Hijabs and Hat-tricks: Muslim women lead the field

Growing up in Tallaght, Fadhila Hajji loved playing football with her brothers.
Kicking a ball around the yard during her teen years was the perfect way to relax after a long day at school. Unfortunately, the headscarf or hijab she wore as a Muslim teenager meant she was unable to play matches with other girls.
“It was very upsetting to me because I couldn’t express my passion for football,” says Hajji as she prepares for her weekly training in Phoenix Park on a grey, wet morning. “It was something I really enjoyed playing, something that I could use to blow steam off. Playing with everyone was just my happy time. I was really eager to join a team but couldn’t because of my headscarf.”
In March 2014, football’s world-governing body Fifa lifted the ban on head covers during matches. This meant female Muslim players would have the option to cover their heads when playing.
When Hajji’s brother Abdul-Rahman heard about Fifa’s decision to lift the ban on headscarves, he approached his sister with the idea of creating a Muslim women’s football team in Dublin. He was already an active member of Sports Against Racism Ireland (Sari).
Along with their friend, Abdul, the three young soccer enthusiasts contacted friends around Dublin encouraging them to get involved in their “Hijabs and Hat-tricks” project. Diverse City FC kicked off training in March 2014 and, two months later, they made their debut at the Fair Play Cup on World Refugee Day.

Weekly training

Mahdiyah Ayub from Coolock has joined Hajji for the Phoenix Park training despite the incessant rain. The girls stamp their feet as they catch up on the week’s gossip, waiting for the session to kick off.
Ayub was already a keen footballer player when Hajji called her in 2014 to join the new team. Before playing with Diverse City, she often removed her scarf for fear of sticking out on a pitch of non-Muslim players.
“It was more I was uncomfortable in my own skin,” says the 17 year old, catching her breath after warm-up laps. “Knowing you’re the only Muslim, you try and fit in more with the other girls, so I took my scarf off.”
The decision to join Diverse City has given her the confidence to play her favourite sport while wearing her hijab.
“Since I’ve joined this team, I’ve been wearing it to my school matches, to clubs and everything. The team gave me more confidence to go out there . . . to wear my scarf, to be proud of being a Muslim. To be proud of my scarf because it’s part of my identity.”
Wearing a scarf while playing sport is just like tying your hair back, says Ayub. “It’s also great because when it’s windy or raining you have an extra layer so your hair doesn’t get wet.”
Amina Moustafa, who is in first-year science at Trinity College, doesn’t wear a hijab, but has many friends who were afraid to join teams because of their headscarves. She and her twin sister, who also plays on the team, were lucky enough to grow up in a household where sports was always encouraged.
“My mam said when she was younger she was told not to play, that maybe it wasn’t for her. She didn’t want that for us so she encouraged us to keep going out.
“She loved the idea that there was a Muslim girls team and it was promoting diversity and interculturalism in Ireland. I’ve done so much sport over the years and this is the best team for bonding together. Normally, you just play the sport and go home, whereas I feel when we’re playing there’s more of a connection between the players.”
The girls are so enthusiastic about Diverse City they insisted on continuing training and playing matches during Ramadan – a period of the Islamic year when Muslims do not eat or drink anything between sunrise and sunset.
“It’s a good distraction from eating,” says Moustafa. “You don’t even think about it. We were just thinking about how amazing it was that we actually won a match when we didn’t have any energy.”
Azeez Yusuff, who coaches the team, says he was pleasantly surprised by how talented some players are. “All of them were good from day one when I first saw them – and now they’ve just totally developed which is absolutely amazing.”
“It’s great to see everyone mixing together because people say Muslim women just stay at home and stuff like that. Here you can see they’ve proven them wrong.”

Common sense

Former Republic of Ireland football manager Brian Kerr, who sits on the board of Sari and has followed the Hijabs and Hat-tricks project with great interest, says Fifa’s decision to allow women to wear hijabs while playing was “common sense”.
“Why should they have that restriction when in their culture they have to wear something to cover their hair?” he asks. Kerr believes Ireland’s decision to host the 2003 Special Olympics marked a turning point in attitudes.
“Why aren’t we inclusive in sport for everybody? As long as people give it the best they can and we can provide those opportunities, it can be vastly satisfying for players, coaches and volunteers.”
“A new population is coming into the country; a new diverse group with different religions and different cultural norms.”
Fadhila Hajji is proud to have played a leading role in making competitive football a reality for Irish Muslim women in their teens and early 20s. In December, she received a People of the Year Award for her work with Sari in fighting discrimination through sport.
“I feel proud. I feel like I have achieved something for the team, for myself and also for people around the world that feel inspired. I think it’s great that people from different backgrounds and ethnicities are getting together in one community and playing football.”
Hajji believes Muslim participation in sport sends out a positive message. “Islam is not portrayed very well at the moment. People seeing the Muslim people doing something good, that’s what we need right now.”

