Nashville school seeks rule change after volleyball player disqualified for wearing hijab

A Tennessee charter school and the American Muslim Advisory Council is seeking to alter a uniform rule after an athlete was barred from a volleyball match because she was wearing a hijab.

A referee disqualified Najah Aqeel, a freshman at Valor College Prep in Nashville, from playing against Brentwood Academy on Tuesday, The Tennessean reported. The referee cited a uniform rule by the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association that said the player needed an authorization from the association to wear the hijab for religious reasons, the newspaper reported.

Officials with the American Muslim Advisory Council said Aqeel has already worn the hijab during a game this season without incident, WZTV reported.

“Why should Muslim girls, who want to follow their constitutionally protected right, have an extra barrier to fully participate in sports in Tennessee?” Sabina Mohyuddin, the council’s executive director, told the television station. “This rule was used to humiliate a 14-year-old student in front of her peers. It was traumatizing, to say the least. We have Muslim girls across the state playing sports. 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.”

The TSSAA is a member of the National Federation of State High School Associations and abides by its rules.

Cameron Hill, athletic director at Valor College Prep, said the school sent an email to the TSSAA on Wednesday asking authorization for their Muslim athletes to wear a hijab, The Tennessean reported. That was immediately approved, TSSAA Assistant Executive Director Matthew Gillespie wrote in an email to the newspaper.

According to the TSSAA rule book, “Hair devices made of soft material and no more than 3 inches wide may be worn in the hair or on the head. Bobby pins, flat clips and flat barrettes, unadorned and no longer than 2 inches, are also allowed.”

TSSAA has made exceptions for religious reasons, officials told WZTV.

Requiring an athlete to be granted permission to wear a hijab was called “antiquated” and “oppressive,” Hill wrote in an Instagram post.

“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,” Hill wrote.

Gillespie said the rule book does not specifically prohibit an athlete from wearing a hijab.

“TSSAA has always granted exceptions to any student that wishes to participate with headwear, or other articles of clothing, due to religious reasons,” Gillespie told The Tennessean. “The rule book states that an exception may be granted if requested by the administration of the school to the state association.”