I joined my kickboxing class eight months ago, after leaving my beloved jujitsu class back in Doha last year. The biggest difference between the two classes is that my former was filled with Muslim women, but in my current class in England, I am the only brown woman (except for my sisters), and the only woman in a hijab.
The first time I walked into the sports hall, I could see everyone looking at my head. I knew my hijab was what they were looking at, what they were fixated on. And I knew that they had already formed their preconceived notions of me based off what I look like and stereotypes they had been fed by the media.
Still, I get nervous every time I go to my kickboxing class, especially being the only brown person in a room filled with white women; I do get self-conscious! The feeling fades after a while into the class, with the instructor and people being friendly, but it’s always there at the back of my mind. Don’t get me wrong — no one has said anything racist or islamophobic to me, (unless you count them not thinking my sisters aren’t my sisters because I wear hijab, and they don’t). A lot of it is unsaid thoughts lingering in the air, which you can feel.
It’s in these situations where I truly feel the weight of being a visibly brown Muslim woman. I’m most likely the first hijabi woman or brown woman some women I train with have properly spoken to, and been in a martial arts class with.
To any of my young Muslim girls out there who walk into a room and see they are the only hijabi or only brown girl there, don’t let that stop you.
My very presence of turning up to each class is its own rebellion, ignoring the stereotypical narratives where Muslim women are subordinate and subservient. Whenever I mention to anyone I’ve been doing martial arts since I was a young girl, they’re definitely shocked.
I will admit to you: I want to compete in a professional competition one day, but I’m genuinely scared. Because I know I’ll be the only hijabi there, so I would want to win. If I were to lose, I feel as if I would not just be letting myself down, but would then be feeding into the narrative that Muslim women cannot win at anything? Or that hijabi women shouldn’t play sports? It sucks that these are the kind of thoughts that I’m having, but it’s what goes through my mind. I reached out to the page @muslimfemalefighters recently, where they highlight amazing Muslim female fighters, and they were so reassuring to speak to.
To any of my young Muslim girls out there who walk into a room and see they are the only hijabi or only brown girl there, don’t let that stop you. Every single one of us is standing right beside you, rooting for you, and supporting you.