Written Vs. Not Written Stuff: Cultural Barriers Impeding Muslim Women In Sports

The Lady Salam Stars Team in Milwaukee, WI
(Photo: Rick Wood / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Part I, Written By Saadia Haq

The world of sports is largely dominated by men, more often female sportspersons and women athletes face many challenges that hinder their progress and participation in the world of sports. In the context of Islamic societies, we observe that the prevalence of strict gender roles in Muslim communities limit women’s participation in sports on both personal and professional level.

Most Muslims will agree that our societies are lagging behind due to lack of awareness and religious misinterpretations that prevent or disapprove Muslim women participation in any kind of sportive activities. There are places in the Muslim world, where clerics and religious leadership promotes Islam does not support its women to take up sports as per modesty and veiling ideals. My prolific co-author Papatia Feauxzar shall debunk the religious teachings on this matter in part II, so we ask you to stay tuned!

Muslim women have to face not only religious and cultural restriction barriers in Islamic countries, but general living conditions, legal prohibitions and lack of opportunities end up creating a non conducive environment – with little exceptions that allow or aid in women’s empowerment and inclusion in sports arena.

The lack of effective investment in field of sports and physical activities is seen across many Islamic countries – poor funding and state negligence also plays its role in creating barriers for its citizens.

In few places and situations, the conflict between culture and women’s active role in sports gets challenged especially by Muslim girls and women. For example, in Pakistan we saw the interesting case of Maria Toorpakay Wazir, the country’s top female squash player.

Growing up in a strict tribal Islamic Pashtun community which disapproved of girls playing sport, she had her parents backing to explore her sports dreams but during local competitions she was forced to dress as a boy. Once it was exposed that Maria was indeed a girl, she and her family endured the wrath of Taliban and death threats. In Pakistan, she has received wide-spread attention and also State awards, but the overall circumstances forced her to relocate to Canada where she is pursuing her professional career and a female athlete change maker.

In other societies where tribalism is still practiced and thriving, parents view girls as “financial burdens” and girls are married off in early teenage years to get rid of this unwanted cargo.

In African context, traditions and norms of masculinity play a role in the perception that sports is for men only. The inclusion of women sportspersons in the public sphere is further marred by little interest and severe lack of funding in promoting women sports.

In recent years, there have been some significant endeavors that are launched as a response to tackle the issue of “modesty” and the matter of having right clothes that can allow females from participating in sports.

In the United States, which hosts large community of global Muslims, activist Fatimah Hussein came up with the clothes range that celebrates diversity, inclusion and empowerment of female athletes through Modest Activewear for Muslim Women.

In-fact, the issue of sex segregation and modesty form the basis of excessive cultural baggage in Muslim communities when it comes to participating in sports.

Within Muslim women themselves there is a lot of diversity and difference in articulating Islamic teachings when it comes to physical and recreational activities.

There are examples across the Islamic world where we observe that while some Muslim women might engage in mixed sport events, others do not perceive this as appropriate. There is prevalence of both kind of examples; groups of Muslim women observing the set dress codes consist of covering hair and wearing modest clothing, while others simply do not.

Despite the odds, put in their place many female athletes have become change agents and role models for newer generations by competing not only locally but also international competitions like Olympics and other sports events.

“Look at this impressive list of Muslim athletes – Tunisian foil fencer, Inès Boubakri, Afghan sprinter Robina Muqimyar, Iranian Taekwondo athelete Kimiya Alizadeh Zonouzi, South African cricker Shabnim Ismail, Egyptian volleyball player Doaa Elghobashy, Indian tennis player Sania Mirza, Bengali- British booxer Ruqsana Begum and many others.”

On the international scale, Muslim women athletes have to face the extra the brunt of culturally imperialistic and prevalent orientalist attitudes within the western societies.

During global sports events, we see a one track media narrative busy in discussing “what Muslim athletes wear” as opposed to their sportive performances.

At the end of the day, the most important issue is to ensure that all groups and individuals are catered for as far as possible and that they are consulted and respected in their choices without the guise of “religion forbids, haram and so on conditions and mentality.”


Part II, Written By Papatia Feauxzar


Islam has an egalitarian treatment when it addresses men and women. The quranic verses attest that both genders can do what the other gender does, yet the man is not like the woman. Look at that. We have the same abilities, we’re different but we aren’t contradictory. Subhanallah, only the Creator can make such a thing possible.

