Is Islam Compatible With Women's Sports, Fitness and Health?

By Shahnaz Taplin-Chinoy
As the Olympian winners savor their gold, silver and bronze medals and the London party winds down, I think much of the world is still perplexed by the intersection between Islam, women and sports.
The global Muslim mosaic is multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic -- as are the women. In Bishkek, I met a vodka-drinking Krgyz woman with a doctoral degree. She defies the traditional stereotype of Muslim women -- and yet she views herself as a solid, observant, liberal Muslim who said to me: "I am every bit as Muslim as any other Muslim." She is a stark contrast to Saudi, Yemeni and Nigerian women controlled by the strict tenets of sharia.
Nine Muslim women contestants won medals in the London Olympics. They represented the world's Islamic spectrum. Their faith dictated their norms of dress, including the hijab which the Olympic committee compromised on for Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani from Saudi Arabia who competed in Judo.
Modesty, no doubt, is a vital tenet for conservative Muslim women -- many of whom do not want to negotiate the hijab, moderating their modesty, even as they participate in the Olympic Games. On the other hand, for Americans, modesty is of no import in the sports arena, where performance trumps all.
For me, the bottom line issue about sports for Muslim girls and women is how it impacts their fitness, health and well being. In strict sharia-driven societies, Muslim women are often deprived of exercise. A Human Rights Watch report, "Steps of the Devil: Denial of Women and Girls Rights to Sport in Saudi Arabia," highlights, "Gender discrimination in Saudi Arabia is institutional and entrenched. Millions of girls are banned from playing sports in schools and women are prohibited from playing team sports and denied access to sports facilities, including gyms and swimming pools."
The big question is where does this conservatism come from? Are these views propagated by the Islamic faith or culture? The words and actions of Prophet Mohammed would suggest that these restrictive views on women's sports are inconsistent with the faith.
But not all countries we think of as being religiously dominated are in the anti-girls sports camp. In an article entitled, "Islam and Women's Sports," Gertrud Pfister explains Iran, where Muslim feminists claim that neither the Quran nor Muhammad's sayings prescribe women's exclusion from public life. Iranians support physical activity and good health for both sexes.
In fact, Iran has the distinction of being an enlightened forerunner in supporting women's sports as championed by Fa'ezeh Hashemi, daughter of President Rafsanjani. Almost 20 years ago, Hashemi initiated the first Women's Games in Iran (in 1993); and once again in 2005 when 1,700 athletes from 40 countries competed and 10,000 people attended -- while Saudi Arabia brings up the rear -- permitting women to participate this year in the 2012 Olympics.
When local culture wins, women mostly lose: Muslim women athletes are caught in the cross fire between faith and culture. If the latter is dominated by patriarchy, misogyny and tribal customs, the religious support for sports and good health is simply ignored. Muslim sociologists fight back by referencing Islamic sources in concluding sports for health should be mandated for women. The struggle is increasingly more between progressive sports loving Muslim women like Lina al-Maeena, founder of the Jeddah United basketball league, being pitted against regressive female sexuality/chastity advocates. These concerns are also tied closely to family honor which could be challenging as Muslim women forge new frontiers for themselves.
But what is the genuine Islamic tradition? What did the Prophet say about women and sports?
Ahmed Shihab Eldin, in "Saudi Arabia's Olympic Paradox: Insulting Women, Islam and "Prostitutes"on HuffPost, quotes a Saudi female friend questioning Saudi Arabia's interpretation of the faith: "To me it is a contradiction to Islam itself. The prophet said teach your children 3 things, archery, swimming and riding horse. ... Archery for being self-sufficient and getting food, riding horses for mobility and swimming for sport." The friend goes one step further and she says, "today's modern world equivalent -- getting a job, driving cars and sports in general -- are still restricted for millions of women."
This violation of religious tradition has serious consequences. It impacts women's ability to exercise, to compete in sports and most egregious of all is its detrimental impact on their health. Obesity of >25kg among 20+ years, is very high in Saudi Arabia: for men it is 70.2 percent and for women it is 73.2 percent -- but before we get too high handed, here is the comparative data set for American men 72.5 percent and for American women 66.3 percent (according to the WHO Global Status 2010 report). Better now than later for both nations to address this health hazard for both sexes.
Just to remind ourselves of Islam's origins and positions, I would like to revisit a story about Prophet Muhammad and his wife Aisha, a significant religious scholar. Aisha who loved games and sports says: "I raced with the Prophet and I beat him. Later when I had put on some weight, we raced again and he won. Then he said this cancels that (referring to the previous race)."
And finally, when in doubt, Muslims can again revert to the Prophet who is reported to have said: "And your body also has a right over you." This is the Islam of my youth. It is the Islam of sense, sensibility and spirituality -- a faith of moderation, a way of life which also believes in the oneness of humanity.
This blog is inspired by Khadijah, Prophet Muhammad's first wife. Khadijah is the quintessential role model for Muslim women. She was the first convert to Islam, the first Muslim woman entrepreneur, a globalist and a feminist

