With more than 200,000 followers on TikTok, Ahlam Mohammed is a champion fitness influencer for Muslim women around the world. Her modest and passionate approach to working out would have anyone reaching for a pair of trainers.
What makes her stand out from the myriad other fitness enthusiasts? Mohammed, 24, wears the niqab – a veil covering everything on the face except the eyes – and jilbab – long, loose-fitting coats or outer garments – during workouts, and the clips she posts to social media have captured people’s attention all over the world.
"I am just trying to represent in a positive way for the youth and Muslim women out there who are really struggling to find their way or hold on to modesty in times where doing such things is so hard,” she tells The National.
"I really thought this would never happen to me. It has been an eye-opener, and I am very grateful to be seen as an influencer for Muslims and non-Muslims.”
Mohammed, who was born in Amman, Jordan, got into fitness from a young age, when her father enrolled her and her siblings into taekwondo classes when she was 7 or 8. At 9 months old, she moved with her family to Texas, where she has lived ever since.
"When I got into high school, things shifted, so I stuck to track, as that was what I was good at,” she says. At the time, she wasn’t wearing the hijab, but as she grew older, she became increasingly interested in her faith. "So I wanted to re-evaluate my life and my religion.”
When she started wearing the hijab, she stopped pursuing fitness completely. “A couple of years went by, and I just didn't like how I felt about my body and how tired I felt and the laziness that occupied my life," she recalls.
"I wanted to change that and get back to fitness but go about it the right way, which was to do it in a way that is pleasing to Allah and not to western standards."
It was this that inspired her to encourage and motivate her fellow Muslims via social media. “I know a lot of people are in the same predicament as me, having the same thoughts, feelings as me, about going out into the western world, especially wearing the hijab.”
While she says there has been a rise in representation for hijabi women, it’s not enough. “I certainly feel we are being put out there. But not necessarily enough representation for athletic women who wear the jilbab, abaya and niqab.”
She’s now trying to fill that gap, by conveying that women who are fully covered are striving to live by the way of their creator, but also enjoy life. "So this gives them more confidence and think if she is able to work out in a niqab and jilbab, then why can't I also do that.”
She’s also taking this one step further by creating a fitness clothing line, as part of Purely Modest, a modest clothing line she launched in April to offer affordable alternatives for women after struggling to find suitable options in the US.
Before setting it up, she had limited finances, but forged ahead anyway, despite that niggling thought “no one would buy or want that” ever-present in the back of her mind. “I wouldn’t know until I tried it, so I did some online research and reached out to a couple of people on how to start a business.”
The new fitness line she hopes will provide “simple, breathable and modest alternatives to Muslim women”.
What might this entail? For modest clothing at the gym, there are certain fabrics you should consider, says Mohammed. For example, "synthetic materials tend to make your body sweat more. Dry-fit and polyester are great for working out, I would provide those types of material.
"For me, I haven't seen a modest outfit that is 100 per cent cotton provided for women that go to the gym, so I want to provide that and do more research on my end on what are the best fabrics.”
In the meantime, she's also launched a fitness app and she continues posting and sharing her journey on social media. In particular, she loves “anything with agility, because you can achieve so much in so little time with HIIT [high intensity interval training] or boxing-related workouts”.
Her platforms are full of short videos that show her exercising outdoors, as she doesn’t always find what she needs in a gym to practice free weights, as opposed to yoga, spinning or group classes.
"That is why it is difficult to find gyms that are going to provide you with everything you need.”
While Mohammed is aware some niqab-wearing women encounter prejudice for the way they dress, she says she's "never been approached in a negative manner or encountered any racism living in Texas", although she has spotted people staring. She has, however, "been told how beautiful my dress is".
It's a different matter on social media, though. “When I do read the negativity in the comments saying, 'How can she fear god if she is displaying herself for a bunch of strangers to see?'
“It definitely impacts me in a negative way because that is not my intention,” she says.
“Seeing where I am now, it makes me proud, how much I have sacrificed and accomplished, and how much I am trying to strive in the way of Allah.”
Her message to other Muslim women is not to be afraid or ashamed of the way you dress. "Hold your head up high and represent your faith and do whatever you want to do in life."