As more and more Muslim women take the sporting world by storm, seeing the hijab in a stadium, or even the ring, is quickly becoming the norm
Quebec’s Secularist Bill Targets Muslim Women
What Aligarh Muslim University Can Learn From Its Women Students
UAE- FBMA Participates In Arab Women's Sports International Conference in Cairo
Saudi Working Mothers Lament Lack of Childcare Centres
Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau
British Muslim Women Take Part in Sports: Defying Stereotypes in Sports
6 March, 2019
In an bid to encourage more Muslim women to take part in sports London's Brunel University announced the launch of their very own sports hijab in February. But does wearing the hijab restrict women and girls from taking part in sports? Ten years ago I would have said 'yes', but the recent emergence of Muslim women taking the sporting world by storm (winning Olympic medals nonetheless) has meant that seeing the hijab in a stadium, or even the ring, is quickly becoming the norm.
In 2016, Muslim-born Ibtihaj Muhammad became the first hijabi athlete to represent the USA for fencing at the Rio Olympics and went on to win a bronze medal. Not only did Muhammad make history, she also defied the Western stereotype of the "oppressed Muslim woman" at a time when Donald Trump was using Islamophobia to push his own presidential agenda.
Muhammad's bronze medal win was even more significant because it proved something that the right-wing media outlets didn't want us to know - Muslim women CAN jump, quite high in fact.
You could even argue that Muhammad's groundbreaking win was a catalyst for what followed. Nike spotted a gap in the market and released a sport friendly hijab for Muslim women. Mattel also capitalised on this new trend by releasing their first ever hijab-clad Barbie, modelled after Muhammad herself.
At the age of 13, Muhammad began fencing as it was one of the only sports that was hijab-friendly at the time. Back then, Muslim women were not represented in sports. In a recent interview with Rolling Stones magazine Muhammad commented: "It's always difficult when you don't see someone excelling in something that you may have dreams or aspirations to participate in or excel at. It's hard to see yourself in that space".
In her memoir, Proud, Muhammad also writes about the challenges she faced and the racism and xenophobia she experienced while training and competing. Nevertheless she pushed through and paved the way for other young Muslim girls with aspirations of competing in international sports.
We still have a long way to go
Despite there being so much noise in the media about Muslim women in sport, statistics show that we still have a relatively long way to go.
The Sporting Equals Organisation states that only 26.1 percent of Asian women take part in the recommended levels of sport and physical activity (once a week) compared to 31.4 percent of white British women. Shockingly, another study by Sports England found that only 18 percent of Muslim women participate in regular sport, compared to 30 percent of the entire UK's female population.
And although there are a plethora of Muslim athletes coming through, many sports still don't cater to the specific needs of Muslim women and their dress code. For instance, the basketball governing body, FIBA, prohibits players from wearing the hijab for health and safety reasons.
The US weightlifting federation dress code is also designed in a way that makes it difficult for Muslim women to observe the hijab and compete. It states that athletes cannot wear long sleeves or long bottoms. However, Pakistani weightlifter Kulsoom Abdullah, who was told she could not compete at the national level unless she wore a weightlifting singlet, released a press release to overturn the rules.
Abdullah said: "I like to think that sports federations never considered women who might wear hijab and play the respective sport at the same time.
"It seems it is from fear or dislike of what they think that it represents (such as all of the negative stereotypes) or that it is going to take over the world, so to speak."
Some countries have also banned the hijab from being worn in the boxing ring. In fact, 16-year-old Amaiya Zafar was disqualified for defying 'safety rules' at the Sugar Bert Boxing National Championship. The controversy led to the ban on wearing religious headgear in the US being lifted a year later, but until international rules also change, Zafar will not be able to compete on a global scale, including the the Olympics.
"I was told I couldn't compete in my hijab, even though it gave me no competitive advantages" explains Zafar.
"Everyone supported my dreams because they knew that if I advocate and opened the door for myself, I would also be opening the door for millions of women in the boxing world, while honouring my relationship with God through what I wear. Women were not allowed to box in the United States until 1996 or compete in the Olympics until 2012 so I take my responsibility to advocate for equality in the sport very seriously.
"The International Boxing Association (AIBA) needs to understand that women are here to stay and that it is an honor to open the door for women of all faiths and nationalities to compete" adds Zafar. "Women like me, are being held back from achieving our full competitive potential because of the unequal treatment we receive at the hands of organisations like the AIBA."
