For a couple hours every morning, Muna Sanyare steps away from her duties as baby sitter, caretaker and student. On a St. Paul practice field, she becomes a soccer star.

Never mind that Muna, 15, plays in bare feet under a flowery red skirt. She can kick the heck out of that ball.

Organized soccer is luring more Muslim girls like Muna to the game, even as their religion requires them to remain covered in public. About 40 fledgling athletes on her team at Higher Ground Academy regularly swarm Dunning Field, their headscarves creating a riot of colors rippling in the wind.

“I encourage them to play. If you want to wear the hijab, and if that team allows you, just play,” said the team’s summer coach, Fartun Osman, a former professional athlete in Somalia who works for the Minnesota Thunder’s urban outreach program. “Wear what you believe.”

In Islamic teaching, the “hijab” refers to a sense of modesty and privacy expected of men and women. But it also can refer to the garment that covers a woman’s head when she is in the presence of men.

At Higher Ground, a charter school, the young athletes say they don’t mind wearing the scarves, along with full skirts over sweat pants and sneakers. One bonus: The extra layers protect them from grass burns, they say.

“If you fall, it doesn’t hurt,” said Hindi Abdi, Osman’s 11-year-old daughter, who plays for a St. Paul Blackhawks club team.

Women’s soccer, after all, doesn’t have to culminate in Brandi Chastain-like displays of skin and sports bras. There’s even a market in athletic gear for Muslim women. England-based Hijab Shop sells stretchy, stylish head coverings that work much like a sporty swim cap.

Still, the hijab presents frictions on the field for some Muslim girl athletes. Aisha Farah, 13, of Minneapolis, said some opponents from other schools have teased her during scrimmages.


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