Hi Intisar, how are you? Where do you answer from?
Hello Distance Athletics fam! I am well and good. Thank you for asking and I hope all is well with you too. I am from London, UK. I hear there is a new store opening…congrats and can’t wait to come by soon!
So you live in London, however you were raised in Abu Dhabi, UAE and you have Somali, Sudanese, and Ethiopian and Yemeni origins. What has this mixed background helped with you and how do they accompany you today?
Oh wow. I really am a child of the world and I am so proud to be connected to so many nations and truly feel like I am a citizen of the global community. It takes a village to raise a human being and mine has been a beautiful one to live with.
Where shall I start? The history, culture, languages, foods etc. of my home countries made me who I am today and bonus point I get to cheer and support all of these nations during athletics competitions! I think that is my favourite part at the moment. I love seeing my running heroes at world level stages winning golds and raising our flags high. Proud is an understatement and belonging to so many homes is a beautiful feeling.
You are working for the National Health Service, what does your job consist of and what does it bring you as a person?
I am Public Health post graduate and I work in Patient and Public Involvement in mental health services for the National Health Service. I mostly work with young people and families (the patient part) after their therapy comes to an end, to learn from their experience as a service user and to use that learning to improve access to mental health services to other members of the community (the public part).
It is a challenging role especially during a pandemic and living through a time were the waiting list to access mental health care is so high. I love what I do and the reward is worth the hard work.
In this context, you went to Rio de Janeiro Brazil in 2016, tell us about your experiences there?
My time in Rio de Janeiro was probably one of the best times of my life! I went out there with a health charity as a volunteer during the Zika virus epidemic in Brazil. My role involved community engagement and health education with public health nurses and health promotion teams; the communities I worked with were so kind and welcoming and they helped me gain a new learning into how locals live in favelas and the strong sense of family and belonging you will find there. It was so beautiful to witness…hopefully I will be back soon.
What place does sport and more particularly running take in mental health promotion?
There has been studies showing the positive impact exercise such as walking and more recently running (Oswald et al. 2020) has on mental health outcomes; the studies suggest that running interventions can have positive implications on anxiety disorders and depression. All human beings are different and may need a different approach to help maintain a positive mental health well-being; running can be one way to help with that. I am so grateful that I have this sport to help maintain my physical and mental health well-being and most importantly happiness.
You practice yoga and completed three World Major Marathons, sport seems essential to you? How do you manage your daily life between sport and work?
I am still learning how to manage! Trust me…it is a journey.
I am currently training for New York City marathon 2022 and if all goes plan I will earn my fourth star there. I say I am still learning because every day is different and life sometimes throws surprises at you. I am learning how to live a fulfilling life alongside my training, work, family and friends time. Practising and teaching yoga is my “me time”; it helps me re-centre and put my life into perspective.
You proudly wear the hijab during your practice and in races. What does it mean to you?
I am a Muslim, Black, Hijab wearing woman running races in the UK and globally. That is already breaking so many stereotypes that can be associated with hijab wearing girls and women. The hijab is an integral part of our faith and yes we can run wearing it too. It is showing the world that Muslim girls and women are active members of the community and hopefully inspire the next young person to run too.
That is the part I am proud of the most; to inspire future hijab wearing runners part.
In 2022, we don’t see many professional athletes wearing it. In your opinion do they have a role to play in the democratisation and liberalisation of hijab wearing in sports?
It is about freedom of choice; my freedom, your freedom, everyone’s freedom to wear what they want. Why is the hijab any different to that? It is the most discussed topic in the world of sports and I wish it was more positive. The hijab doesn’t hinder or put me in any danger when I am running and that conversation needs to change. Muslim women should be able to run and compete in professional sports at all levels wearing the hijab; I believe it is everyone’s responsibility to keep the discussion and momentum going. I started to follow the work being done by Les Hijabeuses in France and I was so inspired by their hard work and dedication in changing the narrative surrounding the hijab in France. That is the role that should be played when campaigning for women’s rights and hijab wearing athletes.
You work with Nike which is known for its universal values. Are you proud to represent this family?
Yes! I am proud to be able to do what I do supported by Nike. It has given me a platform to share my story and passion for running as a hijab wearing athlete and has opened so many doors of opportunities for me too. Nike family has been good to me for real. I mean…the running shoes are pretty awesome too!
In your opinion, on this subject, is Nike ahead or are they in line with other brands?
Love this question! I am not even being biased but I believe Nike is ahead. First brand to release a sports hijab for Muslim athletes in 2017 was game changing for so many including myself! That being said many brands are now also being more inclusive and that is a beautiful thing to see.
What are your dreams?
Love this question too. Right…where shall I start? To definitely earn the remaining stars in my World Major Marathons journey. To stay in love with running and get more people on board too! Kipchoge says “Running is life”, that is true and I am living by that every day. To break all barriers stopping people from Black, Asian and Minority ethnic backgrounds from taking up running. I am looking forward to this one for sure. To run happy, healthy and injury free. To go back to university and get my PhD…we shall see! So many dreams but these resonate the most.
Thank you for your time and your commitment. Who do you think we should interview for our next portrait?
Thank you for having me on board! I had a great time doing this interview. Another hijab wearing runner who inspires me; Ines from Golden Blocks. She’s a powerhouse! Thanks again for the chat.