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Two Muslim Women Use Social Media to Empower Others in Unconventional Sports

Two Muslim women, who found a sense of accomplishment by being involved in sports are now helping to empower other women

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Muslim women Kulsoom Abdullah. Image source: VOA
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  • Abdullah appealed the dress code of USA Weightlifting national competition in 2010 to honor her faith as a Muslim woman, which was denied
  • News media picked up her story and her friends took on social media, one year later, she became the first Muslim female to participate in the championship
  • Shareefy, who has a similar background, uses rock climbing as a tool to develop young entrepreneurs in Afghanistan

Muslim women Kulsoom Abdullah and Mariam Shareefy who found courage only when they were challenged both mentally and physically. Both found a sense of accomplishment by being involved in sports and are now helping to empower other women.

Abdullah, 38, who comes from a very conservative area of Pakistan, became interested in recreational weightlifting in her early 20s.

She qualified to compete in a USA Weightlifting national competition in 2010 but chose not to because she was not comfortable wearing the required uniform — a form-fitting singlet leotard with short sleeves and shorts that leaves most of the arms and legs bare so that officials can see if arms and knees lock, as required in competition.

She wanted to compete yet stay covered to honor her faith as a Muslim woman.

Abdullah appealed the dress code and the group denied her.

Social media campaign

After hearing Abdullah had lost her appeal, her friends started a social media campaign. When the news media picked up her story, Abdullah began to advocate for a change to the association’s dress code.

With the added media attention, Abdullah found her attire was getting more attention than her actual skills, she said.

“It was my attire, not my skills, which made me stand out in the beginning. Seeing a woman covered from head to toe participating in a sport like weightlifting was found rather unusual by the media,” said Abdullah, who became the first Muslim female to participate in the USA Weightlifting national championships 2011 with her head covered.

Abdullah told VOA that she is passionate about weightlifting and was fully aware of the sport’s dress code when she began.

Her website LiftingCovered.com and Facebook page document her weightlifting journey. She advocated to compete in clothing that adheres to religious codes, opening the door for women from cultures around the world to compete.

Her efforts bore fruit and USA Weightlifting, and later the International Weightlifting Federation, modified their rules, allowing Abdullah and others like her to compete while wearing a headscarf.

Kulsoom Abdullah, 38, who comes from a very conservative area of Pakistan, became interested in recreational weightlifting in her early 20s.

Kulsoom Abdullah, 38, who comes from a very conservative area of Pakistan, became interested in recreational weightlifting in her early 20s.

International competitor

Abdullah represented Pakistan at the 2011 World Weightlifting Championships as the first female on the international level to compete while wearing a hijab.

While female participants can compete in international weightlifting events while covered, Abdullah is modest about her accomplishment.

“It doesn’t really feel like I did anything amazing, because I was just trying to be able to do something I was interested in, while not compromising on my values and beliefs,” Abdullah said. “It’s still hard to believe that I’ve done something that affects so many other women around the world.

“In my case, and not just for me, my obstacle was being able to compete while observing my religious dress code, which was here in the USA. Attire can also be an additional obstacle for women in majority Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Oman (which sent women for the first time to the 2012 summer Olympics),” she said. “Islam gets misrepresented in the media a lot, but what was great in my case, it has helped me make a change.”

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She credits her success as an athlete and advocate to the unflinching support of her family, especially her father.

Abdullah, who now lives in Atlanta, Georgia, is currently not competing in the sport, but she continues to help by training other women in weightlifting.

Mariam Shareefy founded AERCS (Afghanistan's Entrepreneurship and Rock Climbing School), a nonprofit organization that uses rock climbing as a tool to develop young entrepreneurs in Afghanistan.

Mariam Shareefy founded AERCS (Afghanistan’s Entrepreneurship and Rock Climbing School), a nonprofit organization that uses rock climbing as a tool to develop young entrepreneurs in Afghanistan.

Rock climbing school

Shareefy, who comes from the same region and has a similar background as Abdullah, founded AERCS (Afghanistan’s Entrepreneurship and Rock Climbing School), a nonprofit organization that uses rock climbing as a tool to develop young entrepreneurs in Afghanistan.

Based in Boulder, Colorado, Shareefy is training the Afghan immigrant community in Colorado how to rock climb.

Her own journey started when her family, after spending nearly two decades as refugees in Pakistan, decided to return to Afghanistan.

As Shareefy’s family traveled from Peshawar to Kabul, she said she found Afghanistan to be one of the most beautiful places on the planet. When she saw the Mahipar rock formation, she decided she wanted to learn more about the rock faces and how to climb them.

