I feel like while I was born into Islam, I had to find it as well. When I entered university is when I truly discovered and fell in love with Islam. From a young age Islam was just a thing that I followed because my entire family was doing it, but later on was when I discovered the beauty of it. I was born in Ethiopia and came to Canada when I was about 10 years old. So over there as a kid I didn’t even know Islam was a religion, but followed it because of everyone in my family.
As far as growing up I felt like I had more freedom down in Ethiopia because of the African culture and traditional practices. I didn’t feel like there was a lot of responsibilities on me, but when I came to Canada it was such a culture shock because for example in Ethiopia we could go play outside unsupervised and before sunset we would come back home, but in Canada or even the Western world were always in the house, I was unable to do much without supervision. Now that I am older I am realizing that some of the things I am doing now are due to the independence I got when I was younger. Where over here in Canada, I feel like you're limited as to how much you could even do as a kid because, again, our society, although it's very developed, you can get kidnapped as a kid if you're just walking by yourself.
In Ethiopia, the Eid celebration was so much bigger down there because all my family would just reunite, the kids, got money. It was just like I felt the best ease back home compared to here in the side of the world where obviously you go to a prayer. Here in Canada, for example, you go to eat, pray, and then all the families, they just go back and do their own thing. Where back home, it felt like a big community after the mosque prayer or even at the Mosque, people bring food. It was a vibe down there, but over here, just like it's such a different environment.
I wouldn’t just say as a Muslim women, but as a woman in general. I come from a traditional African household. I feel like there was a lot of expectations from me as a women. I feel like as a woman I feel like we're restricted as to how much we could do just because of cultural and traditional practices that our families wanted us to follow.
On this side of the world (Canada) Im glad that we’re able to experience the equality, the education and all these things, because even in other places in the world like Africa you don’t get these type of opportunities as a woman. That was also something I noticed back home and that was the treatment of a girl vs a boy. As a girl you can’t do certain things, but as a boy you can do whatever you want. So I think in this side of the world, I guess that's how much appreciate that. It's very equality based.
Obviously at the end of the day, as women we, sadly do experience barriers and challenges for just from our gender. So obviously on top of that, being a Muslim woman just comes with a lot of more societal and systemic issues. So in general, I wouldn't say it isn’t my Muslim identity that kind of creates that challenge, but that I am a woman. I might get different treatments, but I think my challenges are more so within the culture and traditional practices of our society.
I am from Oromia, Ethiopia.
So, surely with hardship comes ease. (94:5-6)
I would say again, back home I was introduced to the hijab because my family members wearing them. I don't think I was fully taught as to why Muslim women have to wear the hijab initially. Again, I guess this comes from my mother's lack of understanding of even the religion, because as a kid, there's a way that you have to tell me certain things for me to fully understand. When you're coming from a different cultural practices, it's fully hard to understand why certain things are that way.
So to be honest, I just worried because all the people around me are wearing it and then down the line, I think this is where I was trying to get out at the beginning, but I kind of discovered just the beautiful side of Islam in so many ways and just doing my own personal research as to why Muslim women have to wear the Hijab. After I did my own research at an older age, I realized and understood the purpose of the Hijab.
First and foremost, your hair is one of those things that significantly showcases your beauty and as we know again, when it comes to women in Islam, even I think what you're doing is so important because growing up, I felt like it was very hard to find the right resources to fully understand why Muslim women can’t do certain things. I feel like finding those it just sounds like a lot of rules, but once you dig deeper into the reasons as to why not, there's just so many beautiful reasoning behind it. So for example, me understanding that in Islam, like women, we believe that as a woman, you shouldn't be treated differently or someone shouldn't be attracted to you for your physicality and your beauty.
It should be within who you are, within yourself for your knowledge, for your kindness. All the characteristics and physicality shouldn't be part of it. So I think that kind of just made me embrace where my hijab on a tighter level.
I got introduced to basketball when I came to Canada from Ethiopia. I didn’t even know basketball existed before coming to Canada. In elementary school is when I got introduced to the sport, and from there I just wanted to invest in the sport throughout my high school.
I just thought it was fun. I really enjoyed every time I played basketball. Then during high school, one of my coaches encouraged me to try out for the teams. I soon found myself being committed to the team and wanting to take my skills to the next level. Over time, I discovered and really liked the cultural aspect of the basketball scene, It was very accepting of who I was. I didn’t feel like I had to degrade myself or hide by hijab or my Islamic identity. Many said things like, “Oh you know as a Muslim women you can’t do that”, but I really liked the fact that when I was going to basketball court to train and stuff, like, nobody was telling me that. I really loved that and I felt accepted. So the culture, I would say, was definitely something that inspired me and allowed me to continue further.
