Yesterday I wrote briefly about the issue of Muslim women who have found their participation in sports on a world-class level restricted because of their refusal to compete without head coverings and clothes that conceal their arms and legs.
Clearly, as I said yesterday, this is going to continue to be an issue as more and more Muslim women seek to compete in sports on a global level. I just didn’t realize I’d get more proof of that today.
From the Guardian:
The Iranian national women’s team was banned from a qualifying match for the 2012 London Olympics against Jordan because of the Islamic clothing worn by the players. In Iran, the decision has been criticised by everyone from the head of women’s affairs at the Iranian Football Federation to President Ahmadinejad himself.
And as if that isn’t bad enough:
Discussion around Islamic clothing in international competitions is a recurring issue. In 2010, the Iranian women’s youth team was refused participation in the Youth Olympics in Singapore because of the headscarf. Negotiations between the Iranian Football Federation and Fifa followed, and a compromise was reached where the team was allowed to wear headgear that did not cover the neck, allowing Iran to return to the field.
The Iranian team that came out to play in Jordan this year wore the same headgear previously given the green light by Fifa. Ali Kafashian, the head of the Iranian Football Federation, wrote in a letter to Sepp Blatter that Iran had received only one document from Fifa relating to the kit since the 2010 Youth Olympics. That document, received on March 7 2011 (before the game against Jordan) confirmed the agreement between the two parties from the year before. The only addition to the team’s outfit was in fact their shirts, which now covered their necks.
The dispute over the clothing worn by observant Muslim women has affected more than just the Iranian women’s soccer team. I wrote about aspiring Olympic weightlifter Kulsoom Abdullah yesterday, but women who swim, are gymnasts, who play volleyball and who box, for crying out loud, have been challenged on the basis of the clothing they wear while competing.
I mean, seriously, you cannot possibly tell me that a woman who chooses to get into a boxing ring for fun is being oppressed by a piece of cloth she wears over her head.
The lady athletes, who, like all athletes who desire to compete at the highest levels of their games, have been innovative in trying to meet the requirements put out by the athletics governing bodies while still remaining true to their faith. In the case of the Iranian women’s soccer team, they have modified their head scarves to meet the safety standards put out by FIFA (and evidently, at one time, those changes were satisfactory).
But there is obviously a growing need to deal with this, especially as Muslims comprise anywhere between one-fourth and one-fifth of the world’s population, which is why some people are stepping in to create solutions that will allow Muslim women to observe the tenets of their faith while taking part in the sports they love.
From ABC News:
Seyed Javad came up with the ResportOn athletic hijab. It is a tight sleeveless piece that is worn underneath a regular uniform. It covers the head and torso and has an opening in the back of the neck that can be used to fix hair without taking the entire piece off. The extremely light material allows ventilation and dries 14 times faster than cotton.
Since outfitting the taekwondo team, demand has poured in from all over the world, from both Muslim and non-Muslim women. She has also received offers from potential distributors all over the world.
“I want the athlete to be judged by her talent and capacity to play, not by her religious beliefs,” Seyed Javad said.
While the officials in charge say the issue is presumably about safety, it seems to me that this is more about the anxiety a lot of people in the Western world feel when it comes to Muslims. (For a good example of this see, well, see the entire GOP debate earlier this week. And much of our national discourse over the past ten years.)
This issue plays out in a way I find particularly ironic when it comes to Muslim women and their headcoverings. Suddenly people who could not have given a pigeon’s shit about women’s rights are suddenly styling themselves as the next coming of Bella Abzug. Suddenly it seemed everyone was concerned about the oppressed women of the Muslim world, how they are being kept down by religious tenets that require they cover their heads, and in some places, cover their bodies.
To which I say, clothes don’t oppress people – people oppress people. (See what I did there?) A woman who wears a hijab is no more or no less oppressed than a woman who wears a string bikini. You simply cannot tell these things by looking at the clothes a woman wears.
If we really do care about women’s liberation and freedom, then we have to accept that just as true freedom means the right to go without a bra or wear a teeny skirt, it also means the right to wear your hair covered or long-sleeved shirts in the summer or skirts that brush the ground.
Yet we don’t ever really see people having these conversations about, say, LDS women who avoid sleeveless shirts to hide their temple garments or Orthodox women who wear wigs to cover their hair, nor do you really see them about women who undergo surgery to increase their breast size or who mutilate their feet to wear high-heels. We only ever see this debating happening with regards to Muslim women.
But let’s assume critics are arguing in good faith and not out of some latent Islamophobia – if we really do believe these things, then why on earth are sports organizations keeping them from taking part in a culture that has empowered women all over the world? Talk to any woman who has ever seriously played a sport, and she is likely to tell you that doing so helped her develop confidence in her mental and physical strength, taught her how to persevere in the face of challenges both external and internal, and how to believe in herself.
Self-confidence, strength, perseverance – these are the things that will help women resist oppression, not telling them what they can and cannot wear.