In November 2017, Egyptian Athlete and Pharmacist Manal Rostom became the first runner to compete in a major race while wearing a Nike Pro Hijab, when she completed the New York City Marathon.
For many people, that achievement would have been enough to silence anyone – let’s call them hijabi haters – who thinks women in hijabs can’t do certain things.
But not for Manal. She went a step further. When she wasn’t running marathons or working as a pharmacist, she was building a social media platform that empowers hijabis and champions their brilliance across a range of fields and disciplines and activities.
Surviving Hijab is a social media movement with 650,000 followers on Facebook and 20,000 on Instagram. It’s tag line is ‘Reinventing the Hijab-babe’, and if you look through the feed on IG, you’ll be inundated (in a good way) with images of graduates, athletes, feminists, policy advocates and more. Take a look.
View this post on Instagram
#tbt to when Aisha graduated and shared this story of struggles followed by success. A story: I remember first coming back to London in 2007 and not really knowing what to expect. Not knowing how to write or read in English was difficult especially at the age of 9. It frustrated me that everyone was about to take their SATS tests the year after and they had already been way ahead. I sat on a chair on my first day in year 5 and I was given a pen and paper. I couldn't write so I drew a house with windows and leaves falling from a shabby looking tree I drew next to the house. I was proud of it. I started to look around the classroom and felt different. All the girls were drawing cartoon girls and adding colour to the lips for the effect of lipstick. I wished I was in that house i drew with the door locked, away from this new country, yet the country I was born in. After, I managed to make some friends and started to learn that people have different accents, and slang words were a thing. I remember a girl 'kissing' her teeth at her friend, so the next day I did it too and got an immediate "why you kissing your teeth at me for?". I was confused and told her "I have something stuck in my tooth"… Its funny looking back at that now. A year later year 7 started and I met some incredible people I'm still friends with today. I was put in 7M, which was a register group essentially. It still was hard but I managed somehow work on my reading and writing. I was taken out of classes and had additional English taught to me by a woman called Ms Thomas. It's called EAL. Fastforeward to year 10 and i had some troubles with confidence and many chances I was given to present or go on trips where we would do presentations I rejected and made sure my teachers knew I refused to go. It's something I regret.I don't know what happened when I turned 16 but something in me told me I just had to change.My English was great and I could speak and write it fluently.I just needed to boost my morale somehow. I can't tell you exactly how it all happened but I told myself its time to change.And I did. Today I can say that I graduated from a London University with a BA Hons in English Literature.
Along with posting inspiring hijabis, the platform serves as a support network for women by showing that their ambitions are valid. Representation is important, and seeing someone like Manal, who has…
A) Run the NYC marathon.
B) Become the first Arab woman to be featured on the Nike+ app.
C) And climbed the 3,563-meter-high Mount Himalaya base.
…shows other women that they can achieve what they want to as well.
As recognition for Manal’s achievements, Surviving Hijab has been made a Fellow of the Facebook Community Leadership Program. The initiative provides support to people who are making a difference in their community. The winners receive a cash donation from Facebook that is used to grow their community.
Manal announced the honour on Instagram:
“Out of 6000 applications submitted to Facebook’s Community Leadership Program, last year, @survivinghijabinitiative has been chosen as a Fellow where as a booming community on Facebook with over 650K women from all around the world , we will be receiving monetary support to grow and flourish even more as a Support Community of Hijab-babes around the world….This is a *HUGE* moment for us as a community that strives to smash stereotypes and break glass ceilings….To every Hijabi girl who has been humiliated, denied access to restaurants, pools, hotels and denied jobs – today, this Award is for you.”
View this post on Instagram
Big News Announcement : *Drum Rolls* . . Out of 6000 applications submitted to Facebook’s Community Leadership Program, last year, @survivinghijab initiative has been chosen as a Fellow where as a booming community on Facebook with over 650K women from all around the world , we will be receiving monetary support to grow and flourish even more as a Support Community of Hijab-babes around the world. . . . This is a *HUGE* moment for us as a community that strives to smash stereotypes and break glass ceilings. To every Hijabi girl who has been humiliated, denied access to restaurants, pools, hotels and denied jobs – today , this Award is for you. . . . To speak up LOUDER, STRONGER and have NO FEAR to stand up for your right. . . . Link in bio if you want to learn more about Facebook’s social empowerment to Groups and initiatives across the World. . . . Thank you @facebook for giving us a voice and for giving us a platform to express ourselves with a mere objective to change the world. . . . Massive thanks to @chrissharb & the rest of the Facebook Team for having my back throughout this process when others thought my cause was CRAZY or stupid or refused to even work with me- because of my Hijab – I mean, look at the beauty of this 🙏🏻🤗 . . . Remember this , ok : Everyone who refuses to support you, (or even text you back 🤣) God will send down MORE POWERFUL and STRONGER entities to guide you and support you and lift you up. #ALWAYS. . . You can join our online community by joining the Facebook group if you are Female (you dont have to be muslim or covered) otherwise you can follow us on @survivinghijab . . . . Shoutout to @rayoufalhumedhi for creating this Emoji 🧕🏼 and taking it to @apple a couple years back 👊🏼 . . . In other news – would you like a t-shirt like this? . . #survivingHijab
This is an amazing achievement, even for a lifelong over-achiever like Manal. But it’s not about trying to match what she’s done. Surviving Hijab is about you…it is a reminder that if you have a goal, and you’re determined to put the work in to make it happen, no amount of hijabi haters can stop you from fulfilling your ambition.