An Islamic Opinion: "The Integration between Sports and Islam

 The Integration between Sports and Islam
Sports and Islam have relevance and be consistent when done accordance Islamic rules and laws applicable
Exercise a key factor in order to be a healthy and strong body to perform various activities. In Islam, the sport not only intended to make the body healthy, but it can execute its obligations as a good Muslim. The Integration between Sport and Islam is that God commands all the activities to be carried out in accordance with the Muslims should the rules and teachings of God such as, start and end activity with prayer.
Along with the changing times many people around the world that have talent in sports and able to become Muslim Athletes that runs in the rules and norms of Islam. One’s faith able to provide strength and encouragement in performing duties and activity properly and perfectly. Not denied that many Muslim Athletes that have demonstrated outstanding achievement and became character that counts in world sport.
Based on the teachings of Islam teaches that Muslims should not rely on human power because it is not eternal, but must be balanced with a strong faith. The abilities of the Muslim Athletes are a gift from God so that in all every success must always give thanks and pray to Allah. Religious diversity, especially in the sports field became a challenge for Muslim Athletes to show that Muslims can gain achievements in various sports.
The expected relationship between Islamic countries can be further strengthened to become a place for the entire Muslim Athletes world in order to communicate, make friends and exchange ideas about Islam. Sports become a means of achievement for every athlete, whether Muslim or nonMuslim athletes to compete fairly.
It said in the teachings of Islam that unlawful if the Muslim Athletes in a manner that does not comply with Islamic teachings such as, doping or drug use to increase stamina during a match. Islamic law says that a Muslim must possess an honest, knowledgeable, devout worship, believe in the power of God and not do anything that should not be done according to Islamic rules. The use of drugs and doping to increase stamina and certainly contrary to the rules of Islamic law, so cursed ifMuslim Athletes do the humble, and not trust the power of God.
In Islamic law, Muslim athletes should become a model for other Muslims around the world in accordance with the teachings of Islam. It says that the teachings of the religion of Islam and sporting activities can consistent, as many Islamic activities that need strong stamina. Currently, many Muslims who misunderstand the purpose of jihad and acts of violence causing unpleasant to others especially to non-Muslims.
Jihad in the modern era can be done various kinds such as, achieving success for the Muslim Athletes and the pride of a nation, strive to provide the proper understanding of Islamic teachings and others. In essence, sport and Islam became consistent when done accordance with the principles and the teachings of Islam.

Discover Football information for application

Dear sportswomen and activists,
We from DISCOVER FOOTBALL have taken it upon ourselves to promote intercultural understanding and equality through international encounters in women‘s football. We are dedicated to equal rights, emancipation and women‘s rights using football as a targeted strategy for empowerment.
In November we will organize an expert panel on women's football in the MENA region and in July 2013 there will be an international women's football tournament. We are very interested in your experience and learn from your strategies.
We kindly invite you to participate in the first expert panel on women’s football and empowerment in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) organized by DISCOVER FOOTBALL. It will take place from 26th of November to 30th of November in Berlin, Germany. We will take care of your visa, travel costs can be supported, so everybody can apply.
On the one hand we are looking for women who deal with football in any way and who can give an account of their situation. For these women, the expert panel is aimed at improving the structures for their work and/or with their teams. Here, everybody is an interesting participant for us - from the player to the official, if she is interested in
improving the situation of women's football and looking for guidelines and suggestions for their work.
Thus, we are hoping to increase women's competency in promoting and empowering girls and women through football. In this we also rely on the expertise of women outside the realm of football to pass on their
strategies for improvement. We are looking for lectures or workshops on the topics of campaigning, fund raising, networking, advertising, and of course legal expertise.
If you are interested, you will find the application forms on our web page http://www.discoverfootball.de/events-2/expert-forum/?lang=en.
For further questions please don't hesitate to get in touch with us a j.koesters@discoverfootball.de
Thank you all!
Looking forward to hearing from you,
Marlene and Johanna from DISCOVER FOOTBALL


UN Women and IOC join forces!

UN Women signs partnership agreement with the International Olympic Committee to advance gender equality

UN Women and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have signed a partnership agreement which will promote women’s empowerment through sports. On behalf of UN Women, Executive Director Michelle Bachelet signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Committee, represented by its President, Dr. Jacques Rogge. The partnership lays the groundwork for future collaborations to promote sport as an empowerment tool for women.
In promoting and advocating for sport and healthy lifestyles internationally, the IOC has long held that sport can contribute to building the psychological well-being, leadership capacity and empowerment of girls and women, while enhancing their roles and integration in society. Its aim to promote women in and through sport at all levels aligns with the principles and work of UN Women, in its work to advance gender equality and the empowerment of women worldwide.
Through this partnership, IOC and UN Women will join efforts within their respective mandates, to promote the participation of women in sport and physical activity, and advance gender equality and sustainable development in line with the Millennium Development Goals.
The two organizations have agreed to form a Follow-up Group which, through regular meetings, will define, develop and maintain a programme of international cooperation and implement activities of common interest. The partnership will strengthen IOC and UN Women efforts to encourage advocacy, education and field-level activities at country levels in collaboration with their national and regional networks.



The tragic triumph of Samia Yusuf Omar


Samia Yusuf Omar was an aspiring middle distance runner from Somalia. Her untimely death at sea in April 2012 cut short her Olympic dreams  and the hopes of her beloved Somalia. Samia's is a story of resilience, strength and determination. One that deserves not to be forgotten.
Unlike other world class athletes, little information is available on one of Somalia's strongest female athletes. 
Born and raised in Mogadishu, Samia was the eldest of six children. Gifted in physical ability, she struggled with access to proper facility, training and coaching. She had to navigate through wars, poverty, instability and inconsistent safety. In 1991, the year she was born, the Somali government fell and Mogadishu Stadium, which once hosted International events and competition, became a military compound for insurgents after housing UN special forces.  She and a few other athletes had few options other than a dilapidated Coni Stadium built in 1958 and the open road.
Duran Farah, President of the Somalia's national Olympic Committee stated: “Sports are not a priority for Somalia. There is no money for facilities or training. The war, the security, the 
difficulties with food and everything – there are just many other internal difficulties to deal with.” 
With no adequate track to run on, Samia was forced to run in the streets. She faced many threats and much harassment from insurgents who believed that as a Muslim woman, she should not be participating in sports at all. 
Covering as she trained in public, Samia wore a hijab, sweat pants and long-sleeved shirts as not to draw ire from local soldiers. 
Samia also had few opportunities to compete at different meets in the region due to logistics and other variables such as transportation, accommodation and political instability. 
Without financial support from a National Organization, access to doctors, sports therapists or even a stipend for a proper diet, Samia continued to train without formal coaching and instruction in order to participate in the Beijing 2008 Olympics with Abdinasir Said Ibrahim a runner in the 500 m event. They were the only two athletes that were sent to represent Somalia.

