Muslim Athlete Disqualified From High School Volleyball Game for Wearing Hijab

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A Nashville school is calling for a rule change after a volleyball player was disqualified from a game for wearing a hijab.

On Sept. 15, freshman Najah Aqeel of Valor Collegiate Academy was warming up for the match when her coach said a referee refused to let her play because of her head scarf.

The referee cited a rule requiring Aqeel to receive authorization from the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) to wear her hijab in games. The rule had not been enforced in previous matches, and Aqeel opted to sit out.

"I was angry, sad and also shocked just because I had never heard of the rule before that," Aqeel 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."

The school sent an email to the TSSAA seeking authorization for its Muslim athletes to wear a hijab in games, and TSSAA assistant director Matthew Gillespie told The Tennessean that the request was approved immediately.

Valor also petitioned the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFSH) to allow athletes to wear head coverings for religious reasons. 

Karissa Niehoff, NFSH's executive director, told CNN that states "can make exceptions" for uniform rules, and the group is planning to add new language to its casebook on religious headwear. The NFSH establishes rules for most high school sports.

"We are heartbroken and deeply sorry that the young lady was disqualified from the match for wearing the hijab," Niehoff said. "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."

The American Muslim Advisory Council started a petition demanding the TSSAA change the rule. By Monday evening, the petition had over 2,200 signatures out of its goal of 2,500.

"Muslim girls, who want to follow their constitutionally protected right, should not have an extra barrier to fully participate in sports in Tennessee," the petition said. "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."