For Muslim woman, ban on hijab ended basketball career

Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir is unsure if she will — or even wants — to play basketball again.

A Muslim woman who wore a hijab while playing, Abdul-Qaadir expressed emotions Saturday while discussing her stalled on-court career. The International Basketball Federation currently bans the wearing of religious headgear during competitions. FIBA, however, is expected to address and possibly amend a rule that affects headwear such as hijabs, turbans and yarmulkes in May.

Speaking at South by Southwest, Abdul-Qaadir expressed a hope that FIBA will overturn its ban. She didn’t know, though, if she’d play again since she was “forced from that life.”

“Don’t worry; I can still play, though,” Abdul-Qaadir boasted. “I’ve still got the juice.”

Abdul-Qaadir was speaking on a SXSW panel entitled “Beyond the Burkini Ban: Sport & Social Justice.” She was joined by Shireen Ahmed, a writer and activist, and Michelle Moore, a sports and inclusion consultant.

Saturday’s panel lasted an hour. Topics included a perceived lack of women in decision-making roles, Nike’s recently revealed hijabs, and the media coverage when Egyptian beach volleyball players Doaa Elghobashy and Nada Meawad did not compete in two-piece swimsuits at the Rio Olympics.

“Sports are inherently political,” Ahmed said. “For those who don’t say they are, they come from privilege.”

While she was in high school, Abdul-Qaadir overtook Rebecca Lobo to become Massachusetts’ all-time leading scorer. The guard went on to play at Memphis and Indiana State, wrapping up her collegiate career during the 2013-14 season.

Abdul-Qaadir was unable to latch on with a WNBA team, so she thought about playing overseas. FIBA, though, had a long-standing rule against religious headwear. Abdul said she was told the rule was installed as a safety measure, to which she replied, “How can I hurt somebody with a piece of material?”

Abdul admitted she questioned her faith as she weighed whether she could play without a hijab. She eventually stepped away from basketball.

“Basketball was my passion; however, wearing a hijab and being a Muslim woman is my way of life,” Abdul-Qaadir said.

While playing basketball, Abdul-Qaadir met former President Barack Obama. Her story has been told on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines,” and a video about her plight was shared on Twitter by LeBron James.

“I do miss (basketball), but it has helped me find my spirituality,” Abdul-Qaadir said. “In a way, I feel like it was divine intervention. I do believe that God does things for a reason, and I’m now stepping into a role as an athlete-activist.”

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