Hijab Keeps High School Student out of Regional Title Game —Now Muslim Advocacy Group CAIR Is Involved
A member of a Maryland high school girl's basketball team was held back from participating in a regional title game earlier this month, after having played in all 24 school's games this year, including two games in the post season.
As reported by CNN, a referee ruled prior to the start of the game that Watkins Mill High School junior Je’Nan Hayes was ineligible, due to her hajib — which she had worn in all 24 previous games:
The National Federation of State High School Associations' rule book states that head decorations and headwear are prohibited.
The rulebook says there is an exception on an individual basis for medical, cosmetic or religious reasons, but only if there is documented evidence provided to the state that the participant may not expose their head.
Hayes wasn't told she wouldn't be playing until after game ended, when her coach explained what had happened:
“Once I found out I had mixed emotions — anger, sadness, and disappointment at the ref for making the call.”
The game may be over, but the incident's repercussions are not.
Watkins High School athletic director Reggie Spears said school officials were unaware of the rule prior to the game:
"We tried to get an exception at the game, but that didn't happen and they stuck with their decision. It was in poor judgment. Should there be a rule? Absolutely.
It is necessary because you can get some crazy requests to wear this or that — I understand why there is a rule. But I think there was some common sense missing here."
According to spokesman Bill Reinhard, the National Federation of State High School Associations agrees:
"Unfortunately the officials made a strict interpretation of the [...] playing rules for basketball instead of the spirit of the rule designed to ensure safety and competitive fairness.
There should have been no denial of participation and we are committed to working with the school and the family to ensure this does not happen again."
Just to make sure, the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is now involved with Hayes and her family. CAIR Outreach Manager Zainab Chaudry said the Muslim advocacy group is “working to change the rules, or at least make an addendum.”
Hayes said she felt discriminated against because of her religion:
"I felt discriminated against, and I didn’t feel good at all. If it was some reason like my shirt wasn’t the right color or whatever, then I’d be like, ‘Okay.’
But because of my religion it took it to a whole different level, and I just felt that it was not right at all."
But the high school junior said her faith doesn't conflict with being an American:
“I'm Muslim, I'm American. I was born here. I've been here all my life. I'm human and just like you, I have feelings. This is the way I choose to represent my faith and it isn't because I'm being forced. I want to.”
Hayes said she plans to play next year.