Samia was a middle distance runner but she was encouraged to run the 200m in Beijing for "the experience". She came in last in the race, at least 8 seconds behind the last runner in the event. She did not advance beyond the preliminaries. The crowd roared with appreciation as she came down the track to finish her race with pride and dignity. 
Abdi Ibrahim also finished last in his heat and did not advance. Both athletes were outclassed by their competitors but their determination and drive shone through. 
In preparation for the London Games Samia decided to move from Somalia into neighbouring Ethiopia.
An Al-Jazeera profile of Samia in 2011 confirmed that she left Somalia to find better training possibilities in Addis Abeba- a place where the sport of running is quite revered and respected. She had an opportunity to work with Eshetu Tura a former Olympian from Ethiopia. 
Without having to contend with threats to her personal safety from Al-Shabab, Samia could focus on training for London 2012.
Samia's sister Hodan, spoke with the BBC's Newsday Programme from Finland. She said Samia left Ethiopia and first travelled to Sudan then up to Libya. 
"She arrived in Libya in September 2011; for several months we didn't hear from her when she was lost in the Libyan desert and detained there, " Hodan explained. "But she decided to go by boat, and we told her not to, and my mother tried to tell her not to. But Samia was very determined and asked for our mother's forgiveness, and my mother gave it, and she took the boat, and she died."
According to unconfirmed reports Samia perished in an incident when the Italian navy approached the boat after they ran out of petrol and they asked for help. The Italian ship threw some ropes over the side for them to catch and swim to the navy ship. Samia was one of seven people- six women and one man who died trying to get on to the Italian ship. 
It is still unclear whether Samia drowned or whether her body was recovered other than to say that she died in a "boating accident". Reports of her death were confirmed August 20, 2012 from Somalia's National Olympic Committee after she would have competed in the London 2012 Games. 
Unofficially, Hodan said she had heard of her sister's death from other passengers on the boat.
Qadijo Aden Dahir, Deputy Chairman of Somalia's National Olympic Committee, said: "It's a sad death...She was our favourite for the London Olympics."
ZamZam Mohamed ran in place of Samia. 
Samia faced obstacles at every juncture of her journey to compete at the highest level of athletics. 

She faced disadvantages and hurdles such as non-existent resources and trained in conditions unfathomable to other athletes from around the world.
Athletes who, generally have the cultural and financial support of their homelands. 
Samia was a courageous woman with a passion to run and an unmatched work-ethic considering her surroundings.
She overcame cultural barricades,  navigated through war-torn society, left her the comfort of her family and consistently aimed for higher goals. 
To any observer, she is everything that is fundamentally good about athletes that is often lost in the material world of consumerism and show. She is humility, determination, drive and confidence. 
Samia's story is about more than running or participating in the Olympics. It is an opportunity to highlight an aspect that should be recognized and respected in sport: the human spirit
Samia may not have received a medal or sponsorship deals from Somalia but she was dedicated to representing her country and risked her life to prove that she could.
That is a triumph that should shine above her tragedy.

"We know that we are different from the other athletes. But we don't want o show it. We try our best to look like the rest. We understand we are not anywhere near the level of the other competitors here. We understand that very, very well. But more than anything else, we would like to show the dignity of ourselves and out country."- Samia Yusuf Omar, 2008


Kohistani aims to inspire Afghan girls

Female runner part of the team that returned to red carpet welcome in Kabul
Kabul: The first Afghan female to compete at an Olympics Games hopes to act as inspiration to other women in her country.
Tahmina Kohistani, the 23-year-old runner, may not have won a medal — she was the slowest of all the women to compete in the 100m, despite her personal best time of 14.42 seconds in the preliminary round — but her appearance at the Olympics was about more than that.
“By attending the London Olympics I have given the message to all Afghan girls that they are talented, they can pursue sport, they can attend international competitions and above all they can earn honour to their country,” she said on her return home on Tuesday.
“Although I could not win a medal, I was able to represent the Afghan women and I am proud to be the first Afghan girl to participate in the Olympic Games.”
In conservative Afghanistan, it was unthinkable, 11 years ago when the Taliban regime was in power, that a woman would participate in a sports event.
The fundamentalist regime, which collapsed in late 2001 with the US military intervention, had banned schools for girls and confined women to their homes. They also imposed a series of restrictions on male athletes, including insistence on sporting a long beard and wearing long trousers while playing.
In Ghazi Stadium, the national sports arena in Kabul where athletes train daily to improve their skills and ability, Taliban militants during their six-year reign often exacted punishment, including execution and the chopping off of hands and feet of alleged criminals, each Friday.
The six-member Afghan team to the London Games comprised Rohullah Nikpa and Nisar Ahmad Bahawi in taekwondo, athletes Masoud Azizi and Kohistani, boxer Aimal Faisal and judoka Ajmal Faizi Zada representing the war-torn, rugged country.
In the men’s 68kg category, the Afghan taekwondo player Nikpa earned a bronze medal — only the second of its kind earned by Afghanistan.
The team returned home on Tuesday morning and their excited countrymen extended red-carpet welcomes to Nikpa and the rest of the team as thousands of people, including government officials and lawmakers, waited in a long queue at Kabul International Airport to receive the Olympic hero and other members of the contingent.
“I would try my best to win gold medal in the next Olympic Games,” Nikpa said, surrounded by hundreds of his admirers.

