Posted on Nov 03, 2016
While waiting in line at the grocery, a recent magazine cover might have caught your attention. Women’s Running prominently featured a hijabi runner on their cover. Rahaf Khatib, a six-time marathoner and mother of three, reached out to this lifestyle magazine in order to introduce them to the growing field of Muslim women athletes. The lack of media representation of Muslim women athletes caused the magazine to jump on this opportunity, and they featured Rahaf on their cover as a part of their “#LikeAGirl: 20 Incredible Stories of Women Who Are Changing the Game."
Not too long before that, Ibtihaj Muhammad made headlines for competing in the Summer 2016 Olympics. She was the first Muslim American woman to wear a hijab while competing for the United States. Ibtihaj was featured in many media outlets and was dubbed one of the, “best symbols against intolerance America can ever have” by the Guardian.
In recent years, Muslim women have made great strides in athletics despite the real and perceived difficulties they face. Hijabis in particular face hardship when it comes to complying with uniform standards. Many of these sports involve revealing clothing, both for comfort and performance. These dedicated women combine their passions with their faith by choosing to wear modest clothing and the hijab while performing. Not only do they dominate in their respective field, but these fierce hijabis are also redefining stereotypes by embracing sports. Here's our list of a few exemplary hijabi athletes:
"I hope to inspire other Hijabi and stay at home moms to get out there. I hope to see major fitness retailers (Hello Nike!) represent us covered sisters in their ads and cater to our modest fitness needs. Wearing hijab means I'm guarding my modesty and respecting my body out of deep devotion to my Faith."
Our former Hijabi of the Month, Rahaf Khatib is a Dearborn native and mother of three children. She loves staying fit by practicing yoga and lifting weights, but her passion is running. She made her decision to reach out to the editorial team at Women's Running magazine because she felt it was time for hijabi athletes to be recognized in the mainstream. On her blog, Rahaf mentions that connecting with the larger running community helped ease her hesitation of running while covered. For a mainstream lifestyle and health magazine to feature a hijabi in their magazine, let alone on their cover, is an amazing stride in building confidence and creating a place of belonging in the lives of many Muslim women athletes.
“We are conservative, we are liberal. There are women who cover, there are women who don’t. There are African American Muslims, there are white Muslims, there are Arab Muslims. There are so many different types of Muslims. So many Muslim countries have women as heads of state. And there are things I want people to be aware of. I want people to not see just those women but also Muslim women who participate in sports. The Saudi Arabian team, the Kuwaiti team and now the American team.”
Ibtihaj Muhammed has become an icon for our generation. We featured her back in 2011 when she was training for a spot on the 2012 Olympic Team. At a young age, the New Jersey native decided to go into fencing because it was one of the few sports that allowed her to wear fully covered uniforms and a hijab. Ibtihaj has been a member of the United States National Fencing Team since 2010, and as of 2016, she ranks #2 in the United States and #8 in the world. She is a five time Senior World medalist, including 2014 World Champion in the team event. In 2016, she competed for a spot on the American fencing team for the Summer Olympics. After receiving the spot, she went on to win America the bronze medal. Alongside her fencing career, she serves as a sports ambassador for the U.S. Department of State’s "Empowering Women and Girls Through Sport Initiative."
“It’s a journey. It’s not just going to Rio or not. It’s more about learning about who you are, and how you can impact the world in a positive way and that’s what I want to focus on: keep impacting the world in a positive way.”
Amna Al-Haddad is a 26 year old weightlifter from the United Arab Emirates. A few years ago, Amna had an epiphany and decided to live a healthier and fit lifestyle. These lifestyle changes introduced her to cross fit and the realm of weightlifting. In 2012, she made history by becoming the first hijab wearing woman to participate in CrossFit Asia, and again in 2013, she was the first hijabi to compete in the Arnold Weightlifting Championship. She eventually gained the attention of Nike, and was featured on their website as well as a series of short films about professional athletes from the Middle East titled Inner Strength Documentary Series. Amna's success has widened the possibilities for Muslim women in the Gulf to enter the realm of athletics.
Shirin Gerami, a 27 year-old woman, has made history by becoming Iran's first female triathlete to have taken part in the the Ironman World Championship. Although she does not wear the hijab, she was told that in order to represent Iran, she would have to follow Islamic dress code by covering her hair and neck with a veil and dress modestly, with loose-fitting clothing that hides her arms and legs. Although the aerodynamics of the extra fabric would have hindered her performance, Shirin did not let this stop her. She agreed to their proposal and promised to deliver a "modest" uniform that would meet their standards. After months of planning and design, Iran's Sports Ministry finally agreed to let her represent them at the triathalon. Shirin sees this as a chance to convince athletic clothing companies to start being more inclusive of modest wear in their lines. She also hopes that her success in negotiations with Iran's ministry, as well as her success in the triathlon, can pave the way for other athletes who are always torn between what they believe in and what they are passionate about.
"Times change, and rules need to change with them."
Amaiya Zafar is a 15 year old boxer from Minnesota. Amaiya modifies the traditional boxing uniform by donning a long-sleeved shirt and leggings underneath, as well as wearing her hijab. Although this does not seem like a major modification, she was not allowed to compete in a USA Boxing-sanctioned event due to the international boxing rule that states boxers are not allowed to cover their arms or legs for safety reasons. Amaiya and her family reached out to CAIR to help them fight the USA Boxing Association ruling and allow a provisional rule for religious reasons. Unfortunately, they lost the fight and the ruling still stands, but this did not stop Amaiya. She continues to pursue her dreams by training and amateur boxing.
“I wish for all young women to find their passion. To be concerned for their health and well being. To take up sport. To not let small obstacles look like mountains. To strive for their own betterment and to not see the differences in people but to only see the likenesses. This is my wish for all.”
Also from the United Arab Emirates is Zahra Lari. Zahra is a figure skater who started at the age of eleven. Growing up, she had been discouraged from participating in this sport because she was considered too old for it. Her love for the sport outweighed societal pressures, and she decided to continue figure skating. In 2012, Zahra was the first figure skater from the Gulf region to compete in the European Cup. Currently, she is training to compete in the Winter Olympics of 2018.
7) Stephanie Kurlow
“In this day and age, there is a lack of facilitation for youth who are disengaged or of a different religion or race. I plan on bringing the world together by becoming the very first Muslim Ballerina so that I can inspire so many other people to believe in themselves and pursue their dreams.”
Stephanie Kurlow is a 14 year-old ballerina from Sydney, Australia. She always dreamt of becoming a professional ballerina, but decided to quit after she could not find a program that accommodated her hijab and modest clothing. Stephanie quickly realized that quitting was a mistake. Many changes were taking place, in which women who were once not allowed to participate in certain fields, and were now being accommodated. She decided to dedicate her time and effort into starting a new campaign to help fund the creation of a diverse performing arts academy. Not only will this be beneficial to her, but she hopes that it will inspire many other young women to break into fields they are passionate about.
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