CAIRO - Taking an unusual move to raise awareness about their faith, a group of young Muslim women in Australia has formed a football team to change perceptions about themselves and their religion.
Sport can change everyone's lives and it has done that for so many of our girls, Lael Kassem, captain of the Auburn Tigers team, told The Daily Telegraph on Sunday, April 14.Kassem and a group of Muslim women have formed a team to compete in Australia Football League (AFL).
The captain says that her teammates had never watched a game of football live or even seen stars of the game on TV.
Though they know very little about AFL rules, Muslim women have not feared going into the competition.
In its first game, the Muslim team suffered a 130-0 loss to Macquarie University on Saturday.
Yet, captain Kassem opines that her team wants much more than to just put points on the scoreboard.
When we started the team we didn't think about winning, Kassem said.
We just wanted to be the most respected team and the most culturally aware team.
The AFL is the highest-level professional competition in the sport of Australian rules football.
According to market research, the AFL is the second-most-watched sporting event in Australia, behind cricket.
Last year, the league agreed to introduce multi-faith prayer rooms at playgrounds to respect Australia's cultural diversity.
Showing off their faith, the Muslim team members donned their hijab during the competition.
"The majority of the girls in our team wear the Islamic veil and they can wear tracksuits if that makes them more comfortable," Kassem said.
"We enforce that we are representing our religion so we go on to the field with the best manners and demonstrate Muslims are normal."
Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one's affiliations.
Muslims, who have been in Australia for more than 200 years, make up 1.7 percent of its 20-million population.
Islam is the country's second largest religion after Christianity.
In post 9/11 Australia, Muslims have been haunted with suspicion and have had their patriotism questioned.
A 2007 poll taken by the Issues Deliberation Australia (IDA) think-tank found that Australians basically see Islam as a threat to the Australian way of life.A recent governmental report revealed that Muslims are facing deep-seated Islamophobia and race-based treatment like never before.