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Unveiling the Olympics

A rising number of female Muslim athletes are competing in this year's Olympic games in the veil.

Some might see this as a negative development, equating head coverings with female repression. I'd argue that the small but growing number of veiled athletes participating in the Games is an important cultural shift.

In a culture where the women are expected to fit into traditional models of femininity, and the vast majority are veiled and don't take part in sports, athletes like the Bahraini sprinter Ruqaya al-Ghassara embody a certain revolutionary potential.

But there's no question al-Ghassara and her peers face an uphill struggle. Sports and game-playing may be at the center of our Western culture, but in the Middle East they play, at best, a marginal role. The exceptions are soccer, with its international appeal, or sports with a hint of martial prowess, like body building and horse-riding. Even then, sports facilities are often dirty and cramped, like this bodybuilding gym in Kabul -- a reflection of their status in society.

Cultural primacy in Arab nations goes to Islam, which in turn puts its emphasis on the family, and the traditional roles of men and women. Which brings us back to those veiled female athletes, like al-Ghassara, and the message they send to women in the Middle East. Yes, women can have it all: be good Muslims and be sports stars.

Of course, that message is going to take a while to reach beyond the more privileged classes that currently have the time and resources to enjoy sports. But perhaps one day we'll have the Olympics in the Middle East, and a few more Muslim, female sports stars.

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Comments (18)

PolBeast:

Considering that sports does not play a leading role in Islamic culture, I wonder how much attention domestic media pays to these female athletes. Are these women understood as ground breakers among the privileged classes in the Islamic world, or are there certain risks they run by subverting gender roles, even if covered by the veil?

Apostate:

Usama lectures me thus:

“It quite convenient that all of Sudan's problems, or the problems plaguing many Muslim nations, are laid on Islam, when the dictatorships, nationalism, lingering colonial problems, and general societal failures such as illiteracy, lack of infrastructure etc. have existed even since, if not exacerbated by, the secular eras of these nations.”

What was Sudan before the British ruled it in 1898? A bunch of warring Arab Muslim tribes subsisting in the northern half of the country. Their main occupation was hunting Negros from the southern half of the country and selling them in the slave markets of Omdurman and Port Sudan. The colonists besides abolishing the slave trade have built the infrastructure of the modern state institutions there. The Sudanese themselves admit that much. Let us be fair and call things by their real name. Thinking people are laying all those problems facing Muslim societies on Islam is based on deductive reasoning derived from empirical data. Muslim societies, regardless of their ethnicity or geographical location, are all shamelessly underdeveloped. The degree of their backwardness seems to be directly proportional to the degree they apply their Sharia laws.QED

allost:

Women in sports should be able to dress modestly if they want to for religious or other reasons. It's the governments that determine what a person wears that's improper. If you want to wear a veil then wear it if not then don't. You can't legislate morality. Many of these Muslim countries don't give women the choice and that is wrong.

american woman:

Why is it that the cloaking of women is always justified as keeping society civil and moral and usually legislated in male dominated cultures?

The rapes and attacks noted below were NOT comitted by women but by men.

It seems to me that the men so adamant about all the cloaking should look to controling and civilizing their own sex in their backward controling laws!!!

Usama:

BTW, what nation represents your ideals?

Here in Orlando Florida, there's a serial rapist who apparently has attacked 3 female joggers, raping and killing one. In fact there's a rash of such outright attacks on female athletes in the area: just a few days ago a female cyclist who had stopped to get a drink was attacked by a man who came out of the woods. She had fight to get away. While these are mere anecdotes, the reality is human nature requires BOTH internal development as well as externality.
But where does this internal development come from?


In a globalized world where 'freedom' increasingly seems to mean 'license' and the traditional morals of 'modesty' have been broken down in nearly every corner of human civilization, Khartoum and Orlando and Ambsterdam and Mumbai and Bangkok and Melbourne and Los Angeles and Abu Dhabi are increasingly undergoing the same things and are becoming similar. In every one of those cities, there is prostitution, and hypocricy, and excellent and demonic human behavior.


But which aspects of human nature are being cultivated and by whom?

Usama:

Apostate, you failed to observe that from a macro sociological view, certain clothing leads to immodesty, and immodesty leads to licentiousness and sexual objectification, which leads to the host of problems I mentioned.

Yes, its easy to cast aspersions and condescending labels on people: superficial, shallow, whatever. Except there are certain absolutes about human nature which are conveniently overlooked and ignored.

It would wonderful if we lived in a perfect world where everyone was perfect inside and exemplified that in their behavior. But again, human nature is such that man has the propensity to be both excellent and exquisite, as well as despicable and demonic.

As for Sudan, it is not representative of Islam. It has been a nationalist dictatorship for decades. The "Islam" labels replaced the socialist labels when the USSR collapsed. As a former British colony, it suffers from the same post colonial societal ills which plague former British colonies in Africa, such as Uganda and Kenya. It quite convenient that all of Sudan's problems, or the problems plaguing many Muslim nations, are laid on Islam, when the dictatorships, nationalism, lingering colonial problems, and general societal failures such as illiteracy, lack of infrastructure etc. have existed even since, if not exacerbated by, the secular eras of these nations.

