Jul 3, 2015


The participation of Muslim women in sports has been highly contested by many conservative Muslims for far too long. But many have found some comfort in allowing women to participate as part of representing their nations in international competitive sports events provided they are decently covered. Those brave Muslim women who participated in such sports have not forsaken their religious requirements by dispensing off essential clothes in their pursuit to strike gold for their countries. To them covering their honor and dignity is more important than winning medals be they gold. They did not hide behind rules and regulations made by people who want to dishonor woman by seeing more of her flesh in the name of appreciating her skills. I find this utterly disgusting when the same organiser allowed men to wear in full whereas women have to bare the most. This only indicates on the values these organisers pursue and the position they accord to women in their daily narratives.

I find the correlation between performance and dress rather simplistic. Of course one cannot perform such delicate movements with jubba on! At least the controversial Muslim female gymnast could have worn a legging underneath the sports attire she was, presuming, asked to wear. I saw the female hockey teams (which included both Muslims and non-Muslims) in the SEA game adorning the legging underneath their miniskirts, which was indeed a remarkable improvement from their previous sportswear.  Even the male gymnasts wore in full, covering their legs. It is not that one has to wear only leotard and not unitard in performing the movements. Even contortionists wear unitards and they make more complex movements than the gymnasts. Thus the gymnast's attire issue could be a question of choice rather than an imposition by the organiser, where the gymnasts' team has no say in it.

The way the international press has played up this issue is as though the so-called moderates have no qualm in showing a bit or more of female flesh for the sake of national glory. It is only the religious scholars who are accused of ogling at the female gymnast' nether region, instead of appreciating the skills displayed by her. In condemning this 'narrow perspective' many eminent personalities had argued that one has to look beyond the attire issue, for the gymnast has indeed brought glory and fame to the country. It was indeed a patriotic act! Some even called on the authorities to reward the gymnast and recognise her as the Muslim Woman of the Year.

Certainly her feats is a remarkable one. No one denies what she has achieved. But those who criticized her too had their genuine concerns. But what took place was simply a mulla-bashing by the so-called moderates who conjure that showing a bit of flesh would make them look moderate and by showing a bit more would make them look liberal! This is ridiculous. What they have ignored is the element of shame which Islam preaches. Even the blessed Prophet is reported to have said: فإن الحياء من الإيمان "Certainly shame is part of faith". What all these so-called voices of moderation has forgotten is the notion of shame. No point talking about "maruah" (dignity in Malaynised Arabic) of bangsa (community in Malay) or negara (country in Malay) when some of these baruah (rascals in Malay) chose to ignore the dignity of their women in pursuit of winning some gold medals. Is this gold more important than dignity? Would they allow their women to participate in nude competition if it promises more gold for the country? Where is shame?

I grew up with the image of Nadia Comanacei's feat of perfect 10 in her 1976 Olympic when she represented her native Romania. Her breath-taking performance mesmerized the world audience. I was 13 and when I saw a 15 year-old Nadia performing so bravely I wondered what was not impossible for her. Even then I was taken aback by the attire she was wearing and I tried to shield away from looking at her performance again fearing that it would infringe the prohibition on looking at the aurat of a stranger, be that stranger is a Muslim or not. This does not mean Muslims should shun such beautiful and delicate movements that form part of an elaborate and rigorous exercise to keep oneself fit. Some of the Muslim organisations in their criticisms of this issue have proposed that Muslims confine to few sports such as equestrian, archery and swimming to keep in compliance with Prophetic approval. I would encourage Muslim participation in all sports, but within the confines of their religious values.

What this issue has raised is an important question on the absence of proper people with religious values present in sports councils so as to appraise sport officials of the moral concerns involved in participating in such competitive sports which do not take into consideration the values of dignity. It is sad that Asians have lost their rich values and the dignity they accord to their women by cheaply exposing them in public all in the name sports. If there is a study on the influence of sports attire on the performance of the gymnast I am sure the result will be a resounding no since there are far better performance done with proper attire on.

My request for the religious authorities who have vowed to review the case is to insist on having shari'ah advisers in the panel or council of sports institutions to guide the officials so that they will not be misguided in their judgement and decision. Certainly shari'ah has a role even in the conduct of sports!

Allah Knows Best!

             ANN'S ROOT