FIBA Repeals Hijab Ban, Allowing Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir to Play Basketball

Posted on May 05, 2017
Noor Suleiman


Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir is a Springfield, Massachusetts native, and the youngest of eight children. She's been playing basketball all of her life; she jokes that she even played it in the womb.

Three years ago, Bilqis was about to start her pro basketball career after playing for the University of Memphis. She was in the midst of completing her player profile when her agent came across a rule that banned headgear of any kind in FIBA’s rulebook. Bilqis initially thought it would be as easy as getting a waiver signed, but it turned out to be the end of her basketball career- until now.

Three years later.

On May 4th, 2017, FIBA finally overturned their rule, allowing headgear under certain conditions, all of which Bilqis had met throughout her basketball career. In an interview with Channel 4 News, Bilqis says, “I pursued this fight for the future generations, and I pray and I hope that because of this, more- especially young Muslim girls- will pick up any ball, but basketball for sure, and know that they don’t have to be barred from playing because of our beliefs.” She continues, saying that the new rule allows a player to wear the headscarf exactly how had been wearing it the entire time; no pins, no material protruding anywhere, and for it to be black or the color of the uniform.

Had it not been for Bilqis’s long hard fight against FIBA’s hijab ban, Muslim girls everywhere may not be getting the opportunity to play basketball. Thanks to Bilqis, and fighters like her, Muslim girls no longer have to choose between playing ball and observing their faith by wearing hijab.

We spoke to Bilqis a few weeks ago, when everyone was still unsure what FIBA will decide. She said when she was banned from playing, her basketball career ended so abruptly that she felt like she was stripped of her identity and forced to move on from being an athlete. 

“I just remember crying, feeling like I kind of lost a sense of direction. Like I put all my eggs in one basket because that was something I always knew that I was [going to] do and I had to re-identify who I was because that was it for me. Basketball was IT. I had to figure things out fairly quickly and it was like heartbreak…I felt in a way a little lost within myself, and within what was next for me in my life. That was the first time I felt like I actually prayed for a reason, and felt the real need to really connect with Allah (S). It was a year span where I [kind of] felt like I went through a mini depression. And it was new, there was no basketball; I couldn't go to the court- well I could've but it wasn't helping with those feelings. So I turned to prayer, and I remember praying and actually feeling prayer for the first time in my life.”

She's unsure if she'll ever play Basketball again on a professional level, because she's had to move on with her life and forge a new path for herself. 

Sometimes, we read about inspirational women, and think "Wow, what an amazing person!" or "I want to be like her." But once in a while, we stumble upon someone who's story teaches us about life, whose experience resonates so deeply within us that it motivates us to want to fight for change- whether it's within ourselves or within society.

Bilqis's story isn't just amazing because of what occurred or because she won the fight against FIBA. Her story is also amazing because of how she, as a person, dealt with the unfortunate events that were thrust upon her. She showed up as an athlete-activist and, like a giant, shouldered the responsibility even when she felt like giving up. In her own words, “It's bigger than me and it's bigger than basketball.”

Congratulations to Bilqis and to all the hijab-wearing Muslim women out there!

Check out the trailer for her upcoming documentary below, and click here to watch a 15-minute excerpt of the film! 


If you're an athlete, tell us why you love playing your sport- or leave a message for Bilqis in the comments below!