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From the Blog
More Muslim girls bringing faith onto field, court
DEARBORN, Mich. Ã¢â‚¬â€ Dewnya Bakri loves her faith Ã¢â‚¬â€ and the feeling of sinking a three-pointer.
The 20-year-old Muslim has found a way for much of her life to balance practicing Islam and basketball, including wearing a headscarf and long pants on the court, even if it meant taunts from others as she blazed trails on her middle school, high school and college teams.
Now a college senior preparing for law school, she spends free time coaching Muslim girls. And sheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s sharing her experiences to help give them the confidence to follow in her footsteps.
As more covered Muslim girls take up competitive sports, Bakri and other supporters say itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s time to get beyond merely allowing the hijab Ã¢â‚¬â€ or traditional Muslim headscarf worn for modesty Ã¢â‚¬â€ and help make those wearing it feel welcome.
"ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not like accommodating for one person anymore, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a group," Bakri says.
Experts and advocates say the number of Muslim girls wearing the hijab on the court, track or field is rising because girls are growing more comfortable pursuing mainstream activities while maintaining religious traditions.
Similar patterns are being played out in other areas with large Muslim populations.
"They donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t see the barriers," said Edina Lekovic, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles-based Muslim Public Affairs Council. "They take it for granted they can play in competitive sports ... and work out the clothing issues at the same time."
Even so, Bakri and current Fordson players say theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve heard trash-talk that goes beyond the usual on-court chatter Ã¢â‚¬â€ calling them terrorists, telling them to go back to their own country.
Bakri said some coaches and referees have questioned whether she could play in a scarf and sweat pants, relenting only when her coach produced a letter from the Michigan High School Athletic Association granting the uniform modification.
More recently, in one out-of-state college tournament, she said the referees wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t let her play. The coach didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t tell her why until after the game.
ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s reminiscent of a story that made international news in February, when an 11-year-old Muslim girl participating in a soccer tournament in Quebec was pulled off the field after she refused to remove her headscarf.
The Quebec Soccer Federation backed the decision, saying it had been made in accordance with rules that forbid wearing anything that could cause harm during a game.
In the U.S., the National Federation of State High School AssociationsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ rules say state associations may allow a player to participate while wearing a head covering for religious reasons as long as it isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t dangerous to another player and unlikely to come off during play. The rule-making federation allows for pants, shorts or skirts.
In Michigan, high school athletic officials approve requests from local districts to modify uniform requirements.
Mark Shooshanian, Fordson High SchoolÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s athletic director, said the uniform modifications have become a natural part of sports in Dearborn, home to at least 40 mosques.
He said athletic officials always grant the districtÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s requests, but heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d like to see it part of the rules.
"The hardest part for me is within our league there are 27 teams and still some of the coaches question the uniform," said Shooshanian, who has been sending the requests for 15 years. "Why do I have to keep doing it?"
State athletic association spokesman John Johnson said the system "almost rubber stamps" requests, but requiring the letter provides a safeguard so there are no misunderstandings.
Bakri was the first athlete of the year at her middle school to wear the scarf, and she earned letters in basketball, volleyball, track and swimming.
Swimming required the most creativity.
She couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t wear a swimsuit in front of men, so she worked out a deal with her coach and athletic director to practice daily with the team but not compete in meets.
The coach timed her during practice and awarded her the letter based on performance.
On visits to her former middle school, Bakri is hugged and thanked by students who have seen her picture on the wall.
"It made me feel so good about what IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m doing," said Bakri, who coaches summer leagues and teaches physical education part-time at a private school.
"I never really realized how hard it was, especially at the middle school level. I figured IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m going to play basketball. I never thought people might have a problem with it."
Her sister, Hyatt Bakri, is a starting shooting guard at Fordson High. The younger Bakri says her sister motivated her to play "because she was so good Ã¢â‚¬â€ I wanted to be like her."
The 17-year-old senior captain, who also wears pants and long sleeves on the court, says her sister and entire family help her deal with stares or snide remarks from people who donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t see past the scarf.
"Some schools are used to seeing girls in the hijab, but other schools find it different, odd," she said during a break from a recent practice. "After Sept. 11, they feel like weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re a threat to them, even though we didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have anything to do with it. So they look at us differently."
She said it also helps to have two teammates wearing a hijab: "They encounter the same thing I do, but we just shake it off and play our game."
Teammate Fatima Kobeissi, a senior reserve guard, said sheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s worn the hijab since she was nine and couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t imagine playing without it.
It might appear that comfort is a casualty for the covered players, but Bakri and Kobeissi run the drills like everybody else. Kobeissi says it gets hot in the gym, but "weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re all going to sweat."
"Nothing in our religion says we canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t go out and do other things just like everybody else.
"ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s just while weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re doing it, we have to be more modest maybe than everybody else," she said.