Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir was a top basketball player in high school and a star Division 1 NCAA player at the University of Memphis. And she did it all while wearing a hijab.
Since graduating three years ago, Adbul-Qaadir has been fighting for professional players to be allowed to wear hijabs so she could pursue her dreams of a pro career. FIBA, basketball’s international governing body, doesn’t allow players to wear religious headgear. That could change this week.
On Wednesday, advocacy groups Athlete Ally and Shirzanan published an open letter encouraging FIBA to lift the ban.
“So long as the ban on religious headgear remains, millions of Muslim girls and women from the around the world will be denied the access, opportunity, and experience of basketball,” the letter states. “This is discrimination but it can easily be remedied.”
FIBA currently prohibits players from wearing “equipment (objects) that may cause injury to other players,” which includes hijabs and other religious headgear. But as The Guardian points out, there isn’t a single recorded incident of a player being injured by a hijab, turban or yarmulke during a game.
“One of the things that has become really important to Athlete Ally is to make sure that it’s intersectional,” Executive Director Hudson Taylor told Think Progress. “We can’t fight against one injustice without fighting against all injustices.”
Last year, mounting pressure from Muslim basketball players, as well as two U.S. congressmen, pushed FIBA to issue a response saying it would soon decide whether to keep the ban. But in September, the organization postponed the decision. It’s set to finally decide in a meeting this weekend, according to The Guardian.
More than 40 athletes and executives signed their names to Athlete Ally’s letter, including Adbul-Qaadir, former NFL players Husain and Hamza Abdullah, and tennis icon Billie Jean King.
“It means very much,” Adbul-Qaadir told Think Progress on the number of athletes pledging their support. “We’ve needed this support since day one, but better late than never.”