As Ramadan comes to a close, a time when Muslims believe prayers come to manifest through the workings of the Divine, Noor Suleiman looked back at an occurrence in college that years later collided with the mission at Haute Hijab.
While sitting in her home with her two adorable kids crawling around her, Suleiman shared a moment — a really uncomfortable moment — about a UN week event she attended where a president of a foreign country was in attendance. Suleiman was in her hijabi professional outfit while surrounded in a sea of pencil skirts, and she felt an emotional burden connected to her headscarf.
“I was sitting there all covered up and I just felt old and frumpy, even though I looked put together,” Suleiman said. “I remember making dua like ‘God, I don't like feeling like this, this isn't me, fix it. And you know, he did right then and there. That event ended up being like a wild success for me.”
Remember how Suleiman was seated next to the President in attendance? Well, she ended up landing an internship shortly after.
“As much as we try to say looks don't matter, how you look does impact how you feel, right,” Suleiman said.
At Haute Hijab, Suleiman works on the marketing side of things to give “women options to wear hijab beautifully, in a way that makes them feel comfortable and confident with themselves” when they walk into a room.
An even younger version of Suleiman — the version who was a teenaged softball athlete — had once counted herself out of the competition all together. There seemed to be two choices for Suleiman at the time: either continue playing softball or to take a leap of faith and practice hijab. Both didn’t seem like they could exist at once, in a seamless, confident manner.
“It takes a lot of bravery at that age,” Suleiman said. “It's very hard to be brave and do things that not everybody else is doing. So for girls who do it nowadays, it's very commendable.”
Before the era of social media, visibly Muslim athletes on women’s teams weren’t the norm — it still isn’t the norm in most places. But now we are starting to see more headscarves and long-sleeved undergear on ads for major sports brands, and on the playing field.
“Visibility makes a big difference,” Suleiman said.
As a mother of two — one boy and one girl under the age of eight — Suleiman thinks about what her daughter would go through as an athlete. Suleiman has hope however and is taking action to make the future for her daughter, and others who choose to observe hijab, easier when it comes to sports and to wearing hijab every day.
Through different campaigns, Suleiman works to help women feel confident in what they choose to wear. The #CantBanUs campaign speaks to women who were pushed out of sports because of an infraction related to the hijab practice.
The most famous ambassador of this campaign is Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir, who was a wild success as a collegiate basketball star, but couldn’t elevate her game to the professional arena because of what is colloquially known as the Hijab Ban.
“Bilqis is literally a real life superhero in my eyes — I have so much respect for her,” Suleiman said. “And the fact that she did not compromise her integrity; It was very hard for her. Like at one point she was questioning her fate. She was like ‘basketball is my life.’ You know? Like ‘who am I [without],’ you know? And it was really a journey for her to decide her faith over basketball.”
Women shouldn’t have to compromise their right to sports or their right to feel beautiful because of their faith. Both can co-exist.
“Honestly, this campaign, I think is the highlight of just my career,” Suleiman said. “This thus far, I have to say this is one of my favorites, because it's so important.”
Every state has its own association governing sports participation, uniforms, and athlete safety. It also varies per sport. The campaign urges athletes to look into their sports rule books and find out the nuances of what’s required in their sport, in their school, and in their state.
“We also helped use our platform to elevate the campaign's of girls or women who have been banned.” Suleiman said. “And oftentimes, when they get banned, it's like mid game, and it's a referee that is the only one in the whole area that knows about this rule. Oftentimes, they'll play half the season, and everything's fine. And then one ref will come and be like, ‘Oh, this is not allowed, you need a waiver.’”
That’s what happened with Noor Abukaram, an athlete from Ohio who’d completed a record-breaking race, only to be disqualified for not having a waiver on hand for her sports hijab.
“There shouldn't even be a waiver,” Suleiman said. “They should be allowed to play in their hijab period.”
Of course, the safety and comfort of an athlete’s uniform is resolute, along with league rules about team colors. Knowing this, Haute Hijab took to professional and everyday athletes to test out the Sports Hijab. The feedback was positive — the fabric truly felt weightless, kept you cooler, and didn’t move around. There wasn’t re-adjusting and tucking that needed to happen.
The one hitch? The color needed to be black. And after the initial launch of non-black sports hijabs, the team got to work right away.
“That actually took almost a year to create because the special fabric that we use, didn't take too well to black dye — it would always come off as dark gray,” Suleiman said. “And so it was a very long process to be able to get that fabric to finally accept the black [dye], because we didn't want to compromise on the fabric.”
That word: compromise. Should anyone reading this right now take away anything from Suleiman, it’s this: don’t compromise.
“Do not compromise your values for other people,” Suleiman said. “Just don't let anyone change what your values are, whatever they are, whether they're related to your religion, or whatever it is, have your values, know them, stick to them, and you'll get to wherever you need to in life. Don't let people change that for you.”
It won’t always be easy. Ask Suleiman, who has had her own share of ups and downs. Confidence comes from sticking to your gut, your values, and a mission with the help of a pretty dope community.
Ramadan Kareem and Eid Mubarak to everyone celebrating.
Photo credit: Instagram