Islam, women and sport

Haifaa Jawad, Yousra Al-Sinani, Tansin Benn

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Background to Islam, women and sport Theological as well as sociological analysis of Islam and Islamic culture can contribute to understanding the religion and its manifestations in the lives of followers. It is important to examine the role of gender relations in Islam and the effects on Muslim girls’ and women’s participation in the field of physical activity because of the relative invisibility of Muslim women in major sporting competitions. This is due partly to social, political, economic and educational factors, but also to a small number of high-profile cases of women’s admonishment by conservative clerics for participating in sport with apparent disregard to Islamic requirements for body modesty (Hargreaves 2000). For girls in school-level physical education and sport, tensions can also arise at the interface of religious requirements and physicality. These are often based on misunderstandings in the Diaspora (Carroll and Hollinshead 1993; Dagkas and Benn 2006; De Knop et al. 1996; Benn et al. 2010). In an attempt to add clarity to the contested domain of ‘Islam, Women and Sport’, the authors take a historical journey from early (authentic) Islam (Jawad 1998), through the period of disenfranchisement of Muslim women’s role in many societies, to the recent revivalist era and the work of feminists - notably Islamic feminists. It is their use of theological (hermeneutic/discourse analysis) approaches to deepening insight into interpretations of religious texts from inside the faith that have made a difference to the lives of Muslim women, empowering many to take more active roles in contemporary societies (Jawad 2009a, 2009b). A return to early Islam is important because it enables damaging overlays of pseudo-religious cultural beliefs and practice to be distanced from ‘authentic Islam’ (Jawad 1998: 99). Jawad uses the term ‘authentic Islam’ to refer to the principles of the holy texts, the Quran and Hadiths, that captured life and meaning at the time of the Prophet Mohammed in the seventh-century ad. Early Islam proclaimed the equal value of men and women as essential contributors to the private and public life of their society. Since that time, Islam has spread from its Arabian roots to become a global religion with 1.3 billion Muslims living in most countries of the world (Esposito and Mogahed 2007: 3). Factors including globalisation, politicisation, acculturation, conflict, migration and Diaspora, spanning many centuries, have led to Islam in the twenty-first century being experienced differently throughout the world. The treatment of women in Islamic communities now varies across the world, and in some places they are no longer treated equally or encouraged to contribute fully to life in their society. Islamic tradition addresses many questions that continue to be asked in the search for meaning and understanding in life, such as the purpose of creation, existence and death. The importance of these questions cannot be underestimated even though they have not always been valued in academia, but Shilling (2008: 144) in his book Changing Bodies: Habit, Crisis and Creativity states: ‘Debates about belief have become extraordinarily important in recent years.' He attributes this to issues of migration, cultural changes in the West, ways in which different religions are visible and the global spread of fundamentalism, justified in part by religious affiliation. The increased visibility of Islam in the West has been demonised through the messages propagated by the media, spreading and popularising particular worldviews. Extremist derogatory views such as those of Younus Shaikh (2007: 8) who claimed ‘Islam is an organised crime against humanity’ are not only offensive to many Muslims and non-Muslims, but are also a means of fuelling Islamophobia that impacts on the lives of all Muslims globally (Allen and Nielsen 2002; Jawad and Benn 2003; Fekete 2008). The degree of contention surrounding Islam, particularly after the atrocities of September 11, 2001 and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, cannot be ignored, but current tensions and conflicts regarding the polarisation of Muslims and the West are often based on a lack of knowledge and understanding about each other’s lives. For example, in the Parliament of the World’s Religions held in Australia, December 2009, a large segment of the Conference time was allocated to the discussion of issues of Islam in the West in order to: Talk about a tradition that is misunderstood, talk about a tradition that is maligned, talk about a tradition where one percent of the tradition has given the entire community a bad name, it is Islam. And so we want to give reputable Islamic scholars and leaders the chance first of all to share what they believe Islam is all about.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMuslim Women and Sport
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781134008513
ISBN (Print)9780415490764
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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