Our hearts swell with pride watching Muslim women around the world compete and excel in their sport.
With more professional athletes fighting for the right to compete with a headscarf and have an equal playing field, it is incredibly inspiring to see them step up on the podium and receive the recognition they deserve after years of blood, sweat and tears. Here are ten (out of many others!) hijabi athletes that are breaking barriers in sports.
1. Amaiya Zafar, Boxer
“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”. These famous words from the legendary Muhammad Ali probably best describes young female boxers such as Amaiya Zafar and Raianne Alameddine.
In November 2016, Amaiya was disqualified at a bout where officials said she violated uniform code. Her attire of long-sleeved jersey, leggings beneath her gym shorts and a hijab were considered to be a safety issue.
Credit: @carolineyangphoto on Instagram
Confounded but unfazed, the Minnesota native finally prevailed in the dispute with USA Boxing and made history by becoming the first fighter to wear a hijab, long sleeves and leggings in a sanctioned bout. She may have lost her fight but scored a larger victory by opening doors for other Muslims in the United States to compete in sanctioned matches by receiving a religious exemption waiver.
Credit: @topofhergame on Instagram
The young boxer now aspires to compete in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. We believe you can, Amaiya! 💪
2. Raianne Alameddine, Boxer
Like Amaiya, Raianne Alameddine was also barred from competing just two weeks before her scheduled match for similar rule-flouting uniform. Raianne went to be the first amateur boxer in New South Wales to fight wearing a headscarf.
Credit: @finalroundgym on Instagram
Raianne had admired her elder brother after watching him train and had wanted similar independence to be able to defend herself. She hopes to inspire other young girls to take up training and learning self-defense. 🥊
Credit: @muslimfemalefighters on Instagram
Both Amaiya and Raianne were told to remove their hijab to fight, or never compete in a sanctioned bout. Both questioned why she had to make that choice; knowing that they can box without running afoul of their beliefs as Muslims. It is truly empowering to have these young girls be passionate and brave in their pursuits of boxing and be undaunted when faced with hurdles.
3. Ibtihaj Muhammad, Fencer
No stranger to the international limelight is American fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad. Ibtihaj made history when she became the first Muslim woman who wears the hijab to represent the United State at the Olympics in 2016. She was also the first female Muslim-American athlete to win an Olympic medal when she took home the bronze in the team sabre event at the Rio Summer Games!
Credit: @ibtihajmuhammad on Instagram
Ibtihaj is often regarded as a symbol of promise for the American Muslim community; a community that sees few Muslim women playing at an elite level of sport. On the lighter side of things, Barbie will be releasing its first ever hijab-wearing doll this year that is based on this incredible sportswoman!
Credit: @ibtihajmuhammad on Instagram
4. Zahra Lari, Figure Skater
It is always breathtaking when figure skaters perform tricks and spins on ice with their tight leotards and bodysuits that sparkle. Growing up, Zahra Lari was dissuaded from joining ice-skating competitions because of the revealing nature of the standard outfits. Now, she is the first woman to take part in an international figure skating competition wearing the hijab. Effectively, the UAE has become the first Arab state to join the International Skating Union (ISU) thanks to Zahra’s bold undertaking.
Credit: @thepopupagency on Instagram
During her competition at the 2012 European Cup in Canazei, Italy, Zahra was the first skater to compete while wearing the hijab where the judges deducted her a point for an outfit violation. She subsequently campaigned for a change to the regulations. There is no permanent change yet, but there is an ongoing assessment of the rule that may just rule in Zahra’s favour.
Credit: @hijab_sportswear on Instagram
Zahra began skating after watching the Disney movie “Ice Princess”. The young skater has greater ambitions than just representing her country at a Winter Olympics; Zahra also has set her eyes to compete at the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships and the World Championships. We’ll be sure to make lots of du’a for this ambitious young lady to achieve her all dreams 😊
5. Kulsoom Abdullah, Weightlifting
Kulsoom Abdullah is a Pakistani-American weightlifter who was the first person ever to compete in the sport internationally while wearing a hijab. It was at the 2011 World Weightlifting Championships in Paris, France where Kulsoom was chosen to represent Pakistan as their first female weightlifter. The following year, she continued representing her nation at the Asian Weightlifting Championships in South Korea.
Credit: @lacyjdavis on Instagram
International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) rules previously stated that an athlete’s knees and elbows must be visible so officials can determine if a lift is correctly executed. Kulsoom was cleared to compete in accordance with her Muslim faith after the IWF ruled that athletes could wear a full-body “unitard” under the customary weightlifting uniform. She is the first to lift while wearing clothing that covers her legs, arms and head. Breaking barriers indeed!
