The No 1 Muslim Ladies' Cycling Club

Pull your brakes. Put your foot under. No, under. Set the pedal. Now release the brakes...” Most people remember learning to ride a bike. It is easier when you are 5 and not wearing a full hijab. It is also easier when small boys are not whizzing past on mini-BMXs laughing at you as their parents, on the way to Saturday morning shopping, stare and mutter under their breath.
The participants in Britain's only known Muslim women's cycling club are having their weekly lesson in a small park close to the East London mosque. “Most have never ridden,” says Erika Severina, their cycling instructor. “Some make excuses, such as saying their clothes aren't suitable, but we've found bikes to accommodate that. Others don't want to ride outside. But now we've got them in parks and on back roads.”
Learning to ride turns out to be one of the lesser hurdles the group faces. Women from other backgrounds and faiths have taken part, but most are religiously observant Muslims and wear full Islamic dress. The group was formed shortly before the July 7 bombings in 2005 - and in the aftermath it was not an easy time to take to the streets of London clad in a veil.
Even more off-putting is the significant disapproval the women face from their own community. “Women should not be riding bikes. They are stimulating themselves. If they want to stimulate themselves they should get a man,” says one Asian market trader on the pavement outside the Jagonari Women's Educational and Resource Centre in Whitechapel, where the cycling group is based.
Jagonari is Bengali for “Women wake up”, but most of the local men appear to believe that women have woken up far too much. A common sentiment - perhaps held by men generally - is that a woman in charge of a bicycle is a dangerous proposition. “They're bad enough in cars,” other men in the street agree.
Nurjahan Khatun, the director of the Jagonari Centre, and founder of the cycling project, points out that “there's nothing in the Koran to say that women shouldn't ride bikes”. Despite this, various postings on Muslim websites debate the point and the cultural barriers are strong.
The Jagonari Centre is in the heart of Bengali East London. A few miles away, the London 2012 Olympic site is under construction at Stratford, but comparatively few local girls and women from the Bengali community take part in sport. A 2006 report for Sport England found that only 19 per cent of Indian and Bengali women took part in any sport, compared with 31 per cent for women nationwide.
Alema, 19, is the co-ordinator of the cycling group. “It's always the boys and their bikes,” she says. Her father is an Indian chef and the family lives in Woodford, Essex. She has just started a BA in economics and politics at Goldsmiths University of London, in New Cross. “My parents never said ‘You can't have a bike'. I never asked them. I once rode my cousin's bike in Sheffield and I loved it. I rode for three hours non-stop, I didn't want to get off.”
Like many of the younger women in the group, Alema has a Westernised lifestyle and goes rock climbing and camping. But she also takes a more active interest in her religion than the older, more socially conservative, women who attend the Jagonari Centre. She wears the hijab scarf and the jilbab, a long black dress, and says that she became interested in Islam after 9/11. “I didn't know anything about Islam, but people started to say negative things about it, so I felt I had to find out the truth.”
She is considering wearing a face veil, and is not put off by her parents' concern that it will attract negative attention. “This life is full of thorns, the next life is Paradise. So if you want to wear a veil, it's going to be a struggle - but this life is supposed to be about struggle.”
Like other women in the group, however, she says that the best thing about riding a bike is “freedom”.
“You don't see many women out cycling, especially in the hijab,” says Rajana, who is in her twenties and likes to ride the biggest, raciest bike in the group. “I'm a bit of a rebel,” she says.
The other women learn on foldaway bikes with low crossbars to accommodate traditional garments. Various pins and clips are used to stop their long loose clothes getting caught in gears and spokes. Underneath many of the women are wearing fashionable shoes, or flipflops and have painted toenails. They look rather immaculate compared with the cycling instructor, who is wearing fingerless gloves, shorts and torn fishnet tights.
When the group started, the women rode large cumbersome Dutch bikes, turning tight circles in the tiny closed-off courtyard behind the centre. Now their confidence has grown and the women have already taken part in group rides in Hyde Park and past the Houses of Parliament.
“When I started the project it was because I had really wanted to learn to ride when I went to university at Cambridge, but I didn't have the nerve,” Khatun says. “I started the cycling group and expected young girls to come along, yet what's really surprised me was how many older women wanted to take part as well.”
With low levels of English, older Bengali women have traditionally been one of the hardest ethnic groups to reach. But these are the women who attend the Jagonari Centre to talk to their friends and take part in activities.
Naz is one such lady, whose commitment to cycling has been dedicated, despite slow progress. She struggles with her knees and finds it hard to work the pedals. At her weekly session the cycling instructor is holding her on with one hand while propelling her along a path with the other. Two other members of the group are watching.
“She is having problems with the circling,” says one. “It's the turning,” the other agrees.
“I'm just frightened I will veer off and hit someone,” Naz tells the instructor.
She appears to be making a beeline for an alarmed group of local drinkers, lounging on the grass.
“Do you know how not to hit someone?” the instructor asks the group.
After some thought one pipes up “Brakes?”
“My son has told me to get some stabilisers,” Naz says, both relieved and disappointed to have finished her lesson. She came to England from Pakistan as a young woman, but while her husband works in America she lives in East London with her grown-up son, who is an avid cyclist. “He loved riding his bike when he was a little boy. It would not have occurred to me to have a bike. But now he is supporting his old mum.”
Most of the women say that their husbands and sons are more bemused by their new hobby, rather than opposed to it - although the cycling group had one member who cycled in secret because she feared her father's disapproval.
Since the group began three years ago, it has seen dozens of women progress from wobbly beginnings to more confident riding, with a little independence thrown in. Khatun is proud that her project has borne unexpected fruit and encouraged the kind of “active citizenship” of which the Home Office would no doubt approve.
On a late Saturday morning session, the younger girls of the club meet and cycle along the backroads of East London to Mile End Park. There they fly up and down paths, rashly ignore instructions about braking and signalling - and cheer on impromptu races across the grass.
Naz is there too - casting an elder stateswoman's eye over proceedings and tutting occasionally, but generally enjoying the atmosphere. They may be the only Muslim women's cycling club in the country - and an excellent example of active citizenship and community engagement - but for that morning at least they look just like carefree girls.


