Islam

A group of Qatari soccer officials, one holding the World Cup trophy, stand next to FIFA President Sepp Blatter after being named the host nation for the 2022 World Cup.
In December 2010, FIFA awarded Qatar the rights to host the 2022 men’s World Cup (photo by Getty)

From the day Qatar was awarded an opportunity to host the FIFA men’s World Cup in 2022, Islamophobic coverage of the Qatari state has proliferated in Western media. The Western media discourse has been heavily focused on highlighting human rights issues, immigration laws, climate, and bribery accusations while obscuring possible successes of the first Muslim country to hold the FIFA World Cup. For example, an article on Bleacher Report with the title “6 reasons why the World Cup should be taken away from Qatar,“ led with concerns about scorching heat in the small Gulf State, followed by criticisms of how the event would cause a “disruption to European leagues.” At the same time, other sport media analysts have questioned why an Arab country (approximate population of 2.8 million) with little soccer history succeeded in becoming the host nation. Such reporting serves to cast doubts on the acceptability of holding a mega-sporting event in a Muslim country.

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Amna Al Qubaisi, Emirati Formula 4 race car driver (Photo by Thomas Schorn)

Muslim sportswomen are too often read and represented as the oppressed “other” needing saving from their backward culture/society. However, my research on the digital lives of Muslim sportswomen reveals the multiple and nuanced ways they are taking matters of representation into their own hands, and in so doing, are challenging dominant portrayals of Muslim women in the mass media. Mainstream media coverage of Muslim women tends to focus on the hijabi athlete, while other Muslim sportswomen are often overlooked. The overrepresentation of the “oppressed” hijabi athlete obscures the multiple ways that Muslim women are participating in sport, as well as the cultural differences and diversity within this group. For example, the image below of a beach volleyball match between teams from Egypt and Germany, dubbed by some as the “clash of civilizations,” was circulated widely on social media. Many of the conversations and images centred around the hijabi athlete and rarely mentioned her Egyptian teammate who did not wear the hijab.

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Muhammad Ali’s stand against the Vietnam War transcended not only the ring, which he dominated as the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, but also the realms of faith and politics. —Krishnadev Calamur, The Atlantic. (AFP | Getty Images)

April 28, 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the day that boxing champion Muhammad Ali (1942-2016), citing religious reasons, was stripped of his heavyweight title for refusing to be inducted into the United States Army. That memorable event is somehow all the more amazing when considered as part of an evolution whereby “The Greatest” went from being reviled as a “draft-dodger” to being respected as a spokesperson against Islamophobia and a political activist for persons living with Parkinson’s disease.

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