DUNLAP, Ill. (WMBD/WYZZ) — She has run miles on the Rock Island Trail for years.
It’s not far from her house but when Dunlap’s Ayah Aldadah runs on the trail she still gets a few strange looks because she dresses herself head to toe and wears a traditional hijab head covering.
The University of Illinois senior track and cross country athlete has run this way since high school.
“I thought, there’s going to be questions and and we’ll have to work through this,” Aldadah said. “It’s not something you see every day, especially in Peoria, Illinois.”
Aldadah is Muslim. When she competed for Dunlap high school, she needed waivers to run in leggings and long sleeves under her uniform.
This spring she testified before the Illinois House of Representatives as part of Bill HB 120, legislation pushed by the Illinois Muslim Civic Coalition that will allow high school athletes to compete in hijabs and extra layers due to their religious beliefs.
It passed through the House and Senate and needs just Governor JB Pritzker’s signature to make it a state law.
“It’s about opening up your voice and talking about what’s comfortable for you and what you need to do,” Aldadah said. “It’s important for young Muslim athletes to see this doesn’t change a thing. My running speaks for itself whether I’m covered head to toe or not.”
Aldadah, who started her college career at Bradley then transferred to Illinois last summer, is studying advertising but has a some background in merchandising. She’s hoping the new NCAA legislation which allows student-athletes to be compensated for use of their name, image and likeness, might open the door for opportunities to create new modest apparel for athletes.
“I would like to work with brands and anybody who wants to talk to me about running in the hijab,” Aldadah said. “It’s letting people know that there’s people like me here. That’s the goal.”