Muslim Women Crush Stereotypes on Their Way to the Rio Olympics

Muslim women are breaking through in the world of sports.

In the Muslim world, particularly in the Middle East there is a very strict code of conduct for women. For those observant enough, it’s very rare to see Muslim women joining beauty contests and athletic competitions. Muslim women in the Arab region are raised to become wives, do household chores, take care of children and submit to their husbands.

Muslim Women Crush Stereotypes on Their Way to the Rio Olympics.[/tweetthis]

But since the 2012 London Olympics, the world witnessed how things are starting to change. The last Olympics recorded the most number of female Muslim athletes who participated. It’s also inspiring to note that some of these participants have successfully won a medal. In the upcoming Rio Olympics, the number is expected to increase. And countries which have never been represented in the top sporting event will eventually have their representative.

And the trend is not only observed during the Olympics, female Muslims are also seen excelling in all other sporting and outdoor competitions. Here are some of the female athletes who challenged tradition and stigma and are trying to change the role of Muslim women in their countries:

Amna Al Haddad: Olympic weightlifter, United Arab Emirates

Starting with a 2016 Rio Olympics qualifier, Amna Al Haddad is proud of being the very first athlete to represent UAE in the Olympics and other international weightlifting event. Though she and her family still face negative criticisms at home, she is determined to pursue her love of sport which also became the therapy for her depression. In an interview, Al Haddad exclaimed, “Nobody can tell me what I can and cannot do.” And when asked how much weight she lifts, she replied “I lift a nation.”

Kulsoom Abdullah: Weightlifting, U.S.-Pakistan

Though raised in the United States, Kulsoom Abdullah represents Pakistan in most of her local and international competitions. Abdullah is considered to be a pioneer when it comes to Muslim women who are engaged in weightlifting.

Additionally, she made history by legally fighting to be the first woman to wear a hijab during competition.

Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani: Judo/Martial Arts, Saudi Arabia

When she was just 16, Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani made headlines for being the first female athlete to represent the very conservative Saudi Arabia in the 2012 London Olympics. Shahrkani was also the reason why Saudi Arabia eventually agreed to let women participate in the global sporting event after the International Olympic Committee exerted pressure to the Saudi government.

Though Saudi Arabia agreed, the government required Shahrkhani to compete in clothing compliant with Shari’a Law and that she “dress modestly, be accompanied by a male guardian and not mix with men” while in London for the 2012 Games.

Despite the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee not promoting her participation and her fight wasn’t televised live on Saudi local channels Shahrkhani said, “I am happy to be at the Olympics. Unfortunately, we did not win a medal, but in the future we will and I will be a star for women’s participation.”

Mona Seraji: Extreme Snowboarder, Iran

From a former graphic designer, Mona Seraji has pursued her passion and is now called as Iran’s snowboard ambassador. But eventually becoming a professional snowboarder and instructor has been a struggle because even family did not support Seraji. Seraji never received proper coaching and she mastered the sport on her own urging him to teach young talented women in Iran hoping to send them also to international competitions.

Shinoona Salah al-Habsi: Marathon/Runner, Oman

Shinoona Salah al-Habsi, represented Oman in the 2012 London Olympics. Though she did not won a medal that time, she is determined to get back and eventually become the champion.

Raha Moharrak: Mountaineer, Saudi Arabia

Raha Moharrak is the very first Saudi woman to successfully reach the summit of Mt. Everest. In an interview, she explained that the biggest obstacle to her sport/passion is the idea of breaking social barriers. Though it seems harder to overcome than the mountain itself, she said that she feels that it’s her responsibility to “clearly relay the message of being brave enough to follow your dreams, and if I inspire just one person, it would mean the world to me. It’s a personal dream to live long enough to see a generation where there are no longer any firsts because all of the firsts with regards to Arab women have been conquered.”


Follow the Conversation on Twitter