“When I think about it, [when I was younger] I had assumed that because I hadn’t seen sportswomen wearing hijabs on TV that there was something against it in our religion,” Asma Elbadawi, the UK-born polymath explains. “I had assumed that women were expected to retain their modesty and playing sport didn’t align with that.” Ten years on, not only is Asma now an advocate for sport for young Muslim girls, she successfully urged the international basketball association, FIBA, to eradicate the ban on hijabs and religious headwear in the professional sport. We’re taking notes...
So where did it all begin? Apparently change does not actually start at home, as Asma undertook a placement 7,000 miles away from Bradford in Tanzania which prompted the whole dialogue in the first place. Talking about the challenges of growing up as a Muslim girl in society and sport, the parallels between her own life and Tanzanian girls became clear, resulting in her motivations to tackle the hijab ban in basketball.
Following FIFA lifting the ban on head covers in football in 2014, and the appearance at Rio of Ibtihaj Muhammad, America’s first Olympian to compete in a hijab, it’s only natural Asma thought FIBA should follow suit.
As she continues to be a pillar of strength for young Muslim girls in sport as a coach, mentor and adviser, Asma explains that “the challenge now will be in re-educating our community about the benefits of sport and what it means for a girl to be able to take part.”
Let's not forget that in the midst of all this commotion, she even managed to win BBC Radio 1Xtra’s ‘Words First’ 2015 Competition.
Want to take a leaf from Asma's book? She'll be live 4 - 6 May on Muslim Women in Sport Network's Innovators in Sport Summit.