Kulsoom Abdullah, a 35-year old female weightlifter from Atlanta, Georgia, received long-awaited word from the International Weightlifting Federation on Wednesday that she would be allowed to compete in a modified weightlifting uniform that complied with the hijab and her faith.
For the past year, Ms. Abdullah has been working to be allowed to compete in the sport she loves without conceding her religious values. And with persistence, tenacity, and faith, she was able to see her ambitious efforts pay off.
“This is a great victory. I am hopeful for more participation in sports for women and I have a positive outlook on getting costume details finalized for Olympic lifting competitions,” said Ms. Abdullah. “Change is not going to happen if you do nothing. It’s better to at least try your best … I think we always learn through journey and struggles.”
Last year, Ms. Abdullah was initially barred from competing in the American Open because she would not wear a singlet – the short, tight, regulation uniform. Officials told her that loose clothing and covered limbs presented a safety hazard and prevented judges from making sure she was executing a proper lift.
Ms. Abdullah then put together a 44-page presentation offering an alternative costume that showcased her elbows and knees without compromising her Muslim faith. Her proposal was submitted to the IWF to consider a policy change for Islamic attire with the support of the United States Olympic Committee, the USA Weightlifting Federation, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
"We welcome this important decision in support of greater inclusion in athletic competition and urge the representatives of other international bodies to take similar steps," said CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper in a statement. "We thank the United States Olympic Committee for helping to empower Muslim women athletes and for taking a stand in support of the American tradition of religious diversity."
The modifications to the costume rule allows athletes to wear a one piece, full body, tight fitted "unitard," under the necessary weightlifting costume. This will permit Ms. Abdullah, and future Muslim female weightlifters who wear the hijab, to compete while only exposing their hands, feet and face.
The ruling in favor of a modified uniform represents a small step forward to the increasing number of female athletes around the world who have been prohibited from competing because uniform regulations clashed with tenets of faith. Just recently, the Iranian women's soccer team was banned from the 2012 Olympics in London, and was forced to forfeit there qualifier against Jordan, on the grounds that their headscarves posed the threat of strangulation.
"This rule modification has been considered in the spirit of fairness, equality and inclusion," said IWF President Tamas Ajan.
As for Ms. Adbullah, she is still in the gym, working harder than ever to prepare for next month's American Open competition. “I will continue training now for competitions, and be able to work harder with structure since now I have goals and dates I can look forward to,” said Ms. Abdullah.
(Richard Burchfield is an intern at Al Arabiya’s Washington, DC bureau and is a participant in The Fund for American Studies & The Institute on Political Journalism at Georgetown University. He can be reached at Richard.firstname.lastname@example.org)