Malaysia clerics issue yoga fatwa

By Robin Brant BBC News, Kuala Lumpur
Millions of people in Malaysia have been banned from doing yoga because of fears it could corrupt Muslims.
The Islamic authorities have issued a ruling, known as a fatwa, instructing the country's Muslims to avoid yoga because of its Hindu roots.
To most people yoga is simply a sport - a stress-busting start to the day.
Malaysia's National Fatwa Council said it goes further than that and that elements of the Indian religion are inherent in yoga.
Announcing the decision, the council chairman Abdul Shukor Husin said practices like chanting and what he called worshipping were inappropriate and they could "destroy the faith of a Muslim".
The ruling is not legally binding but many of Malaysia's Muslims abide by fatwas.
Yoga classes here are filled with mostly non-Muslim Malaysians of Chinese or Indian descent, but in the major cities it is not uncommon to see several Muslim women at classes.
Prayers and gym
For Muslims across Malaysia the day starts at 5.30 in the morning, as the call to prayer goes out.
A handful of the most devout arrive at a mosque in the western outskirts of Kuala Lumpur.
Over the other side of the road, in the shadow of the Mosque's golden dome, a few others start arriving to start their day - at the gym.
Each is carrying a yoga mat, slung over their shoulder.
Adam Junid is a Muslim Malaysian who does both - prayers and gym, specifically yoga.
An engineer in his 30s, he goes to a weekly class for about 30 people.
"I don't think it interferes with the religion at all," he says.
"In fact it helps you, makes you healthy and more aligned and it helps you become self aware," he adds.
Adam is a rarity because it is mostly women and not many Muslims who do this.
"The yoga masters repeat that it actually can be quite compatible with religion," he said. "It makes you a better person."
Yoga comes in many forms. For some it is a stress-busting sport. For others a serious bit of soul searching.
What Adam does once a week is the serious stuff. The class I sat in on was two hours long.
Spiritual experience
It included breathing exercises, with the help of the tick-tock of a metronome.
There was meditation, then half an hour of darkness for intense relaxation.
Before that some of the class managed a very stable headstand. Others could touch the back of their head with their foot.
"It can go with any religion," instructor Mani Sekaran told me.
"Or it can go with those who don't believe in any religion, because it's purely sports," he added.
He is also founder of the Malaysian Yoga Society. A bald and very fit man, he once did martial arts.
"If I want to train for an Olympic gold medal... whether I believe in a religion or not doesn't matter. I just keep on training."
"Based on that we can use yoga to enhance whatever we are doing, whether it is religion or whether it's spirituality... but it [yoga] is stand alone."
During the class I sat in on, yoga's Hindu roots were mentioned, albeit briefly. A spiritual experience was on offer for those who wanted it.
This is the point where some Muslims in Malaysia worry about yoga. They think it is encroaching on their way of life.
One Muslim student told me that she combined yoga techniques with prayers. That concerns some Islamic experts.
"If people want to practice yoga, the physical exercise, I think that is no problem," Professor Osman Bakar, from Malaysia's Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies, told me.
"Many Muslims would say fine. But they would object to the mixing of the two things."
"Islam is a complete way of life. Islam is able to cater to the needs of Muslims; spiritual needs, intellectual needs and other needs, material needs. So there is no need to bring in elements from outside," he added.
Adam's yoga class ended with a quick discussion about self-awareness, concentration and why people do yoga. I was not sure if this was a weekly occurrence or for my benefit.
He told me that yoga has made him a better person. He has no plans to stop.


Making peace through basketball

Even on the basketball court of one of Israel's few integrated public schools, the divisions between Arabs and Jews caught between six decades of conflict are more obvious than their different coloured uniforms. For many of the conservative Muslim teenage girls from East Jerusalem, wearing layers of clothing and head carves, it not only their first chance to play on a sports team, but the first time they will meet any shorts-and T-shirt-clad Jewish girls from West Jerusalem. Basketball games, hosted in Jerusalem by Hand in Hand, one of the few Israeli public schools where Jews and Arabs study together, are giving youths aged 10 to 16 a chance to try to bridge a wide political and religious divide. "It's to help us forget about the occupation, and also so the Jews can have a positive opinion of us. Yes, it's so we can teach Jewish girls not to have a bad view of Arabs, we are here for peace," said 15-year-old Azeza Shukirat, at warm-up for a game at her school in the village of Jabel Mukaber, which gained notoriety earlier this year as the home of the attackers in two deadly incidents against Jews in Jerusalem. Last March, a Palestinian gunman from Jabal Mukaber killed eight Israelis in an attack on a Jewish seminary in west Jerusalem before he was shot dead. In July, another Palestinian from the same village rammed a bulldozer into an Israeli commuter bus, cars and pedestrians on one of Jerusalem's busiest streets, killing three people. "We have hope in this project as there is also a new year coming up. I do feel though that the girls want to learn about Jewish culture and traditions, and how Jewish people think. Aside from this, they want an exchange to take place of culture and language. They want to integrate. They are all excited and are looking forward to training together, they want to be come as twins are," Rania Abu Shabaan, a Palestinian school girl said. Fifteen years after the Oslo Accords failed to bring peace between Jews and Arabs in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, scores of grass-roots organisations in the region are still trying to mend the hatred and violence by uniting children in segregated communities. "As I said, we are really working with children and -you know - some of them are ten, twelve, up to sixteen. Firstly, when we started with them, it's just about basketball, about having fun, about making a few new friends. We are not necessary trying to do some... it should be possible with these kids," said Michael Vaughan-Cherubin, a basketball coach. “The idea is that we will be able to touch hopefully by the time - you know - thousands and thousands of kids by the end there will be some sort of nucleus of change in Jerusalem and around Israel, but for the mean-time we are trying to show this kids a different side of the other side from what they see in the newspaper or maybe what their parents are telling them," he added. Peace Players International (PPI), which leads similar projects in places such as Northern Ireland and South Africa, uses basketball as a medium of communication for 10- to 16-year-old boys and girls to interact through a sport that unlike soccer is relatively non-political, non-contact, and more acceptable for even devout girls to play. Such programmes involving sports, arts, theatre and summer camps make up a large number of the co-existence initiatives which aim to do more than one-off workshops and discussion forums. One of the Israeli children taking part in the scheme, Tamar Millgram, explained why he was taking part in the scheme. "Because I like basketball and it's fun and I want to know other people and Arab people," she said. Other challenges are the inequalities in infrastructure between Israeli and Palestinian communities, language, the stigma associated with befriending the other side and psychological barriers, such as the perception of the "occupied" versus "occupier," illustrated by one of the PPI's Palestinian coaches afraid to discipline an Israeli child for fear of going to jail. Several recent studies by both Palestinian and Israeli organisations and university programmes have shown that short-term programmes inevitably lead to short-term results and that follow-up interventions are necessary for lasting results, and PCI is to be fully integrated within Israel's Arab and Jewish education systems, such as Hand in Hand, which lends the use of its gymnasium for the integrated basketball programmes. At the end of the hour-long basketball session, the Arab and Jewish girls from East and West Jerusalem were not only talking, but laughing, hugging and exchanging high-fives.
Source: http://news.sbs.com.au/worldnewsaustralia/making_peace_through_basketball_562951


