This Muslim Woman Is Dedicating Her First Ever Boston Marathon to Refugees
“Having come from Syria myself, it’s a pretty personal issue for me.”
Rahaf Khatib — stay-at-home mother of three, athlete, immigrant, Instagram star, Michigander, and Muslim — is no stranger to running.
In the past two years, she’s competed in six marathons, 14 half marathons, and two sprint triathlons, according to an article she published for Muslimgirl.com.
But where the 34-year-old native of Damascus, Syria, separates herself from the pack is the cause she runs for.
Khatib will run the April 17 Boston Marathon to benefit Syrian refugees in Michigan through the Syrian American Rescue Network. Her campaign has already raised nearly $10,000, with more than 40 days left until the marathon.
Read more: 15 Ways You Can Help Syrian Refugees NOW
“I always had it in my mind that one day I’d qualify for [a major marathon] or run for charity,” she told Global Citizen. “And the only thing I would want to raise money for is refugees.”
Khatib was born in Damascus, Syria, to visa-holding parents. Her father was pursuing a Ph.D in Chemical Engineering in Michigan, and her mother was pregnant with Rahaf when they moved to the United States.
But Khatib was born in Damascus because her mother wanted to be surrounded by friends and family when she gave birth.
“Having come from Syria myself — I was born there — it’s a pretty personal issue for me,” Khatib said.
She grew up in the Detroit area, one of the biggest Arab American communities in the country — and now lives in Farmington, a nearby suburb.
Michigan is second to California in the resettlement of Syrian refugees, with more than 1,000 of the 10,000 Syrian refugees accepted in 2016 settling in the Detroit area.
The Syrian American Rescue Network (SARN) was established in 2015 with the goal of providing “humanitarian and economic support to refugees in reaching self-sufficiency in Michigan.”
SARN, Khatib said, “provides resources for refugees who come here with literally nothing,” including warm-weather supplies, vehicles for transportation to work during winter, and even babysitting and English classes.
Though Khatib knew she wanted to benefit Syrian refugees from the get-go, starting the campaign and finding a spot in the Boston Marathon didn’t happen overnight. She got help from Hyland’s, the official Boston Marathon cramp relief sponsor.
After missing the deadline to apply to run the marathon for a charity, she received an email from Hyland’s in January, inviting her to join its all-female team of 14 runners.
The invitation, Khatib said, gave her the opportunity she needed to go ahead with her campaign for Syrian refugees.
While the Boston Marathon will be Khatib’s first major marathon — one of six world marathon majors around the world — it is not her first time in the spotlight.
Khatib grabbed headlines in 2016, when she became the first hijabi runner to be featured on a US fitness magazine, Women’s Running Magazine.
But despite her recent press, she says, there are still many misconceptions about hijab-wearing athletes.
“I do feel like we’re stereotyped,” she said. “I had somebody ask me if covered women in my religion are allowed to play sports. I was stunned.”
Of course, there have been many examples of women athletes at all levels of many sports who cover their faces or heads. One such woman, Ibtihaj Muhammad, won a bronze medal for fencing in the 2016 Rio Olympics, becoming the first hijab-wearing American woman to place in the Olympics. She was one of 14 Muslim women from around the world who won medals in 2016, Mic.com reports.
Even Nike and Adidas, companies who have recently showcased hijab-wearing athletes in their advertisements, she says, have not demonstrated a commitment to providing resources to hijabi athletes.
“It’s such a hypocritical thing to do because all of a sudden they want to be about equality, but they don’t make any hijabs,” she said. “It’s proof to me about how much more we need to get out there, especially in this field.”
Another misconception, she told Women’s Running Magazine, is that she’s forced to cover.
She’s not forced by her husband to wear a hijab, she said, but rather feels that the hijab “helps me hold on to my faith.”
If anything, she’s inspired her husband to stay active.
“My husband got motivated too,” she told Global Citizen. “He saw me coming home with a smile on my face, a glow on my face.”
And though she is happy to train with him, she had to admit, “I’m a little more hardcore than he is.”