Dr Samaya Farooq on BBC 4: Muslim Women's Basketball and Globalisation

Dr. Samaya Farooq from University of Gloucestershire tells Laurie Taylor on her new study of Muslim sports women who combine faith and fitness. In the program called "Thinking Allowed", Laurie Taylor explores the latest research into how society works and discusses current ideas on how we live today. Prof. Henrietta Moore from University of Cambridge contributes to the program with a positive take on globalization.
Source: http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/radio4/ta/ta_20111026-1712a.mp3


Prominent soccer executives and players seek compromise on the hijab

By James M. Dorsey

World soccer body FIFA and observant Muslim women soccer players may be close to a compromise in their dispute over the wearing of the hijab, a headdress that covers the neck, ears and hair.

The dispute led in June to the disqualification of the Iranian women’s national team after they appeared on the pitch in the Jordanian capital Amman for a 2012 London Olympics qualifier against Jordan because the players wore the hijab. Three Jordanian players who wear the hijab were also barred.

The Iranian team’s insistence on wearing the hijab contradicted an agreement reached last year in Singapore between FIFA and the Iranian Football Federation (IFF) under which the Iranians agreed to the wearing of a cap that covered hair but not the neck.

Prominent soccer executives, women players, coaches and referees agreed at a brainstorm in Amman this week convened by FIFA Vice President Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, a half-brother of King Abdullah, that the hijab is a cultural rather than a religious symbol.

“The hijab issue has taken centre stage in football circles in recent years due to the increasing popularity of women’s football worldwide. It is a cultural issue that not only affects the game, but also impacts society and sports in general. It is not limited to Asia, but extends to other continents as well,” the executives and players said in a statement.

By defining the hijab as a cultural symbol, the group, meeting under the auspices of the Asian Football Development Project (AFDP), an NGO founded by Prince Ali to advance grassroots, youth and women’s soccer, hopes to lay the groundwork for a compromise that acknowledges the cultural requirements of observant Muslim women and meets FIFA’s health and safety standards.

In doing so, the group, which included FIFA Executive Committee member and head of the body’s medical committee Michel D’Hooghe, Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Vice President Moya Dodd, members of FIFA’s women committee as well as representatives of the soccer bodies of Jordan, Bahrain, Iran and the United Kingdom, hope to work around FIFA’s ban on the wearing of religious or political symbols on the pitch.

The group called on FIFA to articulate a clear policy that “avoid(s) any form of discrimination or exclusion of football players due to cultural customs” and establishes the pitch as “a forum for cultural exchange rather than conflict.”

Soccer executives said privately that the issue of the hijab had been complicated by the fact that the ban of the hijab on the pitch is based on a ruling by the International Football Association Board (IFAB) that determines the rules of the game. Interpretation of the IFAB ban on religious, political and personal symbols is left however to referees, which has led to differing interpretations on the pitch. It was the referee’s decision in June that led to Iran’s disqualification.

“The rules have to be adapted to the evolution of the game and the society or interpreted accordingly,” the group said, noting that “FIFA is committed to the basic principles of non-discrimination and allows on this basis the use of the head covering.”

The group said “safety must remain the most important consideration for the use of hijab.” It said that FIFA would coordinate accelerated research to ensure that the hijab or headdress worn by women on the pitch ensured safety in the game. It called on FIFA to consider “innovative designs …. with full consideration of medical aspects, particularly safety, aesthetic arguments, type of material.”

The group said that FIFA should weigh lower safety risks against the greater health benefit of women playing soccer and asserted that allowing the hijab would persuade more women to become players and empower them across cultures.

Prince Ali and Mr. D’Hooghe will put the principles adopted by the group to FIFA at its next executive committee meeting scheduled for December. The prince together with Ms. Dodd would also table the principles at next month’s AFC executive committee meeting, the statement said. It said that the principles would have to be “in accordance with the safety aspects” so that they could be proposed to IFAB when it meets in February 2012.

Farideh Khanom Shojaei, a member of the Iranian soccer body’s women’s committee, and Houshang Moghaddas, the international relations advisor to IFF President Ali Kafashian, said in an interview that the group’s proposal marked a significant step forward.

