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Muslim women athletes break stereotypes

By Rana Khatib, Communications Intern

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The increase in Muslim women athletes, particularly those who wear the hijab, help in breaking the stereotypes about Muslim women while also paving the way for other Muslim women to participate in the sports they love. As the mainstream media has represented Muslim women as oppressed and unable to freely make life decisions, the following Muslim women athletes illustrate the contrary.

Ice skater Zahra Lari is an example of someone who challenges stereotypes about Muslim women. While many non-Muslims have the idea that Muslim women are oppressed and deprived from participating in outside activities, Lari is an example of just the opposite. She is a 17-year-old figure skater from Rub al Khali, in the United Arab Emirates, and was a recent participant in the European Cup. She was the first figure skater to compete in the Gulf, and the first to do so wearing the hijab.

Though Lari’s outfits are fully covered and different than her competitors’, she does not have a difficult time fitting in. “The other girls are very nice to me. I think they accept me very well. I haven’t had any problems, people are open,” Lari explained in an interview.

Lari is not the only Muslim woman to compete in a highly competitive sport. Muslim women participate in sports such as soccer, fencing, kickboxing, basketball, swimming, and weightlifting (to name a few). Partaking in sports as a Muslim woman and wearing the scarf might make it difficult, but none of these women let dress codes get in the way of their athleticism. They challenge stereotypes about Muslim women by simply doing what they love – while still practicing their faith.

Sports organizations and officials have complained about Muslim women competitors who wear the hijab and some give excuses for why they are not allowed to compete. Kulsoom Abdullah was close to entering the American Open tournament for weightlifting, but was ineligible because of her hijab. It was said that obeying her religion and wearing the scarf “might be dangerous or give her an unfair advantage because the long sleeve garment would prevent judges from seeing if her elbows were locked.” Not long after that, an Iranian Muslim team was prohibited from a match because of their hijabs. FIFA claimed that, “religious symbols should not be allowed on the field and that the hijab could potentially injure players if poor during play.”

However, the complaints and excuses have not come in the way of these Muslim women who aspire to play the sports they enjoy. Their eagerness to pursue their athletic goals is displayed in many ways such as protesting for equal rights to compete and creating outfits that follow Islamic guidelines, while “producing innovative outfits designed to accommodate Islamic strictures as well as the need for speed, or strength.” After protesting these bans, Muslim women were allowed to participate in the FIFA competitions by, “giving Muslim women players the option of wearing a specially designed hijab that is close-fitting to the head and fastened with Velcro.”

Lari’s accomplishment in being the first Muslim woman to compete internationally while wearing the hijab paves way for other Muslim women to chase their dreams of succeeding in what they love. Lari’s coach is quoted as saying, “She’s very talented, she’s very powerful and jumps higher than the others.” Lari’s confidence encourages other Muslim women to not fear accomplishing their goals, while still maintaining their religious practices. Lari’s goal of becoming an ice skater proves that religion does not set limits on your ambitions, especially sports. But instead, Islam provides her with more confidence to compete.

The accomplishments of these Muslim women athletes empower other Muslim women to pursue athletic careers, and challenge the stereotypes that the media perpetuates about them. The aforementioned Muslim women athletes are concrete examples that no one should be treated differently based on their religion and that nothing can stand in the way of their goals and dreams.

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