WINSTED — Finding support among school officials, a veiled Muslim player has joined basketball team in her Connecticut school, hoping to offer a role model for Muslim girls in the United States.
"It is because of my religion," Buthaina Alahwas, a new veield sophomore at Gilbert School in Winsted, Connecticut, told Republican American sports website on Monday, March 4.
"I have to respect my religion." the 16-year-old girl, who moved here from Yemen 11 months ago, added.
Coming from a devout Muslim family, Alahwas wears a hijab, or headscarf, that covers her hair and neck.
She also wears long sleeves and long pants under her uniform to keep modest.
Despite opposition in different American schools, officials at Gilbert school were open to accept her uniform.
Accepting the girl in his team, Gerry Hicks, who has been coaching basketball for three decades, tried to help the young girl in finding a safer hijab.
Hicks remembered reading last summer about Saudi Arabia's Olympic team, which for the first time had women participants.
"We thought back to the Olympics and decided there had to be something," he recalled.
The coach surfed the Internet until he found a hijab that was lightweight, intended for sports use and less of a safety risk.
Another barrier was to get exception for the girl's hijab from Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) which follows National Federation of High Schools and allow players to wear head gear in basketball for medical or religious reasons.
Asking for an exception, Gilbert school's request was approved from CIAC.
"We don't believe we've ever turned down one down," said Joel Cookson, the CIAC director of media relations.
Hijab was not, however, welcomed in all schools.
In Hagerstown,Maryland, a player was kept out of a middle school game in 2011 for one half when the referee ruled the hijab was a safety hazard.
Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one’s affiliations.
Moving from Yemen, where there is no organized basketball for girls, Alahwas wanted to seize the moment to advance and offer a role model for Muslim girls.
"Here we have a coach to teach us how to play," Alahwas, who has been playing basketball since she was 11, said.
"There, it's just (playing) with friends, no coach."
She knows hijab would never pose as a hindrance for her.
For example, Bilqis Abdul-Qaadin, of Springfield, Mass., broke former UConn great Rebecca Lobo's high school career scoring record in Massachusetts, finishing with 3,070 points three years ago.
The veiled Muslim basketballer now plays at the University of Memphis.
Her coach also trusts her ability to advance quickly.
"She has no real knowledge of the game, no real skills like girls who have played longer, but that all comes with time," said Hicks, who noted Alahwas is quite fast and quick.
"She participates in everything, does all the drills. There's nothing that holds her back," he continued.
"I think it's been good for the other girls to have someone of another faith on the team.
“It's good for the fans, who root for her to score. You don't see this much around the league. It's been a good experience."
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