In 2017, the mainstream fitness world seemed to finally pay attention to Muslim Women. Nike created a hijab range and reached out to various Muslim women in the sports and fitness industry to be ambassadors for it.
Shazia Hossen was one of the Muslim women that Nike reached out to and she shares her hijab story, how she became interested in fitness and how she seeks to empower her sisters through it with Halimat Shode of The Black Muslim Times UK.
H: Congratulations for the opportunity! How does it feel to be recognised by Nike for your work and to be gifted with the hijab before the product release?
S: To be handpicked as an ambassador for such an influential brand was definitely not on my to-do list! It was totally unexpected, especially as I thought such opportunities were exclusively open to those with a million+ followers who knew people who knew people. I was surprised that they chose lil’ old me! A few months before the Nike Pro Hijab launched, I received an email from a lady saying she loved what she saw on my Instagram page and would love to meet for a chat. Upon meeting we discussed the stigma surrounding Muslim women in the gym, the impact of my work within the community and my thoughts on the Pro Hijab.There has been mixed opinions within the muslim community since Nike’s initial announcement about a year ago, as well as non-muslims adding their two-pence in. After sharing my views it was then proposed that I be the first in the UK to have the Pro Hijab ahead of its launch, as well as the first hijab wearing woman in the UK to represent Nike!
H: What has the reception been like since you shared your news of Nike’s hijab release?
S: The reception has been overwhelming to say the least. I certainly did not expect my announcement to draw in so much attention and the support of hundreds, let alone thousands! Representation of bad ass Muslim women in Sports and Fitness was non-existent when I was growing up all the way up until recently, so I lacked role models who looked like me in the field. It is beyond humbling that women are now saying I am that Muslim Woman of colour they needed to see as motivation to get into the gym wrapped in hijab, and a reminder of the bigger role I play when doing what I do. Alhamdulillah!
I have also received a lot of criticism since sharing the news. A lot of the time I feel we have come a long way as a community when it comes to being empathetic to one another. However we are still a community that apparently takes pleasure in policing the Muslim Woman about her dress and behaviour, rather than a community that allows its women to be works in progress as with everyone else. As someone who has relatively recently chosen to start covering its pretty disappointing because I have delayed my hijab for so long worrying about how outsiders would receive it, when its mostly my own people making it difficult for me.
H: How do you seek to empower Muslim women with fitness?
S: By being my authentic-self, covered head-to-toe in the gym and lifting heavy weights, I am showing women everyday that we are not limited by the status-quo and preconceived ideas of what muslim women should be like. I started practicing the hijab when I was 19, in 2015, and at the time I had no idea just how much and image or video of a hijab wearing woman in the gym would make - I was simply doing what I was passionate about, only this time with a scarf on my head. I later launched a line of Women’s Modest Active wear ‘Strong Habibiti Athletics’ @shathleticsuk to help facilitate and empower women like myself so that we would not have to compromise our modesty when training.
As covered muslim women it is easy to get complacent about our health and fitness, because it’s something that a lot us equate to an aesthetically pleasing body. Since no one’s looking at our bodies why bother? Hence, my aim to change that narrative and remind sisters that health and fitness lies beyond aesthetics. Our body has rights over us, we owe it to the vessel Allah has lent us to look after it and seek out its full potential.
Being in love with my body and all its untapped strength the way I am now is something I couldn’t anticipate before I started covering. I was in fact a bit nervous that I might lose motivation to train once I started wearing hijab, but it is beyond empowering making progress in my strength, overall fitness AND aesthetics without ever needing validation from others. By sharing what I do on my platform I hope to inspire and empower other muslim women in a similar way Insha’Allah.
H: What does fitness mean to you and what has your fitness journey been like?
S: As a young woman of African/Asian descent with a family history of diabetes and heart disease, statistically I am more likely than the next person to acquire such diseases myself. At 15 years of age seeing my dad go through his second heart operation, I decided to actively take control over my health and hold myself accountable, rather than passively fulfilling these statistics.
At the time I was studying my GCSE’s and I found physical activities, such as boxing, gym, athletics, to be a great way to spend time between having my head buried in textbooks and the balance allowed me to focus more. Since then I’ve always been enthusiastic about fitness and physical activities, and have introduced weight training and calisthenics to my regular training regime. This journey however, hasn’t been smooth sailing. Life can sometimes takeover and priorities will tend to change depending on circumstances. I learnt the hard way that not only was training good for improving my physical health, but it also played a huge role in maintaining my mental and emotional wellbeing.
At 18 I decided that I wanted to pursue a career in the Fitness Industry, and so I started connecting with like-minded people on Instagram. At first I noticed that there was a lack of women of colour on the Explore page so whenever I did see a fitness account/post with women I could actually relate to I’d get really excited! We soon became a community of fitness enthusiasts/personal trainers/ virtual gym buddies, many of whom I would then meet and train with in person and continue to support one another’s growth until today!
H: What is your advice for Muslim Women seeking to become professionals in the fitness world?
S: You do not need to be the fittest, strongest, fastest gyal in the village before pursuing a professional career in the industry. You are allowed to be a work in progress while simultaneously using your knowledge and insight to help others.
Stay true to yourself. When necessary, fight to bend the rules to accommodate you and NOT the other way around.
Network! Connect with like-minded women on social media, go to fitness events to meet them in real life, organize your own meet-ups and do not worry about social media stats!
You can follow Shazia on instagram @_shazfit and shop her online athletic clothing store here : http://www.shathletics.co.uk/
Pphotography credit: @johaina.photography