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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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Pakistan Agrees To Cooperate With The U.S. To Achieve Peace in Afghanistan

Khan said Monday that Trump wants Pakistan to use its influence to nudge the Taliban to participate in Afghan peace talks.

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Imran Khan, Pakistan
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks during a ceremony in Kartarpur, Pakistan. VOA

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan renewed Wednesday his resolve to cooperate with the United States to achieve a political settlement with the Taliban to end the war in Afghanistan, now in its 18th year.

Khan made the remarks during a meeting with the visiting U.S. special representative for Afghan peace and reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad.

“The prime minister reiterated Pakistan’s abiding interest in achieving peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan through political settlement,” Khan’s office said in a statement issued after the meeting.

Khalilzad arrived in Islamabad on Tuesday and held delegation level talks with senior foreign ministry officials before paying the courtesy call on Prime Minister Khan, officials said.

Imran Khan, Pakistan, Afghanistan,
Pakistan”s Prime Minister Imran Khan is seen during talks in Beijing, China, VOA

The U.S. envoy’s visit followed President Donald Trump’s formal request for Khan’s help in finding a political solution to the Afghan conflict.

“U.S. leadership looked forward to working with Pakistan in furthering the shared goal of peace through a political settlement in Afghanistan,” the Pakistani statement quoted Khalilzad as saying.

The Trump administration has tasked the Afghan-born former U.S. ambassador to Kabul to persuade the Taliban to join an Afghan peace process for ending the protracted war.

U.S. and Afghan officials have long accused Pakistan of sheltering Taliban leaders and allowing them to orchestrate attacks inside Afghanistan. Islamabad rejects the charges.

Afghanistan, USA, Pakistan
Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani, center right, and U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad,center left, meet in Kabul. VOA

Khalilzad is on an 18-day trip to region, his third since taking office, and plans to visit Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Russia, UAE and Qatar, where the Taliban maintains its so-called political office.

During his previous two trips to the region, Khalilzad also traveled to Qatar and held marathon meetings with Taliban representatives there. He has held talks with Afghan politicians inside and outside of the government in Kabul.

Taliban officials insist that in talks with the U.S. they are seeking the withdrawal of all U.S. and NATO forces from the country before agreeing to join an intra-Afghan peace dialogue.

In a statement issued Tuesday, insurgent spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said they “will not tolerate foreign occupying and military presence under any circumstance.”

Mujahid also dismissed reports that Khalilzad is discussing with the Taliban possible future political dispensation in Kabul and other related issues.

 

Taliban, Afghanistan, Pakistan
Taliban fighters are seen gathered in Surkhroad district of Nangarhar province, east of Kabul, Afghanistan. VOA

 

“The formation of a government, establishing security and developing Afghanistan is a matter concerning the Afghans. No foreign occupying force has any legal right for determine the fate of Afghanistan, interfere in its matters or make comments as a proprietor,” said the Taliban spokesman.

Khalilzad has shared few details of his talks with the Taliban, though he said last month he was “cautiously optimistic” about achieving a peace deal.

Pakistan’s relations with the U.S. have dipped to historic lows in recent years over allegations of supporting the Taliban and other militants in the region. President Trump’s letter to Khan on Monday was a rare positive development in the fragile bilateral ties.

Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie, chosen to be the next commander of U.S. Central Command told Senators on Tuesday that Pakistan’s assistance is key to finding any solution in Afghanistan.

“It is in Pakistan’s long-term interest to have a government in Afghanistan that is stable that they can do business with. It will be hard to reach a settlement without some form of assistance from Pakistan,” McKenzie said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

Donald Trump, democrats, government,, pakistan
U.S. President Donald Trump. VOA

Islamabad has long urged in talks with the U.S. that rival India’s growing influence in Afghanistan was a matter of concern for Pakistan. Pakistani security officials blame Indian intelligence operatives for supporting anti-state militants planning terrorist attacks in Pakistan from Afghan soil, charges both Kabul and New Delhi reject.

Also Read: U.S. President Donald Trump Seeks Pakistan’s Cooperation For Bringing Peace in Afghanistan

“I believe Pakistan knows very clearly that their assistance will be required to reach an end state in Afghanistan. I think the chance that we have is to make it attractive to them so that they see that it is in their best interest to do that,” noted the U.S. commander.

Khan said Monday that Trump wants Pakistan to use its influence to nudge the Taliban to participate in Afghan peace talks. (VOA)