“I run because I hope to change the narrative around veiled Muslim women.”
Here’s one for those of us who have gone for precisely one run in 2017. We’ve got a new motivation.
Twenty-year-old Zahra Arabzada, who’s from Afghanistan but moved to the United States on a scholarship when she was 15, is showing that wearing a hijab doesn’t need to hold anyone back. The young woman is proof herself – she’s run two half marathons, a full marathon, and is just about to run an 80-kilometre ultra marathon.
“I realized what a great freedom it is to be able to run outside, so why don’t I do it?” says Arabzada of her decision to start training. “It’s really a blessing to be able to put your shoes on and run.”
For Arabzada, running is about self-expression. She’s not interested in losing weight, or even times and competition, she tells Runner’s World.
“We all run away from something, or toward something,” Arabzada writes on her blog. “Run toward the person you strive to be in the next month, year, or decade.”
What she’s running towards is a more understanding, accepting world. As a Muslim woman living in the U.S., Arabzada is acutely aware of the prejudices she faces.
“Today, I run because I hope to change the narrative around veiled Muslim women,” she writes. “Muslims’ lifestyle have been stereotyped and demonised for decades and the current political climate in the US has hit many minorities and Muslims the hardest.”
Arabzada’s life isn’t easy – she misses her parents, who she has only patchy communication with, she tells Runner’s World. While she would love to visit home, that’s tricky from both a safety and a U.S. immigration point of view – if she left, she might not be allowed back in.
She’s determined to make it home one day, though, and run a marathon there.
“Maybe having a marathon won’t stop the war, but it might change the mindset of a woman and there is nothing more powerful than that,” Arabzada told Runner’s World.
“In Afghanistan, you grow up doing everything for the benefit of a man. To be able to give a platform for women to have 30 or even 15 minutes to themselves where they can feel like they own their own lives, that is so powerful.”
Images: Zahra Arabzada/Supplied