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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!

Next Story

Cricket madness in Chicago

People sacrifice other chores just to enjoy this beautiful game and to keep it alive in countries outside India where cricket is not a major sport.

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Cricket has become a popular sport in Chicago. Around 900 people play the game in the windy city.

By West Loop Cricket Association, Chicago

WLCA Working Committee

Hari Mohan, Harshavardhna Hedge, Kunal Tembhurne, Niranjan Kulkarni, Saurabh Nigam, Shreenidhi Bharadwaj, Shekar Reddy Palla, Shwetabh Gaurav, Sunil Saini, Vivek Sarkar

About:

Cricket is more a religion, less a sport in India. People are obsessed with the sport and magnitude of love cannot be defined in words.

In the United States, Baseball, Basketball and Soccer are obviously more popular. However, Cricket has a strong presence due to the passion and love of Indians for the game. The Indian community in USA avidly plays and promotes cricket and, in the process comes closer to each other.

 

Cricket
The tournament played between Chicago Centaurs and Arrigo Avengers.

 

The passion for the game is unreal in USA too. Working men enjoy the sport in their free time. They even book grounds (baseball/soccer grounds) to practice and conduct tournament matches. The players are from all backgrounds – students, businessmen, lawyers, IT professionals to doctors. They all take out time out of their busy schedules and come together to rejoice the gentleman’s game in the windy city.

Tournaments in Chicago

As cricket has a strong presence in Chicago, many friendly yet competitive tournaments are conducted by cricket fanatics to keep the game alive.

Chicagotwenty20 tournament

Chicagotwenty20 is the oldest cricket tournament that was conducted in Chicago. It’s first season took place in 2009 and the tenth season was played in 2018. The league is played in 20 overs format. 56 teams participate from Chicago and are divided into groups 4 with 14 teams in each group.  Each team has a squad of 16 players with 11 playing and rest 5 as extras. Each team has a home ground. 7 matches are played at home ground and the rest at the opponent’s ground. The top eight teams from each group are qualified for the quarter finals. The tournament is almost four months long. The best player of the winning team is awarded the man of the match in every match. Best Batsman, Best bowler, MVP ( most valuable player) awards are given at the end of the season.

The 2018 season was won by team Yorkers. The Best Batsman, Highest score and the MVP award was given to Mr Pavan Shetty of team Yorkers, who scored 418 runs. The best bowler award was given to Sivakumar for taking 27 wickets.

 

Cricket
This is the team who connected via the meetup link which has more than 300 members.

 

WLCA Super 8 tournament

WLCA (West Loop Cricket Association, Chicago) was formed by four IT professionals in 2016 with the sole objective of promoting the game of cricket in Chicago City area. Based out of vibrant and affluent Chicago West Loop, WLCA is an assemblage of 300+ cricket players. These cricket enthusiasts come from different walks of life being corporate professionals, UIC/IIT students and local businessmen. There are hundreds of followers across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

WLCA mainly involve in:

  • Organize annual cricket tournament
  • Coordinate weekly cricket games in different Chicago City park locations
  • Coordinating friendly games with other known Chicago Suburban teams
  • WLCA team represented Chicago City in other Chicagoland tournaments including Chicago T20 League and Soha Cup
  • Maintaining and making available Cricket Equipment Kit free of cost to playing group

The WLCA hosts Super 8 Cricket tournament which started in 2017 by the West Loop cricket association (WLCA). It is played under the format of 8 overs and 8 players in each team. This concept of tournament was the first to be launched by WLCA in Chicago. This is the shortest time-consuming format (2 days) and the played at the heart of Chicago Downtown. The first season was extremely successful (12 teams) and participating teams called out as the best organized cricket tournament amongst many happening in Chicago.

Season 2 played in 2018 organized by WLCA had 16 teams divided into four groups with four teams in each group. The semi-finals and final are played with 10 overs. There is a man of the match, best bowler, best fielder award for every match

Cricket
Westloop Wolves Team.

 

Here is the fixture and schedule of Season 2:

There are 16 teams participating in this short format cricket tournament.

16 team is divided into 4 groups.

Group A Group B Group C Group D
Winter Wolves (A1) Chicago Wild Kittens(B1) Arrigo Avengers(C1) Super 9s(D1)
Dark Knights (A2) Challengers(B2) Cook County(C2) Chicago Super Kings(D2)
Chicago Centaurs(A3) Hunters (B3) Westside Wolves(C3) River City (D3)
International Khiladies (A4) Ballers(B4) Knights(C4) CSK+(D4)

Each team in the group will play only two matches with the other two teams.

From each group top two teams will be qualified for the quarterfinals, then semis and finals.

Chicago Centaurs were the Champions and Super 9s were the runners up.

The tournament has become a big deal in no time. It was sponsored by big names like USBank (thanks to Susan Brown), Lodha Group (this group was also the associated sponsor of Ind vs, Eng Test Series in 2018) and Metra Spice Mart (Only Indian Grocery Store in Chicago Downtown). The tournament has gained momentum in no time and is likely to do so in the years to come.

Keeping the game alive overseas

Cricket has become a huge deal in Chicago. Around 900 people play the game in the windy city. Tournaments like above help in maintaining healthy competition and something to be excited for.

People sacrifice other chores just to enjoy this beautiful game and to keep it alive in countries outside India where cricket is not a major sport.

 

Cricket
Dark Knights Led by Pranjal Chauhan

 

“My favourite sport and always loved to watch and play the game anywhere in the world anytime. Always loved to organize these kinds of tournament from childhood so continuing the same thing outside the country”, Says Harshavardhna Hedge, Organizer, WLCA super 8 tournament.

“Well I love the sport and love my country. We get to relive our childhood and impart love for the game to the next generation. The community comes together and enjoy, and we also return to the society through charity”, Says Hari Mohan, Organizer, WLCA super 8 tournament.