Challenging the Stereotype with Hijab

Photo: Homa Hosseini (flag-bearer) leads her country's team during the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. Photo sourced: Reuter/David Gray.
The hijab has become a strong element in showcasing one's culture, much to the chagrin of those who have made a profession vilifying it and linking such practice with backwardness of a society, repression of its women, being uneducated and beholden to traditions.Modern Muslim women have incorporated the practice of hijab into their uniforms and daily wears. These days, the hijab (and the fashion trends associated with it) have become a symbol of liberation for many Muslim women, young and old. What is most surprising is that majority of them are wearing it out of their own personal conviction and volition not simply because it was imposed by society.Interestingly, the wearing of the hijab has not spared even the sports field. In the "parade of nations" during the opening program, the Olympic games saw a sizable sprinkling of veiled athletes. Roqaya al-Ghasara (Bahrain) and Homa Hosseini (Iran) even have the honor of carrying their respective country's flag. Egyptian female athletes are a dozen strong, Homa is joined by two more female athletes, and there’s one Afghan and another Yemeni.At the Olympics, these hijab-clad athletes hope to help quash the perception among many in the West that the veil is akin to repression; and overcome stereotypes and prejudices about women athletes right in their own backyard.Indeed, there are more than a hundred sports to choose from that do not require unveiling.Al-Ghasara remarks, “the hijab has never been a problem to me. In Bahrain you grow up with it. There are more owmen in sport all the time from countries like qatar and kuwait. You choose to wear the hijab or not.”Shaimma El Gammal (Fencing) capture the pride of wearing a hijab and competing in sports simultaneously, “when I fence I’m proud that I’m a Muslim. It’s very symbolic for women in my country.”While their number is not representative of the total female population, the growing number of women in sports is a beginning sign of tolerance and acceptance in the Muslim World.To me this represents a growing phenomenon reflective of Ijtihad in the realm of contemporary living - How do we practice the essential teachings of Islam based on 21st century paradigm and pragmatism. What is heartening to note is that this growing phenomenon is primaily driven by Muslim women themselves.
Source: http://contemporarymoro.blogspot.com/2008/11/photo-homa-hosseini-flag-bearer-leads.html


WTA founder King promotes gender equality in Qatar

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Billie Jean King is in the conservative Muslim sheikdom of Qatar to promote gender equality in sport, but the WTA Tour founder says change is difficult and takes time.
"That's actually one of the big reasons I wanted to come here, was to learn," said King, who is attending the WTA's season-ending Sony Ericsson Championships in Doha. "I really want to listen this week more than anything."
King, a vocal proponent of equal prize money for male and female professional tennis players, said a shift toward gender parity in sport is a gradual process that requires respect for all cultures and religions.
"Human rights is very important. But it is going to take generations to have a shift. Things do not happen quickly, but we have to start someplace," King said. "Just like we began in the United States, standing out in the street and stopping cars to give them tickets" to women's tennis events.
Two years ago, the WTA Tour and UNESCO started a program to promote women's equality in sport, and King was declared "global mentor" of the program at a news conference in Doha on Thursday.
King, who won a total of 39 Grand Slam titles in singles, doubles and mixed doubles, formed the Women's Tennis Association in 1973. That year, the exhibition match she won against Bobby Riggs was dubbed "The Battle of the Sexes."
Players Venus Williams, Tatiana Golovin and Zheng Jie are also involved in the WTA/UNESCO program.
Women have fewer opportunities than men in sports and other fields in Qatar, which sent an all-male team to the Beijing Olympics this year.
King noted that Doha has hosted a WTA event since 2001, and WTA head Larry Scott said 2008 was the first year the season-ending championships for female tennis players was putting up the same prize money as the end-of-year championships for the men in Shanghai.
"The barriers have broken down pretty quickly, with Wimbledon and Roland Garros putting equal prize money on in 2007," Scott said. "And Doha said, 'we want to be the first championships to offer equal prize money for the women.' So I think that speaks volumes in itself."
The WTA also notes that Shahar Peer became the first Israeli to compete in a WTA Tour event in the Arabian Gulf when she played in the Qatar Open earlier this year.
"I think it's a huge step already bringing our competition here, because I don't think people have seen many competitions, women's competitions, in this country before," said Vera Zvonareva of Russia.


