CAIRO – Becoming the first team to compete in an international competition in hijab, female Muslim weightlifters from the United Arab Emirates will be making history in the London Olympics.
"We were the first country for our athletes to be covered, wearing Islamic dress," Jassim Abdulrahman Al-Awazi, a board member for the Emirates Weightlifting Federation and the GCC Weightlifting Organization, told the Emirati daily The National on Monday, May 21.
UAE weightlifters have earned a place in the London Olympics, to start in the British capital from July 27 to August 12.
This time, the weightlifters will be able to don hijab while participating in the competition after the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) changed rules to allow the Muslim headscarf.
It followed the case of veiled US Muslim athlete who challenged IWF rules that banned the outfit in competition.
Under previous IWF rules, weightlifters wore outfits, officially called “costumes”, which had to be collarless and not cover the elbows or knees.
But in July, the governing body modified the rules to accommodate Muslim beliefs and accordingly allowed hijab.
"It is very good for Muslim countries that this issue has been raised,” said Al-Awazi.
“It is not forced, it is a choice for the athletes if they want to wear it.”
Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one’s affiliations.
UAE officials believe that amended rules to allow hijab will open the sport to a whole new audience.
“Now it has been opened to everyone,” Al-Awazi, the board member for the Emirates Weightlifting Federation, told The National.
“If you want to join, why not? Now there are no excuses, no reasons to say no.”
Sheikh Sultan bin Mejren, the president of the Emirates Weightlifting Federation, shares a similar view.
"It was a decision which will help the whole Islamic world," Mejren said.
"Now there is no difference between Muslims and non-Muslims in events like the Olympics. There is no border to accept them or not.
“Everybody can participate without breaking rules."
Physical Olympic sports such as rugby and taekwondo allow Muslim women to wear the headscarf in competition.
Hijab shined during Beijing Olympic Games in 2008 when many Muslim women athletes broke Western stereotypes, proving that donning hijab is not an obstacle to excelling in life and sports.During the games, half a dozen veiled Egyptians, three Iranians, an Afghan and a Yemeni competed in sprinting, rowing, taekwondo and archery.
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