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  • CAIR Seeks Hijab Rights for Banned Ga. Muslim Woman Weightlifter


    A prominent national Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization today called on the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) to intervene in the case of a Muslim weightlifter in Georgia who is being banned from tournaments because she wishes to compete wearing modest Islamic attire (hijab).

    The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is asking that the Muslim athlete, 35-year-old Kulsoom Abdullah ( of Atlanta, Ga., be allowed to compete in the USA Weightlifting Senior Nationals to be held this July in Council Bluