OAKDALE – An American Muslim teenager from Oakdale, Minnesota, will be the first athlete to fight while wearing hijab in a sanctioned American boxing event after USA Boxing, the sport’s national governing body, decided to lift its ban on the outfit.
“I was shocked. I thought it was a prank at first,” Amaiya Zafar, 16-year-old high school junior, told NBC News on Sunday, April 23.
“Boxing is about to get a whole lot better because they’re being inclusive of a whole group of people who couldn’t compete before.”
The Center on American-Islamic Relations, which announced the rule change, said USA Boxing will formally adopt its new religious exemption rule in June, but is granting a waiver to Zafar.
She was barred at the last minute from a November 20 bout at the Sugar Bert Boxing National Championships in Kissimmee, Florida.
USA Boxing officials say that boxers must wear only a sleeveless jersey and shorts, so everyone has a clear view of fighters’ arms and legs.
“It’s my sport. I’m the one who puts in the work everyday,” she said.
“The rule wasn’t made to discriminate against me, but it was and they weren’t fixing it. But I appreciate the work [USA Boxing] put in to change it.”
Under the new regulation, CAIR said that “a request for religions exemption must be made for each event in which the boxer wishes to participate.”
In a statement, CAIR cheered Zafar’s victory as a “step forward in the continuing struggle for religious freedom in our state and nation.”
The challenges facing the young Muslim boxer are not over, as she will have to overcome the International Boxing Association’s ban on hijabs.
Zafar won’t be able to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics without changes to the world governing body’s uniform guidelines.
Mara Gubuan, co-founder of Muslim female athlete advocacy organization Shirzanan, is hopeful that the change will come soon.
“The exemption issued by USA Boxing is a significant advancement for observant Muslim females,” Gubuan told NBC News.
“I trust the [the international governing body] will reinforce this act of inclusion by modifying their rule as well.”