Celebrating Female Muslim Athletes

As the excitement and glow of the London Olympics 2012 fade, Arwa Aburawa looks back on the media's unhealthy focus on hijab-wearing athletes.
Bediha Tunadagi of Turkey competes in the Women’s 58kg Weightlifting on Day 3 of the London 2012 Olympic Games
Wearing a modified hijab wrapped tight around her head, the female Saudi Judo fighter Wojdan Shaherkani made history in less than two minutes. In her agonisingly brief moment of glory, she became the first Saudi woman to take part in Olympics. She later told reporters there that she hoped “this was the beginning of a new era.”
Indeed, the recent London Olympics 2012 hosted the most Muslim women in the games’ entire history. It is also worth mentioning that the 2012 games hosted the first Muslim female athletes from both Qatar and Brunei as well as Saudi Arabia. With this in mind, you’d be excused for thinking that Muslim women are pretty new to the Olympics but you’d be mistaken. Muslim women have been taking part in the Olympics and winning gold for decades now.
However as Sertaç Sehlikoglu who explores Muslim women’s role in sports at the University of Cambridge explains, the recent focus on female Muslim athletes wearing the hijab means that the achievements of non-hijab wearing Muslim athletes are often neglected. And yet, it is with these non-hijab wearing Muslim athletes that the legacy of Muslim women at the Olympics begins.
“Historically, Muslim women without the hijab have been involved in international games for much longer than those who do wear some form of the hijab,” explains Sertaç Sehlikoglu. “Suat Aşeni and Halet Çambel were the first Muslim women at the Olympics and they represented Turkey at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. They were personally encouraged by Ataturk who wanted to get more women involved in public life and to create a modernised and more liberal society in Turkey. Like a lot of elite women at the time in countries such as Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia and Iran they also didn’t wear the hijab.”
Aşeni and Çambel were then followed by other non-hijab wearing Muslim athletes such as Moutawakel, Boulmerka and Shouaa who all went on to win gold medals. In 1984, Nawal El Moutawakel from Morocco became the first Muslim and Arab woman to win an Olympic gold medal. Eight years later, Hassiba Boulmerka from Algeria won a gold medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games in the 1,500 metres. Ghada Shouaa from Syria also won gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and is still the only Syrian to have received a gold medal till this day.
Despite these remarkable feats of athleticism, today there is focus on (the novelty of?) hijab-wearing female athletes that overlooks this history and also side-lines serious female athletes that have chosen not to wear the hijab.
“Since 9/11 there has been an unhealthy focus on the hijab to symbolise Muslim women and that has also occurred in sport,” states Sehlikoglu from the University of Cambridge. “Particularly in the international media, there is a focus on Muslim athletes wearing the hijab and that has been to the detriment of non-hijab wearing athletes. For example, there was a disproportionate focus on the Saudi athlete [Wojdan Shaherkani] who took part this year even though she was was only a blue belt in Judo and was trained by her father.”
Sehlikoglu does however acknowledge the importance of celebrating the uniqueness of hijab-wearing Muslim athletes: “The presence of hijab-wearing women at the opening ceremony was inspiring and very influential across the Muslim world… It highlights the fact that wearing a hijab shouldn’t prevent you from taking part in sport and that you can wear the hijab and be an Olympian. However, this focus on the hijab has drawn attention away from other important achievements by female Muslim athletes that we all need to celebrate.”
One example that Sehlikoglu notes is that Turkey sent more female athletes than males to the London 2012 Olympics for the first year ever. The fact that most of the female athletes didn’t wear the hijab is one major reason, she explains, why the international media didn’t make more of this. Yet we need to recognise the importance of hijabi and non-hijabi athletes and see them for what they are – sportswomen.
The history of female Muslim athletes at the Olympics didn’t start in 2004 when Ruqaya Al Ghasara from Bahrain became the first women to wear a full hijab at the Athens Games. It began in 1936 with the participation of two young Turkish women. This focus on female Muslim athletes that are ‘recognisable’ due to the hijab distracts attention away from the wider achievements of Muslim women in sports. And all female Muslim athletes that make it to the Olympics – with or without the hijab – deserve our support and applause.

Covering Muslim women: The Olympics and beyond

Saudi Arabia's Wojdan Shaherkani, left, competes with Melissa Mojica of Puerto Rico in the women's 78-kg judo event at the Olympic


Another Piece on "Western Media on Muslim Women Athletes"

  1. By Mariam Morshedi, Small Media Guest Researcher 
    Edited by Small Media
  2. A Narrow Focus

    The western media has a narrow focus when it comes to Muslim women athletes. Most news pieces relating to Muslim women and sporting discuss issues surrounding the wearing of the headscarf during competitive sporting tournaments. In the build-up to London 2012, the first female Olympians from Saudi Arabia and Qatar made headlines, again sparking the debate about headscarves at the Olympics. What image do these articles impress upon the western public?
    The Women's Sports Foundation notes: “Many Americans have been conditioned by media, politics, and prejudice to associate women of Islam with notions of oppression and indignity. This pity is both disempowering and largely misdirected”.

    Newspaper articles often capture more than their headlines suggest, but headlines are what captivate a reader’s attention. In this Small Media report we highlight some of the key issues often disregarded by western media, examining the cultural and political complexities of Muslim female athletes’ situation, which the skimming reader may not notice.

    Glory is Complicated

    Newspapers pounced when Saudi Arabia announced in June that it would allow women who qualified to officially compete at the London Olympics. This decision, which was labeled a landmark "victory" by the media, generated concerns amongst human rights organisations and the athletes themselves.

