CAIRO – Promoting women’s participation in sports as a fundamental right, a group of female Muslim athletes are participating in Iowa’s annual statewide bike ride to promote equality through sports.
“Our mission was to really promote female participation in sports as a female right and our hope was to kind of bring that to the attention and help inspire other women to pursue athletics,” Nanci Freed, the social media and logistics of the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) team, told The Gazette.
Marking its 50th anniversary of the team, RAGBRAI is inviting nine female Muslim athletes to join its 43rd annual ride that kicked off on Sunday, July 19.
A non-profit that promotes Muslim female athletic participation, Shirzana Global, will be hosting the Muslim athletes who will come to Iowa to stay with the Iowa women and ride alongside them.
“Thinking about our upcoming milestone 50th birthday … we just decided (to) do something physically challenging,” Mara Gubuan, now living in New York, is the co-founder of Shirzanan Global, said.
“We just decided, let’s make it physically challenging but also socially relevant.”
Coming from different countries including Pakistan, Iran, Jordan, Egypt, Afghanistan, as well as from a few places around the US, the Muslim athletes range from an Olympic weight lifter to a soccer player from Afghanistan to a snowboarder from Iran.
“We wanted to identify and partner with women who had already broken the stereotypes,” Freed said.
“They come to represent that it is possible.”
The participation of the Muslim athletes aims to give inspiration to Muslim girls to play sports.
Along with long training hours throughout the year, Muslim athletes have their own challenges.
“The good news is that they are young, in- shape athletes that have been training so they’re probably in pretty good shape. But they’re traveling from across the world,” Freed said, adding that for many of them it will be the end of Ramadan, meaning they will be ending a fast.
Although there are no official figures, the United States is believed to be home to between 6-8 million Muslims.
A Pew Research Center study, Public Remains Conflicted Over Islam, has revealed that the majority of Americans know very little about Muslims and their faith.
Another Economist/YouGov poll found that a large majority of Americans believe that US Muslims are victims of discrimination amid recent attacks against the community.