Donning a Headscarf in the Cockpit

By Fatma Sagir
Iranian race car driver Laleh Seddigh (photo: Fatma Sagir)
"I love speed," says Iranian race car driver Laleh Seddigh.
Northern Tehran is currently experiencing a culture shock. Those expecting to see women in chadors and men with heavy beards will be taken aback. American 1950s-style clothing and neo-punk are the dominant fashion among young Iranians. Elvis has seen a revival here.
And the women? They are swimming in a sea of Gucci, Chanel and Prada. Tight, wrap-around clothes, tube jeans and the obligatory headscarf. And underneath it: loads of hairspray.As we wait in the midst of this part of the city, honking taxis are speeding by, people rushing by, policemen and the morality police are on the lookout for breaches of the dress code and conduct rules. A silver Mercedes of the latest model and with dark windows arrives out of the chaos and drives toward us. A door opens. We look inside. Yes, there she is: Laleh Seddigh, Iran's biggest female star in race car driving. She smiles and asks us to have a seat. We speed by the ugly, gray-brown buildings on all sides. We keep going. We eventually arrive at what used to be an old sawmill site, now a racing stable with a new test track. The 30-year-old racer slips into her overalls.
Clothing as a critique 
For the past eight years, this has been her professional garb. Laleh, which means "tulip," is from a sport-loving family. Two of her three siblings are also active sportswomen. And she herself already has a career in horse jumping behind her. "I love speed," she says. Her expression is defiant. "We are Muslims and yet we can still love the life we're living," she says.If you want to understand the discrepancy between the state and its people, you need only look around on the large public squares in northern Tehran.Clothes, even those of the men, are subject to constant scrutiny because they potentially question the system. They represent an individual's most personal outward attribute. Iranians mostly feel humiliated by the many rules and constant social control. Mothers with baby carriages are stopped and told that their coat is too short or their headscarf improper. After the revolution, Iranian women sought to distance themselves from the Western image of women by wearing Islamic dress. But today they are making a statement against Islamic prescriptions for women that are still being held up three decades after the revolution. Dress is their form of protest.Sometimes just looking fashionable is a statement in and of itself. Women are brazenly playing a game of testing the boundaries. One day it's a brightly colored headscarf pushed far back on the head, the next it's bright nail polish, then open sandals.
"Freedom, you know?"
These small freedoms should not be over-interpreted. For Iranians, this is part of daily life. Many in the West understand these signs as the victory of the Western lifestyle. Not so, say Iranian women: "It's not about the superiority of the West. We are Iranians and we want to be free to choose our own path and how we dress," a woman tells us. "Freedom, you know?"Laleh Seddigh knows. She fought hard for a fatwa that allows her and other women to participate in sports together with men. Previously women had been excluded from car racing on the grounds that they represented a security risk.Today she is the unrivaled star of Iranian race car driving. She recently signed an advertising contract with the largest automobile manufacturer in Iran, Saipa. And soon she will be training the junior class of women drivers.Laleh is vivacious and friendly, she laughs a lot. As she shows us a short film made by an Italian television crew, she is clearly amused. A funny and very telling scene demonstrates the reactions she often calls forth in public:We see Laleh in the holy city of Mashad, in the middle of the desert in eastern Iran. She is standing in the foreground dressed in a tight-fitting light blue coat; behind her is a large sacred monument in honor of the Shiite Imam Reza. Pilgrims are streaming by her. Women in long black chadors stop in their tracks and stare at her with awe and suspicion.While Laleh tells the camera that she enjoys playing the piano, painting and horseback riding, a man stumbles because he can't keep from staring at her. Laleh continues her monologue unperturbed.
Beauty and dynamism in Iran?Then she shows us a film in which she takes over the camera herself. As she moves through the racing stable, drivers are standing around, it is raining, cars are being checked, we hear her laughing and cheerfully bombarding her colleagues with questions. Their reaction is as if they had just met up with their parents in a disco. Clearly the situation is uncomfortable for them, yet they remain polite.We ask Laleh if she is aware that her lifestyle is unusual even by Western standards. She admits that in the United States people were astounded by her, too. "But this is my life, this is everyday life for me." Is she aware that Iran is never associated with beauty and dynamism, and that people think the veil is women's biggest problem?She only laughs. "Women have it hard all over the world," she says, "perhaps here in Iran it's even harder." But because of this she believes Iranian women do not throw in their hands. They are braver than elsewhere; they take on the struggle, but in their own way, sometimes with Gucci and sometimes with a race car.