    Human Rights Watch, which has published a scathing criticism of situation of women's rights in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, stressed that simply allowing women to participate in the Olympics is not enough. In contrast, voices from within Saudi Arabia reminded us that a top-down decision like this will potentially have complicated effects in a society that does not generally champion the idea of female athletes.

    On 25 June 2012, The Globe and Mail stated, "Discussions on sending women to the Games have been wrapped in secrecy for fear of a backlash from the powerful religious establishment within a deeply traditional society, in which women are severely restricted in public life and are not even allowed to drive”.

    In a follow-up article on 3 July 2012, Rawh Abdullah, the captain of a Saudi women’s soccer team in Riyadh, discussed her concerns over sending women to compete: "If they do well, it will be okay, but if they have weak performances, they will turn to us, and say, 'See, you pushed, you went, and you lost. You shamed us”.  The Globe and Mail, July 3, 2012

    The struggle for control over women’s conduct and especially over women’s bodies is deeply-rooted in many societies, as women are often seen as the “bearers of cultural authenticity”. In Muslim societies, however, it is particularly politicised. Throughout history, the ‘western(ised) modernisers’ have seen the condition of women within a particular society as an indication of that society’s level of culture. They perceive the Muslim woman’s headscarf to be a sign of ‘backwardness’; simultaneously this very same item of apparel represents pride in culture and tradition for many who wear it.

    In her landmark article “Identity and its Discontents: Women and the Nation” first published in 1991,Deniz Kandiyoti (page 47) summarised this view:

    “Just like ‘western’ colonisers who used the ‘plight of Oriental women’ as a hallmark of the savagery and depravity of the colonised and as a justification of the mission incumbent upon their own civilizational superiority, modernist reformers bemoaned the condition of women as a clear symptom of backwardness”.
    In Muslim societies where women’s dress codes have become highly politicised, the internationally competitive female athlete faces pressure from all directions. She often faces disapproval, not just from governmental forces but also from ordinary people.   

    On 27 July 2012, the Huffington Post reported, "[A Saudi woman said] that when she recently went on a mountain climb abroad with a group, they were called ‘loose women’ and told they were ‘whores … on the path to hell’". The following day The Guardian reported that عاهرات_الاولمبياد (Olympic_Whores) had appeared as a Twitter hashtag. The Guardian subsequently observed, “[T]he thought of Saudi women running in a conservative tracksuit with the face showing is simply too much for many to handle”. 

    In her interview with The Globe and Mail, Rawh Abdullah continued, “We have to wait. I am afraid of their reaction, if we push too hard … We risk being shut down completely, and I do not want to reach a dead end because of impatience”.


"United We Stand"... no honour among bigots.

By: Shireen AHMED

These Olympic Games have been hailed a success and triumph for women in sports. For the first time, every participating country has entered females athletes, including Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia.

During the last 2 weeks, women's sporting events have capture the hearts of fans all over the world like Gabby Douglas ; embodied the love of a country as did Jessica Ennis and have been swept up in the disappointment of a lifetime Canada Women's National Soccer Team.

Many have declared that London 2012 were the "Women's Games". The United States won a total of 104 medals. More than half of those were earned by the female athletes. Canada's lone gold medal was won by Rosie McLennan in the trampoline event. 

These games saw over 70,000 fans in Wembley Stadium watching women's football finals; sold out gymnasiums to see riveting volleyball matches; athletic events memerizing miliions of people. Television ratings through the roof thanks to savvy social media technology and the most wired Games yet.  

Women of colour and various backgrounds have represented their homelands with joy, trepidation and passion.

As an avid footballer and fan, I was elated to see the Women's events getting positive press and as much attention that the Men's events are accustomed to. Looking forward to more possibilities and the opportunities for Women's professional football in North America.

As the saying goes: "Citius, Altius, Fortius", right?

More than enough excitement to inspire young women all over the world, right? Wrong.

Even in the height of glory for women who are competing in events where no discrimination may be made on basis of gender, colour, creed, religion, sexual orientation, there is always room for venom. 

Many young women and USA National Women's Soccer Team (USWNT) supporters took to twitter to express their happiness August 9th, after the USWNT played an amazing final to beat Japan  -current Women's World Cup Champions-  2 to1 for the Gold medal.

 In a move that can only be called exponentially ignorant, fans declared the USA's historic win  "payback for Pearl Harbor", a likeness to the slaughter of Hiroshima. Some are quoted using derogatory slurs and other professing their disdain for "Asians". 

Coincidentally, the final match was played on the 67th Anniversary of the Nagasaki and Hiroshima tragedies.

The Japanese team lit candles prior to the game in honour of the victims. 

Hiroshima was the first nuclear holocaust unleashed on the Japanese by the Americans. Nagasaki was bombed 3 days later. The effects were devastating for an entire generation. It is a sad piece of history.

Moving forward will all competitions ( athletic, academic or otherwise) between USA and Japan compared to horrific events from the last century? Events that lead to the deaths of thousands of innocent people. Insulting and 

More frustrating was the scathing and hateful comments were posted from what appeared to be mostly young women.

The US women's team working tirelessly as a group of dedicated and highly skilled footballers, with good sportswomanship against another talented team, should have been an example for young women to learn grace and dignity in competition- not eschew kindness and compassion.  

This may also reflect badly on the team itself. As new celebrities, they are role-models of positivity, hard-work and integrity. Our daughters, sisters look up to them. They learn from their attitudes, interviews and opinions. 

The USA Women's National Team should have issued a statement publicly denouncing such tweets. Most of the star players have active twitter accounts: @abbywambach, @mPinoe, @alexmorgan13, @hopesolo

Perhaps, it is not in their mandate to get involved in these types of issues. But it would have been a goodwill gesture towards their Japanese counterparts. 

