FOUNDER OF 'SURVIVING HIJAB' & THE FIRST HIJABI WOMAN TO BE FEATURED IN AN INTERNATIONAL CAMPAIGN
FIVE MINUTES AFTER nineteen-year-old Manal Rostom switched seats with her cousin on a bus from Cairo to the Red Sea, the bus blew a tire and swerved into the desert, rolling over three times. Manal was okay, but her cousin, Mohammed, was instantly paralyzed. He died three weeks later. This shook Manal to her core. Her faith helped her cope with her grief and trauma, and though she had been only moderately religious before the accident, the experience strengthened her relationship to Islam. Two years later, although it wasn’t necessarily expected by her family, Manal decided to wear the hijab, a traditional Muslim head covering. “It was a way to say thank you to God,” she told me, “for giving me a second chance to live.”
"It was magical. It was the first time that a multinational brand said they would cater to this segment of Muslim women. That swoosh gives us power."
Manal, on how she felt when Nike announced Nike Pro Hijab - a line of athletic wear for hijabi women.
Manal wore the hijab for the next fourteen years. While she faced some criticism from Westerners who were either unfamiliar with the hijab or believe it is oppressive to women, she generally felt accepted in Egypt and Kuwait. And then something changed. More and more women she knew stopped wearing the hijab, anti-hijab articles started appearing in the media, and in Dubai, where she lived, Muslim women in hijab faced criticism and were not allowed into some public spaces. Manal didn’t judge others negatively for choosing not to wear the hijab, but she felt that for herself and many other women, wearing the hijab provided a sense of connection to their faith. “I had a moment of epiphany,” she said. “If I was to give in and just follow the crowd, then how would anything change? I felt like a dead fish who was just going to ‘go with the flow,’ but then I decided I wanted to go against the current. I wasn’t a dead fish.”