When Elhum Oskui steps into Dixon Recreation Center, she draws attention more than some people. This is because when Oskui heads to the gym to exercise she is wearing hijab.
Oskui is passionate about breaking down stereotypes about women who wear hijab. She feels that many people don’t understand that people who wear hijab are not oppressed, and that they have as much freedom as everybody else at the gym.
Oskui has felt very welcomed whenever she comes to Recreational Sports Facilities. Although she is occasionally asked uninformed questions, she’s never dealt with anything hateful. “Everyone’s been really kind and they smile and they say hello,” Oskui said.
As a strong advocate for living a healthy lifestyle, Oskui worries that some hijabi women would have concerns about coming to the gym, affecting their chance to exercise. “Definitely come here, get in shape, and take charge of your health,” Oskui said. “University gyms are very welcoming, and college students are very kind.”
In Middle Eastern cultures, gyms are often separated for men and women. So when women go to the gym they are usually around only other women, and not wearing hijab. However, gyms in the US aren’t separate. This means that hijabi women who aren’t as familiar with more western culture, don’t normally wear hijab to the gym, would wear it to the gym here, which could be uncomfortable for some while also working out around men.
Because she grew up in the states, Oskui has grown accustomed to what comes with wearing hijab to exercise, and she wants to let other hijabi women know about her positive experience of being somebody who wears hijab to the gym. “Don’t let it hold you back and definitely do what you need to do,” she said. “Your health is important.”
Keeping up with fitness is a very important thing to Oskui. She lifts weights and does cardio to maintain her health, both physical and mental. It’s a way for her to relieve some stress and keep a balanced mood, which can be especially tough while raising a young child.
Being a mother, one of the services that Oskui takes advantage of is Our Little Village, the child care program available at Dixon. This program made it much easier for Oskui to balance being a mother, but also trying to keep up with her fitness. “I was really surprised they had [child care] when I came here,” she said, because her past college offered no programs like it at the recreation center. “It’s awesome that they have that.”
Oskui does runs an Instagram page following her exercising. She runs her account because she wants to not only inspire others who wear hijab, but also to show non-Muslim people that people who wear hijab are not oppressed, like she feels they are often portrayed in the media. She wants people to know that hijab is not a sign or symbol of oppression.
She hopes to help give others the confidence to be able to come to the gym wearing hijab and feel comfortable doing so. “I really want to influence the world and tell them that we’re allowed to work out and we’re allowed to be in public.”