Iranian photographer and women’s soccer rights activist disappears in Tehran

Maryam Majd, a photojournalist and women's rights activist, campaigns for female football fans to be allowed to watch matches in stadiums. (File Photo)
An Iranian photographer and activist for women’s soccer rights has disappeared as the Islamic republic battles world soccer body FIFA for its own interpretation of the rights of women in the beautiful game.
Maryam Majd, 25, is believed to have been detained by Iranian security officials as she was boarding a flight from Tehran to Düsseldorf to cover world soccer body FIFA’s Women’s World Cup.
Petra Landers, a former German national soccer player had invited Ms. Majid to visit Germany to collaborate in writing a book on women’s sport. Mr. Landers told The Guardian he had not heard from Ms. Majid since Friday when she was scheduled to arrive in Düsseldorf.
“I waited for hours in the airport but eventually found that she was not on the plane at the first place,” Mr. Landers said. “The last time I talked to her she was in the airport in Tehran waiting to board the plane and I have not been able to contact her nor her family since then.”A sports photographer who focused on female athletes, Ms. Majid often ran afoul of authorities in Iran, whose state media boycotted her work.Iranian exiles believe Ms. Majid is being held in Iran without explanation or disclosure of where she is being detained. “We are almost sure that she has been arrested but the question is why authorities in Iran refuse to give any information about her after five days since her disappearance,” said London-based Iranian women activist Shadi Sadr.Ms. Majid is a campaigner for the right of women to attend soccer matches in stadiums. Iran extended the ban on women in stadiums earlier this year by also barring women from watching matches on screens in public places.Iranian spiritual leader stymied attempts by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to lift the ban in 2006 after women dressed up as men and smuggled their way into stadiums.“Maryam is one of the very few women sports photographers in Iran and because she is a woman, she has exclusive access to women’s sports and had been able to attract lots of attention towards sportswomen in the country,” Ms. Sadr said.The detention of Ms. Majid casts a shadow over Iran’s battle with FIFA over the right of women players to wear Islamic headdress during matches.The captain of Iran’s women’s team defended this week the right of players to wear the hijab, an Islamic headdress that covers the hair, neck and ears. Her team was disqualified earlier this month for qualifiers for the 2012 Olympics in London because it appeared wearing hijabs for a match against Jordan. Three Jordanian players were also banned for the same reason. Iran was disqualified after FIFA cancelled the match and awarded it to Jordan because of the wearing of the hijab.The wearing of the hijab violated an agreement concluded in 2007 between Iran and FIFA under which religious women players were allowed to wear a specially designed cap that covered the hair only. FIFA insists the agreement was a concession on its banning of all expressions of religious or political beliefs on the soccer pitch. Iran has warned that the ban will effect not only Iranian female players but women players across the Muslim world.The captain of the Iranian women’s football team, Niloofar Ardalan, defended the wearing of the hijab in an interview with The Tehran Times.“We are proud of our hijab. The Iranian women players will never agree to play without Islamic dress code. For the Olympic qualifier against Jordan, we took part in the six-month training camp, but we were prevented from the match,” Ms. Ardalan said. “This is not the first time that Iranian women’s football team has been in trouble. Last year, just two hours before our flight to Berlin, we were informed that we were not allowed to play against the German team, while we were fully prepared for the warm-up match,” she said.“Iran has so many talented players and it’s a great pity we cannot play in the international competitions. To play with hijab is hard, but we used to play with this situation. FIFA should allow the Muslim women to play, since they have the right to show their potential like the other women,” Ms. Ardalan added. Her words were echoed by midfielder Fereshteh Karimi. “To play in the World Cup is my greatest dream, but FIFA officials broke our hearts after they didn’t let us play with hijab. Hopefully, they will allow us to play with Islamic dress, just as we took part in the 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore,” Ms. Karimi said. 
(James M. Dorsey, formerly of The Wall Street Journal, is a senior researcher at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer. He can be reached via email at: questfze@gmail.com)

