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Her Message is Simple and Powerful - 'Run Like a Hijabi and Change the World'


Posted on Dec 17, 2018
Dilshad Ali


Do you know what it means to “run like a hijabi?” Rahaf Khatib, who coined the phrase, does. And, she is determined to spread her message of Muslim women empowerment to the masses! Khatib burst onto the scene in 2016 as the first hijabi Muslim woman to be on the cover of a major athletic magazine -- Women’s Running -- and has since gone on to finish six world major marathons as well as raise money for brain tumor research. This month the stay-at-home-mom/marathoner gave a TEDx talk in Muscat, Oman titled “Run Like a Hijabi and Change the World, ” which will be available online soon.

I had the honor of talking with Rahaf soon after she gave her TEDx and asked her five questions (and one bonus one!) about her talk and what she wants Muslim women to know.

Rahaf KhatibTell us about your TEDx! Where did you give the talk and what did you talk about? Were you nervous?

Last year I was invited to give a TEDx in Oman, but I had to decline because I was running the New York City marathon at the time and the same week my father was having brain surgery. I thought, they’ll just forget about me. Time went by, and I finished the six world majors and raised money for brain tumor research for my dad. And then the organizer reached out to me again. I couldn’t believe they wanted me!

With a TEDx talk, you need to talk about one unique idea you want to share with the world. You have to pitch that idea to the audience, all within 15 minutes. The audience has to leave that talk with something. What are they going to take home?

When I had my run-through, my talk was 22 minutes [when it was supposed to be around 18]. I had to edit my talk a day before I gave it, and that made me very nervous. I woke up at 3 a.m. and decided I wanted to focus on the lack of representation of hijabi athletes in fitness magazines, ending with me on the cover of Women’s Running. I redid 70 percent of my talk the day before I gave it.

I got up on stage and pretended like I was the only one in the room and just started talking. You know -- talking about what you’re passionate about, it flows out of you.

You’ve had quite a trajectory, masha’Allah, from being a stay-at-home mom and a runner to now being on the cover of a major running magazine, making media appearances. How do you feel about this growth?

Hamdullilah, I never expected the growth to be like this. I feel like it’s all been given to me by God. I have to serve Him. I have to accept these things for Him. I almost didn’t want to accept the TEDx. There were members of the Omani royal family in the audience. I told my husband that I’d rather run ten marathons then do this!

But it came to me from Allah. I had to do it for him. There are so many negative connotations about hijab. I need to do my part to serve Him.

The number two reason is that this growth is for my kids! I’m a mom - what else do I have to give them? I showed my daughter clips of me on stage and clips of other women on stage who are inspiring to all humanity. I hope a spark will be lit inside of her, and she will do something for the ummah (Muslim community).

What message(s) do you want to convey to Muslim women about pursuing their dreams and wearing hijab?

Whether you like it or not, you are a physical representation of our peaceful religion. Go out there and shatter stereotypes, break barriers and use your passion for something good, whatever your passion is. I’ve been knocked down by so many brands as I try to get sponsorship, I can’t even tell you. But I’m not going to stop.

Your moniker is “run like a hijabi.” Why did you pick that? What does it mean to you?

The title of my TEDx was “Run Like a Hijabi and Change the World.” I had that as my instagram page way back in 2015 because I felt that there weren’t too many blogs out there about running in hijab. It’s my identity. It’s who I am as a Muslim American and as a hijabi. I want women to know that if you wear the hijab, it’s not a barrier to anything you want to do. Be proud and fight for what you want to achieve in life.

Of course we love your outfit and your Haute Hijab in your TEDx talk! How did you choose what to wear?

I wore palazzo pants because I wanted it to look like I was wearing a skirt, but not really. I wanted long, flowy and wide. I paired it with an old vintage Haute Hijab. Most of the local women wore abayas from head to toe. I wanted to fit in with that but look professional and chic. I still wanted to look American hijabi! I almost wore my running gear on stage, but I wanted to stay professional.

Bonus question: What or who inspires you? Or keeps you grounded?

My faith and my father inspire me. My father literally has just a few months left to live. I want to do as much as I can in his honor. My husband and my kids keep me grounded. I ask myself -- who am I doing this for? I’m doing this for my kids, especially for my daughter. I’m telling them that mom stays at home mom, but she also accomplishes things and has a voice.