Karate In A Hijab

Here's an interesting case regarding Muslim women's veils. They're instruments or symbols of patriarchal repression, right? Well, check this out.

Dania Mahmudi is from my area, Fisksätra. She's 14 years old and wears a veil. Mahmudi has been practising karate for years. Two weeks ago she went with her club to the district championship, eager to compete. But the umpire disqualified her – for her veil's sake. It covered her throat, and karate competition rules state that the umpire needs to be able to watch for damage to each contestant's throat. OK, said her coach after a heated argument, so she can't do the hand-to-hand part of the competition. Surely the solo performance element, kata, will be no problem given this reasoning. No, she was disqualified there too.

Things are changing in the karate world. You couldn't compete wearing any kind of veil until last year. When it became allowed, Iran's women's team immediately won a world cup medal at kata – wearing regulation veils.

My guess is that this problem will be solved a few years from now. But look at it from a repression perspective. I have no idea whether Mahmudi's parents are forcing her to wear the veil. But I do know that they're fine with their daughter practising karate for years at a dojo half an hour's bus ride from home. Competition rules are apparently a bigger problem for her athletic career. Luckily, Mahmudi isn't about to give up. She's aiming for the world cup.

I wrote about the veil in 2006, comparing it to the bikini top, which is pretty much the same deal only in Western culture. This is what cultural relativism means, not the condoning of atrocities.

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The headline is correct; she is wearing the hijab. She is not wearing a veil, or niqab. The Iranian women do not, as far as I can tell wear veils either ... just the hijab.

By Lynn Eggers (not verified) on 03 Dec 2014 #permalink

For some years we had a young Indonesian Muslim woman living with us as a domestic helper. Whenever she left the flat, she would be dressed in long flowing robes and a head scarf. When in the privacy of what she evidently regarded as her own home, with the people she regarded as her adopted family (us), she would take all of that stuff off and scamper around the flat in tight shorts and a T-shirt, or her pyjamas, her lust-inducing hair streaming behind her.

I was initially very puzzled that she obviously felt OK appearing in front of me rather scantily dressed, but would not exit the front door unless clothed head to foot in a head scarf and form-concealing ankle-length clothing, until a female friend from Singapore who knows a lot about the subject pointed out that the young woman must have regarded me as a surrogate father figure and our home as her home, and therefore it was OK.

The other oddity is that she had no problem handling pork for us to eat, as long as she did not have to eat it herself - we gave her money to buy herself her own food, so she could get whatever halal stuff she wanted.

It was a surprisingly mutually happy and conflict-free arrangement, including the oddity of her seeking my wife's advice when she was choosing an Indonesian husband to marry.

When she finally left us to go back to Indonesia to marry the selected husband, she hugged my wife and cried. I managed to avoid the hugging and crying business by hiding - I can cope with my own daughter crying very occasionally, but I'm generally not too good with surrogates. A long lost Thai friend in Phuket leapt at me sobbing and snivelling and wrapped herself around me, dripping and snotting on me, when we finally found her again recently (we didn't know whether she had perished in the 2004 tsunami or not - the answer was she only just managed to escape it by running very fast upwards, to get above it, but it was a very close shave, and she is still suffering from PTSD because of it), but we have known her for a very long time, and she is no longer young and unmarried.

I have heard many Muslim girls and women insist that they wear the hijab because they wish to, not because they are forced to. But I think generalising is very tricky.

Going to Brunei is weird - there, all the Muslim girls wear head scarves, combined with fashionably tight small shorts and T-shirts. No long, flowing, figure-concealing robes for them.

By John Feudal-Overlord (not verified) on 04 Dec 2014 #permalink

I think your 2006 take on this is right, BTW, having just read it.

By John Feudal-Overlord (not verified) on 04 Dec 2014 #permalink

We have a young Muslim woman that trained with us during her teen years (she's off to college now). The hijab was never a problem for us. The problem we had was that she was one of only 2 girls to train at our club; and the fact that she couldn't be touched by a male was a major problem when it came to any kind of sparring; especially if the other woman wasn't there. It essentially made any sparring training nearly impossible for her; so she spent a lot of time doing kata while the rest sparred.

By John Kraft (not verified) on 04 Dec 2014 #permalink

I'm glad her folks at least let her come train with you, and that she didn't give up despite the sparring/touching thing.

The problem is just not enough women at the club. In competition, it's always going to be women against women, so the touching thing is not a problem.

The answer is not to discourage young women from training in martial arts or martial arts derived sports.

Women sparring with men is not a good idea anyway - the only time I was ever knocked out cold during sparring was by a tiny girl. Because she was tiny, and a girl, I didn't take her seriously - we were doing stick fighting, she did take me seriously because I was big and male, and she laid me out with a heavy hit to the temple that went straight through my wimpish half-hearted block, because I thought she wouldn't really hit me. But she really did, as hard as she could.

Afterwards, she was more distressed about it than I was - she couldn't stand that she had hurt me. I had to comfort her and tell her it was OK. But from then on, I avoided sparring with girls, especially small pretty ones, because I was instinctively unable to be serious about hitting them or even blocking their strikes on me, whereas other men...no problem. I had been badly bullied as a kid until I learned to box, and as a consequence I have no problem at all with punching, kicking and striking other men. But women, no. I can't.

By John Massey (not verified) on 04 Dec 2014 #permalink