At the first ceremony of its kind, fencer and Olympic hopeful Ibtihaj Muhammad's achievements as a Muslim sportswoman were recognised at the Ambassador Awards. The awards, which were hosted by the Muslim Women's Sport Foundation in London in the first week of May, honoured Muslim women in this field. They are a reminder that Muslim sportswomen have broken new ground in the world of sports and helped change perceptions in society at large.
Although there are more Muslim women competing in sports today than there have been in the past, their legacy is overlooked. Halet Çambel, for example, was the first Muslim woman to compete in the Olympics. She did so in 1936, representing Turkey. Many athletes like her were honoured at the awards, where Muhammad won the International Sportswoman of the Year. However, women's sports participation in some countries is still limited.
The issue of dress
One challenge some Muslim sportswomen have contended with is regulations about athletic dress codes. However, they have also paved the way for other players who want to dress modestly while still competing in the sports they love. In 2007, for example, the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) placed a ban on wearing the hijab, or headscarf, during matches due to fears that it could lead to choking.
The ban even led to the Iranian women's football team being deemed ineligible for a qualifying match for the Olympics; however, this year, FIFA is planning to overturn that rule in light of new hijabs designed specifically for athletes. The decision will be announced on 2 July after further testing of the new hijabs to ensure their safety.
Muhammad says that her faith, which requires women to dress modestly, directed her choice to start fencing, a sport that requires players to cover themselves from head to toe. "Often times, when I'm in competition, I'm the only African American, the only black person, definitely the only Muslim – not only representing the United States but in the competition itself. It can be really difficult…" she said.
By Marium Sattar
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