Ms. Shojaei and Mr. Moghaddas suggested however that final agreement on a compromise could still prove difficult. “The neck is very important,” Ms. Shojaei said, suggesting that Iran would insist on a design that covered not only the hair but also neck.

Ms. Shojaei and Mr. Moghaddas acknowledged that the fact that the hijab is compulsory for Iranian women players and that Iran imposes the wearing of the hijab on foreign teams playing in the Islamic republic was likely to remain an issue even if FIFA and IFAB adopt the group’s principles. Iran is the only country that has made the hijab compulsory for its players as well as for visiting foreign teams.

James M. Dorsey is a Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer
Source: http://mideastsoccer.blogspot.com/2011/10/prominent-soccer-executives-and-players.html


El Moutawakel to continue flying the flag

Morocco's legendary athlete wants to ensure women assert themselves on international stage
  • By Alaric Gomes

Dubai: She is considered the face of athletics for women, and this is a tag that she proudly wears with grace and humility further enhancing her standing in the world of sports.
In her own words, Nawal El Moutawakel's story is that of "rising to a challenge to meet the aspirations of an entire Muslim world", first on and then off the field.
"I was a woman, a Muslim and speaking the language [English] were among some of the challenges before me. But I was strong and I decided to go forth in the world dominated by men," El Moutawakel told the Dubai 2nd International Symposium for Sports Creativity held yesterday along the lines of the Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Sports Creativity Awards.
Born on April 15, 1962 in Casablanca, Morocco, El Moutawakel won the inaugural women's 400m hurdles at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games, thereby becoming the first female Muslim born in Africa to become an Olympic champion.

She is also the first Moroccan and the first woman from a Muslim majority country to win an Olympic gold medal. In 2007, she was named the Minister of Sports in the Moroccan cabinet. After her Olympic gold, the King of Morocco telephoned El Moutawakel to pass on his congratulations, and he declared that all girls born the day of her victory were to be named in her honour.
Unfortunately, her father passed away a few months before the 1984 LA Games, denying her of much greater joy while on the victory podium. "When I received the gold medal I had mixed feelings as he [father] was not around to see his dream come true," she related.
However, injuries forced her to cut short her international career at a young age of 24, thereby making her look towards a new challenge in sport off the field. In 1995, El Moutawakel became a council member of the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) and three years later, she became a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
El Moutawakel was also the president of evaluation commissions for the selection of the host city for the 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympic Games in London and Rio de Janeiro respectively. "It is ironical that after more than 100 years of world track and field, we did not have a single woman representative on the International Olympic Committee (IOC). But I started a trend and after the most recent elections we have six elected women in the IAAF alone," she noted.
"My biggest challenge was to ensure that we overcome the isolation of women, and given my experience as an athlete, I wanted to ensure my experience benefited sports and women, in particular," she added.

When a Photo Inspired by Sport Becomes an Image of Hope

The Olympic Museum has announced the results of the HOPE photo competition launched in the spring of this year.
It was on the International Day of Peace that the winners of the HOPE photo competition organised by The Olympic Museum in Lausanne were announced. The jury was composed of David Burnett, the renowned international photo reporter who has been covering the Olympic Games since 1984; Sam Stourdzé, Director of the Musée de l’Elysée photographic museum in Lausanne; and David Herren, Head of the IOC’s Images Section.
The first prize was awarded to « sudiptopix », India for his photo "Womens' Empowerment", which shows a Muslim woman playing football in a park in Calcutta, India. The jury particularly appreciated this urban sporting scene, offering a vision of sport as a unifying element, bringing joy to those who play it and demolishing prejudices.
The second prize went to « And®e », Brazil. It was the emblematic element of the photo which the jury liked: diving into water, daring and striving for excellence. The image shows the moment of competition when everything is still possible.
The third prize was awarded to « tbalakshin », Canada for his photo entitled "Form". The jury admired the unusual view of this sports performance, which the photographer has transformed into a moment of poetry.
The competition winner will get to visit Lausanne, Olympic capital, as part of an exclusive four-day programme. He will also receive photographic equipment worth Euros 2,000. The second and the third winner will receive photographic equipment respectively worth Euros 1,000 and Euros 500.
The Olympic Museum thanks Worldwide TOP Partner Panasonic for supporting this competition by providing photo equipment for the three prizewinners.
For more information, please contact the IOC Media Relations Team:
Tel: +41 21 621 6000
Source: http://www.prweb.com/releases/2011/10/prweb8895640.htm

