You probably know Amna Al Haddad’s work even if you don’t recognize her name.
She’s a weightlifter, a Muslim athlete and also the inspiration for one of Nike’s newest (and most controversial) products, the Nike Pro Hijab, a lightweight head covering that can be worn by Muslim women while working out.
More: The 10 Best Nike Workout Clothes for Women
Al Haddad has made a career of breaking boundaries and achieving firsts, and she’s no stranger to defying expectations.
1. She hails from the United Arab Emirates
Al Haddad’s achievements are awe-inspiring in their own right, but they become even more impressive when you consider that she was born into an incredibly oppressive country, one whose government abides by Sharia law and imposes strict regulations on dress, speech and actions for its citizens — especially women.
Although Al Haddad now lives in Akron, Ohio, she still trains in modest clothing and hijab and continues to push boundaries for Muslim women and speak out in support of women’s rights.
2. She’s only 27 years old
She’s an accomplished weightlifter, a champion for other female athletes, and she’s working alongside one of the world’s largest sportswear companies. And she’s only 27 years old.
This is a woman who has goals and is determined to achieve them.
3. She used to be a journalist
Before beginning her athletic career, Al Haddad was a journalist for The National, one of the leading English-language newspapers in the United Arab Emirates. The focus of her articles consistently centered around female empowerment, charity work and profiles of young people working to make a difference in their world.
In fact, her current roster of professional achievements in weightlifting and CrossFit make her exactly the type of young woman she would have written about back in her journalism days.
4. She’s made a career of “firsts”
Here are just a few of her career highlights:
- She was the first Emirati female to compete in the 2012 Reebok CrossFit Games Open.
- She was the first Muslim woman to compete in the Asia Regionals for CrossFit while wearing a headscarf.
- She was the first Arab female athlete to flag off We Run Dubai in 2015, a 10K race sponsored by Nike.
Amna Al Haddad truly is the change she wants to see in the world.
More: 10 Fierce Female Athletes Who Inspire Us to Be Better
5. She believes in supporting women
Her Instagram account — which boasts a modest 7,900 followers — is a combination of weightlifting shots and event promotion info, but throughout, Al Haddad remains firm in her support and recognition of other women.
She recently posted the photo above with the caption, “Happy International Women’s day to all the beautiful women out there. What today means to me, is how far we come as women in a world that told us we ‘can’t’ but having shown over and over again that we can. That our strength goes beyond our physical prowess but our intelligence as beings; able to love, give and forgive. Many before us came to open the path that we are in today; and many of us will keep opening new paths everyday for future generations and our children.”
6. She can handle controversy and also accept credit where credit is due
Al Haddad has absorbed the controversy over Nike’s choice to create a hijab for female Muslim athletes while also taking appropriate credit for her role in its creation.
“From my perspective as a former athlete who competed in Hijab, in the past, the big brands didn’t see the need or market for it as it was not ‘popular’ and it was unheard of to see women train, exercise and compete in hijab,” she said in a recent Instagram post, “…As Muslim women, we have been vocal in the media about it — personally since 2011 — the big guys can’t help but notice.”
As for Nike, she’s honest about their motivations, saying, “They will create products and they will meet market needs — whatever they may be. I support Muslim women with or without hijab, and how they dress is their choice. And with the Nike Sports Hijab, it surely will encourage a new generation of athletes to pursue sports professionally, and without us athletes who fought for this right and made it happen, Nike wouldn’t ‘just do it.'”
More: Awareness Campaign Exposes Double Standards in Sports Coverage
7. She’s using her success to inspire a new generation of young women
In a recent interview with CBC News, Al Haddad explains that being a role model for other young Muslim women is incredibly important for her, saying “I did not grow up with the concept of sports in my life. I’ve had very little role models to look up to.”
Al Haddad hopes that her increased popularity will inspire others and give them someone to look up to and that more options for modest workout wear will mean an increase in Muslim women training as athletes.
We hope so too!
Before you go, check out our slideshow below.