Muslim Women in Sport

The benefits derived from sport can not be denied. Not only do they have physical and social benefits, but also essential psychological consequences. Since sport is also a compulsory part of the curriculum in all schools, it is important to address the many Islamic conflicts that us sisters may face.
The Need for Sport
Men and women alike are in need of sport and exercise. Physical fitness is certainly encouraged, just as a balanced diet is endorsed, and harmful substances are prohibited. Exercise is also conducive to a more balanced emotional state, as it aids in the release of harmful free radicals and excess hormones. Mundane routines must also be broken otherwise it could affect a women's input into society, as well as her relationship with her husband and family.
The Sahaabah were aware of these issues, and would exhort others for the same. 'Ali bin Abi Talib (r.a.a) said: "Refresh your minds from time to time, for a tired mind becomes blind." Abu Darda` (r.a.a) also commented: "I entertain my heart with something trivial in order to make it stronger in the service of the Truth."
The Prophet (s.a.w) advised his followers to engage in many forms of sport, which even today are considered of the best form of exercise. The Prophet (s.a.w) himself would engage in wrestling, racing, archery and horse races.
While Aisha (r.a.a) was on a journey along with the Apostle of Allah (s.a.w), she had a race with him and outpaced him. As time passed, the Prophet (s.a.w) wished to avenge for his loss, so he raced her again, in which case he outpaced her, and remarked: "This is for that outpacing."
The Etiquette's of Sport
The restrictions on women participating in sport or physical activity is more than that of men. All Islamic observances must be followed, regardless of any school policies or social stigmas. Our obedience to our Creator cannot be given preference to a creature of Allah.
When participating in sports, the clothing must be Islamically acceptable. This would therefore exclude shorts, t-shirts, leotards, swimming costumes etc.
It is very important to ensure that there are no males watching. Mixing of sexes is forbidden in normal situations, except in special situations under certain conditions, let alone in a sporting arena or exercise facility. It also restricts your activities, and modesty would not allow this in any case.
In most female-only schools, there are always male teachers around. Hence wearing even body suits is not sufficient, therefore to remove yourself from this activity is the only solution. There are some female-only baths or swimming complexes, yet even this is not suitable for the purposes of Muslim women. The following tradition treats this point:
"Some women from Homs or from Sham (now the area of Damascus) came to 'A'ishah. She asked, 'Do you enter the public baths? I heard the Messenger of Allah saying that a woman who undresses anywhere else other than in her own house tears off the Satr (shelter) which lies between her and her Lord .' " [At-Tirmidhi and Abu Dawud]
It is not only a problem of Satr, but also revealing yourself to disbelievers, an important point which ssisters are ignoranor careless of. Permission for a Muslim woman to reveal her hair, arms etc. is permitted to her husband, father, mother and so on.
Non-Muslim women are excluded from this permission, because contact with them might easily lead to disastrous results. That is why the Khalif 'Umar wrote to Abu 'Ubaidah Ibn al-Jarrah, the Governor of Syria, to prohibit the Muslim women from going to the baths with the women of the Ahl al-Kitab (the People of the Book). [At-Tabari, Ibn Jazir]. According to Ibn 'Abbas "...a Muslim woman is not allowed to display herself before the women of the unbelievers and non-Muslim poll-tax payers (Ahl al-Dhimmah) any more than she can display herself before other men" [At-Tabari].
This distinction between women on grounds of character and religion is intended to safeguard Muslim women against the influence of women whose moral and cultural background is either not known or is objectionable from the Islamic point of view.
Although many women-only gyms have become popular, we have the same problem as with baths, that being in the presence of non-Muslim women. However, as long as loose clothing is worn along with proper head covering, this problem can be avoided.
Particularly in Western countries, this is an important form of popular exercise. Sisters must be careful to train only with other women, to maintain loose clothing and head cover, and not to attack at the head, as the Prophet (s.a.w) has forbidden us to hit on the face while training.
Watching Sport
Many sisters find themselves in situations where they will be watching sports on TV, at school carnivals, or going to matches. Stadiums are not advisable places for Muslims in general, because of the language, drinking and scenery. Allah has commanded the believing women to lower their gaze, and sport comes as no exception, especially with guys in shorts.
Other Points
Sports and exercise should be judged according to the level of modesty involved. Games such as netball played in a public arena is not befitting to the honour of a Muslimah. No compromises can be made in terms of clothing or mixing. Public showers at female schools is totally forbidden. Many sisters will also apply deodorants after a work-out. What must be kept in mind is the Prophet's warning on a fragrant perfumes: "The woman who perfumes herself and passes through a gathering is an adulteress." Some fragrant-free deodorants are available, otherwise apply enough so that the fragrance is not apparent.
A married woman must also have the permission of her husband beforehand, and must ensure that non of her duties as a wife are being sacrificed as a result of her activities.
To keep in line with today's excessive and unwarranted demands for women to have a "supermodel" physique, many sisters will exercise for this sole purpose, only adding more stress and anguish to themselves. Keep it as a fun activity, involve your husband with it and make it an intimate part of your marriage life. Keep in mind that over-exercising can result in unrepairable tissue damage, and will turn you off it. Bodily exhaustion is not called for, as Allah (s.w.t) tells us: "Allah burdens not a person beyond his scope." [2: 286] .
Source: http://www.ummah.net/islam/taqwapalace/fitness/exercise1.html

For Venus, it's tennis only in Middle East

DOHA, Qatar: While Venus Williams often promotes women's equality in sport, the Wimbledon champion said her trip this week to the conservative Muslim sheikdom of Qatar is all about winning matches.
Williams is in the Middle East for the $4.5 million Sony Ericsson Championships, the WTA Tour's season-ending event that features the top eight players.
"I think us players are really focused on the tennis more than anything else," Williams said. "I don't think anyone else is too focused on any other outside issue. We've been hosted very well, and that's pretty much it."
Two years ago, Williams volunteered to promote gender equality and women's empowerment as part of a program by the WTA and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Funds were provided for mentoring, scholarship and fellowship programs, and tennis great Billie Jean King lent her support.
Women have fewer opportunities than men in sports and other fields in Qatar, which sent an all-male team to the Beijing Olympic this year. Saudi Arabia did the same, but several Arab countries that formerly excluded women relented — including Oman, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates.
Williams, among the most vocal proponents of equal prize money in professional tennis, said Monday that the top players had not arrived in Qatar primarily to change perceptions about women.
"I think every country has their way of doing things. I don't think it's really our job to come here and tell everyone how to do things and to change mindsets," said Williams, who faces No. 2 Dinara Safina in round-robin play Tuesday. "We are here to play great tennis and to be a good role model and as women to be entertainment. Anything else might be a little bit beyond our reach and influence."
The younger Williams sister, Serena, is also a contender in Qatar. The U.S. Open champion said she had not met many women since her arrival.
"I can't sit here and comment on exactly the hardships of the female that happens in Qatar. I've heard some things I should say, rather, of females that happens in the Middle East," Serena said at a news conference.
The Williams sisters, who have 16 Grand Slam titles between them, are Jehovah's Witnesses and have said they are not allowed to vote because of their religion. Serena noted the prominent place of women in the race for the U.S. presidency, though she did not name Hillary Rodham Clinton or Sarah Palin.
"I have always been a supporter of the betterment of women in general," she said. "So I would like to just continue to see it grow around the globe. Where would we be without women?"

