LONDON - Worn under a fencing mask, wrapped tightly in an elasticized bun for weightlifting or styled into a cap for shooting, hijab-clad Muslim women are making strides at the London Olympic Games.
"This agreement shows that being a modest Muslim woman is no barrier to taking part in sport, Razan Baker, spokeswoman for the Saudi Olympic Committee, told Reuters.
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Hijab, an obligatory code of dress, was thrust into the spotlight after Iran's female football team was disqualified from the Olympics for wearing hijab.
The football's governing body banned the outfit on pitch for health reasons, before it reversed the ban earlier this year.
The Muslim headscarf again came to the surface after the International Judo Federation refused to allow a Saudi athlete from competing while wearing hijab.
The IJF argued that its regulations forbade headgear because a fighter could be accidentally choked during the rough, physical contests in which strangling an opponent using their judo outfit is legal.
But the decision prompted Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim, 16, one of the first two Saudi women competing at the Olympics, to threaten to withdraw from the competition.
Bu a compromise was struck on Monday between judo chiefs, Olympic bosses and Saudis, allowing the Muslim athlete to take part in the women's heavyweight section on Friday wearing hijab.
The compromise won plaudits for encouraging more hijab-clad Muslim women to take up sports.
"Many Muslim women both in Britain and around the world are excluded or discouraged from taking up sports owing to their desire to maintain stricter standards of modesty than sports clothes allow," said Emma Tarlo of the department of anthropology at Goldsmiths, University of London.
"And Muslims are not alone. A number of women from Hindu, Sikh, and orthodox Jewish backgrounds as well as people with weight issues are put off swimming by the skimpiness of most existing styles of swimwear," she added.
The barrier to hijab has prompted a number of designers are turning their attention to women keen to take part in sport while wearing modest attire.
In the Netherlands, designer Cindy van den Bremen has designed a range of headwear for sporty Muslim women dubbed "capsters".
"The concept is based on the idea to give Muslim girls and their gym teachers in the Netherlands a safe alternative for the traditional hijab to wear during gym class," Bremen says on her website.
Online vendor thehijabshop.com carries capsters under its "sporting range" under the categories "skate", "aerobics", "outdoor" and "tennis", and touts the headgear as designed not to shift or tear during physical activity.
British-based Modestly Active's line of Islamic sports gear includes swimwear and martial arts, basketball and soccer kits, which the company says have been specially designed with the latest sports technology to be breathable and durable.
Ismail Sacranie said he and his wife founded the company in 2007 after designing special clothing for their sports-mad daughters.
Since then the response had been "phenomenal", with orders from all over the world.
"We saw the restrictions that were faced by our own children, he told Reuters.
I have three daughters of my own, they're just like any other teenagers, and why should a piece of fabric restrict them?
"My daughters were outraged and annoyed beyond comprehension at the fact that simply because somebody's covering their hair they're alienated," he added.
Now one of his daughters, inspired by the British Olympic female soccer team's wins over New Zealand and Brazil, is determined to join the national soccer team herself, where she will be able to wear her headscarf."It's a huge statement for mankind to overcome these kind of barriers, and let the enthusiasm and professionalism of a person speak, rather than what they're wearing," Sacranie said.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net