Muslim women deciding to become professional athletes pose a grave danger to the egos of Muslim men and non-Muslim Westerners. The success of these females can begin to undo the deep rooted power dynamics which has enabled control of the female Muslim body. So these women are kept out of the playing ground in the name of religion and dress codes. The attention is focused on world cups and championships played and won by men. But the men cannot keep stealing the lime light much longer.
Muslim women from all over the world are making their mark on the literal and proverbial field. They refused to back down and shined. And we must celebrate their success. The world may be surprised but this list includes many women from Pakistan. The captain of our football team, Hajra Khan, recently recorded her third Guinness world record. In March Anita Karim, Pakistan’s first MMA Fighter, won the One Warrior Series in Singapore. This year, Pakistan’s star cricketer, Sana Mir bagged the titled of the most successful women’s ODI’s spinner in the world.
These women are Pakistan’s pride but many will be critical of them for openly declaring war against our nation’s patriarchal norms. The success and strength of these women is making some men uncomfortable. Traditionally, the female body has been perceived as fragile and thus in need of protection. But these female athletes have immense strength and stamina. They train hours on end to be physically fit and certain men cannot take it. They are flabbergasted. Some male minds begin to boil at the thought of a woman being physically stronger than him. If she is stronger than him, how will he force her into submission? How will he hit her? What if she hits back?!
The solution then lies in keeping them trapped inside the kitchen by drawing upon religion. Sports tend to have certain dress codes which make it difficult for Muslim women to participate. Till February this year, Wimbledon required women tennis players to wear short skirts. Given the modest dressing mandated by Islam, this meant for decades and decades Muslim women couldn’t compete in the championship. Alas the Women’s Tennis Association “modernized” its dress code allowing leggings and mid-thigh length compression shorts to be worn without a skirt or a dress during matches.
Competitive sports are increasingly becoming more inclusive. During the 2012 Olympics in London, the Iranian women’s soccer team was disqualified by FIFAfor showing up at the qualifying match wearing headscarves. At the time, FIFA’s Regulation Handbook stated that the players’ uniform must not “have any political, religious or personal statements.” However, the ban on headscarves has since been lifted. In 2016, Ibtihaj Muhammad became the first Black Muslim American woman to compete in the Olympics in a hijab and won. She took the bronze medal home for her country in fencing. But this was not the first time a hijab wearing Muslim woman won at the Olympics.
Roqaya Al-Gassra shattered the glass ceiling by running in a hijab at the Olympics in 2004. She became the first Muslim woman to do so and win. She also won a gold medal in the 200m sprint and a bronze in the 100m at the 2006 Asian Games in Doha. But Roqaya’s victory was not just hers. It was a victory for Muslim women across the world. If being an athlete does not conflict with a woman’s practice of Islam, why should she be denied the right to compete? A woman doesn’t “belong” in the kitchen or the football field. She belongs where she chooses to be
Given the increasing flexibility of sports dress codes promoting inclusion, it is time to stop oppressing women in the name of religion. Gone are the days when sports was an activity reserved for boys while the girls were left to practice the more delicate hobbies of sewing and flower arrangement. The problem with female Muslim athletes lies in our patriarchal mindset. We don’t give them the recognition they deserve. Men will be overjoyed watching Katrina Kaif dance and Shahid Afridi play. But how many men will sit cheering Sana Mir on as she takes a wicket? The female body is continuously sexualized and/or trapped in the kitchen walls. When will we learn to applaud a woman for her strength and success?