The Tokyo Olympics is packed with Muslim sports superstars from all across the globe. As we head into the final weekend, here are some favourites and a round-up of Muslim sports trailblazers and champions on film and in documentary on Alchemiya.
by Valerie Grove
First up, British rowing champion, Mohamed Sbihi. He got a gold medal in Rio in 2016 and a team bronze this year, however, he made history in the Tokyo Olympics for another reason entirely. He is the first Muslim athlete to front the British team and carry the flag at an Olympic opening ceremony.
Multiple record breaker Dalilah Mohammed added a silver to her previous Olympic golds while breaking her own speed record at the same time. You can read more about Dalilah below.
Olympic and Muslim history has been made by Egypt’s Taekwondo champion, Hedaya Malak. With a bronze in Rio 2016 and a second bronze in Tokyo, she became the first Muslim woman to win two consecutive Olympic Taekwondo medals.
The totally awesome Sifan Hassan won gold in the 5,000 metres, bronze in the 1,500 and gold again in the 10,000. This triple event medal challenge had never been attempted before making the last race of the three, the 10, 000 metres final on Saturday August 7th, one of the most exciting events of this Olympics.
Although not competing this year let’s hear it again for Ibtihaj Muhammad. Ibtihaj was the first American woman to compete in the Olympics in hijab and is an entrepreneur, activist, writer and speaker in addition to being a ground-breaking international sports professional. She has her own clothing company, she inspired the first hijabi Barbie doll and in 2019 published both her memoir, PROUD: My Fight for an Unlikely American Dream, and a children’s book The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family. Listed in Time Magazine’s ‘100 Most Influential’ list, Ibtihaj is a very important presence in the global discussion on equality and Muslim representation in sport.
Ibtihaj was the first American woman to compete in the Olympics in hijab and is an entrepreneur, activist, writer and speaker in addition to being a ground-breaking international sports professional. She has her own clothing company, she inspired the first hijabi Barbie doll and in 2019 published both her memoir, PROUD: My Fight for an Unlikely American Dream, and a children’s book The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family. Listed in Time Magazine’s ‘100 Most Influential’ list, Ibtihaj is a very important presence in the global discussion on equality and Muslim representation in sport.
You can see Ibtihaj on Alchemiya talking to Ford Foundation Head, Darren Walker. In Conversation is a wide-ranging and often very funny documentary, taking in issues of identity, fashion, social media and the importance of another Muslim sports superstar, Muhammad Ali.
Ibtihaj also talks about the challenges of being an African-American Muslim female in general, and her specific experiences inside the highly competitive and largely racially homogenous field of fencing. Fundamental to success is reaching that point of self-focused confidence where you stop appeasing those who are uncomfortable in your presence: ‘That’s not your problem. It’s theirs’, she says.
The Q & A raises some really important questions about being a Muslim woman in sport and what is needed to encourage and support a new generation to get involved in sport, not just as a career but as a normal part of an active and healthy life.
As mentioned above, Dalilah got the silver this time in Tokyo but here’s a little more about her and why she’s so special. She was the 400 metres hurdles US national champion in 2013, 2016 and 2017. Her Olympic gold in 2016, made her only the second female 400 metre hurdler in history to have won the Olympic and World Athletics titles and broken a world record. She got gold in the U.S. championships in July 2019 and then the world Championships in Doha later that year. In these two events she set a new world record twice in succession.
In Story of Determination she talks about her career as an athlete and the importance of her faith in keeping her confident and reassured about who she is and what she can achieve.
“Being a champion is so much more than your athletic ability… how you think, your thought processes, just who you are, your essence… it all shows on the track. Being an African-American, being a Muslim especially, you really have to have tough skin to fight against the negativity that’s thrown against you on a daily basis.”
Sadly the Pakistan women’s football team didn’t make it to the Olympics but Malika-e-Noor is a legend anyway! Originally from Hunza, in northern Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan region, Malika has represented Pakistan in 20 international matches. After playing for Eagle WFC and Young Rising Stars WFC in domestic tournaments, she now captains the Pakistan Army team and has collectively played over 200 professional games scoring 94 goals. She is also a regular commentator in the Pakistani press and footballing forums, providing advice to new players and promoting the development of women’s football.
Bend it like Malika is not only an account of her career but a wide ranging story of family support, team friendship, a great marriage and absolute dedication to being a sports professional. We hear from Malika herself, from her coaches and team mates and from her father and husband.
The result is an open discussion about what it means to be a female football player in Pakistan and what is needed to enable more women to represent their country in international sports events. You also get to find out that she is one of the few players anywhere who was able to curve the ball so precisely that she scored directly from a corner kick.
For just under four minutes of absolute joy, you can meet boxer, Amaiya Zafar in Episode 7 of Secret Life of Muslims. Amaiya changed history at the age of 16 when she was disqualified from her first major fight for refusing to remove her hijab, sleeves and leggings. Two years later this act of defiance led to USA Boxing changing the law for female Muslim boxers. Since then she has won the 2018 women’s flyweight title at the Sugar Bert National Boxing Championship and the Ringside World Championship.
Episode 10 of Secret Life of Muslims looks at pro-wrestler Adeel Alam, known by his stage name of Mustafa Ali. As Adeel talks about the difficulties he had in controlling his own image as a pro-wrestler, this episode becomes both insight into the pressure to conform to a negative script and an inspirational tale about the power of saying no.