Speaking about her future goals, Zafar added: "It's always been my dream to compete in the Olympics and I'm confident that, even though they kept me away from 2020 Olympics, they'll change the rules so I can compete in the 2024 Olympics."
German boxing champion Zeina Nassar also successfully managed to change the the boxing rules in her home country and is now fighting to see this change on an international level.
"My dream is to change international boxing rules to allow women of all backgrounds to fight," she said. "And you have to fight to make changes in society."
Nassar had to work twice as hard as other boxers to prove herself in the ring: "I don't want to be reduced to my looks, or my hijab. It really doesn't matter what religion I practice. In the end what matters to me is my sport."
Competing against adversity
Many Muslim athletes have faced some sort of adversity in their journey to becoming a professional competitor, but this couldn't be truer for those who are living as refugees.
Amid the chaos of the world's largest refugee settlement in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, there is a man who is determined to teach his daughters about sport. Rohingya refugee Mohammad Selim has been coaching his daughter, Nasima Akter, on Taekwondo.
Before fleeing from genocide in Myanmar, Rohingya, 18 months ago, Selim was a local taekwondo champion. Now, he hopes his daughter can follow in his footsteps.
In an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, he said: "Our society is conservative and we prefer covering our women but in taekwondo you are covered so people can't question a girl participating. We practice inside to not get criticised but many people regret they cannot teach their daughters."
Hijab bans aren't the answer
While we celebrate the many wins and overturned bans that Muslim women have fought hard for, there are still some people who feel that the hijab does not belong in the world of sport.
French feminist group, the International League for Women's Rights, recently expressed concerns over Muslim women wearing the hijab and competing in the Paris 2024 Olympics. Their solution – overturn one ban by imposing another.
The group have called for a complete hijab ban at the 2024 Olympic games to allow women to compete without any religious 'restrictions'. This comes after Annie Sugier posted a blog on the website that claimed Islamic countries weren't allowing women to take part in sports that were incompatible with Islamic law.
"Banning the hijab to remove restrictions is oxymoronic" says Abdullah. "I am not sure what good it is going to do except reduce participation and inclusion."
What is the future for Muslim women in sport?
By banning the hijab from international sporting events there is a high risk that we will completely alienate Muslim women from competing in sports.
"We need more encouragement and role models" comments Abdullah. "It shouldn't have to be something that has to be pioneered or have barriers broken."
Independent charities such as the Muslim Women's Sports Foundation (MWSF) are also working hard to make sports more accessible to Muslim women. Their aim is to increase the involvement of Muslim women and girls in sport without compromising their religious or cultural values.
Trustee Ebba Qureshi says: "The aim is to help social and physical development of Muslim women. We want to change the narrative of Muslim women by introducing them into the sports industry and promoting equal opportunities."
But it seems that there's still a long way to go.
"Young girls are still not supported or encouraged at home to join in sports" says Qureshi. "It's still seen as a 'boys' game. There's also not enough push from schools to encourage parents to sign their daughters up to join a sport at school."
So what's the future for Muslim women in sport? Qureshi recommends starting with the home.
"We need lots more support from home and more incentives for women to join coaching, playing or just engaging in a sport. Schools should also promote more girl tournaments with other schools and clubs.
Finally we need to advocate for more role models to come forward and promote their journey and what sport has meant for them, highlight the life skills and the social and mental development in their wellbeing."
Zafar also agrees that seeing other Muslim take part in sport can encourage girls to get involved: "It's my hope that sharing my story will not only help young girls get involved in boxing, but also that it will encourage the adults in their lives to inspire them to try new things. Without the support I received from my parents and coaches I wouldn't be where I am today."
Quebec’s secularist bill targets Muslim women
April 1, 2019
Quebec’s Coalition Avenir, a right-leaning organization, is set to pass a ban on wearing overt religious symbols as a public sector employee. The ban has been criticized for specifically targeting Muslim women wearing hijabs.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been a vocal opponent of the bill. “It is unthinkable to me that in a free society we would legitimize discrimination against citizens based on their religion,” he told reporters in a press conference on March 28.
The bill was introduced by Minister of Immigration Simon Jolin-Barrette as “An Act respecting the laicity of the State.” One reason for passing the bill is for the purpose of separating church and state.
