Olympic faithful: Ibtihaj Muhammad

Even as a kid, Ibtihaj Muhammad stood out. She was faster and stronger than her friends, and she was serious about her religion. Most of the sports she tried required physically revealing gear, in sharp contrast to the modesty her Muslim faith required. Then she discovered fencing. The sport let her express her athletic talent, and the uniform allowed her to stay true to her faith.

Today Ibtihaj is one of the best fencers in the world—and an observant Muslim woman. This summer, she will represent the U.S. at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. And when she competes for her country, representing all of us, she will be the first American Olympian to do so while wearing the hijab. Ibtihaj embraced what made her stand out, and she’s an Olympian because of it.

That’s not just the story of Ibtihaj Muhammad. That’s the story of America.

Muslim cabbie sues for right to wear religious garb

ST. LOUIS — A Muslim taxicab driver is suing the city of St. Louis, the Metropolitan Taxicab Commission and a private security company, saying he has been harassed and arrested because he insists on wearing religious garb.

Raja Awais Naeem, who works for Harris Cab and manages a shuttle service called A-1 Shuttle, says his religious beliefs require him to wear modest, loose-fitting clothing and a hat called a kufi. But that garb has run afoul of the taxicab commission’s dress code for cabbies, Naeem claims in the suit filed Thursday (Dec. 13) in St. Louis Circuit Court.

Naeem, originally from Pakistan but now a U.S. citizen, said he has been told he must adhere to the commission’s rules requiring a white shirt, black pants and no kufi. Baseball caps are allowed, as long as they have no logo other than the taxi certificate holder.

He claims he has been harassed and had his taxi license suspended when he continued wearing clothing he says is required by Islam, including the kufi, a loose shirt called a kurta and loose-fitting pants called shalwar. Naeem said the clothing maintains modesty by concealing the figure.

In his lawsuit, Naeem says he was written a citation by a Whelan Security guard in June 2011 for wearing “foreign country religious dress.” Other times he had his taxi license suspended or was told he would be arrested for trespassing if he worked in his religious clothing, he said.

“I don’t understand how you can justify somebody wearing his religious clothes getting arrested,” Naeem said in a news conference on the courthouse steps, where he was joined by other cabbies and his lawyer from the ACLU.

His suit seeks an injunction to allow religious dress for cabdrivers, and civil damages including attorney’s fees and other costs.


The challenges of exercising for some Muslim and Orthodox Jewish women

Among the more obvious obstacles to fitness — time, money, willpower, injuries — the demands of faith don’t often come to mind. But for the devout, particularly women, issues such as modesty and traditional dress can limit an exercise program if options such as the Nur Center are not available.

Before the community center opened on Carlin Springs Road in 2010, Muna Bur’s exercise regimen was largely limited to walking. That didn’t work so well in winter, she said, and the abayah — a tunic that reaches her knees — made it difficult any time of year. “It’s not comfortable to walk with it,” she said on a recent evening as she waited for the Zumba class to start.

For Diana Kurcfeld, an Orthodox Jew from Olney, maintaining a running program requires some adjustments many women wouldn’t consider. Even on the hottest summer days, she wears a skirt below the knee and sleeves past her elbows, modest garb that is a requirement of her faith when men are present. As a married woman, she must always cover her hair; she wears a scarf or a baseball cap, sometimes both.

“You get used to it,” she said. She has searched far and wide for comfortable running skirts, even importing some from Israel.

German Muslim community split over co-ed swimming classes

Muslim parents have lost an appeal against their nine year-old daughter having to attend mixed swimming lessons with boys. The girls can protect their modesty, however, with full-length bathing suits. A court in the western city of Muenster has ruled that Muslim girls at elementary schools in Germany must attend mixed swimming classes with boys, rejecting a request from the parents of a nine-year-old girl for her to be excused from the lessons.

The parents from the industrial city of Gelsenkirchen told the school authorities that they lived strictly to the teachings of the Koran, adding that they found mixed swimming “immoral”. The administrative court said, however, that the girl could protect her modesty by wearing a full-length bathing suit dubbed a “burkini.” It also dismissed complaints that the bathing suit hindered swimming because of excessive absorption, endangering their daughter’s life. German teaching unions and education authorities have adamantly refused to segregate swimming classes in state schools at the request of parents, contending that mixing of sexes is a goal of education. The tribunal refused Wednesday to issue a temporary injunction and said it would allow no further appeal. The issue has also divided the Islamic community into conservatives and liberals who say the custom should change in Germany.