Young soccer player stands out for talent and beliefs

By Mike Anderson
MURRAY — A Cottonwood High School student is taking dedication for her religion to the soccer field.
Serene Kergaye is a devout Muslim, and she loves soccer. When she's on the field, she often stands out because she follows a dress code of modesty.
"Yeah, I look kind of weird on the field," she said. "I'll be dressed head to toe in one color — because we have to be either white or black — but oh well, I'd rather play."
Of course from the sidelines, she tends to turn a few heads. "Definitely, they probably do a double take," girls soccer coach Angela Hamilton said. "She's different than any other girl on the field."
But that inner dedication to religion and sport goes way beyond what Kergaye wears. During Ramadan, Muslims fast each day, early all of August.
"I don't drink any water all day, from 5 a.m. til 9 p.m. It was hard," Kergaye said. "Usually I only have one game and one practice a week, but this year it was every day, 4 to 5 hours a day."
Pretty much, everybody thinks their religion's the religion. But, I think mine's right, so I'm gonna follow it. And I'm not gonna go halfway.
The coach is impressed with Kergaye's dedication. "It's really neat to see somebody that dedicated to something they believe in," Hamilton said, "and it does translate on to the field."
Her teammates agree. Ali Bromley-Dulfano said Kergaye puts a lot into her sport.
"She would come every day, and she would say stuff like, ‘I'm so excited for when I can eat again, cause I'm gonna take on all of you guys. I'm gonna take you down!' Bromley-Dulfano said laughing.
But Kergaye said that outward dedication is about more than following a dress code. She hoped that as people take notice, they'll start to understand Muslims better and look past the stereotypes.
"I think if they knew more Muslims and stuff, and knew that we're normal, we don't sit in our basement all day and make bombs," she said. "We play soccer. We play football. We're normal. (We) just wear more clothes."
Hamilton said Kergaye refuses to take it easy.
"Pretty much, everybody thinks their religion's the religion. But, I think mine's right, so I'm gonna follow it," Kergaye said. "And I'm not gonna go halfway."
Kergaye's parents were both born in the United States, and both come from a Muslim background. Their roots come from Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Switzerland.
Email: manderson@ksl.com


Unfoiled By Stereotypes

Emel, Issue 85 October 2011
Ibtihaj Muhammad started fencing because it catered for her modest style of dress. Now, she stands at the edge of participating at the 2012 Olympics. Ali Khimji talks to her about what it takes to perform at the highest sporting level.
Fencing has always been perceived as a sport for the more privileged amongst society. But as an African-American, Muslim, female fencer, Ibtihaj Muhammad is challenging that norm. Undoubtedly due to represent the US at the 2012 Olympic Games, Ibtihaj excelled at the sport at an inner-city foundation, which seeks to mentor youth through sports.
“I played many sports when I was younger, including tennis, softball, and volleyball. My mother then discovered that our local high school had a fencing team. I joined the team when I was 13, grateful to find a sport where, as a Muslim woman, my desire to dress modestly would be fulfilled. Also, for the first time in any sport I had played, I would wear the same uniform as my teammates.”
Modern fencing evolved out of formalised sword duels and the French school of fencing in the 18th century. Fencers are categorised by the weapon that they use. The foil is a light and flexible weapon, and the target area is restricted to the opponent’s torso. The epee, another type of sword, was invented by a group of French students in the 19th century, who felt that the conventions of foil were too restrictive and that the weapon was too light. They wanted something closer to an actual duel. The epee is an exact copy of a small sword, and points are recorded for hits anywhere on the opponent’s body. However, touches are only scored when the point of the foil or epee hit the target areas. The sabre can score points by hitting with the edge, as well as the point, and the target area covers the whole upper body.
“For the first three years, I fenced epee. I had always been a good athlete, so naturally I was a decent epee fencer. When our fencing team had an opening on the sabre squad, my high school coach, Frank Mustilli, decided I would switch to sabre. I was reluctant at first, but in hindsight, I can say that switching to sabre was one of the best athletic decisions I have ever made. Without Frank practically forcing me into sabre, I don’t believe that I would still be fencing — certainly not at this advanced level.”
“Sabre is a lot more fast-paced than the other weapons. It is also a right of way weapon, which means that the fencer must take certain actions to score a point. It’s also a challenge because it requires agility, quick footwork and strategy.”
Ibtihaj went on to captain her high school fencing team and led them to win two New Jersey state team titles. She then enrolled at Duke University, where she graduated in 2007 with a double major in International Relations and African studies, and a minor in Arabic. However, her fencing ambitions did take a stumble during her studies. “Being a student athlete at a prestigious university was no easy feat; balancing athletics, academics and a social life was tough. I also struggled to fit in with the rest of the fencing team, as they were much less competitive than me, and average in their fencing ability.”
After graduating and moving back to New York City, Ibtihaj began training with Olympian and fellow graduate of the Peter Westbrook Foundation, Akhi Spencer-El. “Akhi has always believed in my athletic ability, and has helped me push my fencing to the next level. He is training me to fence tactically, infinitely improving my overall approach.”
Akhi’s training paid off, when in 2009, Ibtihaj won the US national title. A year later, she reached the quarter-finals of a World Cup event and then finished 14th in her world championship debut. Ibtihaj is currently ranked 13th in the world, and second in the United States. Only two women will compete in the sabre event at the 2012 London Olympics, and Ibtihaj has made a strong case to be included in that elite group.
As with any prospective Olympian, Ibtihaj has a strict training regime. She trains five to six times each week, often twice a day. Mornings are reserved for running or time with a personal trainer to work on her fitness, and evenings are spent working on her fencing skills.

