A New Opportunity for British Muslim Women

aboutfinal.jpgWe are an intimate and personable group of British-Arab female instructors offering group fitness classes & personal training courses for women preferring female instructors & women only exercise spaces. All women are welcome, though the spaces we use were carefully selected to particularly suit women who wear the Hijab as privacy is guaranteed and no men are allowed.

homepicfinal.jpgOur mission is to help women who don’t necessarily have suitable access to fitness services, by inspiring them to get fit, to de-stress, and to restore self-confidence, in spaces which allow them the freedom to be themselves, have fun, and connect with other women in their communities.

MWS publishes this entry to support women's initiatives. source: HananHadeedFitness.com

"Saudi Arabia turns deaf ear to Olympic women" by Eman Al Nafjan

Last Friday Sheikh Al Fowzan, ironically a member of the Saudi human rights commission, stated that the thought that the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) might be implemented in Saudi Arabia makes him shiver in fear and worry. This was during the last day of a three-day conference that took place in Qaseem, a region north of Riyadh. The conference was entitled, 'Women in the Prophet’s tradition and the modern woman: Saudi Arabia a model', and had fifteen countries participating. The assembled company came to the conclusion that Saudi Arabia should withdraw from the CEDAW agreement that it signed in 2000 -  a development probably due to the religious establishment’s feeling that the government might cave in to increasing international pressure to allow Saudi women to participate in the upcoming London 2012 Olympics.
Those within Saudi who oppose the inclusion of women reason that although there is nothing in Islam that prohibits women from physical activity or even competitive sports, the future implications and consequences might be unIslamic. A paranoia has overtaken Saudi conservatives as if once a woman officially represents the country, all Saudi women at a stroke will be forced to take part and Muslim women will be parading around in swimsuits and volleyball outfits.
They turn a deaf ear to anyone who argues that it clearly states in the Quran in the second chapter ayah 256 that there is no compulsion in religion. This is a nation of about nineteen million Saudis and it is unequivocally unIslamic to force only one narrow puritanical interpretation of texts on all.
Saudi Arabia still has not officially conceded to allowing women to represent them at the Olympics. However on April 4, Prince Nawaf bin Faisal, head of the General Presidency of Youth Welfare, did leave the door open for private citizens to take part by saying , "Female Saudi participation will be according to the wishes of students and others living abroad. All we are doing is to ensure that participation is in the proper framework and in conformity with sharia.” This approach was the same that the country took when Dalma Malhas, a Saudi female equestrian, won the bronze at the 2010 Youth Olympics. Straddling the fence, the sports ministry was able to muddle through by only unofficially following the International Olympics Committee (IOC) regulations while still saving face in front of the Saudi religious ultra conservative establishment.
The Olympic charter's 'fundamental principles' state that, "Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic movement." That is why in1999 Afghanistan was banned from inclusion in the Olympics partly because of discrimination against women under Taliban rule.
South Africa also was banned from 1964 to 1992 because of the apartheid government. One of the main aims of the 21 year long ban was to pressure South Africa to open its national sports clubs and training sites to all races.
Yet despite the fact that Saudi discriminates against women in all eventualities, from banning them from driving their own cars to not protecting them from childhood marriages by setting a legal age, never mind the fact that there is no physical education in the public sector, there still remains within the international community doubts on the severity of the situation.
A 2001 study of approximately 5000 residents of Saudi found that being female and Saudi are risk factors for obesity. Another study conducted in 2005 of over 17000 Saudis found that females are significantly more obese with a prevalence of 44% compared to 26.4% of males.
The results of these two studies are only natural considering the fact that public schools across the kingdom only allow physical education for boys, and that the 'youth' in the General Presidency of Youth Welfare means only male youth. The options for physical activity for girls and women in Saudi Arabia are limited, expensive and hard to access.
The issue of Saudi women participating is not so much an issue of currently qualified Saudi women being banned. With systemic governmental discrimination, there is no place in Saudi where women's sports could truly thrive. Even private associations such as the Jeddah United Sports Company, cofounded by Lina Al-Maeena, are having difficulties. "At this point, we are trying to make it on a national level, integrate into public schools and then maybe compete on a regional level before we even think of the Olympics," Al-Maeena, who is also captain of the Saudi women's basketball team, told CNN. However it is unlikely that any of Al Maeena’s aspirations for Saudi women’s sports are going to be realized in the foreseeable future.
If the IOC is going to look the other way regarding gender discrimination in Saudi sports, how can we ever expect Saudi Arabia to respect any of the other international agreements it has signed? This is not just about including Saudi women in the London 2012. It’s much more far-reaching and serious than that. It is an issue of silence and concurrence from the international community regarding a nation’s outright breach of international agreements and conventions. As Saudi cleric al-Najimi sees it; Saudis should just stand their ground against the IOC, as we did with the World Trade Organization. He says that we refused the conditions that did not fit with Saudi culture and in the end, after 15 years of back and forth, we were admitted to the WTO on our own terms. He called the whole issue a matter of western dictatorship.
Eman Al Nafjan is the author of theSaudiwoman's Weblog, a blog on Saudi society, culture, women and human rights issues. Based in the Saudi capital Riyadh, she holds an MA in Teaching English as a Foreign Language from Birmingham University in the UK, and has taught in a number of Saudi schools and universities.


