Muslim girls show sport and religion can mix
Jul 31 2008 By Tom Lawrence, Harrow Observer
A group of young Muslim girls have enrolled in a unique new sports programme that proves religion does not have to get in the way of keeping fit.
Finding a sports club that is sensitive to Muslim beliefs can be difficult for many women in the borough as large numbers do not feel comfortable removing their head scarves and prefer to take part in single sex classes.
To combat this Brent Council and the Islamic Cultural Centre have joined forces to create a safe and understanding environment where they can feel free to be themselves while enjoying regular exercise.
The weekly programme, which is funded by Brent Youth Service, has helped to renew the 11 to 25-year-olds interest in sport, with participants trying their hand at everything from basketball to hockey and ice-skating.
Falak Butt, a youth worker for Brent Youth Service, helps run the sessions.
She said: "It can be hard to get Muslim girls to take part in sport.
"But as a Muslim woman, parents are happy to approach me about any issues concerning the girls and really support the project.
"The girls have definitely become more confident and their sports skills have improved. It's great to see them developing so well."
Fifteen-year-old Uzma Butt said: "We play a huge variety of sports, which is great. It was hard to get involved in sport before.
"Because we're all Muslims it's okay to take our head scarves off and because it's all girls in the group I feel comfortable and relaxed. I really enjoy it.
Faizah Siddiqi, 17, added: "Before I joined the sports group I used to stay at home.
"Since joining the club my fitness levels have improved and I've made loads of friends. I've also become more confident and have learnt to play in a team."
Weekly Sunday sessions take place between 1 and 3pm at Bridge Park Leisure Centre, in Wembley. [25a0] For more information call Brent Youth Service on 020 8937 3680 or visit www.brent.gov.uk/youthservice.
Chunnis on the tree
Jul 31st 2008
From The Economist print edition
Sport and sponsorship are not always about fame and fortune
LOOK both ways and listen before you cross the railway. Go down the slope and past the mosque. Give the buffalo a wide berth. There, on the patch of grass in front of you, are the goalposts. This is where the young women of Aligaon, on the outskirts of Delhi, play netball.
The players are mainly from conservative Muslim families. Most had only a year or two’s schooling. Sport would not normally be part of their lives; the Indian Premier League could be on another planet. But these girls, aged 12 to 18 (with others from Govindpuri and Sanjay Camp, also in Delhi), are taking part in a project called Goal, which has been set up by Standard Chartered, an international bank. The bank’s partners are Naz India, an NGO dedicated to preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS, and the International Federation of Netball Associations.
The girls do not only play netball; Goal has 11 “modules” covering topics from health and hygiene to peer pressure, sexuality and finance. It is all aimed at building their self-confidence and making leaders of them. But sport is at its heart.
Netball players, from goalkeeper to shooter, have specific duties. They must also work together: because only two players may score, and dribbling and carrying the ball are forbidden, passing is essential. Other good things about netball are that it is a non-contact sport, and it is cheap, requiring only goals and a ball. The girls at Aligaon used to play in slippers or bare feet. Then Peter Sands, the bank’s chief executive, came to watch them, and now the bank pays for sports shoes.
Do the girls like netball? “Yes!” they shout. They are pretty good, too. Neha, from Govindpuri, played for Delhi’s under-19 team in the Indian interstate championships this year; they came second. Two others played in the under-16 competition. In a game against a team from the bank, admits Sharon Sethi, who manages a Standard Chartered branch in Delhi, the girls from the project won easily.
The players from Govindpuri are in an NGO-run school, and Neha now plans to study for a degree in physical education, perhaps with an interest-free microfinance loan, and return as a coach. She is already helping to train the younger girls. In the other modules too, “Goal champions” are learning how to lead sessions.
“What I have learnt from here is confidence and how to speak,” says one. “We’ve got a direction,” says another. At first, recalls Mrs Sethi, the girls would not take off their chunnis (loose scarves worn over their salwar kameez, or tunic and trousers, to hide the line of the body) when they played. Now they hang their chunnis on a tree by their makeshift court before they start their game.
Standard Chartered plans to take Goal to Chennai and Mumbai. “Empowering a young woman allows her to protect herself,” says Anjali Gopalan, Naz India’s executive director. “When this thing came up for looking at leadership through sport, I was quite sceptical about it. A year down the road, I’m completely converted. Every young woman should be given a chance like this.”
Denmark's Veiled Soccer Star
By Nidal Abu Arif, IOL Correspondent
Wed. Jun. 25, 2008
ODENSE — Zainab al-Khatib commanders the attention of the women national soccer team fans not just with her unmistaken talents, dribbling skills and spectacular goals but also her colorful hijab.
"I'm so glad that I set a precedent in Denmark," 15-year-old Khatib, the star of the national team for girls under 16, told IslamOnline.net.
She was recently chosen to join the team after receiving permission from the Danish Football Association (DBU) to be the first ever hijab-clad girl to play for a national team, not only in Denmark but across Europe.
Khatib, who only started her professional football career two years ago, is now the striker for the national team.
She has led her team to an impressive victory in their latest match against Sweden, scoring a wonderful goal.
"Zainab has a strong personality and her attitude is always positive and inspirational in and outside the court," her coach Troels Mansa told IOL.
"She is one of my best players and I am so glad to be her coach."
Denmark has a Muslim minority of nearly 200,000 out of its 5.4 million population.
Islam is the country's second largest religion after the Lutheran Protestant Church.
When the high school student decided to don hijab nearly a year ago, her mother helped by designing headscarves that cover the hair properly while not posing any hindrance for her in the field.
"She has always been an observant Muslim, and we had to support her fulfilling her sport dream," Zainab's father, Ibrahim al-Khatib, told IOL as he happily watches her training.
"I'm so glad that she proved that being a hijab-clad Muslim does not mean she has no right to practice sports."
Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one’s affiliations.
Coach Manas stressed that Khatib's hijab has never been an obstacle.
"We are only interested in her skills and personality," he said.
"I do not remember any player or coach expressing reservations about her hijab."
The issue of hijab in sports thrust into the international limelight recently.
In March 2007, the International Football Association Board (IFAB), the game's ultimate regulators, said hijab is forbidden in soccer games.
The ruling came after a Canadian Muslim was expelled from a soccer game for donning a hijab.
Last January, an American high-school Muslim star runner was pulled out from a local competition for wearing hijab.
An 11-year-old Canadian kid was also thrown out of a national Judo tournament last November for wearing hijab.
Khatib believes all the fuss over hijab is meaningless.
"It is always wonderful to be able to strike a balance between your religious duties and your hobbies."
She says her teammates are very supportive.
"They have welcomed me into the team and I faced no obstacles.
"During our match with Sweden, some players were surprised to see my hijab but nobody commented."
Modest and persistent, she wants her contribution to the team to demonstrate the willingness of Danish Muslims to integrate into society.
"I see myself as a Danish Muslim who effectively contributes to her society and will be proud to represent my country abroad."
Khatib, whose Palestinian family moved to Denmark in the early 1990s, considers playing for the national team a major achievement for all Danish Muslim girls.
"I think it will open the door for other Muslim girls to pursue their dreams of representing their country."
Besides her sports career, Khatib contributes to Islamic charity work in her city Odense.
She also participates in pro-Palestinians events organized in Denmark.
Khatib hopes to be a doctor in the future.
"I want to help the needy and offer a better image for Muslim women's effective contribution to society."