The Weightlifting Hijabi

“The fitness industry hasn’t always been a place for Muslim girls to find role models.

Being a female, in the gym, weightlifting, is one thing but being a being a Muslim, scarf wearing girl in the gym, comes with further pressure to prove yourself to everyone looking in your direction. 

Having featured in a Puregym advert, Umaymah Makda, 21, has reached over 8,000 followers on Instagram alone, under her handle @Maymah.lifts, where she posts videos of herself in the gym as well as workout routines to support other people.

Umaymah has recently graduated with a first-class degree in Radiotherapy and Oncology, from Sheffield Hallam University and is now working at St James’s Hospital in Leeds. 

When speaking to her about her journey she said: “The fitness industry hasn’t always been a place for Muslim girls to find role models.

“When people used to see me wearing a scarf, I used to think they were staring at me and thinking that I didn’t belong here, but I feel more accepted now.

“We’re all here to make ourselves better and to work on ourselves and we have so much respect for each other.”

Umaymah has been weightlifting for just over a year now, however, her fitness journey started over three years ago, before she started university; she said: “I was just sitting at home and not doing much at all, I was in a bad place mentally and I needed to get out of the house.”

“I saw a girl on Instagram, and she was weightlifting, and I thought that’s what I want to do, so I bought a training programme and tried it out.”

“People tend to think women wearing scarves are meek, reserved and insecure, assuming that they don’t belong in powerful positions.”

A number of Umaymah’s videos have gone viral on the internet, with hundreds of thousands of views over a range of platforms, this new-found fame hasn’t been easy to deal with. 

“At the start, when my first video went viral on TikTok, I was getting so many comments saying ‘go back to the kitchen’ and people pointing out that what I was wearing didn’t classify as modest and then you had people in the middle, who appreciated what I was doing and actually told me that they respected me.”

“It’s important that you choose to do things for yourself, rather than content creation because it then comes with expectations which the outcome doesn’t necessarily meet.”

“When I did the video that went viral, it was just something I did for fun and it was spontaneous, I didn’t expect that to happen. 

Sarah Maham, 21, who trains at the same gym said: “She’s always been determined to better herself and her lifestyle and that mindset has impacted me in the most positive way.

“Because of Umaymah, I have found the motivation and encouragement to better myself.”

Umaymah has been working alongside a personal trainer and hopes to be lifting 140kg by the end of the year. 

“We’re all here to make ourselves better and to work on ourselves and we have so much respect for each other.”

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