USOC lifted the bar for Muslim woman A year later, competing for Pakistan, she hopes for Olympic chance

Globetrotting by Philip Hersh
Philip Hersh from Chicago Tribute
Globetrotting by Philip Hersh

Kulsoom Abdullah at the 2011 World Weightlifting Championships (courtesy Kulsoom Abdullah)
Kulsoom Abdullah at the 2011 World Weightlifting Championships (Ccurtesy Kulsoom Abdullah / April 13, 2012)
Next week at the Asian Weightlifting Championships in South Korea, a computer engineer from Atlanta will take another step she hopes could lead to the 2012 London Olympics.

That Kulsoom Abdullah has gotten this far is nothing short of a miracle, given what she needed to overcome in the often hidebound world of international sports.
It is a miracle for which the United States Olympic Committee deserves global praise at a time when much of the world criticizes the USOC for being selfish because it wants a fair and necessary share of both U.S. television rights for the Games and global Olympic sponsorship rights, more than half of which come from U.S. multinationals.

Without the USOC - especially Dragomir Cioroslan, its international relations director --- Abdullah's petition for rule changes about competition costumes that would allow her to feel comfortable as both a Muslim woman and a weightlifter never would have reached the proper authorities.
The result of the USOC's help is Abdullah, a U.S. citizen, has been able to compete in major events  - for her parents' native country, Pakistan.
"I clearly believe this shows we are a selfless organization," Cioroslan said.
While that clearly is not true in all cases, as cash-starved U.S. athletes who chafe at the big USOC management salaries can point out, it definitely is true in this one.
And Abdullah's case represents progress for all Muslim women, even as the repressive sheikhs in Saudi Arabia still refuse to name a woman to their Olympic team.
This all developed barely a year ago, when the Council on American-Islamic Relations sent a letter to USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun asking for support in effecting the changes Abdullah needed to compete in major U.S. events.
Blackmun turned to Cioroslan, a vice-president of the International Weightlifting Federation.
"Scott told me, `If we can help, this is the right thing to do,''' Cioroslan said.  "We feel sports should be accepting and inclusive."
Cioroslan somehow succeeded at getting the item on the IWF agenda for a key meeting a month later. To its credit, the international federation immediately adopted changes that would accommodate both the sport's technical rules and Adbullah's desire to satisfy her cultural and religious norms.
"(After) CAIR and the media took my plight to the USOC, their (USOC) subsequent intervention in helping me have my voice heard was monumental for me," Adbullah said in an email.
"The time and effort spent finally became a reality, officially breaking boundaries, leading myself and other women to potentially more opportunities."  
Abdullah's first event was last summer's U.S. Championships, where she was a distant fifth of six in the 106-pound class.  After that, she contacted the Pakistan Weightlifting Federation, which chose her as the first female lifter to represent the country at the World Championships last November.
The USOC was fine with that.
"It's not unusual for an athlete to pursue an Olympic dream through all avenues open to them," Cioroslan said.
Abdullah, who turned 36 in March and began competing only two years ago, was among just eight women representing a predominantly Muslim country in a field with 223 entrants.   She finished 23rd of 27 in her weight class, lifting 100 pounds less than the 22nd finisher.
"I feel very fortunate to be able to compete at high levels when my abilities are not as high as the other athletes from other countries. . .and at the same time help make a difference," she said.
Pakistan has not earned an 2012 Olympic women's weightlifting spot, but it can get one of 12 "wild card" invitations.
It would be easy -- and not wrong -- to say there are so many women whose results far outweigh Abdullah's that she should not go to London ahead of them.
But the international federation already has made a statement by giving Abdullah -- and all women who prefer more coverage of their bodies, not just Muslims  -- the freedom she needed to compete.
That is how Abdullah came to follow U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the lectern at a State Department reception for Eid ul-Fitr last September.  Clinton introduced her by saying she is "forging the way for Muslim women athletes to maintain their freedom of expression and still compete at the highest level." 
Weightlifting, a sport as old as Atlas, has shown itself to be far more progressive about women athletes than sports like volleyball, which has insisted women wear skintight short shorts for the indoor game and until recently mandated bikinis for beach volleyball.
The attention Abdullah would get in London would spread the message IWF president Tomas Ajan insisted was behind the change.
``This rule modification has been considered in the spirit of fairness, equality and inclusion,'' Ajan said.
So was the USOC's decision to help a woman who never will wear "USA" on her costume.
Source: http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/globetrotting/chi-usoc-lifted-the-bar-for-muslim-woman-20120412,0,5770306.column

