Rahaf Khatib is no stranger to breaking barriers and making a statement. She made headlines late last year for becoming the first Muslim hijabi runner to appear on the cover of a fitness magazine. Now, she plans on running the Boston Marathon to raise money for Syrian refugees in the U.S.—a cause near and dear to her heart.
"It's always been my dream to run the oldest, most prestigious race," she told SHAPE in an exclusive interview. The Boston Marathon will be Khatib's third World Marathon Major—having already ran the BMW Berlin and Bank of America Chicago races. "My goals is to do all six, hopefully by next year," she says.
Khatib says she's ecstatic about this opportunity, partially because there was a moment she thought it wasn't meant to be. Since the race isn't until April, she'd started reaching out to charities in late December, later learning that the deadline to apply via charity had long since passed, in July. "I don't even know who would apply that early," she laughed. "I was bummed, so I was like well, maybe it's not meant to be this year."
To her surprise, she later received an email inviting her to run the race. "I got an email from Hyland's inviting me to their all-female team with amazing athletes," she said. "[That in itself] was a sign that I have to do this."
In many ways this opportunity couldn't have come at a better time. Born in Damascus, Syria, Khatib immigrated to the United States with her parents 35 years ago. Ever since she started running, she knew that if she ever ran the Boston marathon, it would be for a charity aiding Syrian refugees.
"Running and humanitarian causes go hand in hand," she said. "That's what brings out the spirit of the marathon. I got this bib for free and I could have just ran with it, no pun intended, but I felt like I really needed to earn my spot in the Boston Marathon."
"Especially with everything that's been going on in the news, families are being torn apart," she continued. "We have families here [in the U.S.] who have settled in Michigan that need help, and I thought 'what an amazing way to give back'."
On her LaunchGood fundraising page, Khatib explains that "of the 20 million refugees flooding the world today, one in four is Syrian." And out of the 10,000 refugees that have been welcomed by the United States, 1,500 of them have resettled in Michigan. That is why she is choosing to raise money for the Syrian American Rescue Network (SARN)—a non-political, non-religious, tax-exempt charity based in Michigan.
"My dad came here 35 years ago and my mom came after with me as a baby," she said. "I was raised in Michigan, went to college here, elementary school, everything. What's happening now could have happened to me in 1983 when I was on a plane coming to the U.S."
No I don't have a fancy career, no I'm not a scholar on Islam and no I can't even read #Arabic past middle schooler..... That does not undermine my image as an American Muslim and a Covered athlete. I WONT let other people speak on my behalf....my experiences with #hijab is not based on some cultural representation. Its basically my form of Da3wah (Islamic ambassador if you will-spreading of good message). Its my form of attaining good deeds, its my spiritual identity, its my link to Jannah, its my form of modesty. I am the 'flag bearer" of #Islam. I am a physical representation of my peaceful religion. And I will proudly carry and display my hijab in this negative political environment with my head held high. We WILL get representation in Fitness/running field if its the last thing I do! "If you don’t make the choice, And you don’t use your voice, Somone else will speak for you instead......show the world who you are" Iconic by Madonna #runlikeahijabi #unapologeticallymuslim #coveredrunner #shatteringstereotypes #breakingbarriers #behumble #run4allwomen
Khatib has already taken it upon herself to dispel myths about Muslim Americans and hijabi athletes, and she'll continue to use the sport to raise awareness for a cause so near and dear to her heart.
If you'd like to get involved, you can donate to Rahaf's cause via her LaunchGood Page. Check out her Instagram at @runlikeahijabi or follow along with her team via #HylandsPowered to keep up with their training as they prepare for the Boston Marathon.