Credit: @techsquare on Instagram
Kulsoom also has a doctorate in electrical/computer engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology.
6. Amna Al Haddad, Weightlifting
Amna Al Haddad is a weightlifting athlete from the UAE with achievements across various international competitions like the Arnold Sport Festival and the IWF Asian Interclub Championship where she won 6 gold medals and 3 silver in the Arab, West-Asian and Asian categories as a -63 kg, as part of the official UAE national team.
Credit: Eva Saja on Facebook
The former journalist had turned to sports as a way to improve her mental and physical health. She qualified to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio after four years of training. Other notable accomplishments include being the first Emirati female to compete in the 2012 Reebok CrossFit Games Open and being the first Muslim woman to compete in the Asia Regionals for CrossFit while wearing a headscarf.
Credit: @rebelgirlsbook on Instagram
Amna worked with sportswear giant Nike to help develop the Nike Pro Hijab. She was also featured in Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo’s children’s book Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls. How incredible that her story could inspire girls all over the world in this book!
7. Sara Ahmed, Weightlifting
Sara Ahmed is a weightlifter from Egypt who is the first Arab woman to win an Olympic weightlifting medal. Adding to that, she also became Egypt’s first female medalist in the country’s 104-year-history in the Olympics. And, Sara was only 18 when these happened!
Credit: Saudi Gazette on Facebook
Sara’s list of weightlifting accolades is definitely not short: from the African Games to Junior World Championships, she topped the podium in the 63kg class at the Youth Olympic Games Nanjing in 2014. This was the same year that she competed at senior level for the first time, finishing 12th in the World Championships.
Credit: Albert Stalpaert on Facebook
Sara competed wearing a full-length unitard and sports hijab after IWF’s revision of uniform rules in 2011 to allow women to compete in the longer garments, something that Kulsoom has paved the way for. This shows how the ripple effect of one woman’s accomplishment on the next generation and how encouraging it is to see the rise of female excellence. Empowered women truly empower other women 💗
8. Shirin Gerami, Triathlete
Shirin Gerami is the not only the first woman allowed to represent Iran in triathlon competitions, she is also the first Iranian woman to be an Ironman World Champion! Think of all the cycling, swimming and running she’s done to get to where she is 💪. It was more than just the intensive, regimented training that Shirin had to endure – she also had to work on seeking permission from her nation’s government just to be there.
Credit: Iranian American Women Foundation on Facebook
Shirin does not don the hijab in her day to day life but as part of the Iranian regulations that mandates female athletes to be fully covered, she was on a mission to find athletic wear that would meet the standard. Shirin hopes to prove that clothes are not a barrier to sport participation and her tenacity to break barriers kept her going until that finish line.
9. Dr. Hajar Abdulfazl, Football Player
Dr. Hajar Abdulfazl is among the first generation of female soccer players since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, and was a member of the women’s national soccer team in Afghanistan for over a decade. Living in the conservative Afghan society meant that cultural norms encourage women into traditional roles where they play homemakers rather than soccer. While her family was supportive, Dr. Hajar used to sneak out of her house to play in order to evade a disapproving uncle!
Credit: Hajar Abulfazl AFG on Facebook
In an interview, Dr. Hajar said she wanted to use sports to empower women and in turn, show the power of women to the public at large. As an athlete, she competed in many regional and international matches. She was the former head of both the women’s and finance committees for the Afghanistan Football Federation and currently coaches the Under-17 girls’ squad for the Afghanistan National Women’s Football Team.
9. Hedaya Malak, Taekwondo
Hedaya Malek is a Taekwondo practitioner from Egypt who qualifies herself as one of the top five women in the sports for the 2016 Rio Olympics. She received the under-57kg gold medal at the 2015 World Taekwondo Grand Prix and brought home the bronze medal during the Rio Games. The victory marks the first time an Egyptian woman has won a medal in taekwondo at the Olympics.
Credit: @taekwondoeverything on Instagram
Hedaya is ranked 4th in the world for women under-57, proving that a hijab is not a hindrance when it comes to attaining excellence.
Credit: @sports_news_egypt on Instagram
These athletes show that you can be someone who holds steadfast onto your face and still pursue your dreams. Their participation has certainly normalized and introduced covered Muslim women into mainstream sports. We continue to celebrate these incredible women who set their hearts to fulfill their passion in sports, and encourage other girls to be brave and relentless in pursuing their sports dreams as well!