Gymnast Naimah Muhammad of Rochester, N.Y. is paving a path in the world of competitive gymnastics and staying true to her Islamic principles at the same time.
She discovered her passion for gymnastics at the age of 9, now at age 19, Naimah says, “When I was younger around four or five years old, I remember telling my parents that I wanted to go fast. So I was involved in ice skating for a year, and I became bored with it and stopped. One summer I was watching television and I saw Gabrielle Douglas who is now an Olympic Gold medalist and she was competing on the floor and I saw that, and the thought of doing gymnastics came to me.”
“Shortly after I started doing gymnastics, I became enrolled in Bright Raven Gymnastics Club and developed my skills. When I started gymnastics, the leotards that female gymnasts were required to wear, were inappropriate. My mom gave me tights to put under the leotards and that worked out well.”
Naimah and her family are Muslims, and an integral part of their faith is modest attire. Jason and Kadara Muhammad, Naimah’s parents, homeschooled their six children, further instilling the importance of staying true to themselves and their belief system.
“We made the conscious decision to allow her to relax her scarf, however, we were not going to have people gawking at our child. That’s when we focused on making sure she was covered, so the tights became a part of her gymnastics attire,” explains Kadara Muhammad.
“Naimah would be one of the few Black girls present at competitions, and the only Muslim that was covered. I’ve had other Muslim parents come up to me and tell me that because of Naimah their daughters decided to stay in gymnastics and wear their tights. We represent the Nation of Islam, and we have instilled in our children to be comfortable with who they are.”
Jason Muhammad adds, “When Naimah was little, she always said she wanted to go fast, she was a runner. Once we took her to Bright Raven Gymnastics Club, she got to go fast, she got to jump on the vault, she got to swing on the bars, and she was able to go fast.”
“From the time she started gymnastics, she has always worn tights under her leotard. Everything was fine until she got older and really excelling. She started competing at the regional level and eventually she competed on the national level. We had to fight and petition USA Gymnastics to allow her to wear tights when she competed,” Jason Muhammad continues.
“We need our own everything. Whether it’s an outlet for your children to be active, doesn’t matter the arena, doesn’t matter the field of endeavor, we need our own everything. In order for us to express ourselves and reveal the gifts that God has given to each of us. In this world, you’ll wind up having to give up a part of self to be a part of other than self.”
Naimah is currently a sophomore at Brockport, State University of New York. She is majoring in English creative writing with a minor in film and is a member of the school’s women’s gymnastics team.
Naimah loves participating in gymnastics, so in the future she would like to coach. Outside of gymnastics, she plans on writing films and plays.
“The tights with the leotard was not a problem at Bright Raven, everyone was fine with it. The judges at lower level competitions were also fine about the tights. Once I entered national level competitions, it became an issue with the judges. I was told that the tights made it difficult to properly see each form. The penalty for wearing tights were points deducted before I got on the floor,” Naimah Muhammad explains.
“One of the coaches from another team, came up to me and said that one of their gymnasts have not competed at all because she was too scared to compete, she didn’t want to be the only one wearing tights, and didn’t want to be penalized. She came to a competition and saw me and realized that she wasn’t the only Muslim girl out here and now she competes with tights.”
“I was approached by Brown Girls Do Gymnastics based in Atlanta, that promotes Black girls’ representation in gymnastics, and they asked me to speak at one of their clinics in July,” says Naimah Muhammad.
“The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan said, ‘I can’t live without truth.’ We’re not compromising what we know to be right. Her coaches and teammates have always been supportive, it’s never been an issue. Naimah’s college coach petitioned the college level gymnastics organization and got a waiver, that allowed her to compete in tights. Naimah is the first person to compete at the collegiate level wearing tights,” notes Jason Muhammad.
USA Gymnastics has updated their attire policy, which now allows tights to be worn: In addition to a leotard or ankle length unitard, acceptable attire would also include ankle length tights worn under the leotard that match the leotard or are skin tone.
Naimah is also part of a growing awareness and movement to reject the sexualization of women in gymnastics. During the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Germany’s women’s team competed in one-piece unitards instead of the usual leotards which are cut like bikinis.
View Naimah’s gymnastics performances at @itsnai2020 on Instagram.
Shawntell Muhammad can be contacted at [email protected].