Story at a glance

  • A high school student in Tennessee was disqualified from a volleyball game over her hijab.
  • The referee cited a rule requiring authorization for athletes to wear head coverings.
  • The school is calling for the rule to be changed.

A school in Nashville is seeking a rule change after a student was disqualified from a volleyball game because of her hijab.

The rule in question requires Muslim athletes to obtain authorization from the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) to wear a hijab, or a head covering. On Sept. 15, a referee said Najah Aqeel, a freshman at Valor Collegiate Prep in Nashville, didn't have the required authorization — although the rule had not been enforced in previous matches. 

"I was angry, sad and also shocked just because I had never heard of the rule before that," Najah, 14, told CNN. "The rule has no business being in the casebook. It singles out hijabis. I don't see why I need approval to wear my hijab when it is a part of my religion."


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Since then, the school obtained authorization from the TSSAA, assistant director Matthew Gillespie wrote in an email to The Tennessean. But that isn’t the point, some argue, nor was the selective enforcement. 

"While we were able to get approval from the TSSAA and we now have the letter that will allow players to wear hijabs in the future, we feel this rule is discriminatory and is inequitable," the school said in a statement. 

Valor is petitioning the National Federation of State High School Associations (NSFH) to allow any head covering for religious reasons and has said that if an individual player is disallowed from play for any discriminatory reason, the entire team would not play. 


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The American Muslim Advisory Council started a Change.org petition to change the rule, which had gathered more than 2,200 signatures out of a goal of 2,500 by Monday afternoon.

"Muslim girls, who want to follow their constitutionally protected right, should not have an extra barrier to fully participate in sports in Tennessee. This rule was used to humiliate a 14 year old student in front of her peers. Religious barriers to playing sports should not exist in this day and age. This rule is akin to telling Muslim girls that they need permission to be a Muslim," reads the petition.

Karissa Niehoff, executive director for the NFSH, told CNN NSFH will introduce new language so that religious headwear is no longer disqualifying unless it poses a danger to the player or other athletes.

"We are heartbroken and deeply sorry that the young lady was disqualified from the match for wearing the hijab," Niehoff told CNN. "More common sense should have been demonstrated by the adults. The correct approach the referee should have taken is to have allowed the young lady to play and point out after the game that next time she needs to submit a letter."


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Published on Sep 28, 2020