Saudis say no to women on their Olympic team IOC should ban Saudi men, not allow "unofficial" Saudi women

Globetrotting by Philip Hersh
Philip Hersh from Chicago Tribute
Globetrotting by Philip Hersh
Saudi Dalma Malhas at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games
Saudi Dalma Malhas at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games. (AFP / Getty Images / April 5, 2012)
At February's International Olympic Committee Women in Sport Conference in Los Angeles, the IOC president paid plenty of lip service to the ideas of gender equality.  He also spoke of the "long battle" to have better sports participation for women around the world, admitting, "It is not going to be easy."
Now let's see what the IOC does with Saudi Arabia, which reportedly has decided not to have a woman as an official member of its its Olympic team this summer in London.
That's nothing new: the Saudis are one of three countries (others: Qatar and Brunei) that never have had a female Olympian.
According to Thursday's editions of Al-Watan newspaper, an all-but-official government organ, Saudi Olympic Committee president Prince Nawaf Bin-Faisal (a member of the Saudi royal family and the country's sports minister), told a Wednesday press conference, that he "does not endorse female participation of Saudi Arabia at the present time in the Olympics and international tournaments."
The prince also was quoted as saying, cryptically,"Female Saudi participation will be according to the wishes of students and others living abroad. All we are doing is to ensure that participation is in the proper framework and in conformity with sharia (Islamic law)."
That apparently has opened some sort of loophole for Saudi women to compete outside the official Saudi delegation.
Less than a month ago, the IOC had a story on its web site headlined ,"Progress made for Saudi women athletes at London 2012."
In a Thursday statement to the Associated Press, the IOC said,  "We are still in discussion and working to ensure the participation of Saudi women at the games in London."
One can only hope that doesn't mean the IOC will cave in to the Saudis in some kind of compromise that allows female athletes as long as they are unofficial.
That is how Dalma Malhas, a Saudi national born in Ohio, competed in the 2010 Youth Olympic Games in equestrian.  She came on an IOC invitation after the Saudis would not send her.
But that isn't progress.
It's just a way of turning women who are second-class sports citizens in their own country into second-class citizens at the Olympics, no matter how much the IOC may claim this is a way for Saudi women to get their feet in the Olympic door.
If that happens, IOC officials may liken it to the compromise that allowed athletes from Yugoslavia (Serbia-Montenegro) to compete in individual events at the 1992 Olympics under the Olympic flag.   
That compromise owed to United Nations sanctions against Yugoslavia after what the U.N. security council called at the time alleged aggression by Yugoslavia in wars with two of its former republics.
This is completely different.  It involves one of the so-called "Fundamental Principles of Olympism as spelled out in the Olympic Charter, to wit:
"Any form of discrimination with regard to a country on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement."
Human Rights Watch published a report in February that "documented the systematic discrimination against women in sports in Saudi Arabia, including their exclusion from the 153 sports clubs regulated by Nawaf’s ministry, the Saudi National Olympic Committee (NOC), and the 29 national sporting federations, which are also overseen by Nawaf in his capacity as head of the NOC."
The worst part of this is the IOC deserves great credit for helping increase women's participation in the Olympics.  Forty years ago in Munich, only 14 percent (1,058) of the 7,173 total athletes were women; four years ago in Beijing, 42 percent (4,746) of the 11,196 total athletes were women.
That is what makes the idea of a nudge-nudge-wink-wink compromise with the Saudis as absurd as the eponymous Monty Python skit.
It's also just plain wrong.
It's time for the IOC to stand for its allegedly sacrosanct beliefs.  Either Saudi Arabia, Brunei and Qatar have women athletes in their official Olympic delegations or the door is closed to all their athletes.

