Beyond the Hijab: Female Muslims and Physical Activity

By Nakamura, Yuka Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal, Fall 2002
Beyond the Hijab: Female Muslims
and Physical Activity
Nakamura, Yuka, Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal
Researchers have identified significantly low participation rates of Muslim women
in international and recreational sport, citing reasons ranging from alleged
discriminatory Islamic doctrine to incompatibility with Islamic beliefs. However,
there are several examples of Muslim women participating in international
competitions and recreational activities on their own terms, leading one to believe
that perhaps the Western physical activity cultures are different from Islamic
physical activity cultures. In this paper, I examine the physical activity experiences
of Muslim women who were born in or immigrated to Canada. There are three
areas where physical activity within an Islamic framework differs from that of a
Western sport ideology. They were: a flexible and modest dress code, sex
segregation, and controlled access to their physical activity space. When such needs
were not met by the physical education system or existing recreational facilities,
subjects compromised their beliefs, participated with their religious community, or
stopped playing completely.
Read "Beyond the Hijab: Female Muslims and Physical Activity" by N...
1 of 3 19/08/2014 10:03
The human right "to participate in recreational activities, [and] sports" (United
Nations, 1979) is recognized in the Convention on the Elimination of
Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and the International Charter of
Physical Education and Sport (UNESCO, 1978). However, a number of researchers
identify a significant lack of Muslim women participating in Olympic and
international sport (e.g., Sfeir 1985; Atlanta Plus, 1996), and in recreational sport
(e.g., Taylor & Toohey, 1998; Toohey & Taylor, 1997; Toohey, 1998). Sfeir (1985),
for example, found that in the history of the Olympics, the majority of the Islamic
athletes were male. In 1984, Muslim women constituted "less than 4 percent of the
Muslim participants and only about 0.3 percent of total participants" (Sfeir, 1985,
287). It is arguable that, Muslim women's right to participate in physical activity
and sports is violated, or is a symptom of gender inequality that is often claimed to
exist within Islam. The French-based organization, Atlanta Plus , for example,
demanded that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) bar from participation
in the Olympics those countries that did not send female athletes to the Atlanta
Games (Atlanta Plus, 1996). It is assumed here that the human right to play sport is
universally accepted and important. However, how sport is played may not be
universal. Situations where cultural groups are not fully represented in Western
athletic competitions may reflect a conscious choice not to play in the particular
structural circumstances of Western sport, rather than restricted participation.
According to Muslim religious text, (1) Muslim women have enjoyed certain rights
long before women in the West (Engineer, 1992). These include the right to inherit
property, the right to a name, the right to vote, and the right to participate in
physical activity. In fact, all Muslims are expected to take care of their bodies and
pursue a healthy lifestyle. The Quran (i.e., Islamic Holy Book) and Hadiths (i.e., the
traditions of the Prophet Mohammed) encourage physical activity as an important
part of development (e.g., Alogleh, 1986; Daiman, 1994; Daiman, 1995; Benaham,
nid; Ibrahim, 1982; Kamiyole, 1993; Sfeir, 1985; Takim, 1998). For example, the
Prophet Mohammed instructed Muslims to be health conscious and to be "ready to
fight with the best weapons and arms" (Sfeir, 1985, 293). There are also accounts of
the Prophet racing against his wife, and of women participating in "military
expeditions (for religious achievements), bringing water to the thirsty combatants,
treating the wounded and carrying them to safety, and sometimes engaging in
Read "Beyond the Hijab: Female Muslims and Physical Activity" by N...
2 of 3 19/08/2014 10:03
warfare" (Daiman, 1994, 14).
Although physical activity is encouraged for all Muslims, there are restrictions that
may account for the lower participation of Muslim women at the Olympics. …
The rest of this article is only available to active members of
Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial (/free-trial) and receive full access to:
Questia's entire collection
Automatic bibliography creation
More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
Ad-free environment
Already a member? Log in now (/member-login).
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning.
Publication information: Article title: Beyond the Hijab: Female Muslims and Physical Activity. Contributors: Nakamura, Yuka -
Author. Journal title: Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal. Volume: 11. Issue: 2 Publication date: Fall 2002. Page number: 21+. ©
2000 American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD). COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group.
This material is protected by copyright and, with the exception of fair use, may not be further copied, distributed or transmitted in any
form or by any means.
Read "Beyond the Hijab: Female Muslims and Physical Activity" by N...
3 of 3 19/08/2014 10:03