Pioneering change in basketball and shaping the narrative of Muslim women in sports

growing up, Fitria Mohammed Loved sports, especially basketball.

But after playing sports in school, she struggled to find tournaments and leagues around her Toronto home where she could fit in as a Muslim girl.

Frustrated by the diversity and lack of space, she decided to start a basketball league for Muslim women and foreigners, hoping to push participation rates.

„Representation is really, really important,” said the founder and managing director Muslim Women’s Basketball League he said in an interview with olympics.com from his home in Toronto as he prepares for the second edition of the event starting in August 2023.

„I realized that more young Muslim girls are coming to play basketball because they have more visibility out there.”

Mohamed’s idea has been a huge success as it further embraces her favorite sport and paves the way for a new generation of women and girls in Toronto and beyond to shoot hoops.

„I wish I had this when I was playing because it would have motivated me to go further. So now to see that young lady who plays in the league every summer is doing so much better…she’s now surrounded by a community that supports her, it’s great.

Fitria Mohammed 'minority within a minority’ on Muslim women in sport

After moving from Ethiopia at age 10, Mohammed was happy to find a community in the Canadian city that encouraged him to be active. Not involved in sports, he enjoyed participating in some events.

She especially loved soccer and basketball, which embarrassed her mother because she didn’t see many girls practicing sports in their East African home.

This was not the only obstacle that Mohammed had to overcome.

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Playing was a struggle — finding modest competition clothes and seeing other girls who looked like her in team sports.

“When I play basketball, I don’t have a proper sports hijab. It was difficult to find the right athletic wear to suit my needs,” recalls Mohamed, who was named Female Athlete of the Year for her high school, the first Muslim woman to win it.

„I wanted to play basketball in college, but I didn’t get there. Unfortunately, I didn’t see others like me in these places. Again, I was the first generation of my family to go to university, and I didn’t have that confidence when I transitioned to university with my basketball career.

Fitria Mohammed, founder of the Muslim Women’s Summer Basketball League.

(Trevor Long)

While pursuing a degree in sports management, Mohammed continued to play basketball recreationally.

Women’s participation in sports in general increased during this period, but there were still a few black women or women wearing the hijab on the basketball courts.

„Muslim women have been left out of many conversations and many opportunities because people don’t understand what Islam really allows Muslim women to do,” the 26-year-old said.

Several federations reviewed uniform policies to allow Muslim women to compete and participate in sports.

Sportswear manufacturers also designed and produced pro hijabs for athletes, but her sport was still inaccessible to young Muslim women.

Something else kept them from playing the game.

„The uniform was a big issue, obviously it’s not just Muslim girls who want to dress modestly and play sports. But when a Muslim girl or a minority hears such things it becomes a big deal.

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„But we want to be in these spaces, and we want to do it in a way that we feel comfortable and able to get out of the meeting room when it’s time to pray.”

Fitria Mohammed facilitated the inclusion of Muslim women in sports

At the same time, there was a push and a shift in opinion among the Muslim community in the Greater Toronto Area to encourage women’s involvement in sports.

Her involvement with Hijabi Ballers, a network of women interested in increasing the representation of Muslim women in sports fields in Toronto and celebrating their sportsmanship, inspired her to establish a platform focused on her passion.

„I created a small space for Muslim women to pursue basketball while embracing their Islamic identity,” said the basketball enthusiast, adding that her idea to create the league was shaped by other female athletes.

They include Batouly CamaraThe Guinean-American played in the NCAA college tournament, and made an impact as one of the first pro-Muslim players to wear a hijab during games. Bilqis Abdul QaderIn 2018 she fought against the International Basketball Federation’s ruling against women wearing a headscarf.

„Snow Princess in Hijab” Olympic dream

Muhammad initiated Muslim Women’s Summer Basketball League in 2020, but it didn’t start until last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“What I wanted to achieve with this basketball league is that Muslim girls and women from all over the world will come to Toronto to participate in this two-day tournament. So, last March, we had our first annual Hijabi Preschoolers We have registered 12 teams.” the master’s student shared with olympics.com.

While researching the advocacy and activism of hijab-wearing Muslim athletes, her study focuses on creating space for Muslim women in academia.

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Back to the league, it’s mainly targeting Canada right now, but she has a bigger goal that also focuses on her home country.

„One of the things I would like to do in the league is to start in Ethiopia and go to different parts of Africa because the challenges we experience here cannot be compared to what women and girls experience in Africa because the culture and tradition are different.

The response to the league and basketball clinics has been overwhelming.

„For example, there’s this 15-year-old girl who’s very talented for her age, and I’m really excited to see where she goes, and her mom is very supportive,” Mohammed said. The Summer League will be split into two divisions in 2023 – recreational and competitive.

„She’s invested in and surrounded by a very supportive group. Empowerment…that’s something I’ve never had, and when I talk to different girls who are older, they say, 'If I had this when I was playing at the college level, I would have been motivated to go further.’

With the league running out of steam, he hopes to focus on the sportsmanship and talent coming out of the league.

„It’s just a matter of giving us the space and the opportunity, and we’ll prove we have the talent.”

The 2023 Summer League will take place From July 9 to August 27, 2023 at the Waterfront Neighborhood Center in Toronto, Canada.

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