Interviews with two inspiring women and two of our Associate Members about the power and importance of World Hijab Day.
As part of our World Hijab Day celebrations Sporting Equals interviewed several inspirational individuals and organisations on what the hijab means to them; including its cultural significance and hijabs within sport. Our interviewees included: The first hijab wearing jockey to compete in the UK and winner of the Magnolia Cup, Khadijah Mellah. Founder of the Active Inclusion Network, Haroon Mota, who has set up projects including Muslim Hikers, Muslim Cyclists and Muslim Runners. Tahirah Ali, a Welsh powerlifter, who drove changes in the dress code rules in the sport across the UK. And finally the Cosmopolitan Roses Netball Team who are hosting trials for the Pakistani National netball team to compete in the Asia Games.
Why is World Hijab Day Important to you?
“The hijab is a symbolism of faith which carries significant weight and has also been heavily debated in politics during recent years, many politicians fail to see that removing the freedom of choice is oppressive. Veiling has been important to women throughout history, it is a commitment to our faith which is both a privilege and responsibility.” – Khadijah
“We believe in the power of diversity and inclusion that is why we set ourselves up a few years ago, the hijab isn’t just a piece of cloth – it represents a choice, it’s a statement of identity and a symbol of empowerment to women around the world. That is why it’s important to us that we celebrate, champion and stand in solidarity with Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab and express themselves as they see fit. Especially whilst they try to be active through running, cycling, hiking as we know there are many barriers to this” – Haroon
“World Hijab day celebrates the freedom of choice and expression for women who choose to wear the hijab. It squashes negative connotations associated with women being dictated what to wear. World Hijab Day promotes an understanding of religious and cultural practices. We can educate others about the significance of the hijab and dispel misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding it. World Hijab Day is important to us at Cosmopolitan Roses because it empowers athletes to embrace and celebrate their identity and promotes women’s rights.” – Cosmopolitan Roses
“You grow up not seeing a lot of Muslim women in the space. As I’ve got older wearing the hijab has become more important, you begin to tie it to your identity, and this is the version of myself which I give to the world. Especially as I’ve gone into sports, it’s something which has been my driving force. In Wales specifically there hasn’t been a lot of Muslim women in sports, let alone power lifting. I think its something which made me stick out but gave me the power to carrying on doing what I’m doing. Showing young girls that even though you’re wearing the hijab its not a barrier in any sense. If you do want to peruse sport those options can be there for you.” – Tahirah
What does wearing a hijab mean to you or individuals within your organisation?
“It’s a choice that women adopt as their form of worship or obedience to God. Many people in the western world often misinterpret what the hijab is and mistake it for oppression which is absolutely what it’s not the hijab is. The hijab is beautiful. Often people associate the hijab as a cloth, the hijab is form of modesty and worship and applies to men as well. The physical form of hijab is the cloth, which is a form of protection, safety and worship.” – Haroon
“It’s my shield, my comfort, I know when I go outside that it’s how I’m presenting myself to the world. I’ve really developed into myself as I’ve got older to be comfortable, with the way I look, the way I present myself. It’s such a powerful statement especially in such a male dominated space such as powerlifting. Knowing that something which has grown up with me and I’ve grown up with it to be in a place where I’d never thought I would be because of my religion and how I choose to present myself to the world in a sense of modesty. The gym setting can be daunting and there is an expectation of the clothes you would wear there. Metaphorically and literally the hijab adds another layer of modesty to that in the space” – Tahirah
“For me it is representing my faith, often I am in high profile events for work. As the years have gone on wearing a hijab has meant more to me and shows representation. I try my best to stick to my faith and jihad, sacrificing showing off beauty to everyone and making God happy.” – Khadijah
“Wearing the hijab is a deeply personal and meaningful choice that I carry with me in all situations, whether I am at school or playing netball. It is a representation of my strong connection to my faith and identity. I take great pride in wearing the hijab and the values it represents.” – Haleema, Cosmopolitan Roses
How can sports be more inclusive?
