February 21 2018
Karen Lyons started running to escape hardship–and couldn’t stop.
Founder, Run Like a Hijabi
Farmington Hills, MI
“Don’t you get hot?” Rahaf Khatib asks, laughing. The six-time marathoner says this is the question she receives most often from other runners. “I respond, ‘If it’s hot outside, you’re going to be warm regardless!’ I don’t mind at all—I’m just being me. I’m in my zone and I don’t notice what’s on my head or anything else.”
The 32-year-old mom of three says she started running in 2012 as a way to challenge herself. “I was doing classes at the gym, but that wasn’t enough for me.” Khatib hated running in high school—“I failed at it miserably!”—so when she learned her son’s school was participating in a local race, she thought it would be the perfect challenge. The kids were competing in a 1-miler, so she signed up for 10K. “I crossed the finish and instantly felt euphoria. To have done this was a huge accomplishment in my book.”
After experiencing that initial runner’s high, Khatib was hooked. She returned to the same race the next year to complete the half marathon before registering for the Detroit Free Press Marathon. It was during that race that she started to notice a lack of other Hijabis on the course. (Hijabi describes a Muslim woman who covers her body from head to toe, except hands, feet and face, for modesty and religious purposes.)
“I feel like [other] covered women maybe are hesitant to get out of their comfort zones,” she explains. “Maybe it’s a lack of apparel out there; maybe it’s all the negative press about Muslim women.”
Khatib then expanded her running goals from challenging herself to being a spokesperson for her community. She started posting on Instagram as @runlikeahijabi, blogging, reaching out to other Muslim women in the Detroit area and becoming involved with the apparel brand Veil, which creates modest sportswear.
Her mission is simple: “Defy stereotypes and encourage my Muslim sisters.” Khatib’s journey has taken her across six marathon finish lines, including Paris and Berlin, and through two triathlons, as well as “countless halfs.” She has served as an inspiration not only to other women who cover but to her family as well. Khatib’s husband now runs marathons; her daughter asks, “Is it my turn?” whenever Mom hops off the treadmill; and her son competes on his middle school’s cross-country team, in a league that Khatib petitioned to start this year.
The mom says to her fellow Muslim women: “Don’t be afraid of how you’re going to be perceived. That should be the last thing on your mind. Go out there and do your thing.” To anyone who might be curious about her dress, she has this message: “If you see anyone who looks like me, please don’t rely on your assumptions. Ask them questions. Smile and offer a nice word.” –JS
Rahaf is on the cover of our October issue, on newsstands now. Grab your copy and subscribe for future issues here.