The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States, has stepped to the forefront of the growing movement to pressure the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) to change its rule that prohibits Muslim women from wearing hijab on the court.
Article 4.4.2 of FIBA’s Official Basketball Rules allows male and female players to wear headbands during FIBA competitions — which include the Olympics, the World Championships, and just about every relevant professional league outside of the NBA and WNBA — but it does not allow “headgear, hair accessories or jewelry.” And while Article 1 of FIBA’s General Statutes calls for the organization to maintain “absolute religious neutrality,” the no-headgear rule only realistically impacts Muslim women (hijab headscarves), Sikh men (patkas/dastars) and Jewish men (yarmulkes).
Two recent cases involving Muslim women have regenerated interest in getting to the bottom of FIBA’s discriminatory policy:
Last month, former Indiana State University standout Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir revealed in an interview with Ummah Sports that her plans of playing professional basketball overseas have been put on hold because of Article 4.4.2.
Abdul-Qaadir made history four years ago when she became the first NCAA Division-I basketball player to appear in a game wearing Islamic hijab. Today, the all-conference college point guard and all-time leading scorer in Massachusetts high school history hasn’t been able to sign with a pro team because of that same hijab.
Shortly after CAIR wrote a letter to FIBA on Bilqis’ behalf, Bosnian-American pro basketball player Indira Kaljo contacted CAIR to share her story. Kaljo, who played college ball at Tulane, had been playing professionally in Europe for two years before recently deciding to wear hijab. Since then, Article 4.4.2 has thwarted her attempts to sign with a team.
CAIR took on Kaljo’s case, making another formal appeal to FIBA president Yvan Mainini about the anti-hijab rule. It states in part:
“No athlete should be forced to choose between faith and sport. Muslim women seek to participate in sporting activities should not face artificial and arbitrary barriers to that participation.”
Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR’s National Communications Director, says FIBA has not yet responded.
“We’re asking them to change the rule,” Hooper says. “They have a Technical Committee that would have to rule on any policy changes. We’re asking them to have the committee meet as soon as possible to make that change.”
CAIR helped push the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) to amend its rulebook in 2011 to allow Muslim female weightlifters to wear hijab during competition, and was calling for FIFA (soccer’s international governing body) to allow hijab before that rule change was made earlier this year.
“We’ll just keep pressing the issue,” Hooper said in regards to FIBA. “Hopefully we’ll find an opportunity to address the issue in the U.S.; if there is some FIBA tournament or game (in the U.S.), we can interact with them directly, maybe do some informational leafleting or hold a rally at a game.”
Hooper recalls the IWF campaign taking months before the federation changed its anti-hijab rule, and predicts a similar outcome with FIBA.
“With the weightlifting one, there was an issue with whether or not there was a competitive advantage to wearing hijab. Obviously I don’t think that’s the case with basketball,” Hooper says. “It seems to be only a matter of time before (FIBA) comes to line up with international norms of religious freedom.”