Mirza the wrongful target of fatwa

Rising female tennis player Sania Mirza is the subject of a growing controversy. The 18-year-old, a self-described devout Muslim, has been criticized by some Muslim clerics for her attire on the court. Her polo shirt and tennis skirt are a common and comparatively modest combination in the sport. However, the clerics argue that Mirza is going against the principles of Islam by wearing clothing that fails to cover large areas of her body. The Toronto Star reports that a cleric “the Jamiat-e-Ulama-e-Hind in Calcutta issued a fatwa, or edict, before Mirza played there in a tournament last month, saying she would be stopped from participating if she didn’t wear proper clothing.” The controversy, however, has clouded Mirza’s achievements. Ironically, it was her achievements that brought her the publicity that has elicited the outrage against her. Her meteoric rise from 326th to as high as 31st on the world pro tennis circuit is a significant accomplishment. She is also the first Indian woman to reach the fourth round of the U.S. Open, one of the four grand slam events in tennis.

Mirza’s success has made her a role model for young Muslim girls who might otherwise refrain from participating in sports. She has been so much of an inspiration that the board overseeing 285 Islamic schools was prepared to dedicate a chapter of a new textbook to Mirza. This chapter was removed after the board received repeated threats.

Despite the threats, the opposition and the constant fear for her safety, Mirza has persevered and has shown incredible courage. She is not only standing up for her own beliefs and opinions, but she is also paving the way for future female Muslim athletes. She should be commended for her strength in not yielding to the increasing pressures that have been placed upon her.

We disagree with the fatwa issued by the Jamiat-e-Ulama-e-Hind. Also, this is not representative of the opinions of all Muslims. In addition to the clerics who have opposed Mirza, there have also been many clerics who have come forward and openly supported her, acknowledging the impracticality and ineffectiveness of wearing long sleeves and and long skirts to play tennis. In an article in the Globe and Mail, a senior Muslim leader said that “those clerics did a mischief by issuing the fatwa against her.” Issuing the fatwa has only perpetuated the image of Islam as a religion that is archaic and oppressive towards women. It is our hope that people realize that the fatwa is not representative of all of Muslims. We also hope that Mirza’s success as both an athlete and a role model are not lost amidst everything else.

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