These superb athletes have no interest in casting dark clouds over a joyous event. To congratulate them in this manner is insulting as well. Not in the spirit they intended to succeed.

These nasty remarks are being used to congratulate the team in an event that had no political agenda whatsoever. 

Moreover, the mutual respect between these two great football teams is put on the back-burner so fans can come up with a witty comment in less than 140 characters. 

Will this lesson of solidarity in women's achievements ever be learned? As soon as there is a place, there will be offensive comments by other women. 

These "fans" may not be the typical hooligans, looting and causing public disruption but they are equally as poisonous to society. 

No honour among bigots.

Not only did it offend a great country of resilient people, who are still recovering from the devastating earthquake of 2011, it also provided a forum for hatred to take over the spirit of tolerance and friendship the Games are expected to espouse. 

Historically, many countries have been at odds politically throughout the duration of the games, but Japan and the United Stated are not currently at war. Unless I missed the memo or overlooked the tweet. 
There is no justification for such stupidity. 

There is no room for pride and arrogance in a world where women are aiming to go forth in sport together. 

This isn't solidarity for fellow sisters, it's an atom bomb of hate.

An Olympic first for Muslim women? Not really

VANCOUVER, BC, Aug 12, 2012/ Troy Media/ – In the wake of the 2012 Olympics, there are a lot of firsts to reflect on. It is the first time since 1904 that Canada won a medal in soccer (thanks to our women’s team), the first time women boxed at the Games, and the first time that Saudi Arabia – along with neighbouring Qatar and Brunei – sent female athletes.
The appearance of Sarah Attar in the 800 meter race, and Wojdan Shaherkani in judo, has been hailed by some as a triumph for Muslim women, In part because Shaherkani was granted permission to compete in a headscarf, despite earlier concerns that the drape around her head and neck would pose a safety risk in the ring.
But the significance of Shakerkani’s performance seems limited because Saudi authorities only entered female athletes after intense pressure from the International Olympic Committee. Not much is changed in the ultra-misogynist Kingdom of the al-Sauds, where women are not even permitted to drive, let alone to engage in sports or physical training at school. Many of these restrictions are relatively recent introductions to Saudi society – despite attempts to justify them as Islamic requirements.
Whatever Shaherkani’s appearance may mean for Saudi women, it certainly does not represent progress for Muslim women. The massive coverage of her story ignores the fact that Muslim women have been competing in the Olympic Games (far more successfully that their Saudi sisters) for decades.
Take Nawal El Moutawakel, the Moroccan hurdler who won the 400 meter race in the 1984 Summer Olympics. Her success smashed stereotypes in her country – and earned her royal commendation, including a decree that girls born on the day of her victory should be named after her. She has since organised successful local racing events for Moroccan women, and is currently a member of the International Olympic Committee.
Soraya Haddad, an Algerian judoka known as “The Iron Lady of El Kseur” won a bronze medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. This year Iraqi sprinter Dana Abdul Razzaq competed in the Games, and was her country’s flag bearer in the opening ceremony.
There were many other Muslim athletes in London this year, including Egyptian weight lifter Nahla Ramadan Mohammed and Turkey’s Asli Captir Alptekin and Gamze Bulut, who took gold and silver in the women’s 1500 metre race.
These women don’t make headlines for their religion. Is it because they don’t feel the need to wear headscarves? Or the fact that their countries have not discouraged their participation? The truth is that Wojdan Shaherkani fits much better into the western stereotype of Muslim women: uncompetitive hijabis labouring under patriarchal oppression. Runners who take gold and not scarves don’t get reported as “Muslim.”
Saudi Arabia has been working hard to export its peculiarly backward attitude toward women as the authentic version of Islam for Muslims everywhere. It has had considerable success on this score, considering how widely the headscarf has been adopted as “authentically” Muslim. Ironically, when western media represent Shaherkani as an example of progress for Muslim women, we inadvertently reinforce the notion that the Saudi version is “real Islam.” How do we know if a woman is Muslim? She wears a headscarf.
The fact that Olympic regulations have been changed to allow women to cover their heads for religious reasons is a step forward. It removes additional barriers for heroic women like Afghanistan’s Tahmina Kohistani, who had to overcome extraordinary hurdles in her war-torn and very conservative country just to be able to compete. For her, wearing a headscarf is necessary to avoid severe repercussions at home. Her performance nevertheless presents Afghans with a bold vision of what women can do.
For Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, having women compete in the Olympics is a major change. However, it is worth remembering that participation in sport, like politics and business, is not new for Muslim women. They were active even on the battlefields of the Arabian peninsula centuries ago. In our own time, women drove freely in the streets of Saudi Arabia. Patriarchal forces, like the Saudi authorities, have attempted to wipe out this history. Only such amnesia could make their assertion that female oppression is required by Islam seem credible.
Media coverage that buys this story reinforces the claim that women who do not cover are somehow less Muslim. This only slows down women’s progress in conservative societies against barriers that have everything to do with patriarchy and nothing to do with faith.
Eva Sajoo is a Research Associate with the Centre for the Comparative Study of Muslim Societies and Cultures at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. She has a graduate degree in International Development and Education from the University of London. Her published academic writing focuses on the rights of women and minorities. She has contributed widely to publications on Islam and the Muslim world. Eva has taught at the University of British Columbia, and the Beijing University of Science and Technology. She currently teaches at SFU. Website:http://www.ccsmsc.sfu.ca/about_us/faculty/eva_sajoo. Follow Eva on Twitter@esajoo

Muslim and Arab Women at the Olympics: Gold Medal or Headscarf?

