When FIFA Allows Hijab, Why Is India Not Ready To Lift Ban On Hijab?

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Morocco's woman football player Nouhaila Benzina scripted history by playing with a scarf on her head in the FIFA world cup team.

Huma Masih

NEW DELHI—Hundreds of players took part in the FIFA Women’s World Cup but why one twenty-five-year-old Nouhaila Benzina of Morocco was in the news? Because Nouhaila Benzina made history by being the first player to wear hijab in a FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association) tournament.

Who is Nouhaila Benzina?

Nouhaila Benzina is the defender of Morocco’s women’s football team. She took part in the Women’s World Cup played in New Zealand and Australia. Nouhaila Benzina is with the Association Sportive des Forces Armées Royales (Sports Association of the Royal Armed Forces), or in short ASFAR. Prior to this, she won 11 trophies while playing for the Rabat Club.

She has played in the CAF Women’s Champions League where her ASFAR team
was placed third. Nouhaila made her international debut in 2017.

When Hijab was banned?

The 11-year-old Canadian girl Asmahan Mansour attempted to play wearing the hijab but she was not allowed to play in 2007. She was asked to remove her hijab during a match. She was sent back as she refused to remove her hijab.

This issue was discussed in the Canadian Soccer Association and reached to FIFA management from there. FIFA banned head coverings including hijab except for coverings that exposed the neck.

Though the hijab of any player cannot harm other players, FIFA officially banned hijab citing security reasons. As a result, not only Asmahan Mansour but hundreds of players who wanted to play by wearing hijab were deprived of taking part in FIFA-approved tournaments.

FIFA cited “religious symbolism” as a reason for not permitting head coverings but many big male players of Christian and Judaism communities were using the same religious symbolisms, tattoos, singing of the cross, and goal celebrations. It was not possible for FIFA to ban such players.

But FIFA continued the ban on hijab on the pretext of health and security.

Moya Dodd of the Asian Football Confederation, activist and player Assmaah Helal and Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, the then vice-president of FIFA and head of the Jordanian Football Association spearheaded campaigns and partnered with Right 2 Wear, the United Nations and ‘Fifpro’ to put pressure on FIFA to approve the hijab.

With the efforts of women activists fighting to lift the ban on hijab in FIFA tournaments, FIFA finally agreed to reconsider its rule regarding hijab and it was forced to change the rule and allow wearing hijab while playing in its tournaments.

After much discussion and clarification, Jerome Valcke, FIFA’s then-secretary general, announced on March 1, 2014, that religious head coverings (including hijabs, turbans for Sikh men and kippahs for Jewish men) would be permitted on the ground. The understanding was the head coverings would meet IFAB (International Football Association Board) medical regulations.

With this amendment by FIFA, many talented girls were inspired to move forward in this game with their hijabi identity and one of them is Nouhaila Benzina whom the world saw playing in the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023.

India should learn from FIFA to make hijab part of uniform

FIFA has contributed to building an inclusive society by changing its rules in honour of the social and cultural diversity of the players and making the way easier for all the players who were not playing in FIFA tournaments despite being able due to the non-inclusive rules.

At the beginning of the year 2022, there was a controversy regarding hijab in the state of Karnataka.

Six female students of Class XI of a Pre-University College were denied entry into their classrooms after opposition from some students. The college administration then argued that wearing hijab is not in accordance with their rule, so, they cannot allow wearing a hijab in the classroom.

The affected students approached the court. After hearing for several days the Karnataka High Court ruled that as ‘wearing hijab is not essential to Islam’, it cannot be allowed for Muslim girls.  

After this ruling, there were cases of misbehaviour with the hijab-wearing students and teachers in schools and degree colleges across Karnataka.

The right-wing approach of media regarding hijab

The right-wing media played a big role against the hijab. There were many such incidents whose videos were viral. One incident can be mentioned here when a girl named Muskan wearing a hijab was stalked by Gamcha-wearing boys chanting the JSR (Jai Shri Ram) slogans in Karnataka. A video was also viral in which a security
guard could be seen forcing a Muslim teacher to remove her Naqab (full veil).

Apart from these incidents, the so-called mainstream media indulged into biased debates and reporting. The stand of hijab-wearing women was completely ignored by the media, instead, those women who were against the hijab from the Muslim society got their voice echoed in the media. Despite reiterating that hijab-wearing was a choice for them, Indian media tried to prove by its reporting that the Muslim society was imposing hijab on the girls.

In a country like India where people of different religions, castes and ideologies reside and where the Constitution does not discriminate among them, such reactions against the hijab are disturbing and unbearable.

In many places in India, there are such rules that hijabi girls and women are denied admission to educational institutions and prohibited from working in many professions. They are asked to choose between education and hijab, profession and hijab. This is a big challenge to Muslim girls who want to practice their religion and culture.

Couldn’t the Karnataka government in the hijab dispute case in the state, make an inclusive rule regarding uniforms as it was done in the FIFA? The world is continuously advancing forward by giving preference to inclusive rules, but why is India, which talks about becoming a global leader, still adopting such an uneasy and narrow attitude towards hijab?

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