First Annual Muslim Women’s Sport Day

American Muslim women’s participation in sports has recently experienced a rise in media visibility. Whether it is ESPN’s feature on W. Deen Muhammad High School’s outstanding girls’ basketball team, the Lady Caliphs, or the recently publicized struggle of competitive weightlifter, Kulsoom Abdullah, to compete in modest Islamic gear, Atlanta seems to be an emergent hot spot for displaying Muslim women’s athleticism. Away from the cameras and competition, though, in the bustling huddle of our work-a-day communities, there are plenty of “weekend wajida’s” ready to play, too.

Earlier this month the Ahmadiyaa Muslim community in North Metro Atlanta hosted their First Annual Muslim Women’s Sports Day. Having secured a private gym in a local YMCA, the organizers invited Muslim and non-Muslim women from all over the Atlanta area. Here in our secluded area of the facility hijabs and burqas were exchanged for tee shirts, tennis shoes, jogging pants, stopwatches, and whistles. By the time I arrived, there were bouncy chattering pre-teens, confident teenagers (who appeared to be fresh from some other sports team practice), and adult women of all shapes, ages, and ethnic backgrounds preparing to participate.

For World Cup Host Germany, Diversity Is the Goal

Fatmire Bajramaj and her family fled to Germany from Kosovo as Yugoslavia broke apart in conflict in the early 1990s. She began playing soccer as a 6-year-old without her father’s knowledge or permission.
At first, she played at recess and after school with her older brother. Secretly, she joined a club team, using equipment lent by her brother and cleats borrowed from a teammate that she returned after each practice and game.
“My father wanted me to be a singer or an actress,” Bajramaj, who is known as Lira, said in a recent telephone interview, speaking through an interpreter. “He told me that football was for men, not for women.”
Yet today, at 23, Bajramaj (pronounced BUY-rah-mye) is a star midfielder on the German women’s national team, the lone Muslim player on a squad that is seeking its third consecutive World Cup title, beginning with Sunday’s opening match against Canada before a crowd of 70,000-plus at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium. The 16-team tournament, which features the United States and Brazil as the expected top challengers, will end July 17 in Frankfurt.
German soccer officials hope the World Cup will provide a marketing boon for the women’s game and will also enhance their efforts to promote the country’s national sport as a means of social integration. In Germany, a third of all children are born to immigrant families, andthe issue of assimilation — or the lack thereof — has become an urgent political concern.
Building on the success of the 2006 men’s World Cup in Germany, German soccer officials said the sport’s national federation had spent more than $27 million on a project to encourage integration. The program includes the building of 1,000 small fields, developing a joint arrangement between soccer clubs and 17,000 chosen schools and devising an ambassador campaign featuring star German players like Bajramaj and Mesut Özil, a midfielder of Turkish descent on the men’s team.
A parallel program started by a university professor, called Football Without Offsides, encourages girls, most from Turkish, Arabic and Eastern European backgrounds, to play soccer at school at ages 9, 10 and 11 — sometimes with their mothers playing alongside them.
Theo Zwanziger, the president of the German soccer federation, is fond of saying, “It does not bother the ball who hits it.”
Heike Ullrich, the head of women’s soccer in the German federation, said this means: “Football is for everybody, man, woman, black, white, green, all races, all religions. Everyone should have a chance to come in contact with the ball. It unites people.”
When the Bajramaj family arrived in Germany from Kosovo in 1993 and settled in a refugee center, Lira was 5. She said she felt resentment from some locals as she went to and from kindergarten, hearing taunts like “gypsies” and “go back where you came from.” At 6, she joined a soccer club in Giesenkirchen, and later played in nearby Mönchengladbach.
