Earlier this week President Obama addressed the nation from the Oval Office. At one point during his address President Obama stated, “Muslim-Americans are our friends and our neighbors, our co-workers, our sports heroes.” In response, Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump tweeted:
Obama said in his speech that Muslims are our sports heroes. What sport is he talking about, and who? Is Obama profiling?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 7, 2015
Trumps comments marked yet another instance of his Islamophobic rhetoric, aimed at erasing the many positive contributions of Muslims to the world and conjuring up fear of those who subscribe to Islam. Despite Trump’s and others’ refusal to acknowledge the many accomplishments of Muslim athletes in this country and abroad, he can’t change history or the fact that every day the vast majority of Muslims contribute to society in positive, peaceful ways. Rather than let Trump’s agenda ring as loudly as he would like I decided that it was important to help fill the internet space with positive images of Muslim women who have changed and continue to change the world for the better. The list below is a mere fraction of a fraction of the many Muslim women who challenge the stereotypes of what it means to be a Muslim, an athlete and a woman. Enjoy and As-salamu alaykum!
In 2013 Gerami made history when she became the first Iranian female to compete in the Triathlon World Championships. Prior to her participation Iranian women had been denied permission to race in triathlons abroad or swim in international events because government officials were concerned that females could not compete in full Islamic dress or without dishonoring Islamic principles. Gerami is proving to the world that Islamic women can honor their faith, countries and be successful athletes at the same time.
Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir is the first woman to wear a hijab while playing collegiate basketball. The prolific shooter set records as a middle school, high school and college student-athlete while representing her faith. The NCAA and White House have honored Abdul-Qaadir for her talents and dedication to Islam. While her talents have never been in question, her ability to pursue them has been stalled. The International Basketball Federation (FIBA) prohibits wearing any headgear wider than 5 cm in international play, so Abdul-Qaadir has refused to participate in FIBA events until the prohibition is lifted. With FIBA currently allowing hijabs on a trial basis at the national level, the hope is that the ban will soon be lifted for international play; giving Abdul-Qaadir the opportunity to once again share her talents with the world.
Sania Mirza, ranked no. 1 in women’s doubles, is the most successful female Indian tennis player. She has won two doubles grand slams, Wimbeldon and the US Open, and has also peaked at no. 27 in singles, notching wins against the likes of Svetlana Kuznetsova, Marion Bartoli, Martina Hingis and Victoria Azarenka. While Mirza is a proud Muslim, she has received much criticism for her attire and public stances on issues like sex and marriage. Muslim religious groups have voiced their concerns that she is “un-Islamic” and “corrupting.” Through the controversy Mirza continues to represent her sport, faith and country with grace and class.
Country: Saudi Arabia
Moharrak is Muslim and at the age of 27 she became the youngest Arab and first Saudi Arabian woman to climb Mount Everest. Despite her country’s discouragement of female participation in sports, Moharrak has managed to make a significant name for herself. Prior to climbing Mt. Everest, she successfully climbed Mounts Kilimanjaro, Vinson, Elbrus, Aconcagua, Kala Pattar, Pico de Orizaba and Iztaccihuatl. She began climbing to challenge herself and the conservative culture that tried to limit what women can do and in the span of two years was able to conquer mountains some men only dream of climbing.
Sport: Track & Field
Hassiba Boulmerka was a runner who became the first Algerian to win an Olympic title. In 1992 she won the gold medal in the 1500m at the games in Barcelona where she also set a world record, 3:55.30, which still stands today. She is also a 2-time World Champion and a 3-time Mediterranean Games champion. Despite her many accomplishments, she was often criticized and received death threats for running in standard track and field attire that was too revealing for her Islamic faith. In spite of the opposition, she persevered and represented her country well.
Nawal El Moutawakel
Sport: Track & Field
El Moutawakel made history when she became the inaugural winner of the women’s 400m hurdles in the 1984 Summer Olympics. In doing so, she became the first African female Muslim, Moroccan and first woman from a Muslim majority country to become an Olympic champion. While El Moutawakel retired many years ago she continues to inspire girls and women to be involved in sports as a member of the International Olympic Committee and a number of other sports organizations.
Country: United States
As a member of the U.S. Women’s Fencing team Muhammad is the first Muslim to compete for America in fencing. She is a World Fencing Champion, a 3-time US National Champion and a Pan-American Games Champion. Throughout her athletic career Muhammad has competed fully covered in a hijab, long-sleeves & long pants in efforts to conform with Islamic emphasis on modesty. She is yet another example of commitment to faith and sport.