The Holy Prophet (pbuh) used to show gestures to please A’isha (RA). He (pbuh) once asked A’isha (RA) to take up a race on foot. First time A’isha (RA) won the race because of her light body weight but by the second time,  her husband (pbuh) won the race as she was now a little bit sturdy. The Prophet (pbuh) said “now the competition is settled”, first she won and then he (pbuh) won. This I dare say, is the earliest sign of sporting activity in the history of Islam.

In current times,  women’s sport history started back in the 19th century and for the first time,  female athletes were allowed to participate in the second modern Olympic games in 1900. The  games they played were just a few (such as golf, tennis at first and later archery and figure skating) and that’s because the decision whether women could participate in a particular game or not was up to the men who controlled the Olympic Games.  According to the IOC (International Olympic Committee), only 12 female athletes participated in the second Olympic Games out of the 1066 athletes from 19 countries.

As the years rolled by and women got their freedom to actively play in all games, the matter of Muslim Women being allowed in sports was yet another issue to settle with.

There are several Muslim women in sports who don’t wear the traditional head scarf and for that, didn’t have a problem as they could be identified generally as women and not necessarily as obvious Muslim Women. Falilat Ogunkoya,a Nigerian and international Track and field champion ran many of her races without a hijab. She is a Muslim and we all love her. It is pertinent to note here that the decision to wear a headscarf is personal but whosoever decides to step up her identity as a Muslim woman by wearing the headscarf should not be molested but allowed to live and act freely as any law abiding citizen.  

The World of Sports unfortunately had a lot to contend with on matters of the Hijab. In football, Asmahan Mansour was the Canadian girl at the centre of what would become the ruling by Fifa to ban the hijab from the pitch. In 2007, the young footballer from Ontario attempted to wear a headscarf at a tournament and was not permitted to play by the referee. His reason was that the hijab could be a safety hazard despite general appeal that it would not.  She was told she could remove it and play but her hijab would not be permitted on the pitch. Her team, from the capital, Ottawa, withdrew from the event in response to her disqualification.

The issue with Mansour went to the Canadian Soccer Association and then to Fifa, which decided to uphold the ban-despite no empirical data that the hijab could be injurious to the player or others-and create a policy around it but exempted head coverings that exposed the neck.
Initially Fifa cited “religious symbolism” as a reason for not permitting head coverings. That was too difficult to enforce considering the multitude of  tattoos of religious figures and the signing of the cross by prominent male footballers that would have had to be monitored and enforced, so it stuck with “health and safety” as a weak shield for its policy.

In 2011 Olympic qualifying match against Jordan, Iran’s women’s team were banned from playing because of their hijabs . They wore hijabs that were supposed to meet Fifa policy standard yet were not allowed to play. The research and struggle went on but in the mean time,  hijabi players were not encouraged to join regional or national teams because their status was unknown.

On 1st March 2014, after much discussion, testing and clarification, Jérôme Valcke, Fifa’s then secretary general, announced that religious head coverings (including hijabs, turbans for Sikh men and kippahs for Jewish men) would be permitted on the pitch. “It’s a worldwide authorisation,” said Valcke, “It will be a basic head cover and the colour should be the same as the team jersey.”

Consequently,  On May 4 2017, FIBA(International Basket ball Federation) in its first ever mid-term congress, overturned a ban on a whole variety of headgear such as hijabs, turbans and yarmulkes and allowed these items to be worn during basketball games; the result of years of campaigning by athletes like Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir and Indira Kaljo.

Muslim woman playing football

Abdul-Qaadir joined forces with another former NCAA Division player, Indira Kaljo, a Bosnian-American, and more than 20 other women to create a social-media campaign called *#FibaAllowHijab*. Their Change.org petition, addressed to FIBA president Horacio Muratore and calling for a permanent end to the ban, amassed more than 130,000 signatures. Other sports like Rugby,  mountaineering, Cricket, table tennis, martial Arts et al have made adjustments to Include the hijab in their sports outfit policy.

 Leading Muslim women in sports

Despite the ban on hijab,  Abdul-Qaadir was named 2009 Massachusetts Gatorade Player of the Year as she averaged 42 points per game as a senior. She was also in 2011 awarded the United States Basketball Writers Association “Most Courageous” award at the NCAA Women’s Final Four for being recognized as the first Muslim woman to play covered in NCAA history.

In the world of fencing,  Ibtihaj Mohammad (ranked 8th in the world prior to the 2016 Olympics) became the first Muslim woman to represent the United States at the Olympics wearing a hijab . She was part of the women’s saber team that won a bronze medal in Rio de Janeiro, which continued her rise to fame. Time magazine placed Ms. Muhammad on its list of “The 100 Most Influential People” , Hillary Clinton tweeted about her during the presidential campaign and a Barbie doll has been modelled after her.

Aside from those playing for the US, many other Muslim Women (some without the hijab) have become International Sport Champions. Sania Mirza, an Indian Muslim is  former No. 1 in women’s law tennis doubles , Delilah Mohammed, a 400m race gold medalist in the 2016 Olympics, Raha Moharrak became the youngest Arab and first Saudi woman to peak Everest in 2013  and Zahra Lari the first figure skater to compete internationally while wearing a hijab and full-body covering.

Majlinda Kelmendi won gold in judo in the 52kg weight class, the first ever medal for her native Kosovo. Mariya Stadnik (48kg wrestling) won silver for Azerbaijan, and Iranian Kimia Alizadeh Zenoorin and Egyptian Hedaya Malak tied for bronze in the 57kg taekwondo event.

The Hijab Oriented Sports Gear

Many sports organizations and competitions do not provide the support and resources needed by Muslim female athletes. 2012 was the first time that the Olympic Committee took Ramadan into account, scheduling events with fasting athletes early in the morning so that they would be maximally fed and hydrated.

On clothing for Hijabi Muslim sports women, two days before International Women’s Day in December 2017, Nike unveiled its new product, the Pro Hijab. Despite not being the first to release such a product, (the pioneer sport hijab manufactures are such as ASIYA,  Modanisa and Emirates women). Nike is arguably the most influential sports company in the world and the biggest named brand to announce the release of a performance hijab. The symbolism behind its product earned the item, a nomination in this year’s Beazley Designs of the Year. This achievement by Nike didn’t come without some controversies but we need not look into that now.

It can be discerned that the problem wasn’t really about the hijab causing a health hazard. Where there was a problem is that the people in charge of these sports didn’t want to change rules that had been in place for decades. Change unfortunately is inevitable as the world advances.

Shireen Ahmed, an activist and sports journalist who focuses on Muslim women in sport, wishes the hijab did not have to be the focus when discussing athletes like Ibtihaj Muhammad. “The headlines that scream about the accomplishment of a ‘Hijabi American’ are unhelpful as they reduce an athlete to her outfit. It can be noted that we don’t refer to any other athlete who observes a faith by a religious accessory, be it a necklace or tattoo featuring a cross, the Star of David, or a ‘Karma’ symbol.

In the words of Anna Al Hadar.  Weightlifting Champion from the UAE, “I am looking forward for the day where the media stops focusing on such issues and focuses on the person’s talent, willpower, and human spirit instead of their religious beliefs tied to their opportunity in sports. Sports can’t tell whether you’re Muslim, Jew, Christian, Arab, African-American, Atheist or tell about one’s sexual orientation. It only knows talents, whether you can perform or not. This is what makes sports beautiful.

It would only get better.

©muslimahsvoices

*Happy World Hijab Day* .


References

Featured Photo from Nikewomen.

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