The hijabi tackling expectations of a rugby player

 
 
 

Zahraa Hendricks had a game to win. To her, scoring tries was the challenge, not wearing a headscarf. The young hijabi didn’t expect to make headlines in her first rugby match. But when Hendricks ran onto the field, pictures of her were taken and posted to social media. Instantly, they went viral. Hendricks’ amendments to her kit had caught onlookers off-guard. For protection and as a symbol of modesty, Muslim women veil their hair. Because of it, they’re often doubly painted with the stigma of being oppressed. “That’s not true,” Hendricks says. “I am free.”

Hendricks’ decision to play rugby tackles more than one misconception. “A lot of Muslim girls may feel that there isn’t a place for them in contact sport,” she says. Hendricks proves otherwise. The kit isn’t as covered as she requires, so she’s adapted the gear to suit her needs. “The topic of hijab is constantly under scrutiny,” she says. But in Hendricks’ team, the headscarf is seen as part of her identity – just as it is to her.

“My team members come from different backgrounds, but we still consider each other equals,” Hendricks says. “We work together, not against each other.” Her individuality proudly echoes that of our nation. By sporting the hijab on the field, Hendricks breaks stereotypes and channels the embracing attitude of South Africa’s people. Our unity escalates our freedom.