“I was the only girl,” Bajramaj said. “At first, the boys didn’t accept me. When they saw I could play football, they decided to play with me. Then they were fighting about which team I should play with.”
Two years after she began playing, Bajramaj said, her father, Ismet, attended a match to watch her older brother, Fatos, and by accident learned that his daughter had also taken up soccer. His response was surprise and acceptance, she said, not disapproval.
“He told me I was very good,” she said. “Now he is my biggest supporter.”
In 2007, Bajramaj came on as a late substitute as Germany won the Women’s World Cup final over Brazil. A year later, she scored both of Germany’s goals in a victory over Japan for the bronze medal at the Beijing Olympics. In 2010, her club team, Turbine Potsdam, won the inaugural European women’s Champions League title.
“Playing football is what helped me integrate,” Bajramaj said. “First, the language. And later I learned a lot about the culture and the cities. In Germany, I am welcome because I play football. And Muslims can see that even though I’m in football, I’m very religious.”
In addition to Bajramaj, three other players on Germany’s Women’s World Cup team have immigrant roots from Cameroon, Italy and Romania. Germany also has about 30 female players from immigrant backgrounds on its youth national teams, soccer officials said. A handful of Muslim women also play in Germany’s professional league, Bajramaj said. Still, cultural and religious barriers exist.
Many Muslim families do not want their daughters playing in shorts, with their arms and legs and heads uncovered. Yet, at the elite level, head scarves that also cover the neck are prohibited by FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, for reasons of player safety. The governing body also bans the expression of religious beliefs on uniforms.
Three years ago, a German girl was given a red-card expulsion from a youth match for wearing a head scarf, said Ulf Gebken, the founder of Football Without Offsides and a specialist in sport and social integration at Carl von Ossietzky University in Oldenburg, Germany.
The German soccer federation was petitioned, and it amended its rules to allow head coverings for lower-level leagues, Gebken said. Ullrich, the head of women’s soccer in the federation, said: “When we get this question, I say to people, ‘Just let them play.’ If it’s not the highest league, it’s not a problem.”
Football Without Offsides has expanded to about 300 schools and 80 club teams in 120 German cities, Gebken said. A key element of the program is inviting young girls from immigrant families to play at school with their mothers — outside the presence of boys.
“We’re not going to solve all the problems,” Gebken said. “But when we make tournaments of daughters and mothers, the mothers are very happy their daughters are playing football. Then we have a chance. If a girl is a very good swimmer or runner, hardly anyone notices. But if the girl is good in football, the family is proud. The girls will come out and play, and there is the chance for integration and emancipation.”
So far, five Muslim women in their late teens and early 20s have become referees, Gebken said. What is needed, he said, are many more female coaches. Half of the club teams in his program still have male coaches.
As of now, most German girls from immigrant families wear the jerseys of their favorite players on the men’s national team, not the women’s team, Gebken said. Players like Özil and Sami Khedira, a midfielder with a Tunisian father. At the 2010 men’s World Cup in South Africa, 11 of Germany’s 23 players came from immigrant backgrounds and the team was widely celebrated for its multiculturalism.
“Last summer, many Turkish people were proud,” Gebken said. “If Lira Bajramaj is a star in this World Cup, a lot of people will look at her. This is very good marketing for women’s football. Will it help integration? We will see. Maybe girls will start wearing the jerseys of the women’s players in Germany.”