Growing up in Toronto, I don’t remember experiencing someone telling me to my Hijab off, but it was more people asking why I have to wear it. I just explain it is part of my Islamic identity. In terms of a challenge, it goes back to being from Toronto and how accepting the city is and how accepting of other different religious groups in the city. Actually, right now I’m studying at Brock University doing my masters, and maybe if I lived here when I was younger and wanted to pursue support, I could see how I may experiencing challengers for my Islamic identity.
Again, I would say the cultural and traditional aspect of my growing up, I guess as a child I’ve always been told that as a woman you can’t to this, or you can’t do that as a Muslim woman. Its was very frustrating and the amount of times I even heard that from my Muslim community made to say “wait, what?”. So I think that's when I had to really dig deep into Islam and see, why am I hearing this from my community? After doing my own personal research, I discovered that Islam actually empowers women. So it's something that you don't see in other religions. And it was very empowering for me to see that and hear that and educate myself on that. So I could actually defend myself or people that are actually going around using the word Muslim women. Again, it goes back to the culture and the traditional aspect. So, yeah, I definitely would say that's when I was questioning my faith, but when I did end up doing my research, I found the opposite of what I was hearing. If I didn't have access to education, I would have definitely not believed Islam was for me. So, Islam is perfect. People are not.
What I would like to tell women is being a Muslim woman in the Western world is definitely not easy. I would say that because of it, Allah is rewarding us even more. Allah is so reasonable with everything, its been said in a Hadith and stuff have been said that if you're living in a city that is strictly racist towards you and your religion. Don't make yourself visible, so it's not that you're not proud of your Islamic identity, but Allah doesn't want you to put yourself in danger. So it's not so insured like being a Muslim woman is not easy, and it's so important to remember that the challenges you experience for Islamic identity, Allah is creating more opportunities for you in the hereafter. And I feel like we're all working towards the here after right? So Inshallah may Allah make it easier for all of us. I feel like every woman would want to hear something different, but it's not easy. So I just want to say don't be hard on yourself, try your best and always ask Allah for guidance and always make to odd because Allah would be the one that will make it easy for you.
I would like to tell them not to change themselves because of the system that they’re entering. Don’t change because you’re getting into a sport or organization that are not going to be accepting of your Islamic identity. If you’re a visible Muslim woman, then they are going to thy their best to degrade you, especially when you are good at the sport, because they don’t want you to be their representative. Don’t change yourself when entering into the sports world and do everything with the right intentions. Do not tolerate anybody that tries to take away your Islamic identity.
Yes. Acceptance. I think that’s a huge one just because a lot of organizations are not willing to accommodate Muslim women. I feel like every year there is something relating to Muslim women that makes headlines, especially in the States and even lately in France. What I realized is a lot of women, even non-Muslim women also appreciate being in a woman only settings, but there are a lot of times that these programs are ruined by things like the windows being see through or people coming in and out of the area. So I feel like it kind of kills the whole women only aspect of the program. I think the more they think critically about how is this programming being specifically for women or even for how they can target Muslim women to these woman only spaces? I think they need to be aware and actually create programs to include us in these spaces, it would be very beautiful. When a woman is dressed in a Hijab, she shouldn't feel like an outcast. So acceptance, in just so many different ways.
Im currently finishing up my masters degree, I hope to finish by this summer or by the end of the year InshAllah. Im the founder of the Muslim Women Summer Basketball League or MWSBL. THE MWSBL is a not for profit organization. We hope to also do other things relating to basketball throughout the year such as drop-in sessions and basketball clinics. It is dedicated to creating an inclusive space while fostering sisterhood, mentorship opportunities, empowerment, and advocacy for Muslim women.
We’ve been postponed for about two years because of COVID, but we are finally doing an eight week summer league this year. We are super excited to bring that to life. Other then that I’ve been very grateful for the publicity that I’ve received. Ive worked Wirth Nike Toronto as part of the “You Can’t Stop our Voice” campaign in December of 2020, I showcased what the MWSBL is all about and the future I actually hope to see for Muslim women and try to change the narrative that often out there about Muslim women.
My hope is to get people to be educated about Muslim women while also empowering Muslim women that are being challenged and questioning their faith that needs support and that sisterhood aspect.
That's where it comes in. And then I'm also involved with Hijabi Ballers. They're a multi sport organization aimed at creating and celebrating Muslim women and creating opportunities for them internal as well. So I am actually their ambassador and MashAllah, very proud of everything they've accomplished.