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The New Arab Staff

Disqualified American-Muslim athlete inspires volleyball tournament rule change on hijab

Freshman volleyball player Najah Aqeel was not allowed to play [Getty]

Date of publication: 8 February, 2021

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Valor Collegiate Prep freshman volleyball player Najah Aqeel was not allowed to play in a match because she didn't have a waiver to wear her hijab.
A Muslim student in the US has inspired a rule change in school volleyball regulations after she was disqualified from a match because she wore the headscarf.

Fourteen-year-old Muslim freshman Najah Aqeel at Valor Collegiate Prep in Nashville, Tennessee made headlines in September after a referee refused to let her play because she wore a hijab which, he claimed, could only be granted with authorisation from the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association.

The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) had prohibited volleyball players from wearing hair covers without a prior authorisation.

Najah did not have the authorisation required at the time, however she said she did not face any problems in previous matches.

Following the September incident, the NFHS announced a rule change, permitting volleyball players to wear religious head coverings in matches without prior approval.

"I'm really humbled and happy that I got to change the rule for volleyball players across the country," Najah told CNN.

"I hope this will make sure no one else who wears religious headwear and plays sports will have to go through what I did."

The new rule could extend to other sports.

The volleyball committee met this month, where they approved a proposal tabled by NFHS, the TSSAA and the American Muslim Advisory Council (AMAC) to alter the rule.

"For the committee that was pretty much a no-brainer," committee chair Jo Auch said in a statement.

"Our goal is always to have our athletes be able to participate as long as there isn't a safety concern involved, so it made perfect sense to relax that rule and remove the requirement for the states to authorise the wearing of religious headwear."

"Najah and her family have been gracious and patient throughout the significant process; from discovery, to listening to one another, to learning and ultimately to decision-making at the state and national levels," NFHS executive director Karissa Niehoff said in a statement.

"Najah's perspective, maturity and ability to communicate define her as a model for young people everywhere," the statement said.

"We hope that her situation serves as a reminder of the beautiful fabric of diversity that exists in our schools and society overall."

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