To continue, in the story of Maryam (aleihi salam), we see that her Mother wished for a pious heir (a son to be precise) who will devote himself to the Creator of the Worlds for the rest of his life. However, Allah made a plot twist and gave her a baby girl; someone who will have a period and will thus become unpure monthly. Can you imagine the level of distraught Hannah, a steadfast believer, felt at the discovery of the sex of her child in such a restricting society back then?

Regardless, Allah opened the door and Maryam (aleihi salam) was accepted as a student at the temple to worship her Lord like her Mom had wished. This is a clear example that women can do what men do. There are countless other examples.

Now, when shameless cultural Muslims start discussing women’s clothes as inappropriate in sports, gatekeeping or even sexually harass female athletes, they forget that the only sport where men’s clothes are a bit “Islamic” to my knowledge is baseball. The pants are somewhat loose and go below the knees; that’s part of men hijab by the way.

However, what do we see in the whole wide world of the ummah?

We see soccer fanatics among others wear soccer shorts or football fanatics wear tights just to name a few sports. These shorts don’t even begin to cover their knees. And the tights leave very little to the imagination. Why do men get an exception to the rule of hijab and women can’t? We will be judged  based on intention you know. If your intention of wearing tight clothes is based on aerodynamics, I’m sure that’s excusable. But if it’s not, well that’s your scroll of deeds.

To go back to the double standard I was discussing, do these men think that women don’t have eyes like them and can’t appreciate a hunk or a piece of meat when they see it? Do they think women can’t treat them with as much doggy (horny) attitude like they do women? Finally, do they think we can’t undress them with our eyes if we want to? We can if you didn’t know. We just choose not to be that vapid. So, it’s vapid when you don’t lower your gaze towards us and remember that women know how and prefer to control their urges.

In jannah, a man’s wife, “will have 70 sets of clothing upon her, but all will be delicate and weightless to the degree of transparency.” Allahu akbar.

Unless Allah blesses us with the formula to make such an outfit for Muslim women who are athletes and don the hijab, the shameless cultural Muslims will have to make an exception for women as well and let them be. Aerodynamics or not, give them a break and lower your gaze.

Now, cultural barriers don’t only impede women in sports, they also help discriminate against other women in sports. For instance, during the Rio 2016 Olympics, I wrote an article on the preferential treatment the ummah showed and still shows Ibtihaj Muhammad versus Dalilah Muhammad. Both won gold but the fact that one was covered won it over the other. I get it, it’s hard to not judge but we must resist the urge to do so.

To this day, you will see that from non-Muslims to Muslims, everyone mostly focuses on the hijab when it’s convenient for them and their marketing techniques. My thing is this; if you wear hijab to empower yourself as it should do because you don’t want imbeciles (human and djinn) gawking at will at your body; a sacred temple, alhamdullilah. If you don’t wear it due to your non-readiness status or emotional abuse you’ve endured, that’s understandable.

However, if you’re Muslim and you wear the hijab to build a following and you look down upon it later on because your ego is at play or you feel diminished by it, may Allah guide you, aameen.

Above all, sports for Muslim women is not forbidden like the following hadith relays.

According to Sunan Abi Dawud, Ai’sha (radiallahu anha) said, “I competed with the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu aleihi wassalam) in running and overtook him. Later, when I had put on some weight, I once again competed with him, but this time he overtook me and said, “We’re even now.”

This account should make us ponder. This was a time when there were no inside gyms or fitness establishments. People exercised where it found them or felt like it. Let’s do better. Allahu alim.

“The Written vs. NOT Written Stuff” is a copyrighted collaborative feature series highlighting issues of and within the global Muslim communities. A joint initiative by two Muslimah writers, Papatia Feauxzar and Saadia Haq. We appreciate your support and feedback, do write us here or drop an email at t.human.lens@gmail.com. Copyrights @2015 – 2019.

Bio: Saadia Haq is not your regular Pakistani girl with masters degree in Business Administration and other certifications. An antidote to gender disparities, feminist and human rights journalist that runs The Humans Lens blog!

Bio: Papatia Feauxzar is an American author of West African descent, an online magazine editor and the unwavering force behind the blog Between Sisters, SVP! and the creator of  Fofky’s; an Online Book and Coffee/Tea Shop.

Original Source : The Human Lens .

Picture Source : Mic and Bustle Digital Group.

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