IOC, OCA seminar focuses on challenges in women's sports

MUSCAT (OMAN): The challenges that women athletes confront and possible solutions to them dominated the discussion during a two-day seminar on women's sports and media organised by the International Olympic Committee in collaboration with the Olympic Council of Asia

The Oman Olympic Committee played host as delegates from 45 countries, including India, deliberated on how to increase the participation of women in sports and administrative roles in their respective National Olympic Committees in the April 25-26 seminar. 

Among the presenters at the event were IOC Women and Sports Commission member Beng Choo Low from Malaysia and veteran Australian sports journalist Tracey Lee Holmes, who has covered six Olympics in a career spanning over two decades. 

The issues that dominated the discussion included the disparity in media coverage of women's sports viz-a-viz men's sports, the lack of training facilities for women athletes in participating countries and the issues surrounding the dress code of various sports when it comes to Muslim women in conservative societies. 

"The first thing the women need to do is stop complaining about being discriminated against because there is no point in that. We have to create our space, we should not expect men to create that for us. Don't wait for others to give opportunities, if you believe in something just do it yourself," said Low while addressing the delegates, only two of whom were men. 

"Women should not expect a place for themselves because of their gender, they should get there on the basis of their talent and capabilities. 

"What we can work on is to improve the pool of women coaches so that young girls even in conservative societies are exposed to sports without any restrictions," she said. 

During the seminar, OCA's Women and Sports Committee head Natalya Sipovich gave a status report on the progress made by women in terms of participation in Continental Games and in their respective National Olympic Committees. 

"I hope the NOCs seriously implement our recommendation of having 20 per cent reservation for capable women in administrative roles," she said. 

"We have to keep knocking at the door so that some day the window of opportunity opens up," she added. 

Another issue which was discussed vigorously was the dress code for Muslim women in sports, especially soccer and beach volleyball. 

FIFA's ban on women playing soccer with hijab was also a hot topic of discussion and the Sipovich said designs are now ready to ensure that Muslim women can play the sport with their heads covered without causing any safety concerns. 

"FIFA's hijab ban is because of the safety concerns because the way it is tied, a player might get injured if a rival lunges at her," explained Low. 