“I think it starts with having role models who are there already pushing those boundaries. When you see other young women in that space and then them coming together that really is a way of making sports more inclusive for other younger women.” – Tahirah
“Only recently has sport taken more steps to become inclusive. Often Muslim women aren’t encouraged to free mix and can feel uncomfortable in sports spaces. Nike have recently created sports hijabs and modest swimwear which is a great step, but it’s taken a long time to get here.” – Khadijah
“Sport can be more inclusive by governing bodies listening to all parts of the communities who are engaging in their sports. This includes Muslim women who wear the hijab. Understanding their reasons for participation and try to understand what measures can be undertaken to help reduce barriers. We know from the past that there may be some sports which don’t allow the hijab or there might be certain communities which don’t appreciate the hijab so it’s just trying to be more inclusive by having better understanding and taking away restrictions. The hijab shouldn’t be any reason to stop people doing what they want to achieve. Whether you’re a woman who wears the hijab or not, your opportunities should remain the same, we’ve seen people campaigning for hijabs in Basketball, boxing and in other sports.” – Haroon
“There is a lack of representation and inclusion of Muslim women in sports, including netball. This under-representation is a symptom of broader challenges, including cultural and religious barriers and a lack of access to resources and opportunities. Cosmopolitan Roses aims to address the lack of inclusivity in a proactive way by creating platforms for Muslim women to participate and develop in competitive netball. It is essential to recognize the diversity of experiences, backgrounds, and identities within the netball community, and to actively work towards creating a more inclusive and representative environment.” – Cosmopolitan Roses
What changes would you make to sportswear to make it more inclusive?
“Sports hijabs are important because modest clothing can become a barrier. We’ve seen many brands in recent years invest in the sports hijabs, we’ve now seen them for outdoor activities including hiking which is great and promising to see. Representation is important, and we know it’s evident there is a lack of representation for Muslim communities. As an organisation we are prioritising on working to improve representation in the outdoors. Most of our communities come from South Asian backgrounds, and you can’t be what you can’t see. If we see imagery in marketing, it normalises sport. If a young girl growing up wearing a hijab sees people from a similar background thriving in their sports hijab that is a massive statement which is empowering and changing in the norms which is important. We see lots of people at our events wearing a variety of brands of sports hijabs, its great to see that brands are recognising the needs of Muslim women. Since its world hijab day, we should be applauding the brands which have made progress.” – Haroon
“Every Hijabi girl has had the experience of going to the men’s section to buy sportswear. There has never been an effort to make modest sportswear. Often people layer clothing which can work in the winter but its difficult in the summer. Its challenging to find activewear that is modest and suits peoples needs. If there is a lack of modest sportswear in turn there are issues around restricting talent if girls are unable to find sportswear which allows them to participate.” – Khadijah
“The emergence of sports hijabs has been an important step towards inclusivity and we are seeing more Muslim players wearing the hijab at the grassroots netball level. Currently, sports hijabs primarily focus on functionality and practicality and by incorporating different styles and designs, sports hijabs can be tailored to meet the personal styles of individual athletes. Accessibility of sports hijabs still remains niche and it would be good to see them in every sports outlet in the UK.” – Cosmopolitan Roses
“I know a lot of girls are really supportive of the sports hijabs and they work well for them, I personally prefer a longer jersey hijab over a sports style slip on as I find it more comfortable. I have seen the development of more modest clothing coming into the sports scene but also, with more hijabs coming into by different organisations, seeing the impact which this has on the modest community. Only recently have they really started tapping into that. We’re at the starting point of where sports hijabs and other modest sportswear is going. It’s going to be interesting to see how bigger brands bringing it together and making it more inclusive in the future.” – Tahirah
We would like to thank Khadijah, Tahirah, Harron and the Cosmopolitan Roses for taking time to speak to us regarding World Hijab Day and its cultural significance. If you are looking to take part in inclusive sports events visit the Active Inclusion Network’s social media @active.inclusion for more information on running, cycling and hiking events and visit Cosmopolitan Roses @cosmopolitanroses for netball events including the selection for the Pakistan National Netball Team to participate in the Asia Games in September 2024 which can be booked by clicking here.