Right 2 Wear: Muslim Women in Sports

The world of hijabs and soccer (or football, if you prefer) has been making the news a lot lately.  As you might remember, FIFA recently banned the Iranian women’s team from playing, because of their headscarves.  Jordan’s team has also recently been banned for the same reason.  And in the Montreal area, 15-year-old Sarah Benkirane was recently prevented from refereeing soccer games while wearing hijab.

Muslimah Media Watch is joining up with a new campaign called Right 2 Wear, in support of the rights of women to play sports, regardless of their clothing. I worked with  Farrah Khan and Zahra Agjee of AQSAzine and Digital Storytelling Facilitator Hisayo Horie to create the Right 2 Wear video at the Allied Media conference.

We are encouraging you and your communities to do three things:

1. Write to FIFA to express your support for the rights of Iran’s and Jordan’s female soccer teams, and challenging the patronizing and Islamophobic assumptions behind the ban.

2. Check out our Tumblr page at right2wear.tumblr.com, and send us your own stories, pictures and videos about the sports that you play, or other links related to this issue.  You can email us at right2wear@gmail.com.

3. Most importantly: Organize a soccer match in your community!  Think of it as a big soccer flash mob.  Invite other women and girls to get off the sidelines and show that we got game. Allies are welcomed to lead cheers and chants, and support us in red carding FIFA’s anti-hijab ruling.  Send the information and pictures to us, so we can keep track of what you’ve all been up to.  And stay tuned for information on upcoming actions in Toronto and Montreal!

No one should be kept from the right to play sports!

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  • Duff

    When you say ‘right to wear,’ does that also include the right to go without hijab? I’m referring to the Iranian female players here, hailing as they do from a country where the hijab is mandated in public, whether these women personally believe in Islam or not. How is the ‘right to wear’ campaign going to tackle this issue of choice?

  • Rochelle

    Very curious about the response to duffs question. Would also remind mmw that Iranian women are banned from watching national soccer matches in azadi stadium in Tehran. Women have been campaigning FIFA to sanction the Iranian team for years based on this discrimination.

    Iran itself bans many female sports teams based on modesty. Where is the concern from mmw? Shouldn’t Iran be sanctioned for this gender discrimination?

  • Aminah

    I dont understand why they dont stick to the FIFA rules saying that the cap cant extend below their ears. Its not like FIFA said they wont let them cover at all.

    They were pretty lucky FIFA was iwlling to compromise on the issue. To be honest i found it hilarious how the iranian/jordanian teams said it was against their religion, half the jordanian women were showing thier hair through their headcovers in that picture. and to be honest in my view i think they should be wearing more looser clothing. They have to make compromises and meet halfway, they cnat show them the religion card (get it?lol) because its acutally haram for women to play in sports and it being broadcast to the world, with lots of men watching.

    Wat do you campaigners think about my right to wear abaya when i play sports? You’d laugh at the thought of it (yes i do wear abaya). There is a definate risk of choking hazard by covering the neck just as there is a greater risk of me tripping over out of the pitch in my abaya.

    WHy make this into a political issue? Ok i symphatise with the canadian ref in motreal, because it looks like they have a personal problem with islam and the hijab itself as they changed their minds from a safety issue to a religion issue, fair enough.

    But i just find the iranian women annoying, FIFA told them before the match they can cover their hair (they compromised)but not extend it below thier ears, yet they all decided to go out there anyway, i have no symphathy towards them, and tbh the morale police in iran wont be happy with thie attire either.

    • Fatemeh

      @Aminah: “To be honest i found it hilarious how the iranian/jordanian teams said it was against their religion, half the jordanian women were showing thier hair through their headcovers in that picture. and to be honest in my view i think they should be wearing more looser clothing. They have to make compromises and meet halfway, they cnat show them the religion card (get it?lol) because its acutally haram for women to play in sports and it being broadcast to the world, with lots of men watching.”

      You’re judging the female players based on your notion of what’s acceptable and what isn’t. The players are entitled to wear what they want off the field–not each player practices Islam the same way, nor should she have to in order to play soccer.

      @Rochelle: I agree with you that it’s fucked up that the Iranian team doesn’t have the right to not wear hijab on the field and that women can’t watch soccer at the stadium. These are things that need change, also. But the Right2Wear isn’t focusing on Iran per se, and it’s concentrating on what it can change. The fact that these women can play soccer and compete internationally is a step forward. Sometimes you have to work inside a patriarchal system for change.

  • Rochelle

    just want to clarify my statement: I think its bullshit that FIFA banned these teams based on dress and NO sportswoman should be limited in her play based on religious or non-religious dress.

    But the fact is, some, if not most, of these women would choose to take off the hijab on the field, but if they did so, they would be kicked off the team. It is the Iranian government – as well as FIFA – that is contributing to this discrimination by mandating hijab uniforms.

    Be fair, MMW! Add the Iranian government to your list of addressees, urging them to allow Iranian soccer players – and all women – the right 2 wear (or not wear).

  • Tec15

    Off topic, but Rochelle are you still claiming that WLUML are neutral or consistent regarding hijab/burqa bans ? A recent article published there claiming that a Syrian government directive allowing niqabi women to again work as teachers (They were previously banned from working as such) was supporting “a blunt and clear violence against the Syrian woman”, should spell the death knell for that pretense. I am not holding my breath though.