Venus focused on tennis

The Associated Press
November 4, 2008 at 10:05 AM EST
DOHA — While Venus Williams often promotes women's equality in sport, the Wimbledon champion said her trip this week to the conservative Muslim sheikdom of Qatar is all about winning matches.
Williams is in the Middle East for the $4.5-million (U.S.) Sony Ericsson Championships, the WTA Tour's season-ending event that features the top eight players.
“I think us players are really focused on the tennis more than anything else,” Williams said. “I don't think anyone else is too focused on any other outside issue. We've been hosted very well, and that's pretty much it.”
Two years ago, Williams volunteered to promote gender equality and women's empowerment as part of a program by the WTA and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Funds were provided for mentoring, scholarship and fellowship programs, and tennis great Billie Jean King lent her support.
Women have fewer opportunities than men in sports and other fields in Qatar, which sent an all-male team to the Beijing Olympic this year. Saudi Arabia did the same, but several Arab countries that formerly excluded women relented — including Oman, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates.
Williams, among the most vocal proponents of equal prize money in professional tennis, said Monday that the top players had not arrived in Qatar primarily to change perceptions about women.
“I think every country has their way of doing things. I don't think it's really our job to come here and tell everyone how to do things and to change mindsets,” said Williams, who faces No. 2 Dinara Safina in round-robin play Tuesday. “We are here to play great tennis and to be a good role model and as women to be entertainment. Anything else might be a little bit beyond our reach and influence.”
The younger Williams sister, Serena, is also a contender in Qatar. The U.S. Open champion said she had not met many women since her arrival.
“I can't sit here and comment on exactly the hardships of the female that happens in Qatar. I've heard some things I should say, rather, of females that happens in the Middle East,” Serena said at a news conference.
The Williams sisters, who have 16 Grand Slam titles between them, are Jehovah's Witnesses and have said they are not allowed to vote because of their religion. Serena noted the prominent place of women in the race for the U.S. presidency, though she did not name Hillary Rodham Clinton or Sarah Palin.
“I have always been a supporter of the betterment of women in general,” she said. “So I would like to just continue to see it grow around the globe. Where would we be without women?”


Beach Volleyball in Iran?

How do conservative countries handle scantily clad Olympic athletes?
By Kara Hadge
Posted Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008, at http://www.slate.com/id/2198221/
Yesterday in Beijing, Roqaya al-Gassra of Bahrain won her heat in the second round of the women's 200-meter dash while wearing long pants, long sleeves, and a head covering, in keeping with her practice of Islam. Many female Olympians wear athletic clothing that does not cover their bodies; are their events broadcast in conservative countries?

Yes, for the most part. Regional and foreign networks are broadcasting the Games, including Al Jazeera, the BBC, and Al Arabiya, as well as local channels. The foreign broadcasters are not altering their content to reflect local customs, but certain countries with legal dress codes for women might be censoring footage on state-operated channels. (Only a small proportion of the Muslim countries where women tend to dress modestly have compulsory dress codes; in Bahrain, for example, women are allowed to wear whatever they want.)

Government-owned television networks in Saudi Arabia and Iran will show women who are not wearing the hijab as long as they are not too scantily clad. In Iran, shorts seem to be OK, but swimsuits and leotards are out. (That means no swimming, gymnastics, or beach volleyball.) Events in which the athletes' bodies are mostly covered—such as horseback riding and judo—are always acceptable. (The networks are also likely to be covering the three events in which Iranian women are competing: rowing, tae kwan do, and archery.) In Saudi Arabia, most people watch Olympics coverage on satellite TV, which is fully legal and carries no government restrictions.

International: "Foul Ball: Muslim Women Banned from Sports Participation"

