Why we should stop judging Hijabi Sporters by what they wear

It’s a very unique period for young women – more particularly for young Muslim women. The headlines are full of it and Islamic platforms cannot suppress their joy: a Muslim hijabi woman is writing history.  For the first time in a long time, hijabs are presented in a positive way.  That should make Muslims happy, right? Well, apparently, some Muslims can still not express any admiration.

Discrimination within the Muslim Community

Ibtihaj Muhammed is teaching young women something important: their religious choices should not be a burden between them and their dreams.  She is teaching them to ignore the negative voices around them and step up for what they love to do. Regardless of them being different than the others.

And her message has to be heard. Lots of Muslim women are stuck in two worlds: a world that is telling them to cover less, because otherwise they are oppressed, and a world telling them to cover more. It’s as if they are never good enough, whatever they do and whatever their profession is: everybody is entitled to share his or her opinion on their appearance.

This picture, showing a perfect example of how two very differently dressed women can share the same passions and talents, proved perfectly how biased some Muslims can be. To cite a few of the comments made on social media on this picture: ‘Still shouldn’t be wearing tights’, ‘Great? The woman on the left is wearing tights, you can see her body through it. This isn’t what a hijab means.’

Did it ever occur to people like them that hijabi’s cover themselves because of their own beliefs, and not to satisfy others? Women should not be told what to wear or how to behave, and when a woman wears a hijab, that does not mean that they get a free card to judge her appearance.

Without the intention to minimalize institutional discrimination in lots of Western countries against women with a headscarf, a big part of the discrimination comes from within the community.

Being a hijabi myself and having lots of hijabi friends, I can assure you that we are often told what and what not to do: “A hijabi can’t be a news anchor, her face shouldn’t be everywhere on television!, You can’t play these kinds of sports, your female body parts will move too much! Are you going to wear this outside?!, You can’t socialize with men!”.

Wearing a headscarf does not mean that a woman should suddenly be another kind of person. She, and nobody else than her, can fill in what ‘covering’ means to her. She decides what she wants to cover and what she wants to wear, based on what she feels comfortable in. They are not in need of narrow-minded, self-entitled people commenting on their outfit, while completely neglecting what is really pictured: the result of their hard work, their dreams coming true.

 A matter of sexism

Dear men commenting negatively and solely on the outfit of hijabi’s: do not speak of matters you do not have knowledge about.  As long as you are not wearing a hijab and covering yourself from head to toe, in the summer and in the winter, please do not tell women what to do and how ‘Islamic’ they look to you. They don’t care – They shouldn’t care. Instead, admire these women!

Admire women that didn’t listen to the constant negativity that surrounds them, admire that they fought against prejudices and are showing the world that they are more than what they wear – regardless of what they think.

Let us all, from now on, look at the positive thing and concentrate on those things. The negativity won’t get us anywhere! As for the sporters: we wish you the best of luck!

Written by Mayada Srouji

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Mayada Srouji is a 23-year-old student Gender and Diversity at the UGent and has a bachelor in Arabic and Islamic Sciences, with a minor in political and social sciences. She is interested in women rights, philosophy, literature and history.