EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 11, 2010

Methuen's Haq is proud of her religion, rise as a runner

On Cross Country
Dave Dyer


The weather did not cooperate with Methuen freshman Marwah Haq back on Sept. 22.

Determined to do well for the Rangers in a dual meet against Andover, she was thwarted by humidity and unusually hot temperatures hovering in the 80s.

"That race was very hard," said Haq, who still came in seventh overall as the second Ranger finisher. "My mouth and throat got dry and it was getting hard to breathe."

Of course, no one likes to run distance races in the heat, but it's even tougher for Haq, a confirmed Muslim who wears a hijab head covering whenever she is out in public. It's a burden, but she wouldn't dream of not following her tradition.

"I'm used to it and it doesn't bother me at all," said Haq. "It's part of our religion and I believe in it.

"The reason we cover is we believe that hair is attractive to men and that can lead to things."

Unless it's hot, the hijab doesn't affect Haq at all. But being a Muslim was also a problem earlier in the season during Ramadan. That's when Muslims must fast from sunrise to sunset.

"There were some days, mostly in August when it was so hot, I couldn't run at all — I didn't have the strength," she said. "When it was really bad, the coach (Bill James) let me run in the morning."

Despite what would seem like apparent hurdles, Haq has made impressive strides for a girl who was mainly a sprinter in middle school and wasn't even sure she'd stick it out in cross country.

Consistently in Methuen's top three, she was the Rangers' No. 1 runner in a quad-meet with Dracut, Billerica and Central Catholic and she finished seventh in the freshman race at the Bay State Invitational.

"I'm kind of surprised," said Haq. "This is my first year of distance and I wasn't sure I could handle it because of that and the heat. But I'm glad I stayed with it — it wasn't as hard as I thought."

James is definitely pleased with her decision.

"She's improved so much in a month's time, since day one, it's been great," said James. "She has a runner's build and you can see she's dedicated. We're happy to have her on the team."

Haq, too, is enjoying her time with the Rangers. It's added to what has been an enjoyable start to her high school year. The academics are going nicely and, rather than receiving any negative comments about her hijab, she's only gotten interested queries.

"Once or twice a day, someone asks me why I'm wearing it," she said. "I don't mind at all — in fact, I'm glad to tell people why, that it's part of my religion.

"I'm not having any problems at all and I really like cross country now that I'm used to it."

Gilmore on pace

Haverhill's girls cross country team has slipped a bit this fall, but Riley Gilmore has been more than impressive as a freshman. She finished second overall at the Bay State Invitational freshman race and has been the Hillies' No. 3 runner in virtually every varsity race.

Gilmore, incidentally, and No. 2 runner Bridget Twomey both took a wrong turn last week in a double dual at Central Catholic, resulting in a loss to both Andover and Central.

Salley's tough luck

Led by newcomer Maggie Mullins, Andover's girls are enjoying a fine 4-2 season, but the Warriors would be even more formidable if they had tough-luck senior Jess Salley, who was the team's top returnee and expected to be the team's No. 2 runner.

Salley started the season with a knee injury and, after some diligent rehab, was ready to run last week. But, just as she had worked her way back, she came down with mononucleosis and her entire season is now in doubt.

Londonderry introduction

The 26th annual Londonderry Elementary Schools cross country race will be held Wednesday at 4 p.m. with a rain date of Thursday. There will be more than 175 fifth graders alone and it's quite a spectacle. Always popular in Londonderry, this is where many of the future standouts get their introduction to the sport.

Runner of the Week

Andover senior Simon Voorhees continued his fine season, finishing fifth overall to lead the Golden Warriors to their first Bay State Invitational title. He then came back to finish first in a double dual with Haverhill and Central Catholic as Andover improved to 5-1.




Intriguing background

Although she is a proud Muslim, Methuen freshman Marwah Haq is quick to point out that she does not have an Arab background. Her mother, Maria, is a former Catholic from Mexico who converted when she was a teenager and her father, who also converted to Muslim, is part English and part Bengali.

What is hijab?

Many Muslims around the world practice hijab, which is Arabic for cover, but is extended to mean modesty and privacy. For non-Muslims, hijab is most often associated with the modest clothing that Muslim women wear in public. In many cases, however, hijab is practiced by both men and women, and includes other requirements of modest behavior. Muslims follow the rules of hijab to show their submission to and love for God.

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