Rochelle Terman
14/08/2008: In this essay, Rochelle Terman considers the role of Muslim women in sports on the global scene, especially in light of the current Olympic Games. (WLUML Networkers) "Mehboba Ahdyar, a 19-year-old sprinter from Kabul, has been an inspiration and role model to many Muslim women with a passion for sports. As the only woman representing her team from Afghanistan in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, Ahdyar was considered by many to be the poster-child for everything the Olympics stood for. Not only did she symbolize the hope and resurgence of a country devastated by war, but her presence was meant to demonstrate a new, post-Taliban gender equality. But just three weeks before the Games, Mehboba Ahdyar fled from an Italian training camp, giving up her dream to compete in Beijing to apply for asylum in Europe. She said she was too scared of reprisals from those disapproving of her sports career, and feared for her life.
With all strides that women, and Muslim women in particular, have made in the sports world in recent years, female athletes from Muslim countries are still vastly underrepresented at the Olympic games and other elite sports competitions.
This is not due to lack of interest. Indeed, sports play an important role in the lives of many women in Muslim countries, from rowing and football in Iran, to sprinting in Bahrain, and basketball in Saudi Arabia.
Unfortunately, few women are able to take their passion for sports to the elite level due to legal prohibitions, social stigmas, or limited opportunity. For some countries, even watching live competitive sports is forbidden for women.
The number of all-male Olympic teams has decreased sharply in recent years, from 35 in the 1992 Games in Barcelona, to five in Athens in 2004. Still, women’s participation from many Muslim countries is dismal. The United Arab Emirates and Oman are sending their first women to the Games this year, with just one competitor each. Pakistan and Bahrain are both sending only two women. Iran is sending three female athletes in rowing, archery, and tae kwon do—sports deemed acceptable by government authorities for women’s participation.
Brunei and Saudi Arabia will not be sending any women, barring women’s sports for “cultural and religious reasons.” Qatar and Kuwait, while not legally banning women’s sports, are also not sending any women to Beijing.
Even in the absence of legal bans, women competitors from Muslim countries still have to deal with social stigmas surrounding female athletics in their home countries. There is perhaps no better testament to this than Mehboba Ahdyar. Although Ahdyar always ran in a headscarf and wore long tracksuit bottoms, she still received death threats from extremists who found Muslim women’s participation in sports deplorable. Her neighbors even called the police when Ahdyar received visits from Western media earlier this year, telling them she was obviously a prostitute working for foreign clients. Her father, a carpenter, spent time in jail until the issue was cleared up.
Muslim countries that bar women’s participation in all or some sports do so for various reasons, but almost all are based in cultural and religious arguments deeming what is acceptable for women’s bodies.
Saudi Arabia, one of only two countries legally banning women’s participation in the Olympic Games, has drawn heavily criticism for its discriminatory policies against women’s athletics. Three years ago, the Ministry of Education rejected proposals to introduce physical education for girls in the school system. Women cannot join gyms unless they cater specifically for them, which are few and far between. Women are also banned from sports stadiums to cheer on their favorite teams.
Attempts by Islamic scholars to invoke religion as a reason for banning women’s participation in sports are complicated by the fact that many Muslim countries do permit female athletes, with various degrees of restrictions on dress codes and which events are open to women. Indeed, not all Muslim countries lack female participation in competitive athletics. Women from Tunisia, for example, are well represented this year at the Olympic Games, competing in track-and-field, canoeing, fencing, judo, table tennis, tennis, tae kwon do and wrestling. Indonesia has sent 161 men and 68 women to 12 summer Games. Morocco, too, deserves praise for sending 11 women out of their 38-member delegation.
Furthermore, many doubt the religious basis for not allowing women to compete in athletics, pointing to the example of the Prophet Mohammad. In one hadith (saying or tradition) narrated by Abu Dawood, the Prophet runs a race with his wife, Aisha, and lost. Some years later they had a rematch, and the Prophet Mohammad won.
Even some conservative Muslim leaders advocate women’s participation in sports. Faezeh Hashemi, daughter of former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani, is a strong proponent of women’s sports in her home country of Iran. As a result of her efforts, the first Islamic Women’s Olympics were launched in 1993 and have been held in Iran on a regular basis ever since. She also promoted women’s sports leagues and the building of more sports and fitness centers in Iran. Women can still only pursue sports in the absence of men or when wearing hejab (head covering), or other forms of dress deemed to be Muslim.
Women’s prohibition from the sports world applies not only to participation in athletics; even watching sports is considered by some ultra-conservatives to be off-limits for women. In Iran, for instance, women are not allowed to attend football matches held at public stadiums. Although President Ahmadinejad supports the opening of public stadiums to female fans, members of the clergy who support the ban say it violates Islamic law for a woman to look at the body of any male strangers, including football players. Others say women are banned for their protection, arguing that the foul language and rowdy behavior of male fans in the stadiums are inappropriate for a woman’s presence. Finally, the ‘lack of security for women in sports arenas’ is a common excuse for such gender segregation.
This segregation, however, is plagued with contradictions. For instance, even though women can watch football broadcasts on Iranian television, and can often attend men’s basketball or volleyball matches, the football stadium is kept off limits. Furthermore, this ban, which is not codified in any law, includes only Iranian women. Foreign women who travel to Iran to attend matches are allowed to cheer on their team inside the stadium, demonstrating a double standard enforced by Iranian officials. Finally, regardless of their participation during the actual match, women are always present in the rowdy street celebrations that often follow big wins.
Young women in Iran take this issue seriously as an abuse of their rights, and have formed the Women’s Access to Public Stadiums Campaign to advocate a change in policy. The issue has moved beyond sports, which it uses as an entry point to discuss women’s rights and their access and participation in the public sphere.
Indeed, sports have never been immune to politics, and countries may be banned from the Olympic Games due to domestic discrimination. The International Olympic Committee banned South Africa in the 1960s over apartheid policies; the country returned to the event in Barcelona in 1992. But no country has ever been banned for gender discrimination, even if it means women are blocked from any kind of athletic participation, from elite sports to primary physical education to stadium access.
In March 2008, 600 participants of the fourth International Olympic Committee conference on women and sports endorsed the Dead Sea Plan of Action, calling for gender equality in national teams. Unless this Plan of Action is enforced, the spirit of Olympic Games will be tarnished by hypocrisy. Muslim women deserve to participate in sports, whether that means playing soccer games after school, attending their local stadium, or earning a gold medal in their event of choice at the Olympic Games."
From: http://www.wluml.org/english/newsfulltxt.shtml?cmd%5B157%5D=x-157-562277

Islam’s View on Physical Activity and Sport: Egyptian Women Interpreting Islam

Kristin Walseth: kristin.walseth@nih.no
Kari Fasting: The Norwegian University of Sport and Physical Education, Norway.

The questions asked in this study were: what kind of views do Egyptian women have on the relationship between Islam and physical activity/sport, and what consequences do different interpretations of Islam have for Egyptian women’s involvement in physical activity and sport? The data were gathered during a four-month field-study in Egypt, and consist of 27 qualitative interviews in addition to many hours of field-observation. The results show that the women in the study agreed that Islam encourages sport participation for women. The women who most strongly emphasized the fact that they had to participate in some sporting activities were supporters of the fundamentalistic interpretation of Islam. Some Muslim women therefore find a non-secular relationship between sport and religion. The study further revealed that the different interpretations of Islam had consequences for the informants’ participation in sport. These were related to the use of the veil, gender segregation, the concept of ‘excitement’ (non-sexual movements) and the power relationship between women and men. Most of these barriers seem to be products of Muslim society’s view of women and their sexuality. The data further support the opinion that power strategies get internalized into people’s bodily practice.

