Winsted: Finding support among school
officials, a veiled Muslim player has joined basketball team in
her Connecticut school, hoping to offer a role model for Muslim
girls in the United States.
"It is because of my religion," Buthaina Alahwas, a new veiled
sophomore at Gilbert School in Winsted, Connecticut, told
Republican American sports website.
"I have to respect my
religion." the 16-year-old girl, who moved here from Yemen 11
months ago, added.
Coming from a devout Muslim family, Alahwas
wears a hijab, or headscarf, that covers her hair and neck.
also wears long sleeves and long pants under her uniform to keep
modest. Despite opposition in different American schools,
officials at Gilbert school were open to accept her uniform.
Accepting the girl in his team, Gerry Hicks, who has been coaching
basketball for three decades, tried to help the young girl in
finding a safer Hijab.
Hicks remembered reading last summer about
Saudi Arabia's Olympic team, which for the first time had women
"We thought back to the Olympics and decided there
had to be something," he recalled.
The coach surfed the Internet
until he found a hijab that was lightweight, intended for sports
use and less of a safety risk.
Another barrier was to get
exception for the girl's hijab from Connecticut Interscholastic
Athletic Conference (CIAC) which follows National Federation of
High Schools and allow players to wear head gear in basketball for
medical or religious reasons.
Asking for an exception, Gilbert school's request was approved
"We don't believe we've ever turned down one down,"
said Joel Cookson, the CIAC director of media relations.
not, however, welcomed in all schools. In Hagerstown, Maryland, a
player was kept out of a middle school game in 2011 for one half
when the referee ruled the hijab was a safety hazard. Islam sees
hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol
displaying one’s affiliations.
Moving from Yemen, where there is no organized basketball for
girls, Alahwas wanted to seize the moment to advance and offer a
role model for Muslim girls.
"Here we have a coach to teach us how
to play," Alahwas, who has been playing basketball since she was
11, said. "There, it's just (playing) with friends, no coach."
knows hijab would never pose as a hindrance for her. For example,
Bilqis Abdul-Qaadin, of Springfield, Mass., broke former UConn
great Rebecca Lobo's high school career scoring record in
Massachusetts, finishing with 3,070 points three years ago. The
veiled Muslim basketballer now plays at the University of Memphis.
Her coach also trusts her ability to advance quickly.
"She has no
real knowledge of the game, no real skills like girls who have
played longer, but that all comes with time," said Hicks, who
noted Alahwas is quite fast and quick.
"She participates in everything,
does all the drills. There's nothing that holds her back," he
"I think it's been good for the
other girls to have someone of another faith on the team. It's
good for the fans, who root for her to score. You don't see this
much around the league. It's been a good experience", he said.