Sports and religion can coexist
For millions of people, sport is very nearly a religion, yet few, save neglected wives and girlfriends, complain. Why, then, is there dispute when we want to make room for religion in sport?
Dressing modestly, while a visual expression of faith, creates a challenge for Muslim girls wanting to play sports. The modest dress required by Islam can make participation in sporting events as challenging as the opponent they’re facing on the opposite end.
When hijab-wearing girls participate in athletic events and competitions abroad, the intolerance exhibited by the locals is palpable. In the aftermath of Sept. 11 and the controversy over the banning of the hijab in French schools, the hijab has become a symbol non grata.
At the Sydney Special Olympics in 2000 and in the last Mediterranean Games, the Egyptian women’s shot-put and karate teams had to leave their hijab at home if they wanted to compete. They did. After all, in the Western world, where church and state are never to mix, the same distinction – the West believes – must apply to mosque and state.
Even in all-Arab events, the thinking of many is that if you have donned the hijab, it’s time to stay at home and bake cookies. Hijab wearers are not supposed to publicly flash their jump shots, volleyball spikes and the clean and jerk. While most Muslim societies do allow women to play sports, it is usually on the proviso that they obey what Islamic dictates on modesty.
That can mean wearing the right attire but it can still require untold determination to overcome a belief system that sometimes clings to the attitude that a woman s place, especially one with a hijab, is in the home.
There are many sports women can play without violating the dress restrictions prescribed by Islam. The Egyptian women’s tae kwon do team is made up almost exclusively of hijab wearers. There are two players on the national squash team smashing balls with their hijab intact. The country’s women’s volleyball, basketball, handball and track teams have a good number of hijab-wearing athletes.
The hijab is, of course, not just about hair. In Islam, the body’s contours should not show. So swimming and other water sports are definitely out, even if you wear one of those underwater frogmen rubber suits; they’re just too tight. Figure skating and gymnastics also expose too much.
While the hijab meshes fairly well with a variety of sports, the full veil or niqab is not terribly sports-friendly. The narrow slit the niqab allows for sight might work in archery and shooting, sports in which you look straight ahead – something like tunnel vision. But in most sports, in which you need peripheral vision to see what’s happening to your left and right, the niqab won’t do.
The restrictions posed by Islamic attire notwithstanding, a girl should not have to choose between her religion and her sport. If a Muslim woman wants to play a sport while wearing hijab because she believes it is a religious prescription, she should be free to do so, just as long as the integrity of the sport isn t compromised, the state is not in danger and the world doesn’t stop turning.
In fact, the issues of sports and modesty are part of a broader debate about the meaning of Islam and being Muslim. Some Muslim girls are understandably confused by the mixed signals they receive. A number of countries, including predominately Muslim ones, ban the hijab and like attire from schools and public buildings – in Tunisia, headscarves are banned in schools and government offices – while elsewhere women who do not don a head covering are accused of being un-Islamic.
Let’s simplify matters. There s room in sports for healthy competition and headscarves.