Religion and sports should not mix but so often they do.
Restrictions have been created by society to categorise women and limit their freedom. This goes for female Muslim football players who often find themselves in predicaments on the field and around the world.
One of the more controversial issues surrounding women Muslim footballers has been the head scarf, or hijab. In 2012 FIFA formally approved headscarves for female Muslim players, reversing a ban on the hijab that had been enforced in FIFA competitions since 2007. The ban had been put in place after FIFA said the hijab posed a choking hazard and that the pins used to keep the scarf in place could also be dangerous.
Two football players wearing the hijab as they fight to get the ball during a match in the National Tournament for Clubs
During that five-year hijab ban, the rule, among other problems, prevented many girls and women from representing their country in the Olympics qualification rounds of 2011, breaking the hearts of players from Egypt, Iran, Palestine, Bahrain and Jordan, some of the countries that were involved in the qualifications.
Not everyone accepted that safety was the reason for the ban, with some suggesting that it was part of a rising global tide of anti-Muslim sentiment.
Football players in action trying to get the ball during a match in the National Tournament for Clubs
Be that as it may, after the media shed the light on this issue extensively, FIFA rescinded on the ban and allowed women to wear a headscarf as long as it had no protruding sharp objects or pins, so as to create a safe environment for people playing the sport because football in the end is a direct interactive sport. A new stretchable slip-on hijab was thus invented which made wearing it completely safe. The new hijab means that if an opponent grabs a hijab from behind it will easily come off, thereby minimising the risk of choking or strangulation.
Still, the hijab has created confusion among many female players. Today in Egypt, there are several girls who wear the hijab in their daily life but take it off before football practice or official matches.
Maadi Club football player Nada Al-Sheikh heading the ball to score
Marwa Samaka says wearing the hijab while on the field makes her uncomfortable. “I take off my scarf during matches and practices because I don’t like being restricted by my scarf. I feel I’m tied down and I’m not used to that. But I hope that soon I will wear it all the time. For me, it’s only a matter of getting used to it.”
On the opposite side, a striker from the Maadi Club, Nada Al-Sheikh, represents the view of the majority interviewed by TNN. Al-Sheikh expressed her deep respect and comfort while wearing the scarf on the field. “Hijab is part of my personality. I wear it as part of my uniform and I am extremely comfortable with it.
“Some people may believe that because I wear the hijab then I should not play football,” Al-Sheikh said. “But this makes me sad because I think about how long it will take for us to fight for our rights, to do as we wish and explore our limits freely. How long will society and people whom I do not know define what I should and should not do with my life?”
Football players during a friendly match
Introducing a new barrier to prevent women from competing was seen as completely unacceptable. Lifting the hijab ban allowed women to choose for themselves rather than have FIFA choose for them.
Maadi Club football player Suhayla Al-Sheikh stretching after a tiring practice
However, even after the ban was lifted, women’s sports still need support, especially in countries outside of North America where opportunities for women and girls are already limited. The difference between female sports in the West and how Muslim-majority countries in Africa, the Middle East, south Asia and southeast Asia treat women playing sports like football remains huge.