  • Rochelle


    Wluml is a network, not an organization, made up of thousands of opinionated individuals and orgs.

    So no – I never claimed they were either neutral or consistent. There is no official stance on hijab.

  • http://www.muslimahmediawatch.org Krista

    Thanks for the comments, and I apologise for the slow reply.

    The Right 2 Wear campaign actually comes out of some larger discussions on resisting the policing of Muslim women’s wardrobes in a variety of contexts, definitely including those who force women to wear hijab, and we are certainly completely supportive of the rights of women to *not* wear hijab as well. As part of the more recent statement on the R2W tumblr site says:
    “Governments, our families, religious scholars, and institutions such as FIFA have no right to tell us what we can or cannot wear. Women and girls should be able to choose how they practice their religion and still be considered equal members of society.”

    The focus is on FIFA at the moment, as well as the recent case in Montreal, partly for the reasons that Fatemeh raised in her comment and also because those have been big news stories lately. But the overall campaign extends beyond this, and I totally agree that no one should be forced to wear hijab to play soccer either.

    @Tec15: If I remember correctly, this isn’t the first time Rochelle has been questioned about WLUML, and it’s still off-topic, and not fair to hold her responsible for explaining or justifying any of WLUML’s actions or policies.

  • http://www.c2comics.com K

    No. If religious dress causes a potential safety hazard (and lack of vision includes safety) they should not be allowed to wear it simply because it’s religious. All religious practices do not need to be kept to when there is a foray into the non-religious world. Soccer is not religious – religious dress has no place in it, ESPECIALLY if it’s a safety hazard. The scarves and veils the women where are safety hazards. I’ve have two coworkers and several friends who wore the hijab. That’s all fine and good for them in their personal lives, however I have seen their hijabs catch and block their view, requiring them to take a moment to move the veil and perhaps readjust it if they’re be looking in that direction a while – again, not a big deal if it’s just day-to-day life – but something like this would be a huge hindrance on the soccer field, as a player or a ref.

    I would support a campaign to allow female soccer players/refs to be exempt from wearing long veils but no, I would never sign a petition to allow them onto the field.

  • Tec15

    Talk about spurious excuses. Have any safety hazards form wearing hijabs while playing football been conclusively demonstrated anywhere? Anecdotal evidence can be used to justify all kinds of double standards and bigotry. Besides has FIFA used “safety gound” for its ruling?

  • Tec15

    Oh, and if we take the “safety hazards” excuse to it’s logical conclusion, then several countries (Such as Saudi Arabia) could claim that playing football itself was an unacceptable safety risk, and that consequently women should be banned from playing football on safety grounds.

    BTW has anyone suggested that male Sikh players be banned from wearing turbans while playing football?

  • Duff

    I agree with K’s sentiments above. Soccer is in no way a religious activity and thus religious dress should be kept out of national uniforms. What I find most disgusting is the idea that Iranian female players are FORCED to wear the headscarf onto the field. They are forced to wear a RELIGIOUS SYMBOL on their heads when they may not even observe/believe in the religion. Many of the players on the team may have to ‘fake’ religiousity (by wearing the visible, outward symbol of a religion they may not observe) just to further their sport and careers. And the fact that taking off this religious symbol from their heads is not an option given to them whatever their own personal beliefs (unless they want to be kicked off the squad or arrested), well that to me is grossly offensive. Can you imagine if all players of the Italian/French/Irish soccer teams were forced to wear a crucifix…would the organisers of this petition support that too?

    By supporting the Iranian team’s ‘Right to Wear’ hijab, this petition supports the MANDATORY and forced veiling/’hijabbing’ of Iranian female athletes. How is this the ‘Right 2 Wear’ what you want on the sporting field? I don’t think the organisers of the petition have thought this through at all.

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  • E

    As a soccer player myself, I know for a fact that it is insanely dangerous to wear a hijab that includes material that WRAPS AROUND THE NECK. Are you kidding me? Even if you’ve ever watched a soccer match before, you know that there are many times when players fall to the ground and there is quite a bit of scuffling about. Imagine if a cleat got caught in a player’s hijab. We’re talking about serious safety risks here, and I truly think that is what FIFA is trying to protect.

    This campaign seems awfully misguided to me. It is claiming that FIFA is discriminating while conveniently turning away from the fact that the Iranian government requires women to wear a headscarf, which is discriminatory in itself. FIFA is not intruding on women’s wardrobes. You don’t wear clothes out onto the field, you wear a uniform. Meanwhile, women in their everyday lives are unable to choose whether to cover themselves or not in their own country.

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  • Lara A

    Salaam Aalikum,

    Duh duh duh! Attack of the killer hijab of DOOM!

    E – If you actually look at the type of hijab being worn, you would see that they are very close fitting to the neck, There is more chance of a non hiajb wearing player’s hair getting caught in the boot studs, then in a hijab.

    One could also argue that this risk is inherent with any fabric worn around the neck, e.g the neck of a sports top, so maybe the players should all be naked and have their heads shaved, so no clothing can get caught on anything.

    If (and it’s a big if) a football stud, did get caught on a hijab, surely the boot wearer would just untangle their boot and carry on playing, rather then keep it there and strangle the hijab wearer to death? Strangulation is rarely instantaneous, so they’d really have to keep their foot there for several minutes anyway.