On the last day of the seminar, on April 26, the delegates pondered on an action plan to improve women's sports. The suggestions made at the seminar would be sent to the IOC for deliberation and implementation.
Source: The Times of India


A football friendly hijab may give Muslim women a sporting chance with Fifa

 By Ferry Biedermann 

Just out of its plastic wrapper, it's an unprepossessing bit of white fabric the size of a large handkerchief with some stitching and a bit of Velcro. But this sports-friendly sports hijab may give many Muslim women a shot at playing competitive football without danger of disqualification. Topic Netherlands Fifa "In the West, there is so much connected to this piece of fabric that it is not fair anymore," to Muslim women Dutch designer Cindy van den Bremen said last week in an interview in Rotterdam. The "piece of fabric" she referred to is the hijab, a topic Mrs Van den Bremen, a non-Muslim, has been immersed in since creating a sports hijab design 12 years ago as a graduating project at the design academy in Eindhoven. The Velcro strips are used for fastening the hijab safely - so it comes off when pulled. "I really want to express the fact that I am not pro or against the hijab. I am pro-choice", she said. The invention echoes the burqini, and Australian designed, Islamic-approved swimsuit that now even allows Muslim women to work as lifeguards on the beaches. The five-year ban on women wearing a hijab on the playing field, by the world's governing body for football, Fifa, deprived some Muslim women of the choice to play. Now Mrs Van den Bremen's sports hijab, part of her burgeoning hijab business under the brand name Capsters, may help overturn the decision. This month, the International Football Association Board (IFAB) of which Fifa is a major member, agreed to allow women to wear the hijab as a trial. A final decision will be made at a meeting in London in July if the designs from Capsters and at least one other designer, a Canadian design, can be worn. Football's rule-making body, IFAB, ruled in March last year that scarves worn around the neck, or "snoods", posed a possible choking threat on the field. The ruling was taken to include the hijab. It did allow head coverings that followed the hairline, such as caps, but required the neck to remain free. To many critics, not only in the Muslim world, it was a thinly disguised attempt to keep the hijab off the field. In February, even the United Nations came out against a ban when an adviser to the secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, called for football for all women without discrimination. Fifa says the ban goes back to a 2007 rule stating: "The player's equipment must not carry any political, religious or personal statements." Iran, where the wearing of the headscarf is obligatory, has been one of the most vocal opponents of the ban, clashing with Fifa in 2010 and 2011. The second occasion, in June 2011, the Iranian women's team was forced to forfeit its Olympics qualification game against Jordan because the players were wearing the hijab. At the time, Jordan's Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein had been elected as vice-president for Asia of Fifa and had the hijab ban in his sights. "We will work together to find a solution that respects the rules of the game and the culture at the same time," he said shortly after taking up his post and amid the uproar over the Iran-Jordan match. It was Prince Ali who made the presentation to IFAB this month to overturn the ban. The Capsters design was a natural part of the proceedings because it had been introduced to Jordan's national football team by its Dutch coach, even though only some of the team's players wear the hijab. Fifa's medical committee is expected to examine the designs and Mrs Van den Bremen is counting on being involved. "Hopefully and most likely we will be part of the committee because we designed it and the main reason for this is to get a hijab solution, not to disallow it," she said. She is amazed to find herself involved in such a technical sports matter, never being particularly interested in football. Her involvement with the hijab flowed out of issues of integration of Muslims in the Netherlands. She was intrigued when a young girl was banned from gym class in high school over an 'unsafe' hijab. It inspired her to come up with a better design. "Here I thought that I was designing for a girl. Little did I know that when I graduated, the whole circus started of publicity. It was internationally also published in newspapers and articles she wrote in publications such as the New York Times. Orders started pouring in just on my Hotmail account, from New York, from South Africa, from Australia," said Mrs Van den Bremen. While she is not exclusively a designer of hijabs, her business has branched out into casual hijabs as well as more exclusive designer hijabs. The brand is being sold in more than 10 countries and she said she said she has just signed a distribution deal with the Sun and Sands Sports chain in the Middle East. She emphasised her conviction that a reversal of the hijab ban by Fifa would be good for women, through sports in general. But she also acknowledged that it could help her business, which still requires investment, she said. "We have to see what happens come July. Maybe we make adjustments, who knows. It would be wonderful if this is the design that Fifa approves and, of course, we'd put a big tag on it: Fifa approved."
Source: http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/europe/a-football-friendly-hijab-may-give-muslim-women-a-sporting-chance-with-fifa#full

Omani female jockey eyes the big time

Rising up the ranks, she hopes to see female riders from Gulf countries make their mark in the Dubai World Cup
By M. Satya Narayan, Chief Sports Reporter

