EastBay Today

Posted September 29, 2017

Fighting for Basketball

Bilqis Abdul-Qaadar, who recently won the right to wear her hijab on the court, speaks at Cal State East Bay

Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir fought the International Basketball Federation for her right to wear a hijab on the court. She will speak at Cal State East Bay Oct. 2.
Courtesy of Bilqis Abdul Qaadir

Muslim athlete Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir was overcome with emotion when she found out the International Basketball Federation overturned a ban on head coverings, including the hijab and yarmulkes.

“I’m happy to be a part of history and positive change,” the 26-year-old told a reporter from Vice Magazine.

The decision by the International Basketball Federation, or FIBA, which came in May, is the culmination of a three-year battle for Abdul-Qaadir, who brought light to the issue after her own professional career was sidelined because of her religious tradition of wearing a hijab.

On Oct. 2, in collaboration with the Women Sports Film Festival, Cal State East Bay’s Center for Sport and Social Justice will host Abdul-Qaadir. She will speak at 2 p.m. in Room 311 in the Old University Union about how her dream of playing basketball professionally turned into a fight for justice.

“These conversations are obviously crucial at this time,” said Matthew Atencio, co-director of CSSJ. “Recent events are showing us that sport is indeed a highly political realm with huge implications for society and justice. The CSSJ wants to provide a context where difficult issues and questions can be deliberated upon, in order to make social change through sports.”

Abdul-Qaadir has broken both male and female basketball scoring records in Massachusetts where she grew up. She became the first NCAA Division I basketball player to wear a hijab, having played three years for the University of Memphis and one year as a graduate student at Indiana State University.

In 2014, as Abdul-Qaadir was considering her prospects to go professional, she was informed of FIBA’s rule prohibiting head coverings on the court. Unwilling to stray from her religion, Abdul-Qaadir petitioned the league. She also started her own nonprofit organization, Muslim Girls Hoop Too, which she hopes will empower young women to persevere in their beliefs and the sports they love.

In addition to her speaking event at Cal State East Bay, Abdul-Qaadir will be on a panel discussion at the Women Sports Film Festival, which is co-sponsored by Impact Hub Oakland and CSSJ.

“The executive director of the festival, Susan Sullivan, spoke highly of Bilqis and her remarkable journey, and it seemed like it would be a great fit to have Bilqis share her story with our campus community,” CSSJ co-director Missy Wright said. “Her courage and conviction in staying true to herself as a Muslim woman and fighting a ban on headscarves in order play the sport professionally is truly impressive.”

The film festival runs Sept. 28-Oct. 1 at the New Parkway Theater in Oakland. The event promotes documentary films that celebrate how sports shape the lives of women and girls around the world.