US state Maryland gives Muslim students the legal right to wear hijab in sport
August 8, 2022
The Inclusive Attire Act, which took effect earlier this month, gives legal protection to student athletes of all faiths who choose to dress modestly or wear their religious coverings while participating in sports.
There are still very few US states and countries that give hijab-wearing athletes legal protection to cover their heads while playing sports [Getty]
The US state of Maryland has passed a law that will protect the rights of hijab-wearing female athletes and others with faith-related head coverings to play sports, without concerns of exclusion.
The bill, called the Inclusive Attire Act, which took about two months to go through the political process, allows student athletes to wear their traditional head coverings while playing sport.
The move has been warmly welcomed by Muslim activists.
“Our take is very simple. Students should be able to compete,” Zainab Chaudry, director at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)-Maryland, told The New Arab.
Chaudry says the bill, which took effect last Friday, was inspired by a case that CAIR handled in Maryland wherein they represented a high school basketball player who was benched for wanting to wear her hijab.
Until now, there had been case-by-case religious exemptions. What the Inclusive Attire Act does is codify the right to compete in school sports while wearing religious headwear.
The bill saw bipartisan support in Maryland’s state senate and house of delegates. Also important to its success was a broad range of support from religious and secular organisations, including the Baltimore Jewish Council and the American Civil Liberties Union.
“We wanted to make this an interfaith effort. Why not build a consensus?” said Chaudry.
She noted that Illinois, one of only a handful of states that has enacted a similar law, has a bill that specifically focuses on hijabs, whereas they wanted Maryland’s bill to include all faiths.
Chaudry hopes that with more publicity, people will become more aware of the precedent and see other states follow Maryland’s lead.
This bill comes at a time when there is growing awareness of the discrimination faced by marginalised groups over their appearance.
The CROWN Act (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair), a bill banning race-based hair discrimination by employers and housing authorities, has been passed in more than 15 states, and was passed by Congress earlier this year.
As for female athletes wearing the hijab, sportswear companies, such as Nike, Adidas and Under Armour, are offering increasing options for sports-friendly hijabs, taking away from the argument that a headscarf would slow down athletes.