My Hijab Sports Journey: From ‘Female Only’ Gyms to the Great Outdoors
By Amina Ahmadi   ·    October 13, 2016    ·    Inspiration, Team Thoughts

Sports and fitness were never really on the top of my agenda. Growing up, I was always intimidated by P.E. classes, possibly because P.E. class did not receive as much attention from my teachers and family. Or maybe, it is because I didn’t think of P.E. as fun. My interests revolved around drawing and reading – hobbies that eventually led me as an adult to architecture and the design world – a realm I’m very passionate about.

As I grew older, my intimidation of physical activity grew even larger. The only venue for exercise in Qatar for a covered woman is a “Females Only” gym, an environment I dislike and could never seem to commit to. Though they provide ultimate privacy where women can wear as comfortably as they wish without being seen, but that also means that these spaces lack views to outdoors and daylight – elements I am fond of as an architect. Thus my commitment to physical activity and health was not consistent. But in Fall 2012, life happened, just like it always does.

Finding Solace After a Week Outdoors

I was on the verge of collapse. My work was too stressful at the time and I was feeling completely unhealthy and out of shape. I was just uncomfortable with myself. I decided to travel to Venice with one of my best friends to attend the Architecture Biennale, and felt I couldn’t go back to Qatar without a serious intervention to regain some balance in my life. With the goal of finding some kind of balance, I decided to spend one full week, alone, in a resort at the Dolomites. My program during that week included personal training in a gym with daylight, hiking up the mountains every morning, eating healthy food, and relaxing. I was completely immersed in beautiful, natural surroundings, an experience that made me feel alive again. I simply fell in love with the mountains, and longed for those hikes almost every day after I returned to Qatar.

I felt refreshed and balanced after my return, I began making exercise and physical activity part of my lifestyle and routine. I failed sometimes, but I kept trying. In 2014, I climbed Kilimanjaro with a close group of friends. The entire experience, from the year of planning to the climb, was incredibly empowering for me. The idea that I could, the child who hated P.E. class, climb Africa’s highest mountain made me wonder what other experiences or goals I had not dared to think of or imagine due to my own limitations. That idea and the preparation for the climb brought much positive change in my life. I was committed to my health through diet, exercise, and spirituality.

Finding a Solution, No Matter Where You Are

We are often too busy and unable to appreciate beauties around us. I now find outdoor activities help put things in perspective again. Up until very recently though, outdoor activities were still restricted in my mind to what I can do when I travel; for two reasons:

  1. I thought there wasn’t much I could do outdoors in Doha.
  2. I thought there weren’t many women doing outdoor activities in Doha.

But I was wrong…

I recently discovered that there are more and more women involved in outdoor activities in my own home, Doha, which I never knew about before. I learned that there is a huge community of cyclists for example. But despite the joy I discovered in cycling, I’m also unsure of what I can wear and should wear for such an activity – like other outdoor activities. I have always struggled with finding suitable clothing. Here is the dilemma with finding activewear for someone who wears the hijab, who does not want to compromise her values, but is committed to leading a more active lifestyle. If suitable – fitting wise – it is not the right fabric. If it is comfortable for the activity, then I have to layer my clothes to make it suitable. The struggle is always to find appropriate workout clothes to exercise, and that makes me feel frustrated, perhaps even not comfortable with the idea of trying some activities – especially outdoors.

I then realized that a solution is urgently needed. I only learned how to pedal at age 29; and cycling now makes me feel like I’m flying above any stress I may be experiencing. In turn, I wish to encourage other women to discover the activities that make them feel they’re soaring too… and fashion should not be the problem.