Source: http://www.irishtimes.com/sport/soccer/hijabs-and-hat-tricks-muslim-women-lead-the-field-1.2479670



By Shireen Ahmed
VICE is covering the launch of the Global Goals for sustainable development. In the next fifteen years, they want to achieve three massive tasks: end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice and fix climate change.
This summer, as I was watching the thrilling Women's World Cup final between the U.S. and Japan, I got a direct message via Twitter from my friend, Sara. (Names of activists in Iran have been changed for the protection.) She was elated to be able to watch the match, too—she lives in Iran and was unable to watch much of the tournament. We chatted briefly about the match. I told Saher I was fortunate enough to have attended some of the matches at Lansdowne Stadium, in Ottawa, with my niece and my daughter. "I wish one day I can watch in a stadium," wrote Sara.
Sara's message made my heart ache. Her words were laced with sadness from injustice, a feeling I know, even in Canada. For years, FIFA's ban on hijab denied me, along with millions of other women, any chance of playing football. Enduring that ban was painful, unnecessary and kept me from fully enjoying the sport I played for decades. The beautiful game is a huge part of my identity. It has inspired and invigorated me, and I was kept from playing. Yet, I had the freedom of attending matches in person.
Sara lives in Iran, which since the 1979 revolution has banned women from attending sporting events at stadiums around the country. Hardline clerics insist that it is inappropriate to have women at matches, where they would unnecessarily be mixing with men outside their families, where the male players wear shorts, and where, the clerics say, there is often vulgar language and behaviour. Nonetheless, non-Iranian women are allowed to support visiting teams in Iran, and have freely attended games—one of the things that has made the ban more unbearable for those subject to it.
For decades the ban focused largely on football stadiums (the most popular sport in Iran), but women were allowed to congregate and watch matches in public squares, which became popular during the 2010 World Cup. In 2012, before the EURO Cup, Iran extended the ban to include wrestling and volleyball matches and any area or stadium. Since then, men and women have been prohibited from watching matches together in public spaces, cafes, or restaurants.
"No one should be able to eliminate half the nation from public places," Sara later emailed me. "But without any change to the law, they will not let us attend."
To bar women from stadiums in a sports-loving country like Iran is a form of exclusion so perverse that it has propelled much action. Open Stadiums (also known as White Scarves) started in 2005 to draw attention to gender inequalities in sport and lobby against women being kept from public stadiums, and Sara has been a central figure in Tehran for the organization since the beginning. The activists of Open Stadiums organize petitions and lobby international sporting federations for support. At home in Tehran, when posters and placards have been restricted, they have resorted to printing the political messages onto their white headscarves to avoid any fracas with police. In 2009, Iranian laws on public protests tightened, and Open Stadiums and their allies went online and expanded their advocacy efforts. Identities of organizers in Iran are protected due to danger of persecution.
The issue has even been the subject of films like 'Offside' (2006) by Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi. The critically acclaimed movie portrays the fictional struggles of six young female football fans who are prevented from attending a World Cup Match and are eventually detained. Panahi made the film hoping it would "push the limits in Iran and help women." Almost ten years later, Iranian women are still not free to enter Azadi Stadium.
