The questions they are asked most often deal with how hot, uncomfortable or restricted they feel trying to compete wearing that much clothing. What some people don’t always take time to ask is why, as female Muslims, they are competing in track and field.
For freshmen Briana Canty of Tampa Bay Tech and Zein Kattih of King, and Brandon junior Sabrina Alahmad, the answers aren’t much different than most students in the sport.
True, as females who adhere to the teachings of Islam, they observe “hijab,” requiring them to cover their heads and bodies. They also take part in prayer five times each day, which can sometimes conflict with practice or competition.
Apart from that, these young athletes appear to be typical teenagers. And, like most of them playing sports at that age, they’re competing for fitness, friendship and, of course, a little fun.
“I just enjoy running, and my friend wanted me to come out,” said Kattih, who attends King’s International Baccalaureate program. “And now that I’ve come out, I’ve made even more friends.”
That was evident when, shortly after her interview, Kattih received loud applause from several of her teammates.
Despite problems experienced by some female Muslim athletes elsewhere in the United States, Kattih, Canty and Alahmad say they have had no difficulties so far this track season. Yes, they get the occasional odd look, as well as people repeatedly asking them about their attire. But they all say they have not dealt with any rude comments from fans or fellow competitors.
In fact, Canty says she has received compliments.
“I think a lot of the girls I run against are surprised at what I can do,” Canty said. “Some of them have come up to me and have said, ‘Dang, we didn’t think you could run fast.’ I guess they think that for how I look, with what I’m wearing, that I couldn’t possibly run fast.”
It should be noted that not all Muslim women follow the same dress code. Interpretations of Islam can differ. Some believe women cannot reveal their faces. Others have little or no clothing restrictions. Kattih’s father, Brandon physician Mazen Kattih, said he left the decision of what to wear up to his daughter.
“As long as she felt in her heart she was doing the right thing, I would be happy,” Mazen Kattih said. “That is all I wanted.”
Canty, Alahmad and Kattih dress similarly for training and meets – with a headscarf, a loose-fitting long-sleeved shirt and baggy athletic pants or sweats. They all know each other from attending some of the same Tampa mosques, as well as from the track season.
Some female Muslim athletes, however, have experienced difficulties observing hijab. . .
Closer to home, 15-year-old Iman Khalil of Spring Hill was not allowed to play a youth soccer match during a tournament in Palm Harbor when the referee ruled her headscarf was a potential danger to her and others on the field, as well as a uniform violation. The league stepped in and Khalil was allowed to play later in the tournament, but the incident created another highly publicized controversy involving a female Muslim athlete.
When she was 12, Canty was not allowed to play in an AAU basketball tournament by a referee when she would not remove her headscarf. She was later allowed to play when her mother appealed to AAU officials. The Council on American-Islamic Relations also intervened.
To avoid potential problems, TBT assistant track coach Anthony Triana says he and Coach Candace Anderson make it a point to inform other coaches and officials before a meet that their squad features a female Muslim athlete wearing a headscarf and pants.