For Muslim women, religious beliefs and values determine the way they structure and approach life.
To help Muslim women and girls practice sport while observing their faith, Finland’s football association has begun offering a free “sports hijab” to any player who wants one.
The FA has distributed dozens of hijabs made out of technical, stretchy fabric to allow Muslim girls practice sports freely.
“In Finland, it’s been really hard to get girls of immigrant backgrounds into football clubs,” Heidi Pihlaja, head of development of women and girls’ football, told Agence France Presse (AFP).
“So we wanted to start this initiative to welcome everyone, regardless of your religion and whether you want to use a scarf or not.”
The Muslim girls said they were “happy and grateful” to find out from their parents about the free headscarves.
“It doesn’t flap around as much as normal and you don’t need to tuck it into your shirt,” 13-year-old Nasro Bahnaan Hulbade told AFP during a training session at her club VJS in Vantaa, in the Finnish capital.
“It’s easier to run in it,” said her teammate Kamila Nuh.
Although the response has mainly been “really positive,” the scheme has also received criticism “from people saying it demeans women or is bringing religion to the game.”
“We support every women’s right to choose themselves whether they use a scarf or not,” Pihlaja said in response to the criticism.
“Where they want to use it, we want to show that they are welcome and that the headscarf isn’t an obstacle.”
Wearing her VJS kit, the same color red as that of her beloved Liverpool, Kamila Nuh said she “loves” football and “I’m not planning on stopping any time soon.”
There still aren’t that many female players in Finland, she admits, “but I want to be one of them.”
Hijab in Sport
Since the late 20th century the number of Muslims in Finland has increased rapidly due to immigration. Nowadays, there are dozens of Islamic communities in Finland, but only a minority of Muslims have joined them.
Pew Research Center estimates that in 2016 about 2.7% of Finland’s 5.5 million population identify as Muslims.
Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one’s affiliations.
Last year, a leading American sporting clothing company, “Under Armour Inc.”, unveiled its first hijab for female Muslim athletes.
In December 2017, Nike launched the Nike Pro Hijab to give Muslim athletes a deserved representation in global athletic sportswear.