This year, Nike announced that they planned to launch a “Pro Hijab,” a headscarf meant for Muslim women to wear while exercising. The Nike Pro Hijab, slated to come out in 2018, is made of stretchy, breathable material, has an extension on the back to prevent the hijab from slipping, and features the iconic Nike swoosh on the side. The Pro Hijab was announced in the wake of the 2016 Rio Olympics, which featured hijabi athletes such as the fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad and weightlifter Amna al Haddad, both of whom received media attention for competing in athletics while covered. Muhammad in particular received attention for being the first hijabi athlete to compete for the United States.
Given the current global climate surrounding the hijab and its wearers, reaction to the Nike Pro Hijab has been mixed. Many people are thrilled with the hijab’s announcement, stating that it allows women who choose to wear the hijab to compete in athletics without the physical limits of a non-athletic headscarf that can fall off or shift. However, there have certainly been negative reactions to the Nike Pro Hijab, mostly from people who falsely believe that all women who wear a hijab are forced to do so against their will. For example, one Twitter account tweeted that “supporting the Muslim Hijab is supporting the enslavement of women and the murder of gays.”
This is clearly ridiculous. The person who tweeted this was probably thinking of Iran, which does have a mandatory head-covering law, and also has poor women’s rights and LGBTQ laws. However, stating that Nike’s hijab inherently supports subjugation of LGBTQ people and women ignores the millions of women (including Iranian women) who actively choose to wear the hijab. Stating that these women must be forced into wearing the hijab against their will ignores these women’s agency and humanity. Many hijabi women, contrary to certain Western beliefs, are in fact making an active and liberating choice involving their body and their self-expression. Obviously, forcing a woman to cover herself or face legal and physical punishment is horrific. But for millions of women, this is not the case.
Many of the women who choose to wear the hijab enjoy athletics, and they have the right to participate in sports while staying loyal to their religious beliefs. The Nike Pro Hijab would not impact their decision whether or not to wear a hijab. It would simply allow women who already wear the hijab to participate in athletics more safely and effectively. A breathable, secure hijab prevents overheating. It also ensures that the hijab will not fall off completely or shift over women’s faces, affecting their vision, during exercise.
Some Muslim women do have specific concerns about the Nike Pro Hijab. Al Haddad, one of the inspirations for the Pro Hijab, mentioned that athletic hijabs “did exist on the market for a few years,” but Nike is getting all of the media and financial credit for the inclusive athleticwear. Other women are concerned about the commercial nature of the hijab, stating that Nike is seeking to capitalize off Muslim women without actually caring about their liberation or well-being. While it is true that Nike is releasing the Pro Hijab with the main purpose of making money, it will still likely contribute to the liberation of hijabi women through athletics. Nike’s commercial intentions do not prevent the Pro Hijab from enhancing the inclusivity and accessibility of fitness and sports.
Another concern about the Nike Pro Hijab is its financial accessibility. Athleticwear receives a lot of criticism for being unaffordable, and Nike is no exception. Nike has not released the price of the Pro Hijab yet. However, Nike is not a cheap brand. It is likely that, given the Pro Hijab’s probable price, it will only contribute to athletic inclusivity for wealthy Muslim women. That being said, trends in the fashion industry do tend to trickle down. Hopefully, the success of the Nike Pro Hijab will encourage inexpensive brands to carry similar items.
The hijab is just a headscarf. It is not inherently oppressive because it is not inherently anything. Preventing women from wearing the hijab constitutes a regulation of women’s bodies that abridges the religious freedom of Muslim women and their freedom to control their own bodies. While the Nike Pro Hijab is imperfect, given its potential costliness and commercial nature, it increases the inclusivity of sports, helps hijabi women express themselves and provides hijabi women with a wider breadth of choices and opportunities.