Zahra Lari is a 18-year-old figure-skating from the United Arab Emirates. And you can’t miss her because she wears a black hijab instead of sparkly hair clips and nylon pants instead of the characteristic shiny nude tights.
It is interesting to see a Muslim woman as a competitive athlete.
Zahra Lari could have run away from her family and defied the hijab. She probably would have become some feminist hero for doing so. She became the first woman in the world to compete in international figure skating in a hijab. She made a choice that would no doubt engender scrutiny from the ultra-conservative religious community that doesn’t want to see a woman dancing on skates and from the liberal pundits who don’t like seeing women in a Muslim headcovering.
Speaking of her ambition, Lari said, “In my country women don't do much sport and even less figure skating. . . . I want to encourage girls from the Emirates and the Gulf to achieve their dream too and not to let anyone tell them not to do sport, not only figure skating but all sports.” And defending her hijab, she said, “I skate with the hijab, my costume is in line with Islamic tradition".
Zahra Lari exemplifies to the world that you can be a practicing Muslim woman who is competitive, ambitious, and bold. That is a good example for all women of faith, particularly in a world that increasingly views religion as incompatible with female strength and empowerment.
Lari brought to mind the 1980s classic movie, Chariots of Fire. The film centers around two athletes: Eric Liddell, a Scottish Christian who runs for the express purpose of glorifying God, and Harold Abrahams, an English Jew who runs to overcome anti-Semitism. Both men refuse to compromise their faith for the sport, and they are better athletes because of it.
Whether she intended it or not, Zahra Lari has brought Chariots of Fire to the rink. But she is a woman in a part of the world where women are still barred from many opportunities. And a Muslim in a time when anti-Muslim sentiment runs strong. She has brought Chariots of Fire to a whole new level.
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