Strength to be yourself

When Elhum Oskui lifts weights or does cardio at Oregon State’s Dixon Recreation Center, she proudly wears hijab, which means veil or covering in Arabic. For her, the headscarf and modest clothes are not a symbol of oppression, as the media sometimes portray, but a form of individual expression.

As a Muslim, Oskui began wearing hijab at age 9. She emphasizes that the clothing refocuses attention on her personality and not on her body. More importantly, she wants non-Muslims to know that she has the freedom to achieve anything with her life — to actively run a household, build her career and obtain higher education. She has never felt limited by her faith.

Oskui’s parents were originally from Iran, but she was born in Idaho and grew up in Eugene. She holds a degree in economics from the University of Oregon and is married to a Pharm.D. student in the College of Pharmacy. For Oskui, working out is all about her own well-being and finding balance in the midst of her career and being a mom to a 3-year-old son. It’s not about how she looks to anyone else.

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Others in Beaver Nation are attracted to this confidence and conviction. Oskui has felt welcomed across the university’s inclusive community — at the gym, on campus and at the OSU Beaver Store where she works. Although she has been asked a few funny questions like whether her hijab is a burqa or whether she can get piercings, she says, “Everyone’s been really kind. They smile and they say hello.” On one occasion, a male student in the gym praised her dedication, saying, “Props to you. I’m proud of you for coming,” and told her that he ran a triathlon alongside a woman wearing hijab.

In addition to getting in shape for herself, Oskui has made it her personal mission to inspire other women to take charge of their health. She runs a fitness-centric Instagram account to help others feel comfortable working out in gyms.

Thanks to her efforts, Oskui has had fellow Muslims come with her to work out for the first time. They’ve also reached out online in response to her exercise pictures and motivational quotes. The message she wants all women to receive is that “strength doesn’t come overnight. It takes a lot of time, sweat and dedication. Never give up!”

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