When news came that young Muslim girls had been turned away from a tae kwon do competition in Quebec because they wore Islamic head scarves, one of the people upset was the former dean of engineering of the University of Ottawa.

Aside from being an electrical engineer, Tyseer Aboulnasr is a hijab-wearing black belt in tae kwon do, a mother of two who began practising martial arts in her 40s.

While she understands that officials at the Fédération de Tae kwondo du Québec are applying their rules to the letter, she feels that they are betraying the sport’s spirit of inclusiveness.

“Honestly, when I heard about it, I thought, this is unbelievable,” she said yesterday.
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Dr. Aboulnasr’s embrace of tae kwon do is a rebuke to the traditional image of hijab-wearing Muslim women as people from a cloistered, inward-looking community.

The Egyptian-born 52-year-old is one of the rare women, let alone Muslim women, to have been a dean in such a male-dominated academic field as engineering.

She had never heard of tae kwon do until 1995, when her eight-year-old daughter wanted to learn martial arts after watching The Next Karate Kid, starring Hilary Swank.

When Dr. Aboulnasr took her daughter to a tae kwon do school, she noticed that it was an ideal sport for devout Muslim women because it allowed them to be athletic while remaining modestly covered.

“I went into tae kwon do because I saw it as a sport that is very Islamic,” she said.


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