By Fatima Kermali
The sports scene is slowly changing as players uphold their beliefs on the playing field. Muslim women donned with the hijab, the Islamic covering of the head and body, have taken to their game and left a lasting impression in the world of sports. They have demonstrated that their identity is not separate from their sport which is always presented in a particular way.
Thus, six black Muslim women have paved forward for other female Muslim athletes to practice their faith while competing.
One of those women is Ibtihaj Muhammad, an Olympic medalist in fencing who was could more easily observe hijab during competition due to its head-to-toe equipment policies. This was also one of the reasons why this sport was chosen at a young age. Along with her perseverance, she was the first Black Muslim woman to earn a bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Less than a year after the global competition, Nike decided to debut Pro-hijab for Muslim women due to all the media attention on her. Muhammad, herself had begun her modest fashion line, Louella, which has made a large impact. She continues to follow her dream as a professional fencer and aims to be an example for others as an observing Muslimah in sports because she understands the importance of having someone who represents you. “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,” she says. Muhammad’s efforts paid off as the first hijabi Barbie was modeled after her.
Athlete Yasmin Hassan Farah competing in Table Tennis
Another fellow Olympian is Yasmin Farah Hassan, a Djiboutian table tennis player during the 2012 Summer Olympics. She made history by securing a spot for her country in the competition against her Brazilian opponent; this was an achievement in itself.
Zamzam Mohamed Farah
Also from East Africa, Somalian Zamzam Mohamed Farah also competed in the 2021 Olympic games. As a professional runner, she participated in a loosely fitting track outfit with a sports hijab. This changed the standards of her country illustrating that women can adhere to the hijab while participating in events usually regulated for men.
Zainab Alema, a mom, nurse, and Rugby player
Such is the case also for Zainab Alema, a mom, nurse, and Rugby player. She challenged a predominantly English sport by participating in a game that broke barriers. As she was resolute to smash the concept of a male elitist sport, Alema stated: “Muslim women are supposed to be at home cooking, cleaning, and having kids. That’s what we do to some extent, but we can do so much more. I am determined to smash those stereotypes” Zainab never thought about playing rugby – she didn’t even know women could. But from the moment she had to play during a PE lesson at 17, she enjoyed every second of it and never turned back. Zainab currently plays at Barnes Rugby Club Zainab and runs ‘Studs in the Mud’, where she uses rugby to enhance people’s lives for the better, shipping out kits around the world to give people, particularly women and children, the chance to play. She also has a project which aims to encourage more Muslim women to try the sport by utilizing social media. Alema has an Instagram page Muslimah Rugby bringing Rugby and Mulsim women to the forefront.
Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir, seen in a photograph for the NCAA
Collegiate basketball player Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir had dreams of playing professionally until they were confronted by restrictions due to the hijab. Abdul-Qaadir played for The University of Memphis and later Indiana State University and became the first woman to wear a hijab while playing NCAA Division I basketball.
Before this, Abdul-Qaadir played for the New Leadership Charter School in Springfield and holds to this day, the high school career scoring record in the state among both boys and girls; according to the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association. While Abdul-Qaadir’s professional career was taking off in college she was forced to choose between her career and her religion. In her last year at Indiana State when she was about to play professionally in Europe, The International Basketball Federation, or FIBA, stipulated that no player could wear a head covering – including the hijab – during games.
She challenged the rule, and the decision ended her dream of playing professionally.
She remarked, “For the first time in my life, I was really tested. I couldn’t play professionally, so I had to make a decision. I considered taking the hijab off to play. It was a dream since I was a kid, and it was my faith keeping me from reaching my dream. I was so torn.” But she did not back down, she petitioned the federation for a rule change. In 2014, FIBA began a lengthy review of its policy. Finally, in October 2017, FIBA approved a new rule that allows players to wear ratified headgear that minimizes the risk of injury and is the same color as a team’s uniform.
Khadijah Diggs · The first African-American Woman to be a member of the U.S. Long Course Triathlon Team and the first Hijabi to represent the U.S
Continuing to challenge hijab discrimination in sports, Khadijah Diggs the U.S. triathlon runner created the Diversity Inclusion Syndicate by Khadija (D. I. S. K.) because she faced hurdles while competing wearing her head-to-toe race kit and hijab. After representing the U.S. on the long course triathlon and aquathlon in 2012, Diggs made history as the first African American woman and Hijabi to represent the country in both disciplines.
The battle towards fighting discrimination on both fronts of race and religion is continuous; these women are winners because they have endeavored to fulfill the requirement of their faith while competing in their respective sports. These women have set the gold standard of success as they set examples for Muslim women athletes.