An Iranian soccer fan watching a match in 2006—not much has changed for women since then. Photo by Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA
On June 20, 2014, British-Iranian student Ghoncheh Ghavami got ready to protest at Azadi (which means 'freedom' in Farsi), which was hosting a men's volleyball match. She was detained by Iranian authorities, and after 100 days of solitary confinement, she was sentenced to one year in prison. The case was a slap in the face to sports, athletes, and fans, and it grabbed the attention of major media outlets and Amnesty International; a petition for her release collected over 730,000 signatures. President Ary Graca of the Federation International du Volleyball (FIVB) issued a strong statement last November: "We never normally seek to interfere with the laws of any country. But in accordance with the Olympic Charter, the FIVB is committed to inclusivity and the right of women to participate in sport on an equal basis." The charges against Ghavami were finally dropped in April, and she returned to the United Kingdom.
Days later, deputy Sports Minister Abdolhamid Ahmad declared that Iran would allow women into stadiums. There had been small steps from government officials to address the stadium ban before this year. In 2006, for example, former President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, a football fan, wrote to Iran's Physical Education Organization and implored them to allow women into stadiums. He unsuccessfully argued that women would improve the atmosphere at stadiums and welcome a more family-friendly space. Ahmadinejad did not have any support from FIFA at the time.
The April announcement of the stadium ban reversal coincided with the news of abreakthrough in negotiations over Iran's nuclear program. Activists were hopeful that real progress had been made. Yet, women were still denied entry into Azadi Stadium to watch the six international matches hosted by the Iranian Volleyball Federation this summer. Despite pressure from Open Stadiums, FIVB did not comment further. Any politicized reasoning for keeping women from sport is enraging; more frustrating is international governing bodies of the sport who just release press releases and then disappear—orheads of federations whose disingenuous comments do not help.
Iranian women have a few allies among the higher ranks of the international sports. Moya Dodd, a FIFA executive committee member, is a tireless advocate for women in football.
As vice-president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), which has jurisdiction over Iran, Dodd is perhaps in a strongest position to put more pressure on Iran to truly open its stadiums. She has met with Iranian activists multiple times in recent years, including with a member of Open Stadiums during this year's Women's World Cup.
"Football is the most popular sport in the world, and it plays a big role in setting the behavioural norms in society," Dodd wrote in an e-mail. "Excluding women from enjoying it as a live spectacle is not only unfair to those women as individuals, it's not only unfair to the game of football to reduce its audience, it's not only unfair to the development of women's football because women can't witness and learn from watching the those games - but the message it sends is that it's also acceptable to exclude us from society's mainstream activities. And that is a fundamental breach of human rights."
Dodd was instrumental in lobbying FIFA after Iran women's national football team suffered a heartbreaking disqualification for wearing hijabs in 2011, and was unable to gain a place in the Women's World Cup. That prompted a two-year campaign that eventually resulted on FIFA lifting the ban on head-coverings in March 2014.
Sara told me that Iranian feminists are in regular contact with Dodd and grateful for the solidarity she has provided. Working with grassroots activists is crucial in order to accomplish goals set by ....To continue reading, click here.
Source: https://sports.vice.com/ca/article/stadiums-are-still-closed-to-women-in-iran


