Headscarf Concerns Force Basketball Player to Miss First Half

A 12-year-old Muslim girl was forced to sit out the first half of a basketball game because a referee said her headscarf posed a safety risk. Seventh-grader Maheen Haq of Hagerstown, Md., was allowed to play the second half wearing the hijab after a league administrator for the Mid-Maryland Girls Basketball League granted her a religious exemption.

According to most interpretations of the tenets of Islam, Muslim women are not to be in public without hijabs (head and hair coverings and loose-fitting, modest dress that leave only the hands, feet and face exposed).

Daphnie V. Campbell, the league's coordinator, defended the referee's action and told the Associated Press that the girl's parents must provide a letter stating that the headscarf is part of their daughter's religion and accept liability for any injuries. The requirement is consistent with Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association rules and should have been enforced at the start of the season last fall, Campbell added. The league isn't affiliated with the public schools, but it acts as a feeder to their basketball programs.

A spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Ibrahim Hooper, said there are hijabs with tear-away strips designed for sports that Haq could wear. He also suggested that cases like these can usually be solved with cooperation from both sides. Nevertheless, the incident has angered the girl and her parents. "I felt discrimination and I was upset," Maheen's father, Mohammad S. Haq, told myfoxdc.com. "Obviously, she was crying and she wanted to leave."

Hijabs also have been an issue for other female athletes. FIFA, the governing body of world soccer, initially barred Iranian girls from participating in the inaugural Youth Olympics in Singapore last August for safety reasons and to prevent political or religious statements on the field. Iranian designers responded by creating a FIFA-approved outfit that included a cap, long-sleeved thick tops, below-knee trousers and long stockings.

Similarly, the idea of donning tight-fitting swimwear in a public recreation environment is almost unthinkable for traditional Muslims. So a municipal aquatics center in Cary, N.C., invited members of the Muslim community to raise $3,000 to install a retractable shade system for large windows overlooking the pool - providing the kind of women-only privacy required by the group's faith. And Fordson High School in Dearborn, Mich., held preseason football practices last August in the middle of the night - between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. - to avoid scorching daytime temperatures and to help the team's Muslim student-athletes practice both football and faith. Members of the school's predominantly Muslim squad say the nocturnal regimen was a way for players to eat and drink while observing the holy month of daytime fasting known as Ramadan.

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