Rollerblading Championships in Iran

Iranian female rollerbladers start their competition, during women's rollerblading championship league, at the Azadi (Freedom) sport complex, in Tehran, Iran, Thursday, June 30, 2011. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
Iranian female rollerbladers start their competition, during women's rollerblading championship league, at the Azadi (Freedom) sport complex, in Tehran, Iran, Thursday, June 30, 2011. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

CORRECTS THAT TEAMMATE WAS NOT INJURED IN ACCIDENT  Iranian female rollerbladers help their teammate after she fell ill during the women's rollerblading championship league, at the Azadi (Freedom) sport complex, in Tehran, Iran, Thursday, June 30, 2011.
 Iranian female rollerbladers help their teammate after she fell ill during the women's rollerblading championship league

Turkey swamp France, ascends finals in EuroBasket championship

Turkish women qualified to final in the 33rd FIBA European Basketball Championship under way in Poland on Friday, by beating last year’s champion France.

The Turks earned the ticket to the finals of the competition during a semi-final match with France, which they beat by 68-62 in overtime.
This is the first time Turkish women's basketball team qualifies to the final. Turkey will take on Russia on Sunday to crown its championship. The final game will begin at 9:30 p.m. Turkish local time.
Turkish President Abdullah Gül send a congratulatory letter to Basketball Federation President Turgay Demirel and said he is sure that Turkish women will bring the championship to Russia.

Weightlifting body changes dress code, benefits Muslim woman

By the CNN Wire Staff

Atlanta (CNN) -- The International Weightlifting Federation has modified its rules and will allow athletes to wear a full-body, tight-fitted unitard during competition, the group said.
Wednesday's rule change was prompted by an Atlanta woman, who wanted to take part in competitions governed by IWF rules but still adhere to the modest dress of her Muslim faith.
"Weightlifting is an Olympic Sport open for all athletes to participate without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, age, or national origin in accordance with the principles of the Olympic Charter and values," Tamas Ajan, IWF president, said Wednesday. "This rule modification has been considered in the spirit of fairness, equality and inclusion."
Before the change, the IWF's technical and competition rules said weightlifting outfits -- officially called "costumes" -- had to be collarless and not cover the elbows or knees.
Abdullah, a 35-year-old with a doctorate in electrical and computer engineering, is not an Olympic athlete, but enjoys lifting weights.
She generally wears loose, long pants past the ankles, a long-sleeve, fitted shirt with a loose T-shirt over it, and a hijab, or head scarf, covering her hair.
"It's what I believe in. It's what I've chosen to do," Abdullah told CNN this month about her decision to wear modest garb. "I've always dressed this way publicly."
She can deadlift 245 pounds (111 kg) and get up 105 pounds (47.5 kg) in the snatch, in which the competitor lifts the barbell from the floor to over her head in a single motion. She likes to compete with other women in her weight class -- she generally weighs in the 106-pound (48 kg) or 117-pound (53 kg) classifications.
"It guess it's empowering," she says. "There's a lot of technique involved, so someone who's this big muscular person -- it's possible I could lift more than they do. There's speed and timing to it -- you have to be explosive. I think it's great just for confidence building ... I guess I got hooked."
The review was prompted by the Atlanta resident wanting to take part in tournaments in the United States, including one coming up in July. But USA Weightlifting informed her that those events are governed by IWF rules, which at that time precluded her dressing in keeping with her beliefs.
Abdullah says she understands the need to make sure she isn't wearing anything under her clothes to give her a competitive advantage. She says judges could check to make sure she is not wearing something on her elbows, for example, that might help her.
Numerous athletic agencies have faced similar questions in the past and, in some cases, have determined that allowing special clothing violates fairness or equality among all contestants.
FIFA, the international federation governing soccer, recently refused to allow Iran's women's soccer team to wear headscarves while playing in an Olympic qualifying round in Amman, Jordan.
Abdullah told CNN her effort is not just about herself. "I should at least try," she said, "if not for me then maybe for other women who -- if they have my faith or another faith -- dress a certain way."
CNN's Josh Levs contributed to this report