By Shireen Ahmed
"Hands Up... SCREAM," he shouted. "HANDS UP! Faster! Faster!"
Konga blew his whistle and I jumped into fight stance, my hands protecting my face and head, trying to emulate his agility. I was panting and tried to keep up with the pace and the demands of the instructor. I faced Jihad, my 13-year-old daughter. Beads of sweat covered her forehead and her eyes were dark and intense.
A few weeks ago, I committed to attending this self-defence session offered by Konga Fitness at Battle Arts Academy in Mississauga, Ontario, located just west of Toronto. It is one of the 20 self-defence workshops and sessions being offered for women in the last two months. After an alarming number of attacks on identifiable Muslims occurred in the Greater Toronto Area following the tragedies in Paris and San Bernardino, a few community members and organizations mobilized to offer workshops and self-defence classes.
Islamophobia has reared its ugly head in Canada and a lot of women in the Muslim community were feeling particularly vulnerable, angry, frustrated and, yes, scared—I certainly was.
Our instructor, Khaled Konga, yelled directions for our body positioning and sequences. We continued for another three minutes. When he was satisfied with our movements and our responses to his commands, we were permitted to take a water break.
"Confidence. It is about confidence" Konga reiterated as we gulped, "You must be confident. You must be aware. You must use your voice!" His Egyptian accent dotted his directions. "You are strong. I am not going to teach you superman kicks and fancy punches. I am teaching you the basics so you can be safe. This is reality and function."
Above all, he reminded us, screaming is imperative. I look over and see my child nodding in agreement. I was grateful that she was absorbing all of this. Some of the other participants were smiling and chatting intermittently but we both stayed in battle mode. This was important. We both knew it. 
This session had about 30 attendees. All but two were women of colour. The majority of the women in the group were wearing the hijab. When I first brought up personal safety in the wake of an increase of attacks on Muslims, Jihad confessed she was more concerned for me since I cover and she does not. I realized that the best thing was for both of us to attend together.
I am an identifiable Muslim woman. I wear a hijab. I have worn it for almost 20 years—by choice. That my decision to wear a headscarf could be a trigger for ignorant people to attack me is unsettling, to say the least. My daughter does not choose to cover. But she identifies as a Muslim and her name is unmistakably and unapologetically Arabic. I trust her but I feel burdened by an anxiety that she could be targeted because of her beliefs, her skin colour and even her name. Most of the victims of recent attacks have been young women. And some close to my home. As a result, some have decided to not go out at night as often. I don't blame them. But I opted for physical preparedness in case my daughter or I were ever in that situation.
My friend Noor, who happens to be a black belt in karate and also a sexual assault prevention instructor, shared the information about Konga's free sessions, and I immediately registered for two spots. Jihad initially groaned and insisted that the wrestling sessions in our living room with her dad and three brothers were sufficient. But I wouldn't have any of it, fearing that Islamophobes and misogynists could unleash their ignorant rage on her. She would come to this workshop; if only for giving me and her father some peace of mind.
I might have reconsidered when I saw how eager she would be to partner with me and attack me on Konga's cues. She was fierce and determined. "At least this attitude you giveme can empower you in something," I muttered to her. She rolled her eyes but we continued the drill.
In between bouts of emphasizing the importance of spatial awareness and quick footwork, Konga reminded us that our main purpose was, in fact, not to maim aggressors but to get to safety. Our sharp responses of an elbow or a kick might only irritate or confuse a person attacking us. But it would give us that opportunity to get the hell out of there and get help.
Jihad remained rapt with attention. She is used to physical demands of an athlete but this training is about awareness and smart decisions under pressure. We are told that ultimately we should practice these maneuvers until they become second nature. Constant awareness of the spaces we are in is so important for all women—Muslim, or not, and for all ages.
Jihad was the youngest one in the session but victims of such attacks can be quite young. I think about this a lot. In the United States, one such victim was a girl in sixth grade and beaten by three schoolboys who shouted "ISIS" at her as they punched her.
I want my daughter to be able to defend herself, and I will not always be there. Those thoughts weigh heavily on me. Young Muslims, who grew up on timbits and homogenized milk in Canada—the only home they have ever known—worry about their safety. Those young female Muslims cheer for the same hockey teams, volunteer at community hospitals and inhale poutine like any other teenager from Canada. But they worry about being targets of racist violence, which many in this country will never experience.
"Mama, focus!" she snapped and then promptly pushed against my arms. I shook myself to attention and straightened my posture. The I re-engaged with her. She needs to see me learning and fighting. The information we received was mentally exhausting and physically demanding. My arms hurt and my calves are sore but I feel I need to continue.
In every class, workshop or seminar I have ever attended, the instructors all underline how confidence is essential. A two-hour session is not enough to master all martial arts moves, but consistent training can certainly help. In one of our many conversations, Noor told me that, "Participants having a false sense of security is always a concern, but you want to ensure women understand martial arts is about having positive headspace." She adds that a sense of sisterhood is also strengthened by these initiatives. This is also an important lesson for my daughter to learn. I wish that personal and community development didn't have to be in the context of protection from violence, but it is her reality right now.
Gendered Islamophobia is rooted in racism and misogyny. It is a constant in the lives of women. Misogyny has lurked in the true north strong and free for a long time. It is not something new to Canada. Our government just released an inquiry about over 1,200missing and murdered Indigenous women.
With powerful Western figures like Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper having spewed hateful vitriol, the increase in anti-Muslim sentiment is notable. But we go forward. We practice that jab, that block, that kick to an attacker's groin, again and again.
Konga wraps up the session lightheartedly and says: "This is just a small key. A key you can use to open the door and get out of danger."
We grabbed a coffee with Noor after the workshop to decompress and discuss the afternoon. I didn't want Jihad to feel burdened with a reality that seems grim. But she ordered two pieces of cheesecake and was her normal self.
Noor hasn't been attacked before, and I certainly hope both Jihad and I are also fortunate enough to never have to defend ourselves from a physical attack. Safety is not a privilege, it is a right. But sometimes you have to fight for it—you have to burst through the door to a safe space. And now at least Jihad has a key.
All photos courtesy Konga Fitness
Source: https://sports.vice.com/ca/article/the-key-to-fighting-gendered-islamophobia