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“The Afghan community here (in Colorado) is huge. They feel isolated and find it very hard to adapt to American culture,” Shareefy told VOA, adding that she wants to use her program to “make sure they become part of this (American) culture and not feel isolated.”

Colorado similarities

While her interest in rock climbing was sparked in Afghanistan, Shareefy finds unparalleled beauty and opportunity in the mountainous and scenic city of Boulder, Colorado.

“Colorado is beautiful, especially its mountains and rocks. Here I have plenty of opportunities to master my skills, this place is known for its rock faces,” she said. “There is no comparison between the opportunities I have here and that in Afghanistan and I want to avail them.”

Shareefy knows the significance of sports in empowering women and shaping their future. That is why she is not only engaging Afghan women refugees in the United States but also has started a project in Afghanistan for children, especially girls.

“We have started a project in Afghanistan for youth that teaches entrepreneurship through hiking,” she said. (VOA)

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  • Kabir Chaudhary

    Kulsoom Abdullah is one of the great examples of what women are capable to do

  • Navmi Arora

    Using the best platform indeed!

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Why the Grand National is Such a Major Sporting Event?

Whether you’re intrigued by the majesty of the race, backing your favourite horse, or just attending for the splendid occasion, the Grand National is one of the biggest sporting events in the UK

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Here is why the Grand National is one of the biggest sporting events in UK. Pixabay
  • Grand National is one of the biggest sporting events
  • Everywhere it garners a massive audience
  • Almost everyone in the United Kingdom is a huge fan this horse racing event

Every year, the Grand National garners a massive gathering. But, this huge crowd of people watching the Grand National at the venue and on television isn’t the collective of horse racing fans. Almost everyone in the United Kingdom, regardless of horse racing fandom and knowledge, has a flutter on the major event. Now, thanks to the wonders of the internet, people all over the world are tuning in and watching the horses that they back.

But why exactly does the Grand National stand in such high prestige, and how does it draw such a massive audience?

The Race Itself

Source: BBC Sport, via Twitter
Source: BBC Sport, via Twitter

The Grand National is one of the premier jump events on the horse racing calendar – likely only trailing the Gold Cup at the Cheltenham Festival in the opinion of most. To add to the trials of the jumps, the race takes place over a massive four miles and two-and-a-half furlongs. As the longest race in Great Britain, that also incorporates jumps, it’s seen as a great test of skill and stamina for the horses and jockeys.

Due to the nature of the race as well the massive field of competing horses – the most to line up was 66 horses in 1992 – upsets occur regularly. The last five winners have all had starting prices above 10/1, including One For Arthur’s 14/1 in 2017, Rule The World’s 33/1 in 2016, and Auroras Encore’s 66/1 in 2013.

At the 2018 Randox Health Grand National (14th April), there’s still a huge field of horses for people to back. According to William Hill, Blacklion, Tiger Roll, and Total Recall are the favourites at 10/1, but that doesn’t preclude the 16/1 The Last Samurai, or the 33/1 Vieux Lion Rouge from winning.

So, whether you back the favourite horse by the bookies, your favourite number, or a grey horse, there’s always the chance that your horse will stay in the race and jump all 30 fences while others fall by the wayside.

The Occasion

Source: BBC Merseyside, via Twitter
Source: BBC Merseyside, via Twitter

While other horse racing venues, such as Cheltenham and Epsom, boast the more recognisable tracks, Aintree is not only a scenic location, but it’s also in an area of residence. It’s known as the People’s Race; being so entrenched in the local community of Aintree embodies that sentiment.

With the Grand National seen as a major date on the calendar, people dress up in their finest and wackiest attire. Aintree is flooded with people who want to see the annual race as well as get swept up in all of the pageantry and the atmosphere.

One pub in particular now goes hand-in-hand with the Grand National. The Queens, which stands just a minute away from the racecourse, says that the Grand National weekend is the best of the year. With the bar open, barbecues fired up, and lots of music, The Queens becomes the perfect post-race venue.

Also Read: ‘Trojan Horse’ Antibody Strategy Shows Promise Against Ebola Virus

Much of the buzz comes from everyone having the chance to win a bet. This gets people cheering in a sport that they may not follow for most of the year. In fact, last year, it was predicted that in the UK alone, around £250 million was wagered on the Grand National.

Whether you’re intrigued by the majesty of the race, backing your favourite horse, or just attending for the splendid occasion, the Grand National is one of the biggest sporting events in the UK every year.