Muslim women and sports

I’ve been watching the Olympics this past week with one eye while I’ve been working on other things like gardening, knitting and cooking. I really enjoy the track and field events, probably because you don’t have to pay attention for very long to see what happens, especially with the way NBC has edited the events. Which I have to say is better than the way they edited the Athens games, but still bites hard.

I am American, but I am also interested in athletes from other countries. For example, I was really looking forward to seeing the shot put event, especially after NPR’s weekly profiles of Adam Nelson, one of the best men’s shot putters in the world and number 2 in the US. But after Nelson (and Reese Hoffa, the US and World men’s shot put champion) failed to qualify, NBC failed to cover the event adequately. I was disappointed, because NPR’s coverage wasn’t just about Nelson, it was about shot put more generally, and I was very curious to see the event.

One person has caught my attention particularly, Roqaya Al-Gassra of Bahrain, a sprinter who runs wearing hijab. In stifling Beijing heat, her whole body was covered, with the exception of her face and hands. She competed against Western athletes wearing clothes that closely resemble bikinis.

I suppose my notice of Roqaya betrays some level of prejudice in my expectations of Muslim women who wear hijab, because I had no idea that they would participate in sports. In retrospect, this was stupid on my part.

I was curious about Roqaya’s clothing, so I did some googling and found that there are very few companies that sell sportswear designed for women who wear hijab, but that this is expected to be a growing niche in both traditionally Islamic countries and the West. I’m looking forward to seeing more women in hijab in the 2012 Olympics.

Posted on August 22nd, 2008 by Katxena