Sunday, February 26, 2006

Muslim girls want to play only without men watching.

Culture: If this was somewhere in the Middle East or Asia, knock yourselves out. Its in America? The answer is no.

CHICAGO - Duaa Hamoud holds a basketball to her hip. She is standing in a long blue gown in a gym at Bridgeview's Universal School, a co-ed private school. Her head is covered in a white scarf pulled tightly around her neck. Not a wisp of hair is showing. Around her, other high school girls dressed in similar flowing robes shoot a few casual baskets while they wait for practice to begin. There are no men in the gym — no male coaches, no boys from school, no dads or brothers. So when the coach arrives and the real training starts, they can peel off their Islamic dress, exposing their sweat pants and short-sleeved T-shirts. "We'd run if we noticed a man peeking in the window," Hamoud, 16, explains. "We're not allowed to be seen by guys without (Islamic dress). We've all learned to accept that." But the girls can't accept that they have only been allowed to compete against girls basketball teams from other Muslim schools. There are only four in the Chicago area, they complain, and their competition isn't exactly tough. They've been beseeching Coach Farida Abusafa, a 26-year-old English teacher who also coaches sports, to ask public schools and non-Muslim private schools if their girls teams would be willing to compete against girls from the Universal School. But the schools would have to agree to bar men and boys above the age of puberty from watching the games. The dilemma underscores the balancing act many Muslims perform as they toggle between American and Middle Eastern culture. Many of these young girls straddle the divide with ease, yapping on their cell phones at the mall one minute, observing the school's strict gender segregation the next. But the girls are also mindful of the challenges they face. "It's something you have to decide you want to do," said Shaylin Najeeullah, 16, on the varsity basketball team. "You can stay true to what you believe in or you can conform to everybody else and get lost." The Universal School's principal, Farhat Siddiqi, said there was no reason the girls wouldn't be allowed to play teams from public schools or other private schools as long as the prohibition barring men was strictly observed. But she worried that parents from other schools might object, she said. "I don't want to have to impose our religious requirements on anyone else," Siddiqi said.
You think people would object? The ACLU probably would not, but that would be expected. Play by the rules like everone else or keep on isolating yourselves from the rest of the high school sports world. It is an absolutely ridiculous demand.

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