Ezdihar Abdulmula: empowering women through basketball

We caught up with Ezdihar Abdulmula, young British Libyan basketball player and coach, to talk all things hoops – specifically women’s basketball, its ability to break down barriers and why it’s time FIBA lifted its ban on religious headgear.

An avid participant of sport, Ezdihar found a passion for basketball later in her teenage years: “I enjoyed playing a number of sports as a child including netball but, basketball became by passion at the age of 18 where I began playing for my University and local team. I love playing basketball because it challenges me and I get to play with a team that I can share my experiences with and learn from. Also, once I’m on the court it helps clear my mind whether I’m having a good or bad day.

“I set up Bradford Cobras Basketball club in August 2015 with Coach Zaman Akbary whom I used to coach with and who is now the coach for the club’s women’s team. The main reason for setting up the club in Bradford is because there were no other women’s team at that time apart from the University, where they only allow students to be part of the team. Hence, we wanted to provide the opportunity for all women either student or not to enjoy playing basketball. Since, we have come a long way where we have grown as a club where members are from different backgrounds, ages and capabilities. Our aim is to empower women through basketball and to make a positive difference in the local community.

“This year we will be working closely with the University of Bradford to help run wheelchair basketball sessions for everyone and to set up a team to compete in BUCS and locally. We are looking to expand further by working with schools and establishing other teams of different ages and gender within the club.”

There’s an often repeated misperception that Muslim women don’t get involved in sport, a notion Ezdihar was quick to dispel: “As you may have noticed, there are not many visible Muslim women in sports today due lack of coverage however, this does not mean that they do not enjoy playing sports. I know many Muslim women around the globe that love to play all kinds of sports and even want to pursue a career in it.

“More specifically, there is a lack of Muslim women that wear the hijab and play professional basketball. This is because any religious headgear such as the hijab and turban was banned by the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) until about 2 years ago for a 2 year preliminary period. This 2 year period will be coming to an end this August where FIBA will decide whether to lift this ban or not. As a result, I am campaigning for (FIBA) to extend this preliminary rule of allowing players with religious headgear to play basketball professionally.

“Some Muslim players and I have started a campaign on change.org where we’ve each shared our stories there, including why we love to play and why FIBA should lift this ban. I would love to advance further as a player and I always see myself being involved around the sport whether now or later and I’m sure this is the same for many. Thus, I do not want this ban to limit the progression of anyone that loves this game. Many young Muslim women do not have someone to look up to or perhaps motivate them. Hence, this campaign is very important for these women and with your help they will become inspired to pursue the sports they love.

“We now have over 28,000 signatures which is amazing! Please sign, share and use the hashtag #FIBAallowHijab

“I’ve played up and down the country and the majority of responses I get when people see me playing with my Hijab on are positive and reactions of surprise. I think this is because they haven’t seen any other Muslim women playing basketball before, which some people have actually said to me. This comes back to lack of coverage and not because there are no Muslim women that play the sport. Also, I get some people in particular young Muslim girls that tell me I’ve encouraged them to take on a sport and not care about what people think; it is an honour to know that I can make positive difference out there.”

Off the court Ezdihar still finds time to champion women’s sport: “I was part of the BodyPositive campaign which was a six month campaign run by the BBC where it aimed to empower young women with strong, positive messages about health, fitness, wellbeing, lifestyle, style and beauty. They covered my story of how I got into playing basketball, how it’s like playing basketball with a hijab on and a game I recently played in Turkey with other Muslim women to show to the basketball federation in Turkey that we can play with a hijab on. Sport is for everyone and should be all inclusive.

“I got a lot of support after getting involved with the campaign and I am grateful for it. There are many other inspiring real life stories that have made a change because of the campaign, do check them out.”

If there’s one message Ezdihar has for prospective women basketball participants: “Don’t ever let what other people think come in the way of your dreams. If there ever is an obstacle to achieving your dreams, you cannot give up. You must learn to overcome it, because sport is for everyone and should be all inclusive. #FIBAallowHijab”

Image: Shaun Sears