Symposium Report: The Role of Sport in Resisting, Accommodating and in Remaking Muslim Women

Publication Author: 
Dr. Homa Hoodfar
28 March 2008
WLUML Sport & Muslim Women symposium report.pdf731.29 KB
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In March of 2008, Women Living under Muslim Laws and Concordia University organized a symposium to discuss the impact of Muslim women's invovlement in sports, especially in the context of Iran. Some Muslim women athletes have used sport to inscribe resistant meanings that challenge social norms, while others have used it to express and reinforce these norms. The full report is attached.

Sport is used by some women as a method of accessing the public sphere, albeit a method that is less antagonistic to prevailing hegemony than more overt political strategies. On the other hand, being an athlete presents a dilemma to more conservative, religious women, who may feel they have to choose between pursuing their preferred sport and transgressing the dominant concept of a modest Muslim dress code, or choosing a different sport.It is clear that sport is now more than ever a politicized activity and must be read and interpreted to reveal the wide range of cultural meanings, mores, and power dynamics at play.

Although little has been written in the field, it is clearly a large and fertile ground for exploration in the fields of feminist theory, sociology, exercise science, the public sphere, media studies, and Islamic law.  This symposium was one of the first attempts to bring the issues into the academic spotlight and raise interest and awareness of the complexity of the intersections between religion, sport, and woman’s public body.  

The event brought together six scholars and activists from Canada, USA, and Iran, to discuss various aspects of Muslim women’s involvement in sports. There were some 100 participants who followed the symposium. Participants included media representatives, Canadian women activists, NGO representatives, experts on Middle East, anthropologists, social scientists working on women’s concerns, researchers in Montreal universities, and Concordia graduate as well as undergraduate students and interested public including those from diverse Muslim communities, Muslim women sport teams, and women from Canadian Council of Muslim women.

One key conclusion of the symposium was that women's involvement in sports has more to do with which country they live in than their religion. The symposium was a success and generated much discussion. We hope to be able to organize a larger conference where we can bring together scholars of Muslim women sport, interested members of civil society from diverse contexts and Muslim women athletics themselves for further discussion on implication of Sports as avenues of public participation and challenge both patriarchy and lingering assumptions about Muslim women.