Christian, Muslim youth compete in peace

Marc Anthony Reyes
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—The instruction was to say the name of your teammate before dishing out a pass to him.
That way, Rahib Pananggulon, 12, of Datu Piang could establish eye contact and open a line of communication with Melfred Dumapig, 15, of Pagangan, Aleosan, while playing basketball.
Later, the coach helped them break down plays while a guidance counselor processed the day’s activities and correlated them to their respective lives as a Muslim and a Christian youth.
Trust your brother to take possession of the ball and maybe, just maybe, it would spark a flicker of teamwork in one part of Mindanao.
That was clearly the aim of a five-day sports camp for some 300 Muslim and Christian children displaced by the conflict between government forces and rogue MILF elements in central Mindanao.
The kids converged on Notre Dame Midsayap College to learn the basics of basketball, softball and volleyball. At the same time, guidance counselors helped them deal with the trauma of life in a war zone.
“It was very challenging and touching for us because these children were victims of war,” said principal Melania Lapinid.
“Because of sports, they became closer to one another,” said Fr. Pete Lamata.
Lamata and Lapinid helped the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) conduct the Mindanao Sports for Peace project that ran from Oct. 16 to 20.
Uniforms, shoes and sports equipment were provided each of the participants who were screened from 12,000 children in evacuation centers in Pikit, Datu Piang, Aleosan and Kabuntalan towns.
“These were not ordinary kids,” said Philippine Center for Sports Medicine psychologist Karen Trinidad. “These were kids who were exposed to violence, they needed intervention to help them cope with what they were experiencing.”
Friends from other tribes
In the counseling, the kids were not asked to talk about their experiences of losing their families and homes to the war. The counselors gave them time to fully comprehend their plight, said Trinidad.
The ravages of war are hard enough for adults to digest, what more for these adolescent minds, she said.
“We’re very happy, sir, we learned a sport and the trauma we experienced seemed to go away. We also made friends from other tribes,” said Dumapig in Filipino.
Balls not bullets
About 60 percent of the participants were Muslim, according to PSC chair Butch Ramirez who handled the basketball clinic.
“I thought all Christians were the enemies of Muslims, because I’m Muslim. It’s not so. Some people are just mistaken,” said Pananggulon, also in Filipino.
The clinics were held in the first three days, while tournaments were held at the end. Ramirez said the teams in all the three sports were formed in such a way that Muslims and Christians played together.
He brought a 15-man team from the PSC’s Manila office to conduct the project which had for its theme “Bola hindi Bala” (Balls not Bullets).
Land disputes, poverty
“When you think about it, it’s not religion that caused the war. It’s land disputes and poverty. In our own small way, we want to help make it a better place for these children,” said Ramirez, who hails from Davao.
Some of kids, he said, wrapped their shoes in plastic after each clinic. For many of them, it was their first pair of shoes, he said.
The hard part, Trinidad said, came when it was time to part ways.
“We knew where they were going after the clinic was over, which was back to the evacuation centers,” said Trinidad,
“That’s why when the trucks came to pick them up, some of them were clutching at our sleeves because they wanted to stay,” she said.
Copyright: http://www.inquirer.net/specialfeatures/mindanaopeaceprocess/view.php?db=1&article=20081103-169921


Muslim Women in Sports: Lida Fariman and Manije Kazemi, of Iran - A Question of Clothing

Lida Fariman competed in the Olympics (1992, 1996) as a shooter, but wore the traditional Islamic robe and hijab (head-cover). In the Australian Olympics (2000), Manije Kazemi also competed while wearing traditional Iranian clothing. But for other Muslim women, competition has been more difficult. Hassiba Boulmerka of Algeria won the gold medal in the 1,500 meters race at the Barcelona Games of 1996, competing in a standard runner's outfit. Her victory caused a Muslim preacher in Algeria to denounce (criticize, condemn) those who "dare display (show off) their nudity before the whole world." Death threats followed. Boulmerka became an outcast, afraid to return to her own country.
The dress required for women athletes "is a serious matter and we as Muslim countries and even non-Muslim countries must put emphasis on Muslim ladies in sport," said Hashemi, daughter of a former Iranian president and who is now vice president of Iran's national Olympic committee. She noted that several Muslim nations had no women athletes on their teams at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and 1996 Atlanta Games. She recommended that the IOC (International Olympic Committee) change the dress codes to allow more Muslim women to compete with more covering on their bodies. "Muslim women are ignored because of their moralities as stated in their religion. There are 500 million Muslim women in the world, one-fourth of the world's female population, who cannot do sport in the existing conditions. What is the problem with having competitions in accordance with our conditions?" (Quoted in Coolrunning. Also see Win Magazine, "Veiled Jocks")

Iranian women's Olympic teams have been selected for canoeing, shooting, and table tennis. These are all the competitions where women are permitted to wear uniforms that match the Islamic dress code. Should Muslim women be excluded from sports if they refuse to wear modern sports clothes? Should there be separate competitions for women which men may not observe? These are some of the questions that face Muslim women from conservative countries, such as Arabia, Algeria, Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Like most Muslim women from Iran, Lida Fariman prays five times a day and keeps her head and body covered with a hood and a long dress wherever she goes, even to the Olympic shooting range.

