Ibtihaj Muhammad, Sarah Al Attar, Aisha Al Balushi, Leila Rajabi, Doaa Al Ghobashi- aren’t just names of athletes in Olympics ’16. These are the names of women that have taken it upon themselves to change the way the World looks at women, particularly Muslim ones. They have tried to redefine, on the World stage, what it means to be a Muslim in the face of constant bigotry. Are we, the traditional Muslims, ready to see the bigger picture beyond the overly simplistic “She is still wearing tights” remarks?
“Yeah! I am a Muslim and an athlete. Got an issue?”
The heart of the matter is, playing beach volleyball or any other sport for that matter does not automatically make one modern. It might make you a better sportsperson, though. We do not always celebrate women becoming professionals. We celebrate women that can pull off being professionals while retaining the religious identity that is sure to raise eyebrows. The underlying upbeat here is, that most of us have missed out on, these women have mustered the courage to go out there with an open declaration, “Yeah! I am a Muslim and an athlete. Got an issue?”, in the face of those that constantly try to put us down. This audacity to literally wear your religious identity that is sure to make you look like the ‘other’ is what makes these women trend-setters this year. They have openly challenged the very real and dogmatist notion in this day and age, that Muslim women are coerced into submission when they don the head cover.
On the other side of the spectrum, closer home that is, the barrage of criticism that comes along with being ‘so visibly Muslim’ that these women have tried to rein in, is compensated with the in-house critique of how this is not good enough by Islamic standards. As for the dress-code not being in line with the Islamic standards, that is subject to a different fiqhi discussion. On a deeper level, it’s more about the Muslim representation, by the visibly Muslim women, than about the dress-code per se. ‘A’ might follow a religion or an ideology better than ‘B’ in private domain, but when B decides to stand up for the belief and hold onto it even in times of adversity, that deserves respect. We do not then start debating whether B is really an ardent follower that meets a certain standard. We value the courage to stand up, anyway.
We have yet to go a long way from being caught in the clutches of retrograde to wielding the gears of Modernity. Contrary to popular belief, modernity is not about wearing a certain dress, talking or walking a certain way. It’s a state of mind, which facilitates looking beyond what meets the eye. It enables one to internalize the bigger message, and not to be lost in the complexity of detail. Islam has been modern since inception; will the Muslim community then modernize?