Islam also plays a significant role in Ibtihaj’s life. “I have found Muslims in every city that fencing has brought me to. Whenever I travel, performing prayers is a way for me to keep up my remembrance of God, as well as keeping me grounded.”

“As an athlete, I have always found my most challenging opponent to be myself. Competitions are often lost from losing mental focus. I also constantly remind myself that I am able to handle anything that comes my way. I believe in the saying, ‘impossible is nothing’.”

Ibtihaj Muhammad has risen above the stereotypes of her chosen sport, and now has the opportunity to fence at the highest level possible. There is no doubt that with her level of dedication and hard work, she is sure to succeed on the global stage and fully embrace the opportunity to make history by being the first practising Muslim woman to represent the United States at the Olympics. “I want to prove that nothing should hinder our Muslim youth from reaching their goals – not race, religion or gender. I want to set an example that anything is possible with perseverance.”
Source: http://www.emel.com/article?id=90&a_id=2479

Carter: Maplewood woman could be first American Muslim to wear hijab while competing at Olympics

By Barry Carter
Ibtihaj Muhammad jogs lightly across the second floor gym at the Manhattan Fencing Center in New York. She’s warming up, eager to get some work in.

Ready! Fence!
Fencers are already on the strip, a narrow fighting lane, and they’re going at it, the air filled with little razor-like hisses and whispers. Many are Olympic hopefuls, like her, preparing for the World Championships Saturday in Italy. The competition is another chance for Muhammad to earn qualifying points in her quest to make the 2012 London Olympics in July.
"I don’t think I ever wanted anything so much," said Muhammad, 25, of Maplewood. "I just want to make sure I’m doing everything I can to make this Olympics."
When it’s her turn to spar, she slips the fencing mask over her hijab, the headscarf Muslim women wear. In a room full of fencers, it’s the one thing that makes her stand out. If she makes the Olympics, she’ll stand out even more. Fencing officials believe Muhammad is likely to be the first American Muslim woman wearing a hijab to compete at the games. The United States Olympic Committee doesn’t track athletes by religion, but the demographic is something Muhammad thinks about, knowing what an accomplishment it would be since few Muslim women compete in sports.
"I didn’t have female Muslim role models to look up to in the athletic world," she said. "It’s really important for people to know my story. I think it’s something I have to do, because I want Muslim female youth to believe they can do something like this."
Muhammad is ranked number two in the United States and 13th in the world in women’s sabre, a fencing style in which strikes are made above the waist with any part of the weapon. Locally, she represents the Peter Westbrook Foundation in New York City, training at the Fencers Club on West 28th Street, where she is coached by Akhnaten Spencer-El, a 2000 Olympic fencer. Under him, she’s a tactical, cerebral fighter who caught the fencing world off guard in 2009.
She won the U.S. national title that year, cracking the top 16 world rankings. Last year, she won a bronze medal at the Pan American Championships and a coveted spot on the U.S. women’s national team.
"She’s still young in the game and she’s only going to get better," Spencer-El said.
Back to the strip. She goes against a member of the U.S. men's national team, then her teammate, Dagmara Wozniak of Avenel. You can hear the constant ping of saber blades colliding. Everyone has cat-like footwork that is lickety-split quick, calculating and aggressive. They duel back and forth trying to outsmart each other, snapping their weapons at the wrist to score. The long electrical wires attached to the edge of their fencing jackets register hits. All of them look like puppets dancing on a string, lunging toward each other and their their shot at gold.