By Manfred Sing
With the world celebrating the arrival of two headscarf-wearing athletes at the Olympics, does their participation mark another step along the road towards emancipation? In actual fact, Muslim athletes have been successful at the Olympics for decades. The Games are degrading Arab female athletes by portraying them as something exotic, writes Manfred Sing in his essay
It is the final of the 400-metre hurdles at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles in 1984. As a curly-haired runner enters the home straight, she shoots a glance to the left and the right, as if checking to see what has happened to the others. A beaming smile soon replaces her look of incredulity as she realises that she has beaten off the competition. Even before she crosses the finishing line, the smallest runner in the field throws her arms up in the air to celebrate her victory. The Moroccan Nawal El Moutawakel has won the gold medal. She has also made history, becoming the first Arab African Muslim woman to become an Olympic champion.
That was 28 years ago. Today, El Moutawakel is a vice president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and is considered a likely candidate to succeed current IOC President Jacques Rogge. She is one of three women on the 15-strong executive board. At the opening ceremony in London, Rogge celebrated the fact that, for the first time in Olympic history, "all the participating teams will have female athletes," and proclaimed this "a major boost for gender equality." Three of the 204 countries participating in the Olympics – the Arab states of Qatar and Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Sultanate of Brunei – sent women for the first time, seven of them in all.
As Rogge spoke, the cameras turned to the two headscarf-wearing female Saudi athletes, who, if the media are to be believed, are "the symbols of these games" (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung): judoka Wojdan Shahrkhani and 800-metre runner Sarah Attar. Wojdan's subsequent 82-second defeat brought her more media attention than many an Olympic champion, while she expressed the hope that she would "be a star for women's participation." Attar didn't have a hope of winning either (her personal best is 2:40) and consoled herself with the hope that she had helped "make some big strides for women over there to get more involved in sport."
Headscarves with Velcro fastenings
All of this has very little to do with top-class sport. As far as the IOC was concerned, the neat statistic of women's participation was the most important thing. In order to achieve this, a number of so-called wildcards were distributed among female athletes, exempting them from normal qualifying criteria and enabling them to represent their countries as sporting ambassadors. The representational role thus pushed the competitive sports element into the background. Not only does this create the impression that quantity is more important than quality in women's sports and the really "great" achievements are in any case reserved for men such as Wiggins, Phelps and Bolt. It also says that, three decades after El Moutawakel's gold medal, female Arab athletes, for whom "taking part" (i.e. elimination in the first round) is the ultimate experience, are once more being portrayed as exotic sporting rarities.
Moreover, the representational aspect can become problematic, if, for example, the hijab-wearing athletes find themselves being requisitioned, not only in the service of the Olympic ideal, but also for the political purposes of the country they are representing. Thus the idea that Arab sportswomen are something exotic is confirmed in two ways: through the celebrations of the IOC and the world's press over the participation of the two Saudi athletes and by the insistence on the part of Saudi National Olympic Committee (NOC) that they must wear headscarves.
'Hey'Ya' Arab Women in Sport exhibition in London (photo: Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images for Sotheby’s)
Qatar would like to host the Olympic Games in the future, but has been told that it will need to do much more for women in sport in Qatar before it is considered. As part of its bid to improve its image, it has put on the "Hey'Ya" Arab Women in Sport exhibition in London (pictured above), featuring 50 portraits of sporting women from 20 Arab countries
The awarding of a wildcard to the Saudi Arabian judoka was not exactly without consequences; indeed it was used by the Saudi NOC to provoke a quarrel on sporting and cultural policies. Although in Rogge's words, "the IOC has been working very closely with the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee and I am pleased to see that our continued dialogue has come to fruition", it was only after a deal of to-ing and fro-ing, when Rogge's female-friendly games threatened to become a PR disaster, that the Judo Federation relented on its stance and agreed to allow the competitor to wear a specially modified hijab.

It is the second time that the sports authority has had problems with a headscarf ban: FIFA had banned the wearing of headscarves in 2007 after fears that they might lead to accidents on the pitch. When the Iranian women's football team refused to play in their qualifying match for the London Games if they were not allowed to wear the hijab, they were disqualified, and opponents Jordan awarded a 3-0 victory. Iran protested, even raising the topic at the United Nations. It was only a few months ago that FIFA relented and overturned the ban after the carrying out of "safety tests", later celebrating the decision as a multicultural advance and in the best interests of the sport. "Currently there is no medical literature concerning injuries as a result of wearing a headscarf," FIFA commented. The only requirement now, as far as football is concerned, is that headscarves should have Velcro fastenings.
Questionable "progress"
To tout these Games as the "most female" in history unintentionally creates a rather unfavourable image of women – not least because the Olympic movement is neither a particularly feminist nor a particularly innovative club. The rising percentage of women in sports is in fact a manifestation of social changes, a development which athletic associations cannot ignore. The London Games in 1908 were attended by 27 women from a total of 2,000 participants; today, 4,800 of the 10,500 participants are women, more than 40 per cent.
Muslim footballers wearing hijabs (photo: picture-alliance/dpa)
An odd kind of emancipation: "three decades after El Moutawakel's gold medal, female Arab athletes, for whom 'taking part' (i.e. elimination in the first round) is the ultimate experience, are once more being portrayed as exotic sporting rarities," writes Dr Manfred Sing
In 1896, French sports official Pierre de Coubertin decided that the inclusion of women would be "impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic and incorrect". Four years later in Paris, the first women participated in horseback-riding, tennis, golf, sailing and croquet. In 1912, they were allowed to join the swimming, except for the Americans, whose own sports association did not permit participation in sports where no long skirts could be worn.

