Muslim women are rarely associated with sports of any kind, because many presume that our religion dictates that we must be docile and obedient. Times are changing, though, and the leaders of Maslaha, a London based organization, are challenging those stereotypes with a new initiative called Muslim Girls Fence.
The initiative is part of the “I Can Be She” campaign that focuses on empowering Muslim women, and sharing their stories. Starting with eight pilot workshops held for teenage girls at the Frederick Bremer School in London, Maslaha, in collaboration with British Fencing and Sports England, trained a group of girls and documented their progress. The final result: An exhibition, both photos and videos of the workshops, was then presented at the Women of the World Festival.
The Maslaha team drew inspiration from the experiences of Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first hijab-wearing Muslim woman to qualify for the United States Olympic team.
Muhammad, a fencer, described how when fencing she was able to wear the same outfit and use the same tools as her peers. Usually Muslim women athletes are either not allowed to wear their hijab or they end up feeling out of place when they do – but under a fencing mask a headscarf is indistinguishable, shielding young girls from added awkwardness.
Usually Muslim women athletes are either not allowed to wear their hijab or they end up feeling out of place when they do – but under a fencing mask a headscarf is indistinguishable, shielding young girls from added awkwardness.
Wanting to promote inclusivity and prevent alienation, a common experience for Muslims in the West, the Maslaha leaders believed fencing was the best option. Due to the project’s great success, Maslaha has expanded the initiative to all of England.
According to Maslaha project manager, Latifa Akay, “The purpose of Muslim Girls Fence is to help Muslim girls reclaim their voice in a society that is constantly labeling them.”
With 58% of reported cases of Islamaphobia in the UK involving women, it is vital that Muslim women be able to stand up and speak for themselves.
This new initiative simultaneously shows Muslim girls what they can achieve their goals, while also disproving the belief that fencing is a sport only for wealthy White boys. Muslim Girls Fence is now giving young Muslim girls a renewed sense of confidence to be proud of their identities.
Contributed by Zarina Iman