said Ms Al Ghasara.
“It’s definitely helped me to improve my times being able to wear something so comfortable and I’m sure it will help me to give my best performance at Beijing.
“I hope that my wearing the Hijood Sports Top will inspire other women to see that modesty or religious beliefs don’t have to be a barrier to participating in competitive sports.”
Ahiida Managing Director, Aheda Zanetti, said that although this outfit had been custom made for Ms Al Ghasara her company had been deluged with international orders from women wanting conservative sporting outfits since its inception five years ago.
“Since Ahiida first came to media attention with our special Burqini Swimsuit for Aussie Muslim lifesavers, we have had significant interest in our unique conservative sportswear,” said Ms Zanetti.
“Our sportswear supports women who want, for whatever reason, to wear things that are modestly cut and have useful functions like keeping their hair out of their eyes whilst enjoying an active sporty lifestyle.
“We are thrilled to be associated with Ruqaya who is a passionate and talented sportswoman and a great role model.
Ms Zanetti said that working with the Australian Trade Commission (Austrade) had helped her to access many international markets.
“Austrade had helped me to be in places that I couldn’t get to and to speak on my behalf internationally,” she said.
Austrade’s Chief Economist, Tim Harcourt said that Ahiida was indicative of Australia’s unique business capability in servicing big sporting events.
“As a nation of sports fans, you’d expect Australia to know something about this sector. And fortunately, it’s true!,” said Mr Harcourt.
“Since putting on the Sydney Olympics in 2000, Australia has developed a world class reputation for sports infrastructure, sports marketing and merchandising as well as sports medicine and sports-related technology.
“Holding sporting events themselves has also helped Australian exporters in other sectors. For example Cleanevent which provided cleaning services to Sydney picked up the Athens contract, architects like PTW and Woodheads are helping to design architecture in Beijing in the Olympic precinct and elsewhere and Biograde are using the Olympics to showcase their environmental technologies.
“Since the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Australia has forged over $1.7 billion in trade and investment deals via sports related networking. It’s become part of our national brand and its shows that the sport exports do have lasting economic benefit.”

Austrade will harness the excitement and energy of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games to showcase Australia in China. More than 3000 Australian and Chinese businesspeople are expected to attend events at Business Club Australia. Business Club Australia is the official business program for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, and will use the resources of Austrade’s Chinese network of 15 offices to bring together Australians and key Chinese officials and businesspeople. Over 40 Australian companies have won more than 50 Beijing Games related contracts, many with Austrade assistance.
Bahrain’s Olympic team are sponsored by Nike. As part of Ms Al Ghasara’s team contract she competes in Nike shoes and National Olympic Committee sleeveless Vest.