At first glance, nothing seems out of place in the air-conditioned, state-of-the-art gym in Jogeshwari (West). But a closer look reveals that among the fitness freaks sweating it out on treadmills or pumping iron is a girl in black hijab and loose tracksuit. Standing on a leg, her other leg stretched out ramrod-like, she balances her body for a few minutes. In fitness parlance, this is called pistol squat, one of the several breathtaking bone-straightening exercises she practises regularly.

Meet Momin Haleema Sadiya, 19, a middle-class Muslim collegian who defies the image of woman in hijab. Stereotypically, hijab-clad women are conservative, subdued, but Sadiya has shattered that concept.

With a gold medal in martial arts and silver in powerlifting state-level competitions under her belt, this “powerpacked” calisthenics (bodyweight exercises) performer, fitness trainer and martial arts expert is known as a ‘hijabi fighter’ in the fitness industry. Sadiya, whose Instagram account has 3,500 followers, says it only “explains my instinct to remain fit and denotes my mental strength”.

Sadiya will be one of the performers at the World Hijab Day event on February 1 at Y B Chavan Centre near Mantralaya.

Only exercising, not showing off, she told maulvi

Sadiya, who will let her limbs speak through her performance at the event that is being held by city-based NGO Al Hadi Organisation, will demonstrate that “hijab empowers and not subjugates women”.

Fighting entrenched societal prejudices is second nature to Sadiya. Not long ago, when a maulvi disapproved of her devotion to fitness and tried to discourage her, saying “girls should be docile and nazuk (delicate)”, she told him she was only into physical exercise and not showing off her physique. “I am not into body-building shows where you have to be in bikini and flaunt toned biceps and abs (abdominal muscles). I am into exercises which strengthen body, improves immunity and concentration,” she explains.

She grew up watching elder sister Saima doing martial arts. “She couldn’t continue as my parents didn’t encourage her. She quit as she got married. I got hooked to it and pestered my parents to let me follow my passion,” says the girl who credits martial arts trainer Mohammed Sardar “for whatever I am today”. “He really encouraged me a lot and showed that I only had to shed my inhibitions,” she adds.

Besides Sadiya, calligraphy artist Salva Rasool, karate referee Shaheen Akhtar, educationist Asma Zaidi and politician Fatima Muzaffar, dancer-turned-blogger Halima Shaikh, all in hijab, will be part of a panel to share their success stories despite wearing hijab on February 1. “Our purpose is to tell the world that hijab is not a hindrance to career path. Many female talents get wasted as they wear hijab and are hesitant to take initiatives as they think perhaps their progress will be blocked because of how they dress. We want to break that notion,” said Shabana Sadik Hussein Pattawala of Al-Hadi Organisation.

Sadiya’s parents — father is in real estate business while mother is a retired school teacher — are now convinced and are backing her to the hilt. A certificate course in calisthenics from Australia is in the pipeline for this hijabi, who moves with her held high.

HEAD TO TOE: Haleema Sadiya is a calisthenics performer, fitness trainer and martial arts athlete with over 3500 Instagram followers