Source: http://www.sfusd.edu/schwww/sch618/Sports/Sports5.html


Growing the game in the world's most populous Muslim country - An interview with Chris Bandy

Chris Bandy has been in the job as Head of Australian Football Development in Indonesia for a year, after an Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development grant allowed for the introduction of Australian Football into Indonesian Schools.
The initial results have been highly encouraging, and it is expected that a fully-functional junior competition will be set up in Jakarta next year. WFN recently interviewed Chris on his adventures in what is a challenging, but most interesting and rewarding environment.
WFN: Well Chris, what is you footy background and how did you get into this?
I am from Perth and have played football since I was six years old. I started with the Scarborough junior football club and moved on to the Marist junior football club where I finished my junior career. After that I moved to Claremont football club in the WAFL, played Colts for three years and seniors for two.
As one of those strange serendipitous things in life, through my university studies, I had to take a year off from football to participate in a student exchange program in Yogyakarta, Indonesia where I studied at an Indonesian university and taught English for a year.
It was during that time that the then coach of the Bintangs, Matt Stephens, contacted me to come and play with the team in Jakarta. From that moment I was a Bintang and was lucky enough to participate in the 2005 Asian Championships in Manila and that is still one of my fondest football memories.
Until you play football in Asia, and participate in an Asian Championships you really don’t appreciate the extent of the game here, and the passion possessed by the participants.
The Bintangs had previously had some reasonably successful, though piecemeal development programmes, and were looking to put a more formal programme in place. Whilst I was interested in this I had to return home and finish my university degree. The Bintangs hadn’t given up however, and when a role with the Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development (AYAD) came up and the Bintangs nominated me as their preferred candidate, I accepted and here I am.
WFN: The Australia Indonesia Institute, Bintangs link, how did that come about?
Given that the largest Australian Embassy outside of Australia is based in Jakarta, there is no shortage of diplomats and aid workers that either play with or are associated with the football club. A proposal was developed by the Bintangs to the Australia Indonesia Institute (AII) for a grant to develop the game in Indonesian schools.
Whilst the full proposal was not approved the AII did accept a lesser proposal which included a grant and supported the club’s application for a full-time youth ambassador from Australia through the AYAD program.
WFN: What’s been done so far, where are we today?
The first thing we did, we were able to get on-side three Indonesian development coaches, Boy, Ardy and Rian, and with the help on these native Indonesians we have entered and conducted clinics in nearly 50 schools and had almost 6000 kids, boys and girls, exposed to the game. From this we have obtained a core group of between 200-300 children who regularly come to training at various grounds we’ve hired in the greater Jakarta area. Signs are promising for the establishment of a fully functioning schools based league by the end of next year.
Aside from the Indonesian component and Indonesian schools which comprises 90% of the work we undertake, we’ve also been involved in coaching an under 16 team from the British International School who play under the moniker of the ANZ Jakarta Bulldogs.
They recently travelled to Singapore with the senior team, where they won the inaugural Asian Under 16 Championships. Comprising players from England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Indonesia, Finland and of course Australia, this is yet another way of expanding our game globally.
The only issue with these lads is they have do not have enough competition. Their enthusiasm is tremendous, they just need to be able to play more often and that is going to be one of our challenges.
We’re in the process of putting a new proposal to AII and it is hoped that we may be able to secure more funding from them for another year.
WFN:- I can imagine the challenges going into the Indonesian school system. How have you managed to penetrate that?
On the one hand Indonesian kids, boys and girls are screaming out for the opportunity to play sports. I believe sports and physical culture comes naturally to all kids on the planet. So getting kids interested is the least difficult part. The biggest challenge is the language barrier, however, due to my own extensive time in country and with the help of three full-time Indonesian Football Development Officers, this hasn’t been a major issue for us.
Moving forward, we will need to look at getting training material, videos, booklets etc printed or dubbed in Bahasa Indonesia, and that is one area for potential sponsorship.
Having said that, development of a junior competition isn’t difficult from a participation perspective, it is however from a monetary one as the majority of these kids are from poor socio-economic backgrounds and as a result there is a real opportunity for sponsorship, which given the way these kids take to the game, and the fact that they are the nation’s future, I am sure will be repaid in full many times over.
WFN: What about Auskick?
Auskick is a great thing but is more geared to the younger kids. Auskick has been taking place for over two years here with ex-pat kids but due to the transient nature of the ex-pat family, numbers have fluctuated. We’re hoping by next year with an increased emphasis on junior development, the next footy season produces a lot more national and foreign kids, enjoying Auskick and learning the game.
After our recent grand final function there was a lot of interest and it is hoped this transfers into solid participation for the club. Again this represents a great sponsorship opportunity.
WFN: And has it been fun? Where do you see it going?
For me, the greatest challenge and the greatest satisfaction has been getting something going from scratch I’ve had great support from the Bintangs and AII and without that we’d struggle to maintain any sort of programme. We are pleased with the success so far, but see it as a launching pad for a programme that I feel will not only be highly successful and beneficial in Indonesia but will also see our game grow internationally.
All we need is a chance to make this happen. We have the infrastructure in place, the people are willing and the programme will be pursued. Some committed sponsorship would definitely assist, and of course we would like to get both credibility and support from the AFL. Whilst I recognise the AFL is focused on getting things going in South Africa as a priority, let’s face it, Indonesia has a bigger population and is right on our doorstep.
My personal feelings at this point are ones of accomplishment but also anticipation for the future. If we maintain a positive mindset and realise the potential of this untapped market the future is unlimited
WFN: Within South East Asia the Bintangs have always been at the forefront of youth development. Most of the other countries are now starting Auskick and Junior programmes. What advice would you give them?
My advice is to have a crack. If you don’t give it a go you’ll never know what could’ve been. At least if you fail trying something you can’t die wondering. If you think there is even remote interest in a junior program, put out some feelers because I dare say there are plenty of blokes like me who’d jump at the chance to do what I do. Our vision is to use Australian football to promote health and fitness, self-esteem and give children the opportunity to play our great game and learn more about our culture.
Sport is a great leveller and there are no such things as class, poverty, social hierarchy etc and as a result, everyone is equal whether you’re from an international school or a poor third world country. It is what I love about our game, anyone can achieve greatness no matter your background. We’re just trying to give these kids a chance to experience a sport a lot of us grow up taking for granted.
WFN: Thank you very much, Chris and we will follow developments in Indonesia with interest. Hopefully, the other established clubs in Asia will pick up the cudgel and it won't be long before we will see international carnivals for Auskick and junior football playing a major role in the Asian Football Calendar.