According to Al Jazeera, current government employees and civil servants are exempt from the bill, but it will apply to any and all incoming public sector employees wearing religious clothing or symbols.
Teachers, judges and police officers are some of the public workers the bill affects. Besides hijabs, religious clothing that will be banned include kippahs, crucifixes and Sikh turbans.
Despite current teachers being exempt from the new bill, if these teachers were to move schools or be promoted, it would then apply to them. The only schools that will be considered exempt from the new legislation are private schools because they are not public, government-funded institutions.
Student teacher Amrit Kaur is concerned that she will be forced to look for a job in a private school in order to continue wearing her Sikh turban. “This [bill] just sends the message to people who wear religious symbols that we are secondary citizens,” Kaur told The National Post.
“[The turban] is something I wear all the time,” she explained. “It’s not something I just wear inside. It’s an exercise of my human right to practice my faith.”
Sonia Ethier, president of the biggest elementary and high school teachers’ union, compared the bill to “using a cannon to kill a fly.”
The bill would also require any citizens receiving a public service to uncover their faces if they are wearing religious headwear. The bill claims this is for identification and security reasons. Citizens subjected to this rule would have to uncover their faces if they were boarding a city bus with a transit pass.
Canadian Olympic speed skater and Junior Educational Minister Isabelle Charest sides with the proposed bill, arguing the hijab is “not something women should be wearing.”
“It does have, at some point, some significance about oppression of women, and the fact that they have to cover themselves, and for me it’s not in my values,” she explained to press on Feb. 6.
According to The Jerusalem Post, the Jewish community of Quebec has expressed great concern over the bill. Quebec Regional Director of B’nai Brith International, a Jewish advocacy group, commented, “We call on the [Quebec government] to avoid the slippery slope of diminishing fundamental rights and work instead to secure religious liberties for all Quebecers.”
Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, said, “Under the guise of secularism, this legislation is effectively a prohibition on wearing the hijab in the Quebec public service given the overwhelming number of people impacted will be Muslim women.”
This bill is not Quebec’s first attempt to implement new policies regarding religious clothing and symbols in the public sector. In October 2017, Quebec passed a law which “required public services to be given and received with an uncovered face,” according to The National Post. However, that law was suspended by a judge who claimed the law was discriminatory toward women who choose to wear a full-face covering garment.
According to Reuters, in order to protect the new bill from the same fate as its predecessor, the Quebec government has called on a rarely used clause, allowing them to “override the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom for up to five years.”
Canada’s politicians continue to be divided over the issue of religious freedom. Anjou Councillor Lynne Shand was recently criticized for her Facebook post, which said Canada was facing “Islamification” after a female doctor in a hijab performed an emergency ophthalmology exam on the woman.
“If it hadn’t been an emergency, I would have refused to be treated by her,” Shand posted to Facebook. “I’m angry because it’s really the Islamification of our country.”
What Aligarh Muslim University Can Learn From Its Women Students
April 3, 2019
How should someone who regards himself as a friend of the Aligarh Muslim University react to the recent happening at the campus? It has not been reported in the media, so should one treat it as an internal affair of the university? If one is a well-wisher – not an insider, neither a teacher nor a student – does one still have the right or locus standi to comment?
I am talking about the recent Women Leadership Summit at the university. It was held partly at the main campus and partly in the women’s college. It was not the decision of the organisers to do it at both places – they were forced to shift to the safe confines of the women’s college after a group of students led by the vice-president of the students’ union (AMUSU) created a ruckus and dismantled the pandal erected on the lawns near the Kennedy hall.
When I heard about the vandalism, my mind went to the sunny lawns where I have shared my thoughts with the AMU community on at least three different occasions. I have been questioned, disagreement has been expressed and I have been heard patiently and even indulgently.
But the occasions were different and safer. First because they were organised either by the AMUSU, which is largely a men’s body, or some other body of the university. This time was different – the women’s students’ union was the organiser. That they wanted to move out of the safety of the women’s college also shows that they wanted to lay their claim to the university. Yes, they are students of the women’s college, but they are an equal part of the AMU. They have, therefore, an equal right over it.
Was this the cause of the protestors’ annoyance? One can only guess, for they have not said so explicitly.
The list of speakers was impressive and should have won the approval of the AMU community. But no! There was a problem with one of the speakers, journalist and The Wire‘s senior editor, Arfa Khanum Sherwani. The protesters wanted her to be disinvited.
