Nike’s Pro Hijab: a great leap into modest sportswear, but they’re not the first

theguardian: by Shireen Ahmed —

Nike’s move to highlight the intensity and passion of veiled Muslim athletes speaks volumes in an age of renewed xenophobia, but it’s hardly groundbreaking

Sarah Attar
Nike said it was inspired to introduce a performance hijab line after watching Sarah Attar of Saudi Arabia at the 2012 Olympics. Photograph: Matthew Ashton/Corbis via Getty Images

Two days before International Women’s Day, Nike unveiled its Pro Hijab and took a leap into modest sportswear. Nike, arguably the most influential sports company in the world, announced that the product, available in three colors, would be on sale in spring 2018.

The Pro Hijab is a collaboration between Muslim athletes in the Middle East – and the timing of Nike highlighting diversity in sport is impeccable. In an era where xenophobia seems to ring out as a norm, highlighting the intensity and passion of veiled Muslim athletes speaks volumes. But the modest sportswear industry is not a new one, and although the move is exciting, it’s hardly groundbreaking.

A few weeks ago, Nike released a new advertisement featuring women from the Middle East and North Africa. The spot garnered over 1.5m views on the Nike Women YouTube channel. Although the idea of the ad was excellent, the rollout was imperfect. But it might have been an attempt to ready the world for the Pro Hijab.

Emirati figure skater Zahra Lari, also a participant in the Nike Middle East commercial, posted a photo of herself skating and wearing the new design. Nike’s infamous ‘swoosh’ is displayed prominently on the side on her head as she glides across the ice. Egyptian athletics coach Manal Rostom was also featured in photos running along a beautiful beach in the sun, wearing the light, breathable headscarf.

Amna Al Haddad consulted with Nike and came up with some ideas based on her own experience. Al Haddad told Nike during the design process that she only had one hijab that could meet her needs as a competitive weightlifter. She washed it nightly. Nike spokeswoman Megan Saalfeld explained that this hijab was created “as a direct result of our athletes telling us they needed this product to perform better, and we hope that it will help athletes around the world do just that.”

But Nike is not the first mainstream sports brand to recognize the needs of Muslim women.

At the 2012 London Olympics, Sarah Attar was one of two women to represent Saudi Arabia. Attar’s uniform was designed by another Oregon-based company, Oiselle.

Ironically, the moment that influenced Nike was seeing Attar compete in 2012. “This movement first permeated international consciousness in 2012, when a hijabi runner took the global stage in London,” a statement from Nike read.

On International Women’s Day in 2016, Danish sportswear company Hummel – whose motto is “Change The World Through Sport” – released new kits for the Afghanistan women’s soccer team. This was the first sports company that included a hijab option as part of a team kit. This item is for sale to the public. (Side note: I have one, and it’s amazing.) Philanthropy and advocacy are a big part of what Oiselle and Hummel have done with their support of athletes. It helps to diversify what it means to be an athlete.

But as much as we laud Nike for their efforts, it is important to acknowledge the huge footprints already made by the modest sportswear industry. Hijab in sport is not a new concept. Women have been wearing hijab for literally thousands of years, and have definitely been active during that time. More recently, modest sportswear has also become a way to advocate for Muslim women in sport.

Smaller companies, often spearheaded by women, have designed and sold sport hijabs for decades. Capsters started in 2001 and has been selling sports hijabs all over the world, also allowing more Muslim girls and women to participate in sports more comfortably. A scarf design from Canadian company ResportOn was one of the reasons that the international taekwondo federation allowed Muslim women to compete in recognized tournaments. Both Capster and ResportOn submitted prototypes to Ifab that formally overturned Fifa’s hijab ban in 2014. These companies carved out a space for Muslim women when their participation was challenged.

Muslim women are creating and designing their own hijabs from crowdsourcing and fundraising. This includes smaller companies like Asiya, which came out of a brilliant Somali community in Minneapolis, and Sukoon Active, which raised $15,000 above its $10,000 goal on Kickstarter. British muay thai fighter Ruqsana Begum started her own line of hijab to encourage women to get involved in sports.

Muslim women do face significant challenges in sport. Perhaps Nike might be able to push for the inclusion of Muslim women, considering their new partnership is with Fiba, the basketball federation that has still not rescinded a headcovering ban. As ESPN sportswriter Kavitha Davidson noted, the new relationship means that Nike is “‘the official partner for product and marketing at Fiba’s biggest competitions’ – including the Fiba women’s basketball World Cup – providing apparel, footwear, and equipment. Will that include its new hijab?”. It would seem bizarre for Nike to partner with the same federation that excludes the same women who could be wearing the Pro Hijab.

