Whose heads are covered? | Rules-addled Quebecers keep hijab, but not politics, off the field

Khan

The rules-related controversies perhaps will prove easier to resolve than the cultural disputes. Toronto Globe and Mail columnist Sheema Khan, a hijab-wearing footballer and Harvard Ph.D. (chemical physics), asks in an online forum for stakeholders in the debate to “all just calm down” (“Sheema Khan on the Hijab and Soccer,” Feb 27). She writes that creative solutions have resulted from internal quarrels over multiculturalism: “This may be an imperfect analogy, but the present hijab brouhaha is reminiscent of the debate over the permissibility of allowing a Sikh to serve in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police while wearing his turban.”

A questioner asks why “Muslims insist that the hijab is religiously mandated by the Qur’an and the Hadith when it is not so?” As with the Laws of the Game, the Qur’an calls for interpretation, with women and men reading 24:31 as a requirement for modesty in all things, even football:

Enjoin believing women to turn their eyes away from temptation and to preserve their chastity; not to display their adornments (except such as are normally revealed); to draw their veils over their bosoms and not to display their finery except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their step-sons, their brothers, their brothers’ sons, their sisters’ sons, their women-servants, and their slave-girls … (trans. N. J. Dawood)

Unknown is how the judgments surrounding Mansour will affect other Muslim girls in Québec wishing to play soccer or other sports and wishing, at the same time, to uphold their beliefs. Uncomfortable for many is the approach initiated in Iran of allowing such competition only in sequestration, such as at the quadrennial Muslim Women’s Games. A cultural retreat seems absurd, of course, within a progressive Western democracy, but so do measures like those enacted by the town council in Hérouxville, Québec. The council in January approved a “code of conduct” for the few immigrants under its jurisdiction, taking it upon itself to permit women to show their faces in public, to drive, to write checks. Even more provocatively, the measure when passed prohibited public stoning of women and female circumcision, aspects of the code since stricken. The manifestly insensitive code helped lead Charest to call for a panel to study the “reasonable accommodation” issue.

A challenge for the hijab-wearing athlete, according to Sarah J. Murray, writing in 2002 for the UK-based Women’s Sports Foundation, is to reconcile the joy of sport and athletic movement with the mandates of Islamic dress that, to outsiders, seem confining. The demands exist within Islamic societies such as Iran and in the West. Of the nascent Islamic woman athlete, Murray writes:

[W]hat if a prodigal Mia Hamm is growing up in Iran today? Does she know that the mandates of her dress code need not limit the strength and spirit of the body beneath the hijab? Will she have the opportunity and encouragement to develop her dynamic, natural talent? Will she grab a heroine’s inspiration from a sound bite she hears on public radio and dream one day of representing her country on an international sport stage? How can we make sure that she does? (“Unveiling Myths: Muslim Women and Sport,” 16 Jan 02)

Multicultural appeal and openness, as Khan points out, are soccer’s hallmarks; they may be the game’s spiritual core. Mansour confirms that the incident has not yet affected her love of the game. She will continue to play, while thinking to add: “But I don’t think I’ll go back to Laval.”

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