Maheem Haq, a 12-year-old Muslima in the Baltimore area, was not allowed to play in the first-half of a Mid-Maryland Girls Basketball game because she refused to take off her hijab. A Hagerstown youth basketball league referee told Haq to remove her headscarf prior to entering the game because it represented a potential safety hazard, to which Haq refused. â€œI was upset a little bit â€™cause I really wanted to play and I enjoy playing basketball,â€ Haq said.
During halftime, a league administrator granted her a religious exemption and she was allowed to play the second half wearing the hijab. The Mid-Maryland Girls Basketball league is now including in their bylaws that any exception to the uniform rules needs to be put in writing by the childâ€™s parent, which Maheemâ€™s parents have already submitted. â€œWe were very upset when we heard about it because she has been able to play the entire time and thereâ€™s never been a problem,â€ said Connie Cline, a teammateâ€™s mother.
Maheem had in fact been playing in the league for approximately three years without any mention of the hijab prior to her sudden removal from this game. The incident brought back memories of the Iranian girls soccer team that was ruled out of an international tournament last year due their hijabs before a compromise was reached in which the girls were to instead wear caps that did not extend below the ears. In fact, this notion of the hijab being a safety hazard does not even have proper backing in terms of scientific data or case history.
â€œThe referee was within his rights. He was right to do what he did,â€ said Daphnie Campbell, a Mid-Maryland Girlsâ€™ Basketball official. â€œI will accept full responsibility for it. Being new, no, I didnâ€™t know anything about it. I didnâ€™t know I had to ask for permission, I didnâ€™t know a letter had to be on file. I didnâ€™t know anything of that,â€ Campbell said. The referee was deemed to be following the league rules appropriately and will reportedly not be reprimanded. But why did this official simply wake up that morning and decide to enforce this obscure league rule all of a sudden? That remains unclear.
Haqâ€™s team was reportedly willing to forfeit the game in protest, citing religious discrimination against Maheem, but Haqâ€™s family refused to go through with it. Maheemâ€™s father, Mohammad Haq, was both diplomatic and philosophical when giving his reasons for not forfeiting the game. â€œTo inspire other kids as well that you can maintain your religious belief and strike a balance between your active life and still maintain your religious beliefs,â€ he said.
Maheemâ€™s coach, Mark Hershner, also tried to put a positive spin on things. â€œI do feel that some people were offended or emotions were hurt, and thatâ€™s not what weâ€™re here for. Weâ€™re here to learn sports and maybe some life skills along the way,â€ said Coach Mark Hershner. And for her part, little Maheem doesnâ€™t seem too phased by all of this. â€œI feel really happy,â€ Maheem Haq said. â€œI feel great.â€