by Marium Sattar, guest conributor
At the first ceremony of its kind, fencer and Olympic hopeful Ibtihaj Muhammad was recognized for her achievements as a Muslim sportswoman at the Ambassador Awards. The awards were hosted by the Muslim Women’s Sport Foundation the first week of May to recognize Muslim women in this field. They are a reminder that Muslim sportswomen have broken new ground in the world of sports and helped change perceptions in society at large.
Although there are more Muslim women competing in sports today than there have been in the past, they have an overlooked legacy. For example, Halet Çambel was the first Muslim woman who competed in the Olympics — and did so in 1936, representing Turkey. Many athletes like her were honored at the awards where Muhammad won the International Sportswoman of the Year. However, women’s sports participation in some countries is still limited.
One challenge some Muslim sportswomen have contended with is regulations about athletic dress codes — but they have also paved the way for other players who want to dress modestly while still competing in the games they love. In 2007, for example, the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) placed a ban on wearing the hijab, or headscarf, during matches due to fears that it could lead to choking. The ban even led to the Iranian women’s football team being deemed ineligible from a qualifying match to play in the Olympics; however, this year, FIFA is planning to overturn that rule in light of new hijabs designed specifically for athletes. The decision will be announced on July 2 after further testing of the new hijabs to ensure their safety.
Muhammad says that her faith, which requires women to dress modestly, directed her choice to start fencing, a sport which requires players to cover themselves from head to toe. “Often times, when I’m in competition, I’m the only African American, the only black person, definitely the only Muslim — not only representing the United States but in the competition itself. It can be really difficult…” she said.
Given their diversity, Muslim sportswomen are an inspiration to young women around the world. Yet some young women from Muslim backgrounds still face challenges overcoming cultural restrictions either because their parents believe girls should not become athletes or perhaps simply because they do not have role models. However, these restrictions did not stop Pakistani runner Naseem Hameed, who won the gold medal for her performance at the 100-metre race at the South Asian Games in 2010, making her the fastest woman in South Asia.
As more athletes like Hameed come into the limelight, young women watching them may start to have higher expectations about what they can achieve, especially in sports.
Other Muslim sportswomen have contended with much bigger hurdles. Sadaf Rahimi, a 17-year-old boxer from Afghanistan, is one Ambassador Award nominee who overcame the lack of facilities to practice in and the difficulties of living under the Taliban — which banned women from playing sports. Rahimi, who will be representing Afghanistan in the London 2012 Olympics, shatters stereotypes about Afghan women. Like her peers, she counteracts the misconception that Muslim women cannot play sports, while demonstrating that perseverance can overcome even the toughest hurdles.
In another part of the Muslim world, Qatar recently announced that it will send female athletes to the Olympics for the first time. Brunei has also nominated a female hurdler and 400-metre runner, Maziah Mahusin, to join their Olympic team for the first time. Their participation in sports heralds a new era, one which is more inclusive of all women, and shows that governments are following where women are leading.
Many athletes at the Ambassador Awards said they never expected to excel as they have — a reality that shows young women that they are capable of achieving more than they may think is possible.
At the event, Muhammad reflected on how much her faith and sports have shaped her identity. “I would never have guessed in a million years that my hijab would have led me to fencing, to a sport, but also that I would have grown to love this sport so much. It’s so much a part of who I am; I can’t even imagine life without it.”
Marium Sattar is a multimedia and print journalist, and a recent graduate of the Columbia Journalism School in New York City.
A version of this article was published by the Common Ground News Service on May 22, 2012. Copyright permission is granted for publication.Comments
by Chris Miller, guest contributor
"Action" (photo: Alessandro Pautasso/Flickr, cc by-nc-nd 2.0)
Most people listen to songs like “Eye of the Tiger” or the theme from Chariots of Fire when running. I am not most people. I prefer a good old-fashion podcast.
A few days ago I was listening to the interfaith forum "Pursuing Happiness" while out on a five-miler. Around mile three, something amazing happened. Maybe it was the noise of the traffic or the use of a translator, but I lost track of who was speaking. Instead of rewinding, I went along with it and, before long, I was amen-ing each answer without knowing who gave it.
There was a time in my past when this type of thing would have been unheard of. I grew up Southern Baptist. My amens were reserved for fellow brethren. If one was not a hymn-singing, Bible-thumping, submerging-baptizer, then one was not worthy of my praise. I was taught truth had to come from the “correct” source. Otherwise, it was heresy. Yet there I was, hearing truth from a Muslim scholar, an Orthodox rabbi, an Episcopalian bishop, and the Dalai Lama himself.
How was that possible? Maybe it was the lack of oxygen or the sweat in my eyes, but I had a realization. Truth is truth. Some thinkers take this even a bit further, saying, “All truth is God’s truth.” I’m beginning to agree.
God is big enough to reveal himself as he chooses. I have heard and seen God in print, in music, and in film — from both Christian and non-Christian sources. I have heard preachers and atheists teach powerful spiritual truths. I have seen God dwelling amongst the dirtiest of slums and the most decorated of sanctuaries. He is heard and seen however and wherever He chooses to make Himself known.
When Moses first encountered God, he demanded a name. But instead of giving him a name, God replied, “I am who I am” or “I will be who I will be.” He refuses to be labeled. When one labels God, when one claims him as their own, they reduce him to an image of their liking. They limit him. They only let him speak through the voices they have approved.
Of course, God cannot be limited. “Pursuing Happiness” was proof of that. He spoke through each individual on the stage, whether they labeled him Yahweh, Allah, or something else. He made himself known.
As I finished my run, I realized it was not only my legs that got a workout. My mind, my heart, and my soul were also pushed. In the course of those five miles, I was exposed to truth — God’s truth — by individuals very different from me. Who would have thought the Dalai Lama could make such a great running partner?
Chris Miller is a seminary student living in Merriam, Kansas. You can read more of his writing at Caffeinated Ramblings.
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Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
"They were used to being coached by men who tended to discourage them. But I saw nothing but tremendous potential, and I tried to nourish it. I made it clear that I was invested in the team’s improvement, and the players made it clear that they were serious as well. … Coaching them really drove home the point that if you give with no intent to receive, you will get so much more in return."
Bass goes on to say how she transcended her own preconceptions about Islam through the real relationships she developed with her players. Her essay reminds me that sports can be a powerful way to forge bonds despite differences in language, culture, and religion.
We’ve been talking as a production staff about the meaning and purpose people find through sports — whether they’re athletes or fans or both. With the World Cup fast approaching, we’re wondering about the significance of sports in your own life. Is there a spiritual dimension to sports for you? What ideas do you have about how SOF could open up a conversation about this topic?
(photo: Mistie Bass/Chicago Sky)Comments