The charge against her: she had insulted Islam by posting a photograph of herself with the lines from the old Sufi Bulle Shah, “Holi khelungi kah Bismillah!” Bismillah should not have been here, was the argument. It was a misuse of the holy invocation, even if not an insult to the religion.
How can Bismillah and Holi – which is not an Islamic practice – go together? Was she trying to tease the pious Muslims who kept away from Holi by mixing an Islamic saying with a non-Islamic practice? Was it not a minor form of blasphemy? When pointed out that the lines were not penned by her but by the grand old Sufi poet, another objection emerged. No, it was not actually this post but a different one in which she had expressed her discomfort with A.R. Rahman’s daughter’s decision to cover her face. She said that she found no basis for this in the Quran. It was deemed an insult to Islam, and an apology was sought from her.
So, the organisers thought it wise to move the event to the women’s college. The university administration had done nothing to secure the space for them. For the organisers, it was important that the programme was held in its entirety. It was not prudent to sacrifice the whole event at the altar of the ego of some male students.
Sherwani, who was prevented from making an appearance on the lawns, finally spoke. She was heard and questions were also addressed to her. Everything happened in a civilised manner as it should anywhere, more so on a university campus.
The women organisers thus deftly also deprived the mainstream media of a salacious news item, about Muslim men taking away space from women.
One also needs to note that the majority of AMU students were not opposed to the event. That a small group managed to force the women out of the main campus is a sad commentary on the administration. That it did not want to enforce order is an admission of its hidden desire to somehow scuttle the event.
One also needs to understand why the silent majority is paralysed once religion is invoked. That the organisers did not go for false bravado and martyrdom, and saved the event, is something unexpected.
Sherwani was also condemned for being “too secular”. I was intrigued by this category. Does one mean that that being too secular is being anti-religion? What does being anti-religion mean? Is one allowed to question a part of the practice known by that religion or not? Who has the sole claim over the interpretation of religion?
‘Secularism up to this point and no further!’ Is this what the protesters want to say? Secularism can be defined and explained in many ways. As statecraft, it has a meaning – but the way France and Quebec define it differs from the Indian way.
Similarly, when it is discussed as a social habit or practice, it can mean different things to different people. Atheists can be secular but intolerant, anti-liberal and even tyrants, as we can see in the case of China or in the earlier case of Kemal Pasha. People can also be religious, tolerant and open to different ways of living at the same time.
If Hindus are told that the acceptance of the primacy of Ram is the first condition for being a Hindu, or when Muslims are told that not questioning the practice of purdah is fundamental to being a Muslim, it is clear that it is only one version which is trying to establish its hegemony.
Secularism, one must argue, comes with the recognition of an individual’s right to have her view about anything and everything. A communitarian dominance over individuals is antithetical to the flourishing of secularism as an idea and as a social practice. Second, it requires humility and a recognition of the partiality of one’s vision. One can hold that her religion is supreme but at the same time realise that she is a limited mortal human and there are other humans who have been created by the same force which created her. They have all the right to have their views.
The acceptance of the inadequacy of one’s position and the desire to address it demands a constant dialogue with people who have a different view.
Secularism cannot in its true spirit exist without this liberal stand. It is a package. Protection of minority rights is a vital part of it, but safeguarding the right of criticism and freedom of thought and expression is also essential for it to survive as a meaningful concept. Otherwise, it becomes a mockery of itself. After all, why is secularism better than other ways of life? Because it fundamentally means freedom. Freedom of communities and at the same time freedom of individuals.
One does not intend to have a debate on the issue of purdah. Sherwani was trying to question one interpretation of it. As it happens, the nuance of her position was lost in the din. But then that is a different debate. Presently, the concern of the writer is whether one has right to discuss it or not. I would personally defend a woman’s right to observe purdah, but in the same breath also stand for another voice which wonders about it.
Even more important than all this, especially in this context, is to understand that a university, even when it is minority institution, is not a place to propagate religion. Propagation of a particular interpretation of Islam cannot be the purpose and objective of AMU. It must welcome diverse views, invite critical voices, inculcate the habit of patience to cope with differences and opposition to one’s belief, and help one develop the ability to scrutinise all axioms. Otherwise, it is not a university.
The women’s students’ union, by pulling off the event, has proved to be a worthy bearer of the idea of a university.