Getting to Italy isn’t easy. Each country is allowed two spots for women’s sabre and Muhammad and her teammates are the top four fencers in the U.S. The best of them is two-time Olympian Mariel Zagunis of Oregon, and she’s number one in the world.
Muhammad is unfazed. She trains daily, except for Sunday, running in the morning before conditioning at a women’s gym. In the evening, she’s in New York City fencing for four hours.
"I just keep going," she said. "I don’t want to get to a competition and lose a bout, because I didn’t work out that extra hour."
You can see she’s super-competitive, hating to lose, constantly critiquing herself. She’s all business for this once in lifetime shot, but Muhammad does pause for what’s important.
The third of five siblings in an athletic family, Muhammad finds strength in her faith. In August, she stayed focused through Ramadan, the annual Islamic month of fasting during the day. But Muhammad wants no sympathy, saying her sacrifices are not unlike anybody else’s. She kept hyrdrated, waking up every 90 minutes at night to eat and drink. If she makes the team, Muhammad will be used to the regimen since Ramadan next year falls during the Olympic competition.
It doesn’t matter at this point. Muhammad has come a long way in a career that started when she was a high school freshman. She stumbled on the sport driving past Columbia High School with her mother, who could see the team practicing through the large cafeteria windows. Inayah Muhammad didn’t know what they were doing but thought her daughter should try it because the uniform would cover her body and that was suitable to Islam’s tenet of modesty for women.
"I had know idea it (fencing) would take us this far,’’ said her mom, a Newark schoolteacher. "She’s so in love with the sport. I don’t think she really understands how good she is.’’
Muhummad was an epee fencer with Columbia until her former coach, Frank Mustilli, saw she was a better fit for sabre’s combative vein. At practice one day, Mustilli said his mild mannered athlete got upset after she got hit hard and lashed out.
"She showed me a little bit of fire. She screamed and attacked,’’ said Mustilli, head of the New Jersey Fencing Alliance.
At Columbia, Muhammad also played softball and volleyball but was captain of two state championship fencing teams before going to Duke University. She became a three-time NCAA All-American, earning dual degrees in International Relations and African-American studies with a minor in Arabic.
After graduation in 2007, her father, Shamsiddin Muhammad, said his daughter’s passion for fencing did not wane. The family supports her financially and she chipped in what she could last year as a substitute teacher at Shabazz High School in Newark and fencing coach at Columbia.
"I know this is her dream and inspiration,’’ said her dad, a retired Newark cop. "We believe that what is written is going to happen.’’
That belief helps her deal with distractions on this journey. At times she’s wondered if her race or religion played a role in a judge scoring unfairly. When traveling, she has been treated as a foreigner who can’t speak English, and worse, she feels the stares that say terrorist.
In Belgium this year, security officials told her to leave the airport unless she removed her hijab. Muhammad would not. Her mother interceded and there was a compromise to have her head patted down. Muhammad said it’s frustrating making others comfortable, but she’s not going to let "closeted views" derail her purpose.
"If God wants me to succeed, no one can take it from me,’’ she said. "That’s the way I approach it and I think that’s what keeps me sane and grounded in this sport.’’
Source: http://blog.nj.com/njv_barry_carter/2011/10/carter_maplewood_woman_could_b.html

