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Manal Rostom, The Surviving Hijab Story

BY GARIMA GOSWAMI, 21 Nov, 2019

    In 2014, Rostom created a women-only online community called Surviving Hijab, a strong group of hijab wearing women that share their struggles, insecurities and hardships, and support one another to hold on to their veil.

    Manal Rostom, the 40-year-old Egyptian athlete is the first hijabi woman to be featured by Nike to promote their sports hijab line. In 2014, Rostom created a women-only online community called Surviving Hijab, a strong group of hijab wearing women that share their struggles, insecurities and hardships, and support one another to hold on to their veil. As the community expanded, Rostom propelled on her mission to build representation of hijabi women in non-conventional spaces such as sports gear.

    In an interview with The Student Newspaper, Rostom mentions, “So, my email to Nike was after I founded Surviving Hijab, which was August 2014, and it gave me a voice and the confidence to reach out and tell bigger brands: “Hey look, we exist, there is not enough Muslim woman representation currently on the sports front, and the question is ‘Why’?”. There are so many beautiful women out there changing the sport of their relative countries, and I was lucky enough that my email hit the right person at the right time, and the rest is history.”

    In a short period of time, Surviving Hijab grew into a strong 622,000-member community, urging Facebook to invite Rosom to give a talk at their headquarters in Dubai. Speaking about her group’s sudden shot to fame, Rostom mentions to Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, “It came from a very dark and desperate place. I was bullied by a society that was making me feel uncomfortable because of my personal choices to exercise faith by covering up.”

    Later in 2018, Rostom won the Facebook Community Leadership Award and won $50,000 USD to enhance the activities of her group and lead her Facebook community efficiently through the required resources. “The first time I stood on stage I was so emotional I cried. I honestly don’t know how I did it, but I received a standing ovation from the 5,000 people in the audience. I was so honoured to be there amongst people who didn’t necessarily know anything about me or my religion, yet still really got behind me,” Rostom told Harper’s Bazaar Arabia.

    A major milestone for this trailblazer was the climb to Everest Base Camp this year. She invited members from Surviving Hijab to join her in this expedition and the response was phenomenal. Women of different age-groups from all over the world joined Rostom in the two-week adventure. “People don’t get it, they don’t understand. I want to change the false perceptions that assume hijabi women are boring and uneducated, women who don’t play sport or travel. I am hoping by reaching base camp of the highest mountain in the world that my message will make a lot of noise and echo for years to come,” Rostom adds as she narrates her Everest Base Camp vision to Harper’s Bazaar Arabia.

    Rostom is on a mission to become the first Egyptian woman to climb the Seven Summits and complete all six major marathons by 2020. She is regularly seen running local and international marathons with the recent ones being Dubai Marathon, the China Wall Marathon, and the New York City Marathon. She is already making great strides with her unwavering zeal. “I hope that every woman who gets inspired by me uses that energy to not let anyone stop her from achieving her dreams, goals, anything you’ve thought about that’s really crazy and people have thought that ‘she’s crazy’, whatever. Just go after it with all your heart and soul. There will be loads of roadblocks, but if I can do it, you can,” she tells The Student Newspaper.

    Photos: Manal A Rostom/Facebook

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