Instead of feeling reassured, Noor Ahmed’s friends and family worried about her attending college in the Midwest.
The 20-year-old is believed to be the first collegiate golfer to wear the Hijab, a headscarf worn by Muslim Women who choose to do so.
When Ahmed decided to attend college at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, her dad warned her not to stand out and not to talk about politics. She said friends also warned her that living in the U.S., post 9/11, could cause her to be a victim of a hate crime.
“It’s impossible for me to walk around and for people not to know what I believe in,” Ahmed said.
Ahmed chose to wear the Hijab when she was 13 years old. She has worn it proudly ever since.
“I think it’s an honor to represent my faith, but it’s definitely a weight to represent a community in the U.S. that is often feared or misrepresented,” Ahmed said.
She said in her eyes it is no different than how Christians wear the cross.
Ahmed has never considered taking the Hijab off and has never regretted her decision to wear it. However, she has felt scared and threatened because of her choice.
During her freshman year of high school, a man who was best friends with her father was shot and killed after walking out of a Home Depot. The man was walking with his girlfriend who was wearing the Hijab.
“I wouldn’t go out anymore, not with my brother or anyone,” Ahmed said. “I was scared.”
Ahmed said she has since learned to tell when others around her feel scared or threatened, and is able to remove herself from that situation. She said this is true of other Muslim women and minorities in general but remains calm regardless.
“Our anger is valid, but it’s not the best way to convince people.”
Ahmed said she can change opinions by helping spread diversity.
Therefore, four years later she moved from Sacramento, California, to Lincoln, Nebraska in the Fall of 2017 to be a member of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Women’s Golf Team.
Despite her parents’ worries about Ahmed moving to the Midwest supporting her faith, they were supportive regardless.
“I wanted her to experience it even though the treatment she might endure,” Tamer Ahmed said. “You learn more from different experiences than you do from never branching out.”
Ahmed said she felt isolated.
“Freshman year I really struggled. No one of my racial or ethnic background is a student-athlete,” Ahmed said. “As an athlete, there wasn’t anyone I could relate to.”
Most of her teammates are from small Midwest towns. Even though she was born and raised in the U.S., the first generation American of Egyptian descent was often mistaken for an international student-athlete by her peers, teammates and even her coaches.
“I didn’t fully realize how little they knew about my culture, and if they did know something, they were probably misinformed or just wrong,” Ahmed said.
She recognized why her teammates didn’t understand her ethnic culture, but being from California, she thought they could relate on some level.
Ahmed grew up watching college football with her dad just like many others did. She enjoys rap music, like many others do. Her faith is important to her, just as it is to many others. Yet, since she believes in a minority faith, she is an outcast.
She realized how important it is for minorities to have a sense of community.
“Seeing is believing for a lot of people who aren’t represented,” Ahmed said.
During the summer leading into Ahmed’s senior year of high school, she went on an unofficial visit to UNL. Ahmed was in her hotel room watching the opening ceremonies of the 2016 Olympic Games when she saw Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first American woman to compete in the Hijab.
“Growing up I never saw anyone look like me in athletics,” Ahmed said. “I just remember thinking, finally someone who looks like me.”
Ahmed saw Muhammad walking next to Michael Phelps in the opening ceremonies and felt reinforced in her abilities as an athlete and a Muslim woman.
“Seeing her compete at the highest level, and bring home a medal, it was emotional,” Ahmed said.
Tamer Ahmed saw the impact this had on his daughter.
“That brought tears to her eyes,” Tamer Ahmed said. “We are portrayed as non-Americans sometimes, so that gave her a sense of inclusion, a sense of belonging.”
Ahmed said she is happy with these steps toward progress and is hopeful toward more in the future. She recently met Maria Taylor, ESPN’s first African American woman co-host on College GameDay.
“She’s someone that I look up to a lot,” Ahmed said. “A lot of women and people of color look up to her.”
She wishes there were more people for minorities to look up to.
Ahmed said there is a problem with diversity in the Midwest and across the country. She said if universities like UNL are going to recruit minorities and people of color, these races should be shown in administration and higher-ranking places.
“Those high up need to hire women, women of color and men of color,” Ahmed said.
She thinks when minorities rise into higher positions, they often promote others to rise with them.
“We can’t always be the underdog,” Ahmed said. “Sometimes we need someone to help pull us up.”
Ahmed works with UNL’s Diversity and Inclusion Director DaWon Baker to help promote inclusion among student-athletes.
“We are working on having a more consistent presence on a national landscape,” Baker said.
The two were personally invited and recently traveled to Common Ground, the NCAA’s inclusion forum, held at The University of Texas at Austin. This event is a conversation about religious and LGBTQ inclusion.
“The less diverse you are, the more you have to emphasize diversity and inclusion,” Ahmed said.
Ahmed is also a member of one of UNL’s leadership groups, N-Volved, and continues working with Baker to promote inclusion.
“I’m working with Noor to develop her diversity program project workshop,” Baker said. “I’m helping her with what she wants to get across and the best way to do that.”
Ahmed said she is just trying to be the best teacher she can be.
“The demands of the Division I level take a lot out of you,” Tamer Ahmed said. “So, I’m really proud of Noor for putting in the effort and committing more time to bring peace and harmony on a multicultural level.”
Ahmed doesn’t like being in the spotlight and feels uncomfortable when people recognize her. She endures it to try to help young girls feel comfortable in their own skin.
She is trying to be a role model for minorities, just as she has had role models, like Taylor and Muhammad.
“I hope our accomplishments help them, and I hope me being here shows not only the majority community that yes I belong here, but the minorities as well,” Ahmed said.
A lot of women and people of color look up to her, but she hates that being the first Muslim woman to compete in collegiate golf is an accomplishment. She thinks the world will be a better place once all of the firsts have been accomplished.
Ahmed said her team is supportive of her goals towards change. Apart from this, she thinks her biggest accomplishments are being a good teammate and being supportive.
“Any given week your spot isn’t guaranteed, it can be taken at any point,” Ahmed said. “But when that line-up is made, you need to shut that off and cheer for your team.”
Others would argue her best accomplishments deal with how she is using her platform as a student-athlete to enact change.
Ahmed is inspiring girls, minorities and athletes every day. She hopes to turn it into a career someday.
“I have invested so much time into sports,” Ahmed said. “I want to expand and diversify it; it’s where my heart is.”