Written by Rahaf Khatib.
It all started with an Instagram post on Oct. 19, 2016 on my page @runlikeahijabi — I had expressed to my 8,000+ followers my dream. Certainly, any marathoners dream, to run the oldest most prestigious marathon in the world, the creme de la creme of all marathons, The Boston Marathon.
Having been a runner for five years now, I felt like it was time to give back. Given the recent tragic displacement of 10,000 Syrian Refugees here in the United States, including those settling here in Michigan, I thought to myself, how could I not help? I’ve run six full marathons in two years, 14 half marathons, and two sprint triathlons along with co-organizing ISNAs inaugural 5K, as well as co-organizing a 5K run that provided scholarships for Palestinian students abroad.
I’ve also made headlines as the first hijabi to land the cover of a U.S. fitness/running magazine for the October issue of Women’s Running magazine. Again, Alhamdullilah, all thanks to the creator for all of these accomplishments.
But I’m not done just yet. My ultimate goal, inshallah, is to run all six world major marathons. Boston is one of them.
I explored this option thinking it would never truly become a reality. I emailed the head fundraising manager at the B.A.A. (Boston Athletic Association) and informed her of my plan to hopefully run Boston in 2017 via fundraising for charity that serves refugees here in the states. She then replied back that I had surpassed the deadline to apply, and that perhaps the charity of my choice should apply for the following year. I was disheartened.
None of the charities on the Boston Marathon website that were enrolled to give out bibs for fundraising served the cause that I had set my heart on. Raising money for refugees is a cause that’s near and dear to my heart for so many personal reasons. My father immigrated to the United States to pursue his Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering in the early 1980’s. My mom was pregnant with me and decided to give birth to her first child at her home land, Damascus, Syria, and wanted to be surrounded by family. She was nervous just as any expecting mother is and was suffering from major homesickness. My father warned her against delivering in Syria. “Our daughter will not be a U.S.-born citizen, look how far we’ve come to attain religious and political freedom,” he reminded her. But my mother refused, determined to see her family back home, it was the only comfort she needed the most to relive her anxiety of giving birth in a foreign land.
None of the charities on the Boston Marathon website that were enrolled to give out bibs for fundraising served the cause that I had set my heart on. Raising money for refugees is a cause that’s near and dear to my heart.
Thus, I was born in Damascus, Syria, in 1983. My mother and I then headed back to the states and all was well. My parents were on visas and I had to apply to become a U.S. citizen later in life. Also, being a stay-at-home mom, and never being able to contribute financially to the refugee crisis really hit home for me. Then one day in early January, I received an email from Hylands, the official cramp relief sponsor of the Boston Marathon, inviting/sponsoring me and 13 other inspirational women, to run this April. The team is made up of diverse and strong women of all fitness levels and backgrounds in honor of Kathrine Switzer’s historic run as the first Woman to run Boston 50 years ago!
It’s incredible the way the universe works itself out sometimes. The fact that I received this generous and humbling opportunity to represent at Boston, was a definite sign for me to pursue that dream of fundraising for refugees. The contributions will be forwarded to SARN, the Syrian American Rescue Network based in Michigan. I always asked myself while sitting at fancy fundraising dinners, “How can I contribute to this crisis without really having a steady income flow?”
Allah gives us talents to contribute in different ways. As my wise friend reminded me, “Some held a flag in battle — we learn from that. Some opened up safe spaces in their home — we learn form that. Some places a brick on the mosque we learn from that. Some called Adhan — we learn from that. And realize we all have something incredible to contribute in our own unique ways.”
This to me, as a stay-at-home wife and mom of three, is a calling to contribute to the Ummah. I launched my campaign on Jan. 31 with the goal of raising $5,000. Since then, I have surpassed that goal and have raised $9,008! My goal is now $10,000, but with so many who have showed support and generosity, I suspect I may exceed that goal once again, Inshallah.
As Muhammad Ali famously said, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” After all, running and humanitarian causes go hand in hand, that’s what brings out the spirit of the marathon to me.
Rahaf Khatib is a stay-at-home mom, an international marathon runner, the first hijabi to appear on the cover of a U.S. Fitness Magazine, and a top 10 finalist in the 2015 Runners World cover search. Rahaf uses her running to empower the community by advocating for healthy living and organizing local runs. She has been sponsored to run the prestigious Boston Marathon with the Hylands team in honor of Elizabeth, the first female to cross the finish line 50 years ago! She will be running to raise money for Syrian refugees settling in Michigan, so please consider donating to her cause at LaunchGood.