Last year the women's soccer team from Iran was prevented from playing a qualifying match for the 2012 Olympics because they refused to remove their hijabs before kickoff. Female Muslim soccer players often find themselves in the same predicament on their local fields, even in North America.
But all that might change, thanks to a new decision by the International Federation of Association Football. Yesterday, FIFA unanimously overturned the ban on Islamic headscarves on the soccer field. FIFA.com reports that "Currently there is no medical literature concerning injuries as a result of wearing a headscarf, and therefore the decision taken today will be reviewed at the IFAB Annual General Meeting in 2014."
FIFA has traditionally banned any manifestations of religious faith on the field, but made some exceptions in the case of the hijab. Prior to the Iranian women's team's qualifying match last year, however, the players had donned full hijabs instead of the products of the compromise FIFA had previously made, which did not cover the neck and ears as a traditional hijab does. The Iranian team was forced to withdraw.
Thanks to today's ruling, however, Muslim women will no longer be proscribed from the pitch. Assmaa Helal, an Australian-Egyptian soccer player who wears a hijab while playing, sees the ruling as a liberation for women all over the world. "On an international scale, it has affected quite a number of Muslim females, especially in the Arabian countries," she says. "It shattered their hopes of playing for their country on an international scale, especially if they've been playing for their entire lives and felt so passionately towards the sport."
Farrah Khan is an activist with Right 2 Wear, an organization that championed the cause to allow headscarves. Hailing from a soccer-loving family, her father was one of the founders of the Muslim Soccer League in Toronto and she grew up playing lots of soccer herself, though she chose not to wear a head scarf while doing it. "It [became] an issue for me when I started seeing young Muslim women in my community not being allowed to play soccer because they wore the hijab," Khan says. "People would use the FIFA ruling to make a decision about that."
One misconception about the hijab, Helal says, is that men force women to wear the hijab. However, Helal says it's the opposite. "In fact, it's the complete opposite. Muslim women choose to wear the hijab in their own right," Helal says. "It's a part of their identity, and they wish to submit to a decree that they believe has been given by God. It's the same with any act in Islam for both men and women, whether it be fasting, praying, or giving to charity."
"There's a wisdom behind the hijab, and it's the overall moral framework of the Islamic tradition."