Nike recently announced its new Nike Pro Hijab, the brand’s first single-layer stretchy hijab for athletes. The Pro Hijab is the product of a yearlong design process between Nike and the three Muslim athletes from the United Arab Emirates, weightlifter Amna Al Haddad, triathlete Manal Rostom, and figure skater Zahra Lari. By working with these athletes, Nike learned about the concerns that athletes face when wearing traditional hijabs, and how those problems affect their sports performance. For example, athletes want the hijab to not shift with movement, and to be breathable, since cotton is very uncomfortable especially in hotter climates. The goal of the Pro Hijab is to make it feel like a second skin.
As Al Haddad states, “For us, we come up with ideas and ways to be comfortable in what we wear, but to have the number one sport and fitness brand in the world facilitate this process for us is going to change everything.”
Many Muslim women feel that is difficult to stay active and in shape while adhering to religious principles about modesty. As Shearson, the executive director of the Cleveland chapter of the Council on American-Islam Relations, states “Islam does not restrict women from exercising—in fact all Muslims are urged to take care of their bodies through healthy eating and exercise.” Unfortunately, the challenge arises when Muslim women want to exercise but the majority of workout wear tends to be tight and revealing. The Pro-Hijab could help Muslim women adhere to their religious beliefs while being able to maintain their physical health.
While the announcement of Nike’s Pro Hijab sparked immense media coverage and increased conversation about Muslim women and sports, I would like to also discuss some of the controversies.
For one, many of my Muslim friends have told me that there are other smaller companies who have been producing breathable hijabs for years, like Capsters and Friniggi. Simply adding a Nike check mark does not make this product a new invention.
Athletes in the Olympics have used sports hijabs since 2004. Aisha Manzoor, secretary of the Rhode Island Council of Muslim Advancement states, “There are Muslim brands out there who have been doing this for a long time. I hope Nike will bring attention to the brands that have been doing this, and shed light on their work.”
Also, the Nike Pro Hijab will cost approximately $35, which is expensive compared to other companies who sell them for $15. This makes me question, does Nike actually care about helping Muslim women, or is this just a marketing scheme?
Some users on social media also criticize the new Nike Hijab for “normalizing the oppression of women.” Others criticized the hijabs asking if sport burqas would be the next move for Nike. This critique is ethnocentric and fails to take into consideration the religious beliefs and freedoms of Muslim women. Many Muslim athletes want to wear their headscarves in athletic competition.
As Amna states, “this sports hijab will encourage a new generation of athletes to pursue sports professionally.” As Nike encourages, “Just do it.”