This post isn’t about the importance of hijab, for we are all more than capable of making our own choices and decisions. Rather, it is aimed at those sisters who ordinarily wear hijab, who may think they face a dilemma when it comes to entering an obstacle course race or mud run. Whether due to incorrect guidance on the part of event organisers, poor advice from team mates or simply fear of how they might be perceived by others, some sisters choose to jettison their headscarves when they set out on their adventure. Either that, or they give up on taking part altogether. It is my contention that such compromises are unwarranted.
There has long been an ongoing debate between sports authorities and individual sporty Muslimahs as to whether the hijab may be worn on the playing field. The football federation, FIFA, for example, banned the hijab on the pitch in 2007 on the grounds that they posed too great a risk of injury to the head or neck. This ban was lifted in 2014 when a two-year period of trials concluded that there was no evidence to support this assertion. In other sports such as basketball, however, bans on players wearing hijab in professional tournaments remain.
It may be against this background that some obstacle course race organisers advise participants against wearing the hijab. However this advice should be challenged, because many hijab-wearing sisters have successfully completed even the most fearsome of challenges without incident, including Tough Mudder, Spartan Race and the Viper Challenge. Furthermore, it is not uncommon to see participants wearing ludicrous fancy-dress on many a mud run course, from formal dresses to animal costumes: if these are acceptable, why not modest head gear? In reality, few event organisers when pressed would seriously countenance preventing a woman from dressing as she pleased.
I suspect that the real worry of some adventurous sisters is fear of the perception of others on the running track. Much is made nowadays of the rising tide of Islamophobia in our midst, whether real or imagined. There may well be a fear that in a running event made up predominantly of non-Muslims, a hostile atmosphere might prevail. Once more, I believe that this fear is largely unfounded, for if anything is true of mud run events in general, it is that they tend to be made up of extremely friendly, fun-loving folk who are always ready to lend a hand to a fellow runner struggling with an obstacle. Strangers are often struck by the fraternal environment evident on the obstacle course, where everyone is in it together.
In fact, far from experiencing hostility while taking part in such events, many sisters report being treated with utmost respect and lauded for taking part. True, we may object to those patronising stereotypes which lead to those attitudes: that nauseous idea that we are delicate pearls, too weak to compete. But I say enjoy the ride and break down those barriers, those stereotypes, those visions of otherness. Drink up the atmosphere and be prepared to be treated as an equal on the obstacle course as you should be. In short, don’t go changing who you are for fear of the perceptions of others, for in many cases our perceptions are severely flawed.
Finally, there may be some sisters simply convinced that their hijab is an inconvenience in the midst of a race. In fact, the opposite could be true, for there are some very practical reasons for wearing it beyond pure religious duty or piety. If you are taking part in the winter, early spring or late autumn, it will protect you from wind chill. In the summer, it will protect your head and neck from the sun, and cool your head. It also keeps your hair out of your face and mud out of your hair, which is one reason many mud runners wear a bandana. Indeed some mud run organisers sell head gear which looks suspiciously like hijab for precisely this reason. When you think about it, there are more reasons to wear hijab while running than not to.
Right now is a good time to be a hijabi Muslimah taking part in sports, because there are so many options available. Numerous small businesses have sprung up catering for this no-longer niche market, selling sports hijabs and modest running clothes. Even mainstream stores such as House of Fraser have begun selling them. Furthermore, gone are the days when the only option was the “alien head” look; now you can buy elegant, comfortable and still modest hijabs made of light-weight, breathable and moisture-wicking fabrics. My personal favourites are Nashata and Friniggi sports hijabs; both businesses are based overseas, but will willingly deliver to Europe for a small handling fee.
Whether it is in fact necessary to purchase a dedicated sports hijab is a moot point, however, for many sisters manage perfectly well without one. For many runners, a one or two piece polyester Amira hijab proves a suitable solution: they are comfortable and hassle-free, while still providing modest coverage. All manner of designs, sizes and styles are available, not to mention various derivatives such as the Kuwaiti hijab and instant shawls. It’s one way to continue wearing hijab while running or taking on obstacles without worrying about it unravelling or falling out of shape. But of course it’s far from the only option.
Call me old-school, but I still like the good old-fashioned square hijab, of the kind you fold in half diagonally to form a triangle and pin under your chin. For many sisters, this works just as well even whilst running or taking on an obstacle course. Some sisters choose to tie the ends back around their neck or tuck them into their running top; others prefer to use the extra fabric to cover their chest. The only thing to be careful about is to ensure that you have tightly fastening pins that will not come undone midway through the race.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to personal preference and what you are most comfortable wearing. The important thing to recognise is that wearing hijab should not prevent you from taking part in an adventure of this kind. You have as much right to take part as anyone else: you’ll probably just do it in much more style. If in doubt, take inspiration from those who have gone before you. Hijabi adventurers are here to stay.