Kheir blazing the trail as county’s top female cross country performer Read more: Hudson Reporter - SCOREBOARD 10 16 2011 Kheir blazing the trail as county’s top female cross country performer County Prep senior competing for Dickinson carries torch for Muslim runners

by Jim Hague

Fawzia Kheir truly believed she was destined to become a basketball player. After all, her father, Ahmed, was a basketball player in his younger days.
“I tried a lot of sports when I was younger, but I really liked basketball because of my dad,” Fawzia Kheir said. “I was a good rebounder.”
But there was an aspect to the game of basketball that appealed to Fawzia.
“I liked running around,” Kheir said. “I started running the whole court all the time and I liked it. I just felt comfortable running.”
So when Kheir was attending P.S. 25 in Jersey City and eventually the new No. 7 Middle School in the Heights section, she decided to enter the Jersey City public school track and field championships.
“I won my first meet,” said Kheir, who won the 400-meter dash in her first grade school event. “I was in sixth grade. That was it. I was hooked. No more basketball.”
When the time came to attend high school, Kheir enrolled at County Prep, a member of the Hudson County Schools of Technology. She enrolled in a special pre-med curriculum and joined the track team at the school.
“I was able to run the 400 and 800 meters, but I never ran distances before,” Kheir said. “I had no idea what cross country was. When I first started, I couldn’t finish a mile and a half. I would get tired and stop running. But eventually, it got easier. I have to give Mr. [Tommy] Downes all the credit, because he’s the one who pushed me.”
In her first cross country meet, there was more instant success. Kheir won the St. Dominic Academy Invitational freshman race.
“I knew that I just loved running,” Kheir said. “It’s my favorite sport.”
Kheir had a distinction about her when she ran. Because of her devout Muslim faith, she is not permitted to expose any of her body while running. So Kheir has to compete while wearing long-sleeved compression shirts and long-legged pants. She also dons a full head scarf as well.
“People can’t believe how I can stand the heat when I run like that,” Kheir said. “I try not to think about it. When they ask, I just say it’s part of my religious beliefs. I’m used to people asking me now, because it’s happened over and over. But it does make a big difference and it can drag me down a little. It does get hot and it kills me in the summer time, but I tend to get through it.”
Kheir also has to endure the Muslim tradition of Ramadan, which requires Muslims to fast every day for a month until sundown that day.
“It’s really hard, but also I have to get used to it,” Kheir said. “I had to learn to keep myself hydrated before I ran, especially after I started to do so many miles. But I’m proud of my faith. It’s very important to me. I just decided that I’m not going to let anything stop me.”
Kheir had a fine cross country and track and field career at County Prep, setting all sorts of school records, when she had to endure another slice of adversity.
After Kheir’s sophomore year, the Hudson County Schools of Technology, namely High Tech in North Bergen and County Prep, where Kheir was already established, decided to eliminate their athletic programs.
“My first reaction was shock,” Kheir said. “I wondered where I would end up. I wondered what would happen to all my hard work. I knew I wouldn’t be running for the same school and not have the same teammates. I was really worried that it all might be over.”
A provision was installed where students of the Hudson County Schools of Technology could still compete in scholastic athletics, as long as it was with the school in their home district. Since Kheir resided in the Heights, it meant that she would have to compete for Dickinson.
“I never thought it would turn out like that,” Kheir said. “All I ever wanted to do was compete for my school, to show what I could do. I was really upset. It was actually torture at first, having to go from one school to the next, getting on I didn’t know this would happen.”
However, Dickinson girls’ cross country coach Antoinette Wilkins, a former track and field standout at the school, was ready to embrace Kheir.
“We were building a team and I knew we could use her,” said Wilkins, who earned All-County status for Dickinson in four events in 1985. “I knew she could help us.”
Wilkins was not worried about Kheir fitting in with her new Dickinson teammates.
“The other girls loved her,” Wilkins said. “She fit in really well. She comes from a great family and she’s very coachable. She listens to me well. The others accepted her right away. There were no comments about her faith. If you’re good, like she’s good, no one cares what you’re wearing. You can be wrapped in toilet paper and it wouldn’t matter, as long as she could run.”
And there’s no denying that Kheir can run. She was the Hudson County Track Coaches Association outdoor champion in the 400-meter dash last spring, but she was determined to do well in her final cross country season.
Last Saturday, Kheir went with her Dickinson teammates to compete in the Brett Taylor Invitational at Darlington Park in Mahwah. The Rams competed in the Varsity Girls’ A race and Kheir was third overall in 19:47, setting a new school record in the process.
“I was so happy to finally break 20 minutes,” Kheir said. “It’s my senior year and I want to be able to leave with great memories. I want to show everyone I can be a good runner and represent my school.”
Although she represents County Prep as a student and Dickinson as an athlete.
“I’m running for a new school and I’m used to it now,” Kheir said. “It was tough at first. It’s easier now. Having two coaches like Coach Wilkins and Coach Downes has really helped me. I want to be the one that everyone in the county has to look out for. I’m putting it all out there.”
“I think she’s peaking now,” Wilkins said. “She worked real hard in the summer and now she looks stronger and healthier than ever. We push her a lot, but she’s going to be fine. I’m quite sure that there were days that she hoped County Prep was able to keep their program. But she’s done well with the transition. I know it wasn’t easy for her, but she’s come along well.”
Kheir is hopeful to keep running right into college. She is looking to attend St. Peter’s College in the fall and study to become a physical therapist. There have been some bumps in the road, but Fawzia Kheir has survived.
“All I can say is that I guess I’m a pretty strong person,” Kheir said. “I just wanted to be the best runner I could be, regardless of everything else.”

Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.
You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com
Read more: Hudson Reporter - SCOREBOARD 10 16 2011 Kheir blazing the trail as county’s top female cross country performer County Prep senior competing for Dickinson carries torch for Muslim runners

Source: http://hudsonreporter.com/view/full_story/16036588/article-SCOREBOARD-10-16-2011-Kheir-blazing-the-trail-as-county’s-top-female-cross-country-performer-County-Prep-senior--competing-for-Dickinson--carries-torch-for-Muslim-runners-?instance=jim_lead_story_left_column

Death Threats Fail to Stop Women’s Basketball

By Shafi’i Mohyaddin Abokar

MOGADISHU, Oct 18, 2011 (IPS) - When Al-Shabaab militants called the Somali national women’s basketball team captain, Suweys Ali Jama, and told her she had two options: to be killed or to stop playing basketball, she decided that neither was really an option at all.

"I will only die when my life runs out – no one can kill me but Allah … I will never stop my profession while I am still alive," Jama told IPS.

"Now, I am a player, but even if I retire I hope to be a coach - I will stop basketball only when I perish," Jama said.

The Al-Qaeda-linked military group controls large parts of Somalia and occupied almost half of the country’s capital, Mogadishu, until its surprise withdrawal on Aug. 6. However, the group’s presence in the city remains as Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for an attack on the capital on Oct. 4, which killed at least 70 people.

Now Jama and members of her team have received death threats from the Islamic militant group, which views women’s participation in sport as "un-Islamic".

In August 2006 the Somali Islamic Courts Union (ICU), a group of Sharia courts, issued an order banning Somali women from playing sport calling it the "heritage of old Christian cultures." At the time the ICU controlled Mogadishu, but lost control of the city in December 2006.

Al-Shabaab, which was the armed wing of the ICU, has not altered their stance on women playing sport.

Aisha Mohamed, the deputy captain of the national women’s basketball team, said the militants also threatened her.

"‘You are twice guilty. First, you are a woman and you are playing sports, which the Islamic rule has banned. Second, you are representing the military club who are puppets for the infidels. So we are targeting you wherever you are,’ Islamists warned me during phone calls. But I am still clinging to my profession," Mohamed told IPS.

Mohamed is one of the prominent national team members who belong to the Somali military sports club, Horseed. Mohamed’s mother is a former member of the women’s national team and she has been playing the sport since she was a child.

Basketball is the second-most popular sport in Somalia after football and, aside from handball, is the only other sport that Somali women play. However, women earn meager salaries as professional basketball players.

"I am a human being and I fear, but I know that only Allah can kill me," 21-year-old Mohamed said echoing Jama’s sentiments.

So the team is training for December’s Arab Games in Qatar inside the safety of the bullet-ridden walls of the Somali police academy’s basketball court.