Azhar Al Wardi, Omani female jockey Abu Dhabi:
Oman's Azhar Al Wardi is hoping to break into big-time flat racing like her countrywoman Salima Al Taleei. Currently racing as an amateur in the Fegentri Cup and in the HH Shaikha Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies World Championship (IFAHR), the 25-year-old has already scored some important wins and among one of her aims is to race on Dubai World Cup night. “ There are some very good lady jockeys in the Fegentri Cup riding as amateurs. In fact it gives us lady riders from the Gulf countries the belief that we can do very well in international races too. ” Azhar, who has taken part in flat races regularly in Oman, has also raced in Turkey, the Netherlands, Qatar, Abu Dhabi, and Australia. Her exploits in a fledgling career were acknowledged as the Oman lady jockey won the Best Jockey award in the newly-instituted HH Shaikha Fatima Bint Mubarak Darley Awards. Azhar was in Abu Dhabi last week for the announcement of the HH Shaikha Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies World Championship (IFAHR). In an exclusive interview with Gulf News, she said lady jockeys in the region were fast catching up with their counterparts from the rest of the world. Following are some excerpts from the interview:
Gulf News: Did you watch the Dubai World Cup race meeting? Azhar Al Wardi: Every year I watch it on TV but this year I was there and watched all the races live. I was so happy that lady jockeys were taking part in the Dubai World Cup meeting. It was great to see them compete against some of the best male jockeys and in one of the world's best set of races.
As a lady jockey yourself, how did you feel when you saw lady jockeys take part in the Dubai World Cup meeting?
Hayley Turner in the sprint race and Chantal Sutherland in the Dubai World Cup looked so cool and confident. Though they did not manage to win, they looked so much part of the great meeting and I wished I was there riding. But I am sure in the future, one of the lady jockeys from the Gulf or Arab region will race on Dubai World Cup night. The HH Shaikha Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies World Championship (IFAHR) series is now going to be open for professional lady jockeys too.
How do you see this affecting amateur jockeys like you?
It is a good move and it will be beneficial to us. We can get a lot of experience while racing with the professionals. In fact, it will be like a small competition between the amateur jockeys and the professionals. We will be motivated to do well against the professional lady jockeys. It will give us a chance to show that amateurs can also win when competing against professionals. It will be a good learning experience for us. You have become the first winner of the Best Jockey in the HH Shaikha Fatima Bint Mubarak Darley Awards which is now going to be an annual affair.
How did you feel winning it?
The award gives me a great feeling. There are some very good lady jockeys in the Fegentri Cup riding as amateurs. In fact it gives us lady riders from the Gulf countries the belief that we can do very well in international races too. We can prove all the doubters wrong that lady jockeys from the Gulf countries lack the skills. In fact, now we are keen to ensure we win races and qualify to race in the HH Shaikh Fatima Bint Mubarak World Championship (IFAHR) race to be held in November in Abu Dhabi.
How many years do you think it will take for lady jockeys from the Gulf countries to catch up with the rest?
I honestly feel there is no gap between us and the lady jockeys from other countries. I have already won seven races in the Fegentri Cup series and I feel that is a good yardstick of our level of skills. So, I am already there racing in the Fegentri Cup series. Fatma Al Manji [from Oman] won the HH Shaikha Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies World Championship (IFAHR) race in Houston in March. Shathra [Al Hajjaj of the UAE] I hope will soon join us in the Fegentri Cup. So we are already there.
What do you think are the hurdles you face in what is a male-dominated sport?
We never had many opportunities to race. But since the Shaikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Global Arabian Racing Festival launched the HH Shaikha Fatima Bint Mubarak races for lady jockeys last year, now we are getting some opportunities. The more races we take part in, the more experience we will gain and hopefully we will get to race in big meetings like the Dubai World Cup night. Once we do well and prove ourselves in the ladies races, then the connections will begin to take notice of our potential.
Source: http://gulfnews.com/sport/other-sports/omani-female-jockey-eyes-the-big-time-1.1011712