22 December 2009

Montreal: Sports hijab helps girls make the team

Controversy has erupted at recent amateur sporting events in Canadian cities over the wearing of the hijab by young female athletes. Newspaper reports tell stories of soccer teams forfeiting the right to play because of the coach’s refusal to withdraw hijab-wearing team members. In another instance, young champions of tae kwan do were ejected from a martial arts tournament for the same reason.

While soccer and martial arts officials cite safety concerns, many call the ejections racist and intolerant of the religious and cultural differences of immigrants in a secular and multicultural society.

In Montreal, a 26 year-old University of Montreal graduate and industrial designer named Elham Seyed Javad decided to focus on the needs of the ebullient, competitive young athletes rather than issues of religious accommodation.

According to Seyed Javad, “Your beliefs shouldn’t prevent you from playing sports.”

Seyed Javad has designed a sleek sports hijab which fits tightly around the head and is part of a sports shirt underneath, solving the problem of untucked ends of fabric that could cause injury. As a Muslim who does not herself wear a hijab, Seyed Javad emphasizes that her “Resport” design is more than a hijab; it can be used by any athlete, male or female, who needs to keep their hair protected during sport activities. Her choice of name, “Resport” is a wordplay combining ’sport’ and ‘respect.’

A number of schools in Montreal have endorsed the use of a safe hijab in sport because it helps ensure that all kids are involved in this important part of a typical Canadian education.

In the face of a volatile recent debate in Quebec on reasonable accomodation, Salam Elmenyawi, president of the Muslim Council of Montreal, finds such sporting and practical reactions encouraging. “I think its a normalization of wearing the hijab by having the institutions offer it,” he comments.

It lets girls be girls.

Source: “Sports hijab aims to be game-changer,” by Andrew Chung. The Toronto Star, November 12, 2009.


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