American Muslim women’s participation in sports has recently experienced a rise in media visibility. Whether it is ESPN’s feature on W. Deen Muhammad High School’s outstanding girls’ basketball team, the Lady Caliphs, or the recently publicized struggle of competitive weightlifter, Kulsoom Abdullah, to compete in modest Islamic gear, Atlanta seems to be an emergent hot spot for displaying Muslim women’s athleticism. Away from the cameras and competition, though, in the bustling huddle of our work-a-day communities, there are plenty of “weekend wajida’s” ready to play, too.
Earlier this month the Ahmadiyaa Muslim community in North Metro Atlanta hosted their First Annual Muslim Women’s Sports Day. Having secured a private gym in a local YMCA, the organizers invited Muslim and non-Muslim women from all over the Atlanta area. Here in our secluded area of the facility hijabs and burqas were exchanged for tee shirts, tennis shoes, jogging pants, stopwatches, and whistles. By the time I arrived, there were bouncy chattering pre-teens, confident teenagers (who appeared to be fresh from some other sports team practice), and adult women of all shapes, ages, and ethnic backgrounds preparing to participate.
After centering ourselves with shared prayer and Qur’anic recitation, the games were on. The competitions were divided by age groups, with the over 25 age group being the most populous. Of course we had the standard foot races and free throw competitions. There were other games, though, hatched by their Director of Community Recreation, (Yeah, they have one of those) that were creative and fun, demanding a combination of swiftness, skill, and cleverness. I had two favorites. The first was a 4-part relay race in which we had to blow up a balloon and pop it; then run to another station and construct a necklace from string and macaroni; then run, wearing the necklace, to the next station, where we had to use three pieces of paper to walk across the entire length of the gym only stepping on those papers; lastly, when we finally arrived to the other end of the gym, we had to fully assemble a children’s puzzle! (If it is exhausting to read, imagine how exhausting it was to do! Whew!). My other favorite was just hilarious. It was some combination of flag football (sans the football) and keep-away. Every woman had a flag in her belt and the basic goal was to take other women’s flags while protecting your own. Watching grown women run in circles around a gym using stealth, swiftness and laughter in attempts to grab each others’ flags was a delight.
The whole event was playful, free, and full of joy; a rare achievement for a group of women who remain under the proverbial spotlight of public scrutiny in a post-9/11 US. For the organizers, it was a job well done. For participants like me, I hope it is the first of many to come.