Muslim women are calling for better representation and support in sports, with almost one-third of Muslim women in Britain saying they don’t participate in sports or other fitness activities regularly, according to a recent survey by the Muslimah Sports Association and Muslim Census. Founded in 2018 by Fathiya Saleh, the UK’s first football team created solely for Muslim women, Sisterhood FC aims to increase participation and diversity in the sport. Since its inception, the team has grown to include more than 100 regular players who range in ability from beginner to advanced. Although they have competed in local tournaments and collaborated with well-known brands, including Nike and Puma, the team continues to face discrimination both on and off the pitch.
Speaking about the need for better funding for grassroots sports teams such as Sisterhood FC, Saleh said that the team struggles to access consistent places to play, and that it is also difficult to find coaches. Running coordinator Fatima Musa, who oversees the Asra running club, which began in 2019 with the hopes of being a safe space for Muslim women to exercise and build community, echoed Saleh’s call for better support for female, Muslim sports teams.
Musa said that while the World Cup, held in Qatar last month, and the recent victory of the England women’s football team at the Euros this year have been celebrated as landmarks for representation, there are still real barriers to participation. Musa emphasised the need for funding and for brands to look at Muslim women in a more holistic way, not just reduce them to a hijab. Sara Taleghani, a long-time footballer and sports fan, said that the push for better support needed to begin at a young age. As a child, Taleghani said she was discouraged from playing sports by her peers and teachers, who viewed her hijab as a health hazard.
Yashmin Harun BEM, chair and founder of the Muslimah Sports Association, established in 2014 to facilitate Muslim women to play, volunteer and coach in a variety of sports, said that conversations about representation in sport still have a long way to go. Harun said the World Cup is just the beginning of conversations regarding diversity and inclusivity in sports. She added that Muslim women should be part of the ordinary, not the extraordinary, and that the support of communities and allies, as well as the media, was needed.
Saleh expressed hope that the future would bring greater diversity and inclusivity in sports, saying that women had made significant strides in the last decade, and that Muslim women could one day play at a professional level, even in the Premier League or World Cup.