This year has very much sprung forth with an exciting line up of sports achievers from the Muslim community, each with their own strong, energetic identity. With the Rio Olympics 2016 looming around the corner, and a host of other sports tournaments, we can’t wait to see them thrash that finish line. And are we a little bit proud that some of them are Brits? Of course!
Moe Sbihi is a 28-year-old British rower competing for gold at this year’s Olympics. Of Moroccan and British heritage, he joined the GB Rowing programme in 2003 at the age of 15, but he admits it took a whole lot of muscle.
“I was constantly falling in, continually being slower than the girls in my age group and the lower age group. I don’t know why I didn’t give up… My first coach [Sue McNuff] was incredibly good and very patient. There were three of us 15-year-old lads all messing about together – like three Dennis the Menaces.”
Khadijeh Safari is no stranger to kicking butt. She is a black belt Muay Thai kickboxing instructor, taught by world champion Karim Safari (who also happens to be her husband). Together, the power couple have set up segregated training courses for men and women. Khadijeh says:
“I love every minute of my job; it’s so rewarding to be able to offer these women a safe and relaxed environment to train and keep fit, and to remind them that loving God and being true to our religion does not mean that we cannot lead a healthy and active life, just like everyone else.”
We’re looking forward to interviewing Hassan Khan in our podcast this week! Hassan Khan is an incredible cricketer – but he’s also visually blind. Dubbed the “blind batsman”, he came from a small village in Pakistan, where, as a child, he couldn’t be as active as his peers because people didn’t know how to deal with a blind kid.
Growing up, Hassan faced several personal tragedies which could have put him off cricket for life. But after coming to London, he was inspired by older players who had similar conditions to him and he re-discovered his love for the sport. Now aged 29, he is a key member of England’s visually impaired cricket team.
Zahra Lari knows how to navigate an icy field. The Emirati professional figure skater started training at 11-years-old – and in a hijab no less – and she aims to compete at the 2018 Winter Olympics. She says:
“I’m very lucky and haven’t found any difficulties due to my hijab. I have both Muslim and non-Muslim skating friends all over the world and they all support me and understand my hopes, dreams and goals.”
Moeen Ali is world renowned English international cricketer, born in Birmingham and signed to a club at the age of 15. He won ‘man of the match’ both this year and last year, enabling England to reach the final at the World T20 tournament earlier this month. In an interview he said:
“Through cricket, however, I had many questions. I did a lot of travelling from a young age, got to speak to a lot of people. Whenever I travelled, wherever I went I used to look around at the countryside, look up at the sky, and think, ‘Someone must have created all of this — it couldn’t happen just by chance’.”
Everyone’s been talking about this African American fencing champion – even President Obama asked her to bring home the gold! Ibtihaj Muhammad grew up in New Jersey and took part in an after-school timetable of swimming, volleyball, tennis and softball. Now aged 30, Muhammad is set to be the first U.S. athlete to compete in the Olympics while wearing a hijab.
“I want to compete in the Olympics for the United States to prove that nothing should hinder anyone from reaching their goals — not race, religion or gender,” says Ibtihaj. “I want to set an example that anything is possible with perseverance.”
We hope these great personalities have put you in the mood for a summer of sports! Undoubtedly, there will be more victories and cheers to come.