Discussions around the hijab—the religious headscarf worn by many Muslim women—are common in the media and the general public. Most of the time, it's for all the wrong reasons.
Hoopsters In Hijabs, Not "Victims"
But** if there is a good reason to reflect upon the latest headscarf controversy, it's this: **the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) once banned Muslim women from wearing the hijab while playing basketball. Now, that ban has been overturned.
Often, media discussions are about a country banning Muslims from wearing veils. Or it's a commentator who calls a headscarf an insult to Western civilization. The discussion on the real experiences of Muslim women has moved at a snail's pace. Many Western discussions of Muslim women present them as victims who must wear the scarf. Rarely are they presented as women who choose to wear the headscarf as part of their religion.
A Personal Choice
The author Shelina Janmohamed wrote a book titled "Love in a Headscarf." She says: "It feels like no one is listening." Even if that is true, it does not necessarily mean that hijab-wearing Muslim women should **seek validation. **Wearing a headscarf can be a very personal choice. It is about appreciating that a scarf is not all that a Muslim woman represents.
Earlier this month, an iron gate was broken down in the arena of basketball.
On May 4, FIBA overturned a ban on a whole variety of headgear, such as hijabs, turbans, and yarmulkes. Turbans are headwraps that Sikh people often wear, and the yarmulke is a special cap Jewish men often wear. The new rule allowed these items to be worn during basketball games.
FIBA believed that its previous policies on headwear did not fit with traditional dress codes. Indeed, this ban has caused several Muslim women teams to miss out on playing in many arenas.
"Minimizes Risk Of Injuries"
The new rules will take effect in October of this year. In a statement, the organization said that the new headgear rules were "developed in a way that minimizes the risk of injuries as well as preserve consistency of the color of the uniform."
**On the surface, **this shows that hijab can be worn in multiple areas within public life. **But more crucially, **this decision also demonstrates that hijab is not an obstacle to the social and cultural standing of Muslim women, or to any women who choose to dress modestly for religious reasons. FIBA's recent decision is a big win for people who have been tirelessly fighting to make this fact known.
"Life Without Basketball"
Bilqis Abdul Qadir is a college basketball player whose accomplishments had been acknowledged by former U.S. President Barack Obama. She was one of the sportswomen affected by the ban.
She made history by being the first major college basketball player to wear the Muslim veil, but the earlier FIBA ban blocked her chances of going into professional basketball. This took its toll. So she created a documentary in 2016 called "Life without Basketball."
In the documentary, Bilqis said, "It's hard being a young Muslim woman in America. It takes strength to walk outside and look different than anyone else," she said. People have this stereotype—a false belief—that Muslim women "are quiet and they're submissive ... when I play basketball, I worry about nothing … but now it's just a huge question mark."
"An Indescribable Feeling"
For Muslim girls and women like Bilqis, this conversation is more than just wearing the veil. It is about all females having the full opportunity and privileges for the societies in which they live.
British-Sudanese basketball player Asma Elbadawi has also campaigned to overturn FIBA's hijab ban. In reaction to the repeal of the ban, she told me, "I could see this day coming mainly because other sports governing bodies have already relaxed their rules regarding their religious attire." But to have it become reality, she said, "is an indescribable feeling."
Elbadawi thinks that it's important for Muslim girls to have positive role models in areas they don't often see Muslim women in. Basketball is one of the most popular sports right now, she says. That means there is a possibility "for Muslims to be seen in a different light and show their willingness to integrate into society."
Step Toward Full Participation
I would go further and say that Muslim women have, for the most part, integrated into and contributed to both Western and non-Western countries, **across different periods and places. **Western countries are in Europe or the United States and non-Western countries are in places like Asia and the Middle East. It is about real representation on all levels—not only in the sporting world but in other areas of life.
There is no doubt there is still a long way to go for Muslim women in some Muslim countries to gain full participation in Western society. Hopefully, this repeal will be one of many stepping stones to achieve this.
Sport An Arena For Change
Sport has always been a place for great social and political change. FIBA changing its old ban on headwear is significant.
It is about the visibility and merit of sports professionals who happen to dress modestly. It is about basketball doing hijab because it can.
Adama Juldeh Munu is a broadcast producer and journalist. She is currently working on a Masters degree in Middle East politics at the University of London.