“I felt like I had to always prove myself to people that “I am an athlete” because they– Fitriya Mohamed
had never seen a Hijabi athlete before.”
The world around us is changing. The sight of girls and young women playing sports has become more common on our screens. When Fitriya Mohamed moved to Toronto from Ethiopia at the age of ten, she entered a world that was already encouraging girls to play sports. She loved the game and knew right away that she was made for it. Often finding that she was the only black Hijab-wearing Muslim woman, she made it her mission to fight exclusivity and create space for Muslim women in sports. Her dream led to the birth of MWSBL – Muslim Women Summer Basketball League – a non-profit Muslim women sports league creating inclusive space, mentorship and fostering sisterhood through basketball. According to her, “Creating this space as a non-profit meant that people didn’t have to worry about the financial burden.” To find out more about her journey, TMWT had a brief interview with Fitriya, and here’s everything she had to say:
TMWT: What would you say inspired your interest in basketball and how did that evolve over the years?
Fitriya Mohamed: I was inspired by my gym teacher, the opportunity that was provided to me and the girls in my gym class when I first arrived in Canada and began attending school for the first time. Back home, in Oromia, Ethiopia, it was not usual to see girls playing sports, so when I got this opportunity, I was honestly just excited to try it. I would say I enjoyed the competitiveness and physicality of the sport and wanted to continue playing afterwards. Also, I continued playing over the years because I learned the health benefits of participating in sports and the different skills I was developing such as leadership, teamwork and confidence.
TMWT: Would you say that your religion or your foreign heritage made you different from your teammates?
Fitriya Mohamed: Absolutely, but I did not let my difference stop me from pursuing sports. The love and support I received from my teammates also encouraged me to continue playing. On the other hand, I was discouraged on multiple occasions by members of my community and family members, because to them, “sport is for boys, not girls”. I was told to focus on other things that would get me somewhere. They tried to use religion to exemplify their reasonings but that did not make sense to me because deep down, I knew what I was doing was not wrong.
TMWT: What aspects of team-playing would you say align with your personal/religious morals?
Fitriya Mohamed: Sisterhood. Diversity. Sportsmanship. Healthy lifestyle (mentally, physically and emotionally) Peace and kindness.
TMWT: Did you face any resistance as a Muslim woman in sports?
Fitriya Mohamed: I felt like I always had to prove myself to people that “I am an athlete” because they had never seen a Hijabi athlete before. Also, looking different made me an easy target when in sporting environments, but I did not let the attention stop me from pursuing what I loved most. Other challenges included lack of representation in sport, lack of family and community support and lack of access to spaces and opportunities for Muslim women to pursue sports.
TMWT: You founded MWSBL – Muslim Women Summer Basketball League in Canada to help bring Muslim women together and foster solidarity. What would you say the Idea of inclusivity and Representation in Sports means to you and how important is it?
Fitriya Mohamed: I believe inclusivity and representation in sport are important because sports can be
viewed as a mirror of our society. It, therefore, needs to reflect our society in ways that acknowledge that certain groups in our society need to be accommodated and given equal opportunities to participate in sports, rather than being excluded. Also, as some may argue, “sport is for all” and therefore, everyone should be given the opportunity to discover the beauty of sports and I believe sports organizations, sport governing bodies and policymakers have a big role in ensuring this.
TMWT: It may be hard to pick just one, but if you could pick the first one that comes to mind which achievement in your career or personal endeavours holds the most sentimental value to you? and why?
Fitriya Mohamed: One achievement in my career that holds the most sentimental value to me is receiving
Female Athlete Of The Year in my graduating year of High School. First, I was the first Muslim woman to win this award at my high school. Secondly, I worked really hard both academically and with sports, and although, the other nominees were deserving of the award as well, winning it was honestly a big accomplishment and holds the most sentimental value to me.
TMWT: You are the perfect example of a woman combining her skills and talents with activism, community work and charity. Which women are your constant inspirations and supporters?
Fitriya Mohamed: Alhamdulillah! It is all due to Allah, I really appreciate your kind words. In short, WOC and Muslim women everywhere inspire me because I know it is not easy to be in rooms where we don’t see others that look like us but they are out here making it look easy.
TMWT is an online media platform spotlighting the stories of Muslim women of the past and present. We aim to be one of the most authoritative and informative guides to what is happening in the world of Muslim women. We hope to cover key issues, spark debates, progressive ideas and provocative topics to get the Muslim world talking. We want to set agendas and explore ideas to improve the lives and wellbeing of Muslim Women.