Sania Mirza: A Pride or Disgrace to Indian Muslims

Sania Mirza is a source of pride in India. She is the first Indian woman to:

  1. Win a WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) tour title of any kind
  2. Win a Grandslam Title
  3. Surpass US $1m in career earnings

She has also won the Arjuna Award, which is the highest sports honour in India, and the Padma Shri, which is the fourth highest civilian award in India; she was  named one of the “50 heroes of Asia” by Time Magazine, and named by The Economic Times in the list of “33 women who made India proud“.

Sania Mirza on the cover of Time Magazine. [Source].

She also happens to be a Muslim woman, who according to her father and coach, is a deeply religious girl who prays five times a day, tries hard not to play during the holy month of Ramadan, and reads the Quran every day.

However, to many Indian Muslims, she is a media personality, who doesn’t wear the “proper” attire that a Muslim woman is supposed to be seen in. She dresses like any other tennis sports star, and is popular for her style statements as for her skill with the racket. This resulted in a Maulvi in Midnapore (West Bengal, India) issuing a fatwa on her dress code stating “The dress she wears on the tennis courts…leaves nothing to the imagination.” He also said she should follow the example of Iranian women who wore head scarves and long tunics when they played in badminton tournaments. Islamist groups such as Jamiat-ulema-e-Hind allegedly threatened to disrupt her tennis matches.

Recently another fatwa was also issued against her, for living together with her current husband, before their marriage; the fatwa stated that ”It’s un-Islamic for a man and woman to see each other during the ceremonies before the ‘nikah.’” (Mirza’s husband stayed in her parental home for few weeks prior to their wedding. )

Mirza was also heavily criticized for hugging non-Mahram men after a match, and for wearing t-shirts with bold statements on them. She also spoke in a conference about safe sex, which was understood as implying that she supported premarital sex, following which her effigy was burnt. 

Fatwas have caught the fancy of the people worldwide, and is popularly used by media, to project Islam as a misogynist religion with impractical restrictions. Zakir Naik, in his speech on the subject, explains why Muslims or Ulemas should not be giving so much importance to Sania Mirza’s dress code. Naik speaks about the importance of “diluting” the global effect of labeling Sania Mirza’s dress code as Haraam, for the sake of a positive representation of Islam in the media. He further says that she is a “lesser sinner” than Muslim male cricketers who do not offer Salah at all. However, he also mentions her world ranking is “only” 34, and doesn’t deserve all the attention it is garnering.

In another related article, Dr Mookhi Amir Ali, while stating that he has better work to do than follow Sania Mirza’s career, goes onto say that she should have used her stature, as a successful Muslim woman, to question the short skirts and bring modesty into the game. She also should have worn a wrap right after the game was over, or chose not to wear the tennis dress, in all the advertisements she was featured in – the very advertisements which chose to feature her BECAUSE she was a tennis star. The only attribute which will make her a good Muslim, according to him, is if she brought about any changes in the accepted “dress codes” for women in professional tennis.

Sania Mirza. [Source].

Sadly, in the Islamic world, a Muslim woman’s piety is often closely related to her dress code. If she misses a prayer or a fast, not many go berserk as they would if she doesn’t wear a hijab. Does being a good Muslim woman begin and end with a hijab?   Are Muslim women defined only by their modest dress codes alone? By mentioning that she is a “lesser” sinner, and by repeatedly saying that “at least” she offers Salah, Naik, while diluting some of the hype around her clothing, still suggests there’s a sense of shame in Sania Mirza being Muslim.

Mirza’s interviews were she states that she derives her mental strength from her regular prayers, aren’t mentioned. Her father’s statement of her religiously observing her Ramadan fasts are forgotten. What is camouflaged all along, in her spunky attire, and her sportswear, is that she is an extremely successful sports woman, who publicly attributes it to her religion. The glory she brings to Islam, with or without her tennis skirts, is forgotten by all, including the factual Naik. Being an international sports star, and the first Indian woman to achieve everything she has achieved, should, in effect, be the reason people should be more attracted to Islam.

India is a country where Muslims are the minority, the literacy rates of Muslim women are much lower than for women of other religions, and Muslims in general are largely discriminated against.  So instead of being a “lesser sinner,” or an “OK” Muslim, Sania Mirza deserves recognition for bringing positive attention to Islam. For being the first Indian woman to achieve so many laurels that no one of any faith was able to do before her.

Friday Links | December 26, 2014
Death, Grief and Womanhood
Erotica by Muslim Women for Muslim Women
A Potential Burqa Ban at the Federal Level in Switzerland
  • Sobia

    What irritates me about all the commenting on Sania Mirza’s clothing is this assumption that somehow these men have a right to her body. That these men think that they have the right to tell her how to dress demonstrates that they think they have the right to control her body. And that disgusts me. Her body is her body and she can do with it what she chooses. Not only that, but her religiosity is only her business. No one else has the right to tell her how to express her religiosity.

  • Russell Holder

    More power to her and if her own religion is that sensitive to these petty things, such as what she wears [without being exposed] or what she says [her choice to express her own beliefs] then where is the warm fuzzy peaceful feeling here we are told comes with this religion [of peace]?

    • Sobia

      Obviously, the “warm fuzzy peaceful feeling” is something that Mirza feels as Islam is obviously very important to her. The men in the story are judging her for her clothes and you are judging her for her choice to be a religious Muslim. How does that make you different than the men in the story? Both condescending and sexist.

  • Izzie

    @Sobia: It also seems that, its worse to say we are a “practicing” Muslim, because, then automatically all religious pundits have a right to comment on how we aren’t ever good enough

  • Russell Holder

    There would be impugned nothing about being a Muslim, something about the lack of respect given her of her own people and religion… a little early in this dialogue to assume an adversarial stance. If you don’t know a thing why sling the words as if you do? Can there be understanding grown from a climate such as this?

  • Indscribe

    What a joke. Sania Mirza was criticised just by a couple of people (among 200 million Muslims) and they were also condemned by Muslims. She is a role model and hero. Indian Muslims are not at all such bigots which you are trying to make them up as.

  • Sya

    I agree that it’s such a shame to focus on her dress code and outward appearance, instead of how she says that Islam gives her strength to play well!

    And these fatwa-issuing men clearly have enough time to be nitpicking about her “sins”. Frankly, Naik’s contradiction of himself is confusingly annoying.

  • Russell Holder

    Does your comment(s) fit in with Sharia law… and would even this dialogue be censored? If it would, how does this make you feel? This question is directed to Sobia.

  • Nytbun

    Muslim women start with hijab and end with other things, Islam is not just prayers and fasting ( it doesn’t mean she is religious if she does ONLY those two ), it is a collective thing, I just read somewhere wearing pants for tennis is not practical because its hot, then how come men wear those and still play better than women, it utter nonsense