Muslim Women Redefining British Sport is a three-part series written by Anthea Islam, an Aziz Foundation alumni who studied for an MA in Applied Anthropology, Community and Youth Work at Goldsmiths, University of London. This final article focuses on two young female British Muslim boxers, Athena & Fahmida and their journey into the world of sport.
The youngest women I spoke to were Athena and Fahmida who I was very fortunate to work with for most of last year at Fight for Peace — an organisation which supports young people to reach their full potential in a variety of areas, including combat sports. In a male dominated arena, not only are the girls well known around their gym, but their dedication to boxing is undeniable. There is something extremely special about seeing young women spar and box, but more so seeing them visibly practise their faith. The girls wear hijabs while boxing and even train to a high-level during Ramadan. It was 18-year-old Athena who started with the female only fitness sessions at her club and did this for two years before taking the next steps into the beginners boxing class. Athena found these to be addictive and continued to push herself to become the very talented boxer she now is.
She was also the driving force and influence for Fahmida — her friend who also boxes at the same gym. Both young women have commented on how surprised they were to see their fitness levels improve.
Fahmida stated that she has learnt a lot about herself and how: “if I’m determined to do something, I’ll do anything to be consistent and finish the journey from where I’ve started.”
Athena echoes this and says “I can see that I have gotten so far, especially with competing and winning my first fight which means a lot”.
She also said that whilst education was a big focus for her, she would love to be part of the GB team and participate in the Olympics. However, Athena has highlighted the challenges she faces as a practising Muslim woman and boxing. As she explains, she has often found that many people haven’t always supported her decisions and that she has found it difficult to please everyone around her. Given the male dominated challenge of boxing, Athena also thought that this was a major challenge. Fahmida agreed with this challenge, however she would encourage girls to get involved with boxing even if they’re a bit afraid. Athena’s own plans are to pursue coaching for females or to create a female amateur club dependent on the future. Both Fahmida and Athena are very encouraging of beginners and their one piece of advice would be to ‘push beyond your comfort zone and choose a sport where you feel as happy as possible.’
My own discussions with these women have really allowed me to reflect on spaces where Muslims can participate with a variety of sports and feel safe and empowered to do so. To witness the younger generation breaking barriers and uplifting one another in worlds that have isolated women and Muslim women in particular, is truly inspiring. To do this whilst entwining the importance of your faith and continuously striving to be the best both spiritually and within your chosen sport, really demonstrates that rather than being mutually opposed, the relationship between faith and sport is incredibly strong.