Najah Aqeel, a 14-year-old freshman at Valor Collegiate Prep in Nashville, was disqualified from her high school volleyball match for wearing a hijab.
Najah was warming up in preparation for a match on September 15, when she received word from her coach that a referee refused to let her play because of her headscarf.
The referee referenced a casebook rule that requires athletes that wear a hijab to be granted authorization from the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA).
Najah was unaware of the rule, and she had never had any issues with wearing her hijab in her previous matches.
Najah was given the choice to remove her hijab or sit out the match and she decided to sit out the match.
Najah told CNN:
I was angry, sad, and also shocked just because I had never heard of the rule before that. The rule has no business being in the casebook. It singles out hijabs.
I don’t see why I need approval to wear my hijab when it is a part of my religion.
Executive director for The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFSH) Karissa Niehoff told CNN the uniform guidelines are not hard rules, and that states can make exceptions. The NFSH sets competition rules for most US high school sports.
“We are heartbroken and deeply sorry that the young lady was disqualified from the match for wearing the hijab,” Niehoff stated.
“More common sense should have been demonstrated by the adults. The correct approach the referee should have taken is to have allowed the young lady to play and point out after the game that next time she needs to submit a letter.”
The NFSH Volleyball Casebook states, “The player must have authorization from the state association to wear the hijab or other types of items for religious reasons as it is otherwise illegal.”
Niehoff said NFSH will introduce new language to its casebook pertaining to religious headwear so it’s not an issue in the future, unless it poses a danger to the player or other competitors.
Cameron Hill, the athletic director at Valor Collegiate Academies, told CNN the school was not aware of the rule and characterized it as “antiquated and oppressive.”
“We want our state to make it understood that there is no need for Muslim women to get permission to wear their religious headwear,” Hill stated. “This rule is discriminatory and inequitable. We stand in solidarity with all of our scholars and families and their freedoms to express their religion freely and openly.”
Hill said Valor Collegiate Academies has drafted language they will propose to the TSSAA in hopes of issuing an exception to the rule.
Sabina Mohyuddin, executive director of the American Muslim Advisory Council, told CNN she is helping the Aqeel family with this matter.
According to Moyhuddin, it’s an issue of Constitutional rights. “Why should Muslim girls, who want to follow their constitutionally protected right, have an extra barrier to fully participate in sports in Tennessee?”
“This rule was used to humiliate a 14 year old student in front of her peers. It was traumatizing to say the least. We have Muslim girls across the state playing sports. Religious barriers to playing sports should not exists in this day and age. This rule is akin to telling Muslim girls that they need permission to be a Muslim.”
Shouts out to Aqeel Najah for standing up for herself and her religion. She has good people on her side and she will make change in Tennessee so the next Muslim girl doesn’t have to deal with this nonsense.
Clearly the referee that refused to let Najah play unless she removed her headscarf had an agenda. Little did he know his actions would modify an old-fashion rule.