Weightlifting Body to Modify Clothing Rules to Accommodate Muslim Woman

Associated Press
Kulsoom Abdullah, a female Muslim weightlifter
PENANG, Malaysia -- Weightlifting's world governing body agreed Wednesday to modify its clothing rules to accommodate a Muslim woman competing for the United States.
Kulsoom Abdullah of Atlanta was barred from entering higher-level U.S. competitions. Her Muslim faith requires that she covers her arms, legs and head, which violates international rules governing weightlifting attire.
USA Weightlifting took her case to the International Weightlifting Federation, which agreed to change the rules after its technical committee reviewed the proposal.
"The modified rule changes permit athletes to wear a one-piece, full-body, tight-fitted 'unitard' under the compulsory weightlifting costume," IWF vice president Sam Coffa said.
"The 'unitard' will enable technical officials to effectively adjudicate areas of the body which are essential to the correct execution of the lift."
The old rules didn't allow suits that covered either the knees or elbows because judges had to be able to see that both have been locked out to complete a lift.
Abdullah said a tight-fitting shirt would allow judges to have a good view of her elbows. She also said she'd be willing to wear a leg covering that conforms to her religion but allows judges to determine whether she's completed a lift.
The new clothing modifications go into effect immediately. The U.S. championships are being held in Iowa next month.
"This rule modification has been considered in the spirit of fairness, equality and inclusion," IWF President Tamas Ajan said.
The IWF said the modification "promotes and enables a more inclusive sport environment and breaks down barriers to participation."

Hijabs and the beautiful game


Re: " 'Beautiful game' not open to all" " " (Opinion, June 28).
I see no reason why FIFA or any other sports association should object to the wearing of the hijab by its Muslim athletes and referees. As Ihsaan Gardee points out, "the head scarves worn by players have been shown to be perfectly safe, and death or injury by hijab on the soccer field has not been endemic." Nor do I feel that the wearing of the hijab puts players at either an advantage or disadvantage over their opponents. Perhaps it is time for FIFA to revisit and revise its rules. Young women and girls of all religions and ethnicities should be encouraged to participate in sports on both the amateur and professional levels. As so rightly stated by Nelson Mandela, "Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does."
FIFA would be wise to consider the words of this very wise man.
Cynthia Jarjour St. Lambert
Source: http://www.montrealgazette.com/sports/Hijabs+beautiful+game/5027772/story.html#ixzz1QxkVY9dH

IWF changes rules to accommodate Muslim clothing beliefs

Weightlifter Kulsoom Abdullah scored a victory for women and her faith today, with a decision by the IWF to allow Muslim women to wear more modest attire during U.S. competition.

Kulsoom Abdullah, a 35-year old female weightlifter, challenged the uniform rules of the International Weightlifting Federation, citing religious beliefs, and won.
Abdullah challenged the rule that required weightlifters to wear a “singlet” uniform in competition. Abdullah said that her Muslim beliefs do not allow her to wear the singlet, which would not cover enough of her body—basically everything but her hands and face.
"It's what I believe in. It's what I've chosen to do,"Abdullah told CNN earlier this month. "I've always dressed this way publicly," she said, referring to her modest dress.
Abdullah, who holds a doctorate in electrical and computer engineering, can deadlift 245 pounds and get up 105 pounds in the snatch (when the athlete takes the barbell from the floor to over her head in one motion). She typically competes in the 106-pound or 117-pound classifications. She says she simply enjoys competing in the sport.
"It guess it's empowering," she told CNN. "There's a lot of technique involved, so someone who's this big muscular person -- it's possible I could lift more than they do. There's speed and timing to it -- you have to be explosive. I think it's great just for confidence building ... I guess I got hooked."
Abdullah, who lives in Atlanta, wanted to take part in some tournaments governed by IWF rules, which require athletes to wear the standard singlet—officially referred to as “costumes”—which is collarless and does not cover the elbows or knees.