Nike’s debut of their new sport hijab generated plenty of commentary — with some people thanking the brand for creating a sweat-wicking option for Muslim women, and others saying they’re supporting their oppression.
Amna Al Haddad, a weightlifter in the United Arab Emirates who qualified for one of her country’s spots in the 2016 Rio Olympics, defended the sportswear brand on social media.
“From my perspective as a former athlete who competed in Hijab, in the past, the big brands didn’t see the need or market for it as it was not ‘popular’ and it was unheard of to see women train, exercise and compete in hijab,” she writes on Instagram.
Al Haddad says that’s shifted in the last few years.
“It is a recent phenomenon where more women have expressed a need for it and more professional athletes have fought for rights to compete with a headscarf, and have an equal playing field. We made it big in the news, we couldn’t be ignored.”
Weightlifting was a big part of my life in my early 20s. It was a dream and a goal I wanted to achieve to compete at the international stages. It made me grow as a human being in ways I wouldn’t replace. No matter how tough it was. I told myself I am tougher. __ Leaving the corporate world at age 22 was a decision I knew deep down was right for me, even though I had no plan; to create something of my life that I know I will be proud of. ___ There were times I really wanted to let it all go, quit the journey, it was painful; women in sports was still at its young stages in the UAE. I felt alone. ___ I powered through because I realized the long-term vision of doing it, and I know my vision is looking beyond everyday. __ I look back to accept the pain to move forward. Accept my success. Accept the stories. Accept the experiences. I accept. #amnaalhaddadquotes
A post shared by آمنة الحداد Amna Al Haddad 🇦🇪 (@amna.s.alhaddad) on Jan 30, 2017 at 7:22am PST
“They know that we are here to stay and decided to join the party and create another ‘competitive’ sport hijab in the market, which by the way, did exist in the market for a few years now.”
The Rio Olympics were a significant moment for Muslim female athletes, from Ibtihaj Muhammad, the U.S. fencer who became the first American Olympian to compete while wearing a hijab, to the Egyptian volleyball team who were finally allowed to don headscarves during competitions.
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“I support Muslim women with or without hijab, and how they dress is their choice,” Al Haddad says. “And with the Nike Sports Hijab, it surely will encourage a new generation of athletes to pursue sports professionally, and without us athletes who fought for this right and made it happen, Nike wouldn’t ‘just do it.’ “