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The First Hijab in College Basketball

By Parvez Fatteh, Founder of http://sportingummah.com, sports@muslimobserver.com

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A year ago Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir was ready to become the first hijab-wearing player in women’s college basketball. But, she blew out the anterior cruciate ligament of her knee and had to put those dreams on hold. Now the Memphis University sophomore is ready to run up and down the court with her headscarf worn proudly.

But even before preparing for the limelight of the basketball court, “Qisi,” as she is called by her teammates, had a brush with fame of a different kind. Just last year she was invited to the White House to break the Ramadan fast with President Barack Obama.

“It was amazing,” she told the Memphis Commercial Appeal. “My name card was right next to his.” And then the president put the spotlight on her. “She’s not even 5-5,” he said, from the lectern. “Where is Bilqis?” “Right here,” she said. “Stand up Bilqis,” he said. “I want everybody to know. She’s got heels on. She’s 5-5. She recently told a reporter, ‘I’d like to really inspire a lot of young Muslim girls if they want to play basketball. Anything is possible. They can do it too.’ As an honors student, as an athlete on her way to Memphis, Bilqis is an inspiration not simply to Muslim girls; she’s an inspiration to all of us.”

The attention given by the president may have made her blush, but the attention she gets from her attire on a daily basis doesn’t seem to faze her. “People ask me why I cover,” she said. “I don’t mind the questions. Questions are good. I’ve answered a lot of them.”

And the time that she spent with her teammates rehabilitating her knee has really helped them all understand one another. “They know all about my religion by now,” said Abdul-Qaadir. “They even look out for me. If we’re all in a room and a guy walks in, they’re like, ‘Qisi, put your thing on!’ In high school, someone called me Osama bin Laden’s daughter,” said Abdul-Qaadir. “It was at Holyoke Catholic. We beat them every time we played them.”

But Bilqis doesn’t go looking for a fight. She knows when to turn the other cheek. “I don’t watch the news, honestly,” she said. “I don’t get into all that. I practice my faith and try to treat everybody right.” Just don’t try to disrespect her on the basketball court. You just might see a blur of a hijab streaking past you like a comet.


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