She just wanted to be a tennis pro. 18-year old Sania Mirza, a Muslim from Hyderabad, India, has fought her way to the top of the tennis world, moving from 326th to 34th best woman player in the world. She recently became the first Indian woman to reach the fourth round of a Grand Slam tournament, only to lose to #1 player Maria Sharapova. But her rise in the rankings has been met with both pride and consternation from her co-religionists in India. The problem stems from Mirza’s conforming to the standard women’s tennis uniform, which (along with multiple ear and nose piercings) is decidedly more revealing that standard Muslim women’s attire. The Sunni Ulema Board called Mirza a “corrupting influence” that is “bringing shame to Islam,” and the Jamaat-e-Ulema-e-Hind stated ominously that Mirza would be “stopped from playing” if she did not wear “proper clothes” – a statement that resulted in Mirza taking up bodyguards at a recent match in Calcutta. But other (and larger) Muslim groups are rallying to Mirza’s side. “We are proud of what Sania Mirza has achieved in her career so far,” said Syed Nizamuddin of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (previously known for attempting to reform India’s triple talaq divorce codes). “Not a single reputed religious leader anywhere in the country has issued any fatwa against her.” Other groups, such as the Muslim Council of Bengal (“The thought of issuing a fatwa has never crossed our minds”) and the Tamil Nadu Muslim Women’s Jamaat Committee, also threw their support behind Mirza. Mirza-mania has even reached such a fever pitch among India’s Muslims that a required-reading chapter of Mirza’s accomplishments was proposed for a network of 285 madrassas in the state of Chhattisgarh (the proposal, which called Mirza “a Muslim role model,” was withdrawn after threats on the authors). Mirza, while tired of the attention her attire has attracted, is using it to get the last word. At Wimbledon, she wore a t-shirt that read, “Well Behaved Women Rarely Make History,” and she wore one at the US Open that read, “You Can Either Agree With Me – Or Be Wrong.”
Shahed Amanullah is editor-in-chief of altmuslim.com.