A ban by world soccer body FIFA on Muslim women wearing Islamic headdress is taking its toll on the performance of not only Iran but also Jordan.
Iran earlier this month lost its chance of reaching the 2012 Olympics after its qualifying match was cancelled because the Islamic republic’s women soccer team appeared on the pitch wearing a hijab that covered their ears and neck and not only their hair as originally had been agreed with the Iranian Football Federation (IFF).
Ironically, the match was to be played in Amman against the Jordanian women’s team.
FIFA bans all religious and political symbols on the pitch but negotiated an exception with Iran involving a specially designed cap. FIFA argues that the Islamic headdress or hijab could cause a choking injury.
Iran charged that FIFA’s decision to disqualify its women’s team constituted an attack on all female Muslim players. Iranian and other Muslim women players reject the cap as un-Islamic.
Their rejection is supported by some Muslim clerics.
“Islam stipulates that women are allowed to show only two parts of their body, their faces and hands,” said Jordanian imam Ziad Hudeib. He argued that the cap agreed with FIFA fails to comply with Islamic dress code that demands that it should extend below the ears and cover the neck.
Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, a half-brother of Jordanian King Abdullah and FIFA vice president has said he is seeking to resolve the dispute between Iran and the soccer body. Prince Ali was elected to his FIFA post on a platform that emphasized women’s rights.
Prince Ali has every reason to seek a compromise. Iran is not the only party outraged by FIFA’s position. So are Jordanian women soccer players, three of whom were also banned from playing because of their headdress.
Moustafa Afouri, the president of the Amman Club, fears that FIFA’s position will discourage women from playing competitive soccer. “Jordanian society has its own tradition and they will not let their daughters take off their hijabs, so we will miss lots of gifted players,” Mr. Afouri said.
He said half of his women players wear the hijab.
Jordanian players attribute their poor performance in this year’s qualifying matches to the fact that many of their players were banned because they wear the hijab.
Like the IFF, the Jordanian Football Association, which is headed by Prince Ali, has appealed to FIFA to amend its position.
Abeer Nahar, one of the Jordanian players, asserted in an interview with The Jordan Times that “our culture does not accept this. Hijab, the way we wear it, is a red line in our community. FIFA should respect our culture.”
Ms. Nahar’s father, Mahmoud Nahar denounced FIFA’s attitude as harsh. “I will not let my daughter take off her hijab to play football. Hijab is sacred,” the paper quoted him as saying.
Misada Ramouniah, another Jordanian player, argues that FIFA confronted her with an impossible choice: respect her religion and family’s wish and leave professional soccer or abide by FIFA’s rules.
“It is a hard choice since we had the honor to play in the national team and achieved good results for Jordan, but at the same time we cannot ignore our culture and religion,” Ms. Ramouniah said.
(James M. Dorsey, formerly of The Wall Street Journal, is a senior researcher at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer. He can be reached via email at: email@example.com)