Dutch artists integrate veil debate in artworks

A Dutch artist and fashion designer plan to discuss the strong emotional sentiments concerning Muslim headwear at an event at the Van Abbe Museum in Eindhoven on November 23, 2008. The two plan to present their work in order to integrate their opinions about the burqa and the hijab or headscarf.

The strong feelings that Muslim headwear evokes among Dutch nationals is something artist Joeb Koenings feels important to discuss. “Design always has the capacity to provoke emotions among people. The garment is automatically associated with a culture that many people fear. People respond very instinctively when they see a burqa or Muslim headscarf,” says Koenings.

Fashion designer Cindy van den Breman will discuss her collection of fashionable Muslim headwear. Breman has also been involved in developing the first prototype of Muslim sportswear. The two plan to discuss the changing viewpoints of clothing, style, and modesty in light of issues surrounding Islamic garments in the Netherlands.

Full-text article continues here. (Some news sites may require registration)

The largest survey of Muslim women in the UK

A poll of 1,000 British Muslim women finds they are both religiously observant and keen shoppers at Primark: A unique and groundbreaking “1000 Sisters’ voices” survey carried out by Ummah Foods, a “new generation” British Muslim food company, and by SISTERS, the inspirational new magazine for Muslim women, has found that, while an overwhelming majority view Islam as their guide to life, read the Qur’an and observe hijab, they also shop at high street stores, go out to eat and travel regularly. The picture that emerges is one of a population balancing the demands of their faith with the opportunities afforded by life in the UK. Khalid Sharif, founder of Ummah Foods, and Na’ima B. Robert, editor of SISTERS Magazine, began asking some interesting questions about the lives of Muslim women in the UK so they could improve their products for them. The result has been a groundbreaking look at the thoughts, opinions and ideas of Muslim women in the UK. The survey, which is the largest ever, gathered respondents from all walks of life, from around the UK, all eager to give their views on issues as diverse as their relationship with Islam, their opinions of hijab, halal shopping, Internet use, entrepreneurship and of course Muslim men and marriage. One of the most surprising findings was that British Muslim women, married and unmarried, are still romantics at heart. Finding a soul mate and settling down in a happy family environment were top of the women’s list with 96 per cent of women saying that this is what marriage meant to them. But they were also keen to find ways of successfully combining work with family life. As in all communities everywhere, the respondents believed that “good men are hard to find”. Education, personality and a high affinity with the principles of Islam were top of most lists. Also of interest to Muslim men is the fact that, while character and Islamic knowledge come top of the Muslim woman’s wish list, racial background is ranked as one of the least important aspects. Outside of family life, finding ways of helping to resolve the challenges facing the British Muslim Community far outweighed thoughts or concerns about global issues with 70 per cent opting for issues in the UK with the remaining looking to Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Full-text article available here. (Some news sites may require registration)

Officials in Calgary Allow Hijabs, Saris and Other Religious Clothing at City Pools

Residents of Calgary, Alberta will now be allowed to swim in city pools wearing saris, hijabs and other clothing deemed “religious” in a new policy designed to encourage the participation of ethnic and religious minorities. For safety reasons, saris will be banned from the deep end. The city´s superintendent for aquatics and fitness stated that the policy clarifies what before had been a grey area, typically handled on a case-by-case basis. Ms. Bruce stated, “We wanted to make sure that everyone feels comfortable and they can participate with dignity when they use our facilities.” Clothing must be clean and swimmers must shower in the garments before entering the pool.

Similarly, last winter, the Alberta Soccer Association changed its rules to, like in the provinces of British Colombia and Ontario, allow female soccer players to wear the hijab while playing. The headscarf is banned on Québec soccer fields.

See full-text articles:

The Globe and Mail

The Calgary Herald

Being American and Muslim

Time Magazine this week explores the synchronic identities of Muslim Americans, showcasing the ability to live both identities, fully, together. Written by Shireen Khan, a Muslim woman living in New York City, this article follows issues of faith, piety, citizenship, the wearing of her headscarf, and the very public obsession with personal religious modesty.

Woman in burkini kicked out of pool

A 26-year old woman was kicked out of a pool in the city of Zwolle for wearing a burkini. The woman was only in the water for a few minutes and had been playing with her son, before pool employees told her that there were complaints about her clothing. The manager of the pool defended the move, saying that they take into account all customer objections, including having special hours for obese pool-users. The burkini is an adapted form of swimwear that takes into account the emphasis of modesty in Islam, and minimizes skin exposure and tightness of bathing clothing.