Bruce:

The original Olympic athletes competed in the nude. It's a celebration of the human body and its capabilities. It's not erotica. Heck, most of this Olympics' female athletes lack the typical physical characteristics that get "objectified" due to their low body fat. They are all remarkable athletes, I don't care what they are or aren't wearing, and if a bulge is evident somewhere, what harm is done?

Anonymous:


why not ignore what people wear and focus on what they do. in time, veil etc will fall out of favor.

for those who do not like to watch veiled women compete, heavens, watch something else.

Apostate:

Usama says:
“While a few virtually naked female athletes are celebrated, millions of women and young girls go into prostitution if not sexual slavery.”

I vehemently refuse the implication that wearing anything other than a niqab is invitation to prostitution. I lived a number of years in Sudan whose capital, Khartoum, has one of the world’s largest red districts. It has sections for female and for male prostitutes they call Khawal. The women there wear niqabs out on the street and only take it off in their places of business. In fact the niqab is what differentiates this class of women from the others.
Superficial people can never understand that the shield against immorality comes from within and not from a piece of cloth.

Wondering:

Thanks for your thoughtful response, Usama. It makes a lot of sense.

Usama:

I agree- the men mostly are naked with only numbers and spandex briefs on. That too is immodest.

I used to run track in high school and college and even in high school in America, some young men routinely boasted or were proud about showing their bulges through spandex tights while running, just like many women.

But deflecting every topic regarding women onto men still doesn't deflate or detract from the relevance of the specific topic which is about Muslim women, clothing and world athletics.

Immodesty is NOT a moral which any people should advocate or support. It lends to worse behavior and cultural trends. And the mention of "FREEDOM" to wear what you want is an ideological position which ignores the very real consequence of upholding cultural and moral standards regardless of "FREEDOM". Every public school and most professions have clothing standards for youth and adults. Even most municipalities have clothing standards, ecspecially or at least in respected business districts.

The matter of "FREEDOM" to be immodest has contributed to wide scale objectification of sexuality, ecspecially female sexuality and sexual features. This contributes to the idea of women valued only, or largley for their sexual features. While a few virtually naked female athletes are celebrated, millions of women and young girls go into prostitution if not sexual slavery.
And in a global economy,a free market capitalist world, this "FREEDOM" has led to several global trends, including sex tourism, sexual slavery, widescale pornography, superfluous plastic surgery, and more.

So for WaPo to make this an anomaly about Muslim women athletes is yet another example of jaded hypocricy, shallow vision, and irresponsible journalism.

lg:

the men also show quite a bit of body as well as light cover ups. remember short shorts for men and now they as so baggy but probably cooler . I think the cover ups are also dictates of the weather as sun protection. Modesty for all but in sports we should be looking at the skill not the body.

Wondering . . . :

Wondering about Usama's comments:

How about male athletes (including those from Muslim countries) who wear extremely tight garments, shorts, muscle shirts, etc.? Modesty also applies to men.

Observer:

Usama says:
‘Modesty is irrelevant when it comes to athletics today, except for Muslim women, thank God.”

Man you had in one short sentence insulted all the women athletes of the world except the few ugly and drably covered ones shown in the link. I think those women would have done the world a bigger favor had they covered their faces too.

Usama:

I hate the use of the phrase: 'under the veil' & 'lifting the veil' when referring to Muslim women. Its insulting. Its pretentious. Its condescending. Its even dishonorable.

What if the world used the phrase: 'up the skirt' when referring to American women? Or 'in the pants'?

Quite frankly, most women athletes during the Olympics are essentially naked except for a few tiny pieces of fabric. Cameramen have to actively work to avoid showing women's privates or butts showing through the clothes. Its quite clear and i didn't even watch more than few minutes.

Modesty is irrelevant when it comes to athletics today, except for Muslim women, thank God.

AMH:

Lisam says:
“As a modestly dressing non-Muslim woman, I find it kind of "funny" that people still have to ask if you can still perform if you're more covered up.”
I know this comment is directed to me since I am the only person to ask. First, if Lisam is a non-Muslim I am the emperor of Japan. Second I was serious in my question, since I had running and swimming in mind. Have you heard of any of those “modestly covered” win anything? I have not.

LisaM:

As a modestly dressing non-Muslim woman, I find it kind of "funny" that people still have to ask if you can still perform if you're more covered up. Thank you for supplying the link to the website that showed photos of these women in action - with their heads and legs and everything covered. I've even read that swimmers and bikers are covering more than they used to, for performance sake.

AMH:

Mr. Faireweather:
Do those Muslim female athletes cover only their heads or also their legs. If so does not that hinder their movements and work to their disadvantage?

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