UAE- FBMA participates in Arab Women's Sports International Conference in Cairo
ABU DHABI, 3rd April, 2019 (WAM) -- The Fatima bint Mubarak Ladies Sports Academy, FBMA, has concluded its successful participation in the First International Conference of Arab Women's Sports, organised recently by the Egyptian Sports Sociology Association in Cairo under the theme "Challenges and Opportunities".
The conference was held under the patronage of the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the Arab League, Egyptian Ministry of Youth and Sports, the Egyptian Ministry of Social Solidarity, the National Council for Women and Baheya Breast Cancer Foundation Egypt.
The conference was attended by a large number of leading influencers and representatives of Arab sports bodies, as well as numerous experts, researchers and professors and deans of faculties, sections and institutes of physical education, from nearly 35 Arab countries.
FBMA participated in the "Arab Experiences in Women's Sports" panel, in which Mariam Al Mansoori, the representative of the Academy, showcased FBMA's successful experience in making sport a key element in the daily lives of women in the Emirati community. This includes all age groups and physical abilities, as well as encouraging Emirati women to adopt a healthy and active lifestyle and instilling the values of sports and sportsmanship within the community awareness of the UAE population.
Al Mansoori reaffirmed that this comes as a result of the support of H.H. Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, Chairwoman of the General Women's Union (GWU), President of the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood, and Supreme Chairwoman of the Family Development Foundation (FDF). The Academy was launched in 2010 as an initiative of H.H. Sheikha Fatima and under her patronage, to create a safe and culturally appropriate environment for Emirati women to exercise.
She highlighted the success of the UAE in the past years in strengthening its position as a leading international sports hub, and an exceptional destination in the field of sports tourism, as well as the role of the Academy as a key player in the development of the women's global sports scene. This has been achieved by encouraging and developing women figures in sports, encouraging women's participation in various sporting events across the country, and enhancing women's representation in all sports locally and internationally.
The conference was an ideal platform to showcase FBMA's activities locally and internationally in the field of women's sport, as well as to engage with the various participating institutions and speakers who share a common vision that seek to empower women in the Arab world in sport.
Saudi Working Mothers Lament Lack of Childcare Centres
JEDDAH — A number of Saudi women working for the private sector have complained about insufficient number of nurseries and childcare homes near their work places.
They said they were not able to benefit from the Qurrah program established by the Ministry of Labor and Social Development to take care of their children while they are at work.
The mothers said there were no hospitality homes for the children in the east of Jeddah and because of this many of them had to quit their jobs to be with their children.
The ministry kept silent on the issue and its spokesman did not comment when the matter was raised to him.
According to informed sources, there are enough nurseries in many districts of Jeddah including Al-Hamra, Al-Rawdah, Al-Nahdah, Al-Mohammadiyah, Al-Salama, Al-Sanabil and others. The mothers, however, said the childcare homes did not geographically cover all parts of Jeddah.
They also said the ministry did not update the Qurrah program and it took them a long time to look for nurseries for their children.
The mothers also said the fees at the nurseries under the Qurrah program were highly expensive starting with SR1,000 a month and going up to SR2,500.
Nahla Abdullah, an employee in the private sector, said she could not find a nursery with a suitable price for her seven-month-old daughter.
“A private nursery near my home asked me to pay a monthly fee of SR2,000, which is too much for me as my salary is only SR4,500,” she said.
Maysa Amin said she could not find a Qurrah program nursery near her home so she registered her children in a private nursery paying SR1,000 a month per child.
“The nursery closes down at 2 p.m. while I finish my duty at 4 p.m. I asked them to keep my children for two extra hours but they asked for a lot more money for this,” she said.
Noura Ahmed, a working mother who lives in east Jeddah, said she had to resign from her job because there were no Qurrah nurseries in her area.
Meanwhile, the Human Resources Development Fund (Hadaf) said as many as 22,556 working women have benefited from its transport and Qurrah programs.
The fund pays about SR800 for every workingwoman as its share of contribution in the transport program for six years while it pays a similar amount as fees for participant mothers in the Qurrah program for four years.
The fund said every workingwoman can enroll two children in the Qurrah nurseries for four years. It said the subsidy will be SR800 in the first year and will go down to SR400 in the fourth year.
Many say Labor Ministry’s Qurrah program doesn’t benefit them
Noura Ahmed, a working mother who lives in east Jeddah, said she had to resign from her job because there were no Qurrah nurseries in her area.
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