I don’t expect Nike to become a savior for Muslim women, who can certainly defend themselves, but solidarity and support is important. Particularly from a company that will make millions from a specific demographic with a product that is meant to help elevate sports in marginalized community.

Helping sports grow around the world sounds like a great plan – but would seem difficult if a part of the population isn’t allowed to participate.

Nike is a powerhouse, and seeing Muslim athletes featured in their products seems like a leap. Representation matters. But keep in mind that Nike is a business and not a lobby group. This product will most likely do very well, otherwise they would not have chosen to sell it. Might this be the beginning of a modest fashion line from Nike? I think back 20 years ago to when I started wearing hijab and I bought a Nike dri-fit shirt, cut it up and sewed it – creating my very own sports hijab. It was a disaster.

I am not a huge fan of the swoosh on the scarf, and I might not to wear this particular design, but I can’t help be happy with all the options for Muslim women have in mainstream sportswear. Choice is always a good thing.

Muslim women don’t need a hijab to validate their identities as athletes: that passion was never covered up. But in all honesty, as a footballer, if my favorite sports brand comes out with a new design for a hijab – with three stripes on the headpiece – I would definitely consider buying one.

Origional Post here:

1 reply

  1. Living in the west, the hijab has become a potent indicator of identity with many non-Muslims viewing it as a political statement. However, it is pertinent to note that the hijab is, first and foremost, an act of worship that women engage in, and an act undertaken to seek the pleasure of one’s Lord.

    The definition of a hijab is fiercely contested by many Muslims, and unfortunately most of those who engage in the topic are unaware that it is very much defined by Islamic law, the Sharia, and not cultural habits or one’s idea of what modesty is, or should be.

    In discussing the hijab, Islamic jurists have stipulated a number of conditions for it to be a hijab in the Islamic sense. In brief, these conditions are that one’s clothing must cover the entire body in a way that the shape of the body is not apparent and the material must not be so thin that one can see through it. Clothing should not resemble that which is specific to men nor the disbelievers. It should not be attractive to men, nor should women be perfumed in public. The main aim of hijab is to stop fitnah; females who are attractive by nature attract the gaze of males which then leads to other greater sins such as fornication and adultery. Allah commanded women neither to display their adornment nor to display any form of behaviour that might attract the attention of men.

    In fact, scholars from various schools of thought prohibit women from raising their voices in public, even if it be the utterance of the talbiyah during hajj or the adhan (call to prayer) between females. The Sharia also prohibits men to visit lonely women and to stay alone with them. It also prohibited men to look at women. One of the main problems is limiting the hijab as being a manifestation of female Muslim identity. When France banned the hijab they looked at it as a religious symbol unable to understand the meaning of ibaadah (worship). However, it is unfortunate to see many Muslims treating it as merely a form of identity, and once the symbolic representation has been accomplished the necessity to perform it in a way that meets its conditions laid down by Allah is overlooked. This is one of subtly reprehensible values that many western Muslims have unknowingly adopted. We have to understand that Islamic practices including observing the hijab are actions of ibaadah. They are meant to please Allah, avoid being disobedient, and earn hasanaat in order to attain a high rank in paradise.

    This is a major mistake that many Muslims fall into when undertaking many Islamic practices. Having the correct aim in wearing the hijab is the first and main step towards a solution for this problem. It should be noted that projecting concerns about this non-shar’ii form of hijab does not imply discouraging Muslim women from observing a limited form of hijab which they have chosen, but instead it serves to encourage Muslim women to progress to observe the correct method of hijab. The intention of this article is driven by the desire for improvement and progress and not to incite women to withdraw from the hijab completely.

    Some Muslims posit that we should not be strict in calling for the proper observance of many Islamic practices in the west, and as such, we should encourage Muslim women to do as much as they are, without criticism, even if some do not complete such observance. Undoubtedly we agree to encouraging Muslim women to do as much as they can, but correcting wrong or incomplete Islamic practices is an obligation upon those who know.

    It is indeed the case that many sisters are completely ignorant about the conditions of the legally valid hijab, and hence it is incumbent upon us to raise awareness of the legal conditions and features of a correct hijab. Knowledge is the cure for many of our mistakes. Advising sisters who undoubtedly wear the hijab out of good intentions as well as educating their parents is another way towards solving this issue. It might be a good idea to print and distribute some leaflets that describe the authentic hijab in a way that goes beyond merely a head covering.

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