On a day with a clear blue sky overhead the women, dressed in loose fitting tracksuits and T-shirts and wearing headscarves, sprint from one end of the court to another amid the presence of hundreds of policemen.

When they are done they line up to take shots at the basketball hoop. All week they train for two hours a day here and only take off on Thursdays and Fridays – the Muslim weekend.

In the evening when the women leave the safety of the training base they swap their training gear for the anonymity of the traditional Islamic dress and veil. They also wear a Yashmak, a small piece of cloth to cover their faces.

Somalia’s first women’s national basketball team was formed in 1970 and participated in African and regional competitions over the years despite never winning a tournament, according to the National Olympic Committee President Aden Hajji Yeberow.

But the 2006 ban on women playing sports halted the growth of women’s basketball in this East African nation said Somali Basketball Federation Deputy Secretary-General Abdi Abdulle Ahmed.

"The Islamist ban led to some women (quitting the sport), because of fear," Ahmed told IPS.

President of the Somali Basketball Federation Hussein Ibrahim Ali said that whenever women’s involvement in basketball grows, something occurs to set the sport back.

The 2006 Islamist ban, which lead to nearly two hundred women quitting the sport because of fear of reprisals, was one such incident. The two decades of civil war in the country, was another. Since mid- July a severe drought has affected the country, with famine declared in regions of southern Somalia.

Ali added that lack of sponsorship and insecurity were the biggest killers of sport in Somalia.

"So when the world knows that Somalia has undergone such hardships and our women are playing in an international tournament, this would really be great publicity for the whole country and, in particular, for the basketball federation," Ali said.

The women’s coach Ali Sheik Muktar said that he is hopeful that his team will be successful in the upcoming Arab Games.

"To have a women’s team means a lot to Somalia," Ali said.
Source: http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=105501


Khadijah Safari, Black Belt 3rd Dan Muay Thai (kickboxing)

By Khadijah Safari
Trained by her husband, former European Champion Master Karim Safari, Khadijah has progressed on to teach other women the sport which has provided London’s women with the most energetic workout you could imagine!  Her strictly women’s only gym allows the sister’s scarves to come off and the determined women let off steam just as much as anyone else. There are no barriers at her Strictly Ladies Safari Gym.  We asked Khadijah Safari to tell us what inspired her to take this path in martial arts and what her plans are in the future.
“I started training 11 years ago, I found a local club and fell in love with the sport 2 days later when I could hardly walk after the intense work out!  Once I’d started training I knew that I wasn’t going to stop until I’d achieved my black belt and I knew full well that I had a pretty good chance of taking down someone that came to attack me, no matter their size.  I have been so blessed to be able to pass this knowledge on to other women, primarily for fitness and self defense, but also as a great sport which is becoming more and more popular worldwide.  The ladies who you see gracefully walking down the street, covered head to toe in traditional Muslim wear, have a whole different angle with a pair of boxing gloves on.  These are the most determined and dedicated students that I have, training hard to improve their skills so that one day they can pass this knowledge on to others.  Healthy living and self defence are both extremely important area’s which I believe all women should focus on.   Sister’s walk into a class for the first time, expecting the worse, and walk out asking when they can come back next!  From reporters, lawyers, doctors, students, to sisters who have been victims of abuse or crime, Muay Thai is a sport that anyone can learn, you just have to try!”

Khadijah’s dream is to be able to enter Muay Thai as an women’s Olympic sport, the UK is currently working on providing the right governing body to be accepted by Sport England, and then there’s no reason why not!  With inter club tournaments and the interest spreading inside and outside London, Khadijah wishes she could be in 10 places at one, she told us, “I have sisters calling me from Doncaster, Oxford, Hemel Hempstead, Milton Keynes and all across London asking me to please open up sessions near them, they promise they’d work really hard”. 
Khadijah hopes to be able to train more instructors so that more women can enjoy and experience the fun of martial arts, and in the meantime, likes to spend her spare time in the ring with her husband, although there’s a major weight difference (heavy weight vs. Super light weight) she gives him a good workout and doesn’t let him get away easily. 
For information about the sport, and Khadijah Safari’s classes, visitwww.ladiesonlykickboxing.co.uk or contact her directly 07880 550011safarikickboxing@googlemail.com