Religion and Sports
Islam and Women's Sports
In the following, I will focus on Islamic perspectives on women's bodies because they have a huge impact on the opportunities and obstacles that women face in sports. Islamic law, as well as everyday life, has a focus on the need for men and women to be shielded from sexual temptation.
Islamic Perspectives on a Woman's Body
In many Islamic countries, and we cite Iran, below-the-knee coats and head-scarves are the minimum requirements of correct dress for women. Over this, many women also wear the chador (literally, "tent"), a long black robe that hides any female curve. The face and the hands are not covered. Why are women's bodies such a "contested terrain"?
In Islam, sexuality is not looked upon as a threat and a sin, but its proper place is only inside marriage. Sexuality is not controlled via an internalization of norms but by a segregation of the sexes, either with the help of walls (women have to stay at home) or with the help of scarves or veils. Virginity is absolutely required of Muslim girls, and numerous rules and regulations are intended to guarantee that they do not lose it. The main strategy is to keep them under control and to prevent contact with boys and men.
Chastity Involves Family Honor
In Muslim culture, the chastity of women is a matter of honor, which is the basis of a family's reputation. Honor means the ability of the head of the family or its male members to fight or avenge aggression and to guarantee the chastity of their wives, sisters, and daughters. Men have the right and the duty to control female family members and to sanction transgressions. Girls and women have to avoid every sort of behavior that might endanger the good reputation of the family. Moral integrity for women means, among other things, following Islamic rules with regard to their bodies. A major tenet that women have to observe is that in public, the body, a symbol of sexuality, has to be covered.
We have to be aware that the covering of the body has to be interpreted and understood in context. All Muslims agree that clothes should be decent and not sexually arousing, but there is a lot of controversy about the scarf. Some Muslims claim that neither the Qur'an nor the sayings of the Prophet prescribe the covering of the hair. But we also have to take into consideration that a scarf is not only a scarf; it can look quite differently and it can have different meanings. To wear a scarf can be a fashion statement or a habit, it can be a religious duty, it can be used as protection against the "male gaze," and it can also be the expression of gender hierarchy and the suppression of women.
Islam Encourages Sports . . .
Now, we examine how sports activities, in general, and girls' and women's participation in sports, in particular, are influenced by Islam. But first, let me state that there is no general prohibition of sports, including girls' and women's sports.
Islamic sport scientists, both male and female, emphasize that health and fitness are important for men and women alike and should be sustained by sporting activities. Many point out that in various sayings, Muhammad had advocated living a healthy life, recommending to Islamic adherents such sports as running, horseback riding, swimming, and archery. Some Muslim sociologists, citing Islamic sources and authorities, even conclude that sports, for their health benefits, ought to be obligatory for women.