Qatari athlete Mariam Farid made headlines when she represented her country at the 17th World Athletics Championship in Doha in 2019. Since then she has been working hard to continue inspiring and advocating for hijabi women in sport worldwide.
The 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships in Doha shot Mariam Farid to fame. But it was not a record-breaking podium finish that made headlines – it was the then 21-year-old herself who made history for being one of the first two female athletes from Qatar to take part in the elite games. It was also the first time a Middle Eastern country had hosted the competition.
The 400 metre runner and hurdler said she wanted to “break down barriers” for younger generations, but her participation also sent a message about visibly Muslim women in sport: “We are not oppressed. I can still compete with my scarf on. If there is something I want to do, I will do it.”
Speaking to QRM, Mariam’s strong self-belief is clear. Her life’s inspiration is her father, she says. His dedication to his profession as a dentist, opening several opening clinics in Doha, meant that her path was meant to be extraordinary, too.
“I always see him growing and achieving a lot, Mashallah [God has willed]. I’ve grown up in a family where you can’t be normal, you can’t be non-special, and that motivated me. I knew I had something special and from that I should work hard, be more special and give back to society.”
“I’m not just representing myself – I’m representing a nation, women, hijabi women, Arab women, women in the Middle East and Qatari women. It’s a huge message and a huge responsibility”
Mariam excelled in sports at school, describing herself as a “naturally born” athlete. “I always liked to compete and run with the boys in my school. I was very athletic and known as the one strong in sport and the fast one.”
She began focusing on athletics at the age of 15. By 16, she was already on the path to national recognition when she convinced the World Championship selection commission – among them Sebastian Coe – that the games should come to Doha.
“I told them, ‘We need people to see us, to inspire younger generations, inspire people to see the Middle East. When someone visits Qatar for a sports event they will be amazed. Above that, when they see girls competing from that country, they will be even more amazed.’”
It’s a responsibility that she carried to the starting blocks at the games five years later. “It has so many meanings, competing and being part of it. It is not just about my name being there and mentioned because I’m not just representing myself – I’m representing a nation, women, hijabi women, Arab women, women in the Middle East and Qatari women. It’s a huge message and a huge responsibility.”
“You always need to see someone making the first step, and Alhamdulilah [praise be to God] I believe I can do so many things as the first step. I know I have the potential to do that and it will open and inspire a lot of girls and motivate so many women to do the same.”
Did the games break a lot of stereotypes, as she hoped? Yes, Mariam believes Western attitudes towards Arab women have progressed – but she now defers responsibility for changing peoples’ minds.
“Arab women are doing very well; they are growing, changing, inspiring and motivating, and they are no less than other women. The fact that there are still stereotypes about us is not our problem at the end of the day. This is their problem, they didn’t educate themselves about us. It is not a matter for us to try and explain ourselves, it’s for them to be educated about us and to get to know other cultures. I don’t think it’s our mistake.”
“The fact that there are still stereotypes about us is not our problem… This is their problem, they didn’t educate themselves about us”
Alongside her Qatar National Team responsibilities, Mariam is a communications student at Northwestern University in Doha. She’s also launching a fashion business, and completing a personal training qualification to coach children in athletics. She manages her packed schedule with sports.
“Training has balanced my whole life,” she said. “When I have a full schedule because of sports, it makes it clear and manages my time. I know from 4-6pm I am training, before that is university and after I have my social life. Sports has balanced so much in my life and given me so much more to help improve it. I believe I am the person that I am today because of my sports.”
But a full schedule coupled with the unpredictability of 2021 means Mariam’s plan for the year ahead is more fluid. “To be honest, I can’t wait for the unplanned. I want to get out of my bubble. I’m going with the flow, and I hope these are years full of success and opportunities for change and growth.”
PHOTOS: Cover – Maja Hitij/Getty images, 1 – Adriane de Souza, 2,3 – Courtesy of Mariam Farid.