Since 1928, athletic competitions have also been open to women. However, the 800-meter race was excluded from the schedule for medical reasons until 1960. For the same reason, no women were permitted in the Olympic marathon until 1984. Norway's running legend Grete Waitz had already gained four of her nine victories at the New York City Marathon before she was permitted to run in the first Olympic women's marathon, where she won the silver medal. Most recently, women have been admitted to Olympic weight lifting and boxing. Before the addition of women's boxing to the Games, there was a discussion on whether the wearing of a skirt (as in tennis) should be made obligatory.
The fact that the IOC is basing its claims about the "femaleness" of the Games on statistics and the three Islamic latecomers is not very convincing, since neither the sportswomen's religion nor their ethnic or family backgrounds are any of the IOC's business. For this reason, the IOC did not release any official numbers for Muslim participants at the Olympic Games. All of which makes it unclear just what it is, beyond their own statistics, that the IOC is actually celebrating. Conservatively estimated, there must be around 280 female athletes in London with an "Islamic" background, about ten per cent of all Muslims participating, and a third of all competitors. The proportion of Islamic women participating suggests that there is still much to be done, and that the milestone the IOC would like us to believe has already been reached may still be some way off.
In many poorer countries, there is simply an insufficient number of suitable training facilities for top athletes, and the social environment is neither conducive to sport in general nor women's sport in particular. "We could have had many more great female athletes in Morocco if the people around them would just let them be," said El Moutawakel after her Olympic victory. "Most start at 13 and stop at 18 because they are told it is not something for girls to keep doing."
Hassiba Boulmerka winning the 1,500-m race at the World Championships in 1995 (photo: picture alliance/dpa)
Hassiba Boulmerka of Algeria winning the 1,500-m race at the World Championships in 1995: if conservative estimates are to be believed, about 280 female athletes in London have an "Islamic" background. This would mean that female Muslims make up about ten per cent of all Muslims and a third of all competitors taking part in the Games
Arab and Muslim Women at the Olympics
It is rather unlikely that the two Saudi sportswomen currently in the spotlight will do much to change this situation. Saudi Arabia's restrictive sports policies are neither representative of the Islamic world – there is no girl's sport in state schools, only in the private ones, and women are not allowed to train in sports clubs –– nor do they give any reason to hope.
Other associations have made greater strides when it comes to the advancement of women since the Turkish fencers Suat Aşani und Halet Çambel first crossed swords at the Berlin Olympics of 1936 – the first ever female Olympic athletes from a country as Islamic as it is secular. Along with El Moutawakel, there were three other Arab and three Muslim Olympic champions (from Algeria, Syria, Indonesia, Turkey and Kazakhstan). For 2012, Turkey has more women (66) than men (48) in its team; no bad thing in view of Istanbul's bid to host the 2020 Games. Egypt, with 34 out of a total of 119 athletes, has sent the largest delegation of Arab female athletes. Women from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and from Oman are participating for the second time, with the 17-year-old Khadija Mohammed (UAE) the first female weightlifter from the Middle East to have qualified directly for the Games.
A female volleyball team qualified for Algeria; a volleyball and a basketball team for Turkey. The Malaysian air rifle competitor, Nur Suryani Mohamed Taibi, will likely go down as the first pregnant participant in Games history. And while one of the female athletes in the Australian team threatened to stage a sit-down protest if a woman was not finally chosen as flag-bearer for the opening ceremony, there were no fewer than 12 female flag-bearers from countries with large Islamic populations: Albania, Bahrain, Brunei Djibouti, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Comoros, Morocco, Qatar, Tajikistan and Turkey.
It is even conceivable that the Olympic Games may soon take place in the Arab world. Qatar, another recent convert to the idea of sending female athletes to the Games, is the main mover and shaker in this respect. After being awarded the FIFA World Cup 2022, Qatar also made a bid to host the Olympic Games in 2020. The bid failed and the country was informed that any re-application for 2024 would be futile until it began to do more for women. Since then, Qatar has been striving to improve its image in this respect.
Ghada Shouaa of Syria (photo: picture-alliance/dpa)
Arab women have been successful in international sport for decades (pictured here: Ghada Shouaa of Syria holding up her gold medal in the heptathlon at the World Championships in 1995). Nevertheless, much media time has been devoted to the fact that two female athletes wearing headscarves are competing at this year's Olympics. The two women in question have been the centre of attention, not because of their sporting achievements, but because of their nationalities and their headscarves
Women's bodies and Olympian contradictions
The 19-year-old shooter Bahiya Al Hamad is the perfect advert for them after her haul of three gold and two silver medals at the Arab Games in 2011. The women's team for London also includes a swimmer, a sprinter and a table tennis player. Qatar sees itself as a force for modernisation in the Arab world; it is home to the television station Al Jazeera, has been a supporter of moderate Islamic forces since the Arab Spring and it set up the "Aspire Academy", one of the world's largest sports training centres, with facilities for 1,000 athletes. As part of its image campaign, Qatar has also put on the "Arab Women in Sport" exhibition in London, featuring 50 portraits of sporting women from 20 Arab countries.
Competitive sport in general oscillates between the cult of the body, sexualisation and commercialization on the one hand and beauty ideals, prudery and ethnicization on the other. Because women are expected to cut a good figure in competition, it is on women's bodies that these contradictions are most visible, regardless of whether one finds the visual impression made by muscly bodies, long thin legs, skirts or headscarves enhancing or distorting.
Potential medal winners among the female Arab athletes in London include Mimi Belete and Maryam Yusuf Jamal, both of whom will contest the 1,500-metre race for Bahrain. If one of them happens to win gold, the sports reporters will very likely point out that both of them are originally from Ethiopia. As if it would be completely out of place for a "real" Arab to win – and without a headscarf at that.