Officials at Valor College Prep, a Nashville, Tenn., charter school, are calling on the National Federation of State High School Associations and the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association to ditch a uniform rule requiring permission to be granted for Muslim athletes to wear a hijab while participating in volleyball matches. The call comes after a student-athlete was prohibited from participating in a match while wearing hers.
The Tennessean reports that freshman Najah Aqeel was disqualified from playing Tuesday by a referee who cited an NFHS rule that the athlete needed authorization from the TSSAA to wear her hijab.
“I was hurt, disappointed, angry and shocked just because I’ve never heard that rule before and I was like: ‘that’s really weird for me to have to send a letter in for me to wear my scarf,’” Najah told the Tennessean. “It made me see the world in a different light, and it just makes me believe in my religion a whole lot more now. And I just don’t want anyone else to have to go through it, so I just want to get the rule changed.”
Cameron Hill, the school’s athletic director, released a statement on the school’s athletics Instagram account calling the rule “antiquated” and “oppressive.”
“While we were able to get approval from the TSSAA and we now have the letter that will allow players to wear hijabs in the future, we feel this rule is discriminatory and is inequitable,” Hill wrote.
“We stand in solidarity with all of our scholars and families and their freedoms to express their religion freely and openly,” she continued. “The athletic department has now enacted a policy that states that our sports teams will stand together in solidarity by committing to not proceed with a game if any individual player is prevented from playing for any discriminatory reasons, and to take any measure necessary to make it known that Valor opposes this unconscionable rule and will advocate it be changed.”
American Muslim Advisory Council executive director Sabina Mohyuddin also released the following statement:
“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 exist in this day and age. This rule is akin to telling Muslim girls that they need permission to be a Muslim.”
TSSAA assistant director Matthew Gillespie told the Tennessean via email that the rule book “does not specifically say that any student cannot wear an article on their head for religious reasons. However, these items fall under the restrictions of the rule.
“TSSAA has always granted exceptions to any student that wishes to participate with head wear, or other articles of clothing, due to religious reasons. The rule book states that an exception may be granted if requested by the administration of the school to the state association.”
So basically, they are requiring that a Muslim atlete ask permission to be Muslim on the court. It seems frustratingly obvious that the simplest way to resolve this conflict would be to implement a permanent rule allowing hijabs.
So far there has been no response regarding wheter or not the uniform rule will be altered to allow for religious freedom.