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Why Muslim women choose to wear headscarves while participating in sports

Umer Hussain, Wilkes University and George B. Cunningham, University of Florida, The Conversation on

Published in Women

The French Senate in 2022 voted in favor of a bill to ban headscarves in sports competitions. The advocates of the legislation claim that headscarves, or hijab, symbolize Islamic radicalism, patriarchy and lack of women’s empowerment.

Muslim women athletes and women’s rights activists have condemned the proposed law, with one commentator calling it “gendered Islamophobia.” Others have pointed out how such laws have the potential to limit Muslim women’s inclusion in sports.

As researchers who study diversity inclusion in sports, we conducted several studies focusing on sports participation among Muslim women over a period of three years. Our recent study, published in 2021, shows that many Muslim women want to wear a hijab while participating in sports, and they list many reasons for doing so.

Muslim women’s participation in sports has historically remained lower than in many other marginalized groups, such as Indigenous groups and other racial minorities. This is especially evident in socially conservative countries such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, where only a few women have ever participated in the Summer Olympics.

In recent years, however, more Muslim women have started to participate in sports, especially in Western countries. In general, there has been a boom in the sale of modest Islamic fashion wear and hijab as fashion accessories.

In 2018, the global Muslim fashion wear market was estimated to be US$283 billion, with Turkey, United Arab Emirates and Indonesia being the biggest ones. This market is expected to grow to $402 billion by 2024.

 

Various sports brands have introduced hijab for sports to tap into this market. For instance, Nike introduced a “Pro Hijab” in 2017. Several other companies, such as Ahida, LiaWear and Asiya Sport, were producing hijab for sports before Nike.

We wanted to explore what Muslim women were saying about wearing a hijab during their participation in sports.

We employed a three-study approach to collect data. This meant that we collected data through open-ended questions from 23 Muslim women living in the United States in the first study. Based on these results, we developed an online survey questionnaire and conducted a preliminary test with 282 women from 11 countries. We further revised our materials and conducted the final study with a sample of 347 Muslim women from 34 countries.

Women in our study were wearing hijab already, so we asked them why they wanted to wear the hijab during sports. Among reasons they listed were that the hijab allows them to adhere to their religious beliefs, is comfortable and makes them feel empowered. One of the participants stated: “The idea of a hijab is tied with the concept of freedom and human rights. To me, a hijab is a personal belief and ideology, and everyone has the right to follow it or not.”

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