Inspiring hijabi: Manal Rostom

I first came across Manal via Facebook. A friend of mine invited me to her group “Surviving Hijab”.

It’s a great place where women from all over the world can get support without judgment regarding their struggles with hijab.

But, that’s not all.

Manal is an athlete that has climbed mountains, run races, and represented Muslim women for Nike!

I had the change to do an interview with her over email as she’s based in Dubai and I’m really excited to have gotten to know more about here.

Oh and you can follow her on instagram under the name: @manirostom

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Read the interview below:

Tell us a bit about yourself… what’s your background and what made you start the surviving hijab group?

I’m Egyptian, born and raised in Kuwait. Moved to Dubai , 5 years ago. I’m a full time pharmacist working for a pharmaceutical company and a part time fitness instructor – Internationally certified Les Mills RPM trainer.

I started Surviving Hijab as a means of support for girls who are struggling with it, or those who have taken it off- never thought it would book into 48K + girls mashAllah. Initially I started it as a support group for me and my friends then it’s gone globa.

What do you think is the hardest part about wearing hijab?

Missing your hair and society’s judgement and the way Hijabi women and girls are perceived as uncool or oppressed. You are contantly surrounded by non hijabis and although that is perfectly fine, it makes you miss your hair and dressing up the “normal” way that everyone does especially when you live in a non muslim country or in a cosmopolitan city like Dubai.

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I’ve enjoyed seeing the supportive posts and how people can write about their struggles without being shamed, it seems like it’s a major issue for many Muslim women, but no one wants to admit it. What would make wearing hijab easier?

If people would stop commenting and start accepting that it’s a personal choice. Comments like, arent you too young to wear the hijab? or aren’t you too hot? or you are so much prettier without it. They are all destructive comments and people need to be a little bit more thoughtful when it comes to comments even its its with good intentions. I get a lot of comments and I hear comments like, maybe she’s still single because she’s covered. That’s just rubbish. Your soul mate and destiny is set a long time ago and whether you’re covered or not, bold or not, you are destined to meet who you are destined to meet. You also have to find the correct gear for work outs and for parties alike, so that when you think you look bad you don’t blame it on hijab. You just haven’t done your homework and shopped hard enough or good enough.

It’s ironic to see that women in the Middle East face a lot of discrimination and stereotyping because of hijab. Do you feel like it’s harder in Muslim majority countries than the West?

This is very strange to me and I was a victim of this discrimination back in 2011 when I tried to attend a concert in a certain venue in Dubai only to be denied entry at the registration desk just because I am veiled. My story made headlines as I took it to media, in the UAE and Qatar as a muslim woman , music fan prevented from attending a concert just because I wore Hijab. You can google the story if you google my name and 7 days. ( a local magazine here in Dubai ) So it definitely is Ironic and this is personal choice and if I’m over 21 I am responsible for what choices I make and where I want to be. No terms and conditions should dictate where I go or how I should spend my time. If I am covered, that perhaps just portrays an extra level of spirituality. I am fully aware of where or what I should be doing, in terms of being around alcohol for instance, it’s hard to escape it while you’re in the UAE where so many places allow Alcohol. Having said that, when I was in the US, I was never stopped anywhere from entering places whether or not they served alcohol. I find that ironic and sad.

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You’ve participated in some ad campaigns for Nike. How did that come about and what was your experience like?

It was a spark of an idea; I contacted one of the Nike Trainers , Salma Ismail randomly about why we’re not featuring hijabi girls in running ads. She put me in touch immediately with Head Coach of Nike Running Middle east – Thomas Woolf and he took the idea immediately on board , expressing that it’s been discussed several times but no one as ever come forward with the idea, let alone, being a runner and willing to be featured in an ad as a runner and as a hijabi runner.

The experience was definitely one of the best things that have ever happened to me. Kudos to brands like Nike that empower women and runners world wide. As Nike always puts it, “if you have a body , then you’re an Athelete.” – simple . regardless of whether you cover or not , hijabi or not. They see who you are , rather than what you look like and we need to embrace that.

I was also later on invited to attend the NTC Global Summit and for me that was life changing. As an athelete, and growing up with a brand like Nike, you always look up to Nike Models and Nike trainers. To be a part of that is an incredible honour that I can not find proper words to describe. I was the first and only Arab trainer to have ever gotten invited to attend such a global event. To have been there, in Hijab, representing, is beyond life – changing and an experience that has definitely left a super great mark in my life and in my career as fitness instructor and an athelete.

What’s your advice to girls struggling or taking off hijab?

Remember what made you wear it in the first place. That’s what helps me hold on to it. Remember that it’s compulosry and something that Allah SWT wants you to do. You are representing every time you go out and look like that. When I’m travelling abroad I feel like Im an ambassador of Islam and I take pride in that. You want to look and inspire and portray who we we really are.

Get in touch with what is it exactly that is making you hate it. I have my ups and downs too. Over the 14+ years that I have worn it, it’s been a roller coaster ride.

Sometimes you love it sometimes you hate it. Just like bad hair days. You will get bad hijab days as well. That’s perfectly normal.

And finally, if you were told that hijab is not required anymore in Islam, do you think many women would feel a sense of relief?

Absolutely! What a relief it would be that I can now let my hair down and enjoy going to normal, public beaches in my one piece or 2 pieces instead of the 6 pieces that I have to stick to when I’m on a public beach.

This article has 2 comments

  1. Mariam Sobh

    Zeynub, thanks for reading! 🙂 Yes you’re right, we have to make our own definitions. And it’s hard with so many people wanting to define us, including other fellow Muslims. 🙂

  2. Zeynub

    Salam,

    I admire Muslim women being great citizens of the world, Al HamduLillah.
    To put my five cents out there, I think we, as Muslim women, should define our own “normal”. We’ve been given certain parameters and I believe we should exercise our right to expression within them. Because if we don’t believe in something, we’ll fall for anything.
    Well written article, thanks for posting it. 🙂

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