A middle school girl was kept out of the first half of a basketball game Saturday because a referee ruled her religious headscarf, called a hijab, was a safety hazard.
Thirteen-year-old Maheen Haq of Hagerstown, Md. was sidelined until Lou Bachtell, the Mid-Maryland Girls Basketball League regional director, arrived to the court at halftime, called league President Jim Shannon and got an exemption approved.
Haq's parents were upset, though they didn't protest the referee's decision. Other parents watching the game volunteered to pull their daughters out of the game and walk out in protest, but Haq's mother Anila, declined the offer.
"My daughter's heart was broken and I didn't want to break other hearts as well," the mother said.
Haq's parents had to agree to assume liability for any injuries that might occur from their daughter's traditional Muslim headscarf, before she would be allowed to play, Shannon said.
League coordinator Daphnie Campbell said the official was "right to make that decision" to keep her out of the game because headscarves could be dangerous in sports if not properly secured.
"If a child's hand comes down and grabs it, it very possibly could snap her neck or break the other person's hand," Campbell said. "In no way, shape, or form are we trying to discriminate against her."
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations' uniform rules, hats and head gear can only be worn during basketball games if they are for documented medical or religious purposes. The Maryland league adopts the high school association's rules, Campbell said.
The hijab is a piece of cloth that usually covers a woman's hair and neck. Muslim women begin wearing them after puberty as a sign of modesty, a central virtue in Islam.
Haq began wearing the hijab in fourth grade as a sign of modesty and dignity, Mrs. Haq said. Her mother began wearing a headscarf as well to show support for her daughter.
"It's really not something you can just choose to take off for a game," said Amina Rubin, a spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "When someone has chosen to wear it, it's an essential part of who they are when they go out in public."
Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir, a freshman guard for the University of Memphis Lady Tigers basketball team, has proven that playing sports and respecting traditional Muslim values are not mutually exclusive. Bilqis, who wears leggings and long-sleeves under her jersey and a cap over her hair, set the Massachusetts state record in2009 for most points scored by any high school basketball player- male or female. In her four years she scored over 3,000 points.
"A lot of young Muslims will want to play sports, and hijab won't stop them from doing what they want," Bilqis told IslamOnline.net.
Ibrahim Hooper, also a CAIR spokesperson, said concerns have been raised all over the world over women wearing hijabs in sports. "This is a local issue but it also has international ramifications as well," Hooper said.
Just last year FIFA, the international association of soccer, banned an Iranian-girls team from competing in the Youth Olympics because of their Islamic headscarves. The girls were eventually allowed to compete if they wore caps instead.
Campbell said she will meet with Haq's parents Saturday to sign off on a letter stating that they will assume responsibility for any injuries that could occur because of the hijab.
"I am going to approve it that she is able to play in any game that she wants to play in. No questions," Campbell said. At the spring coaches meeting Campbell said she will re-evaluate the uniform rules.
"I really don't see that as an issue," she said. "We're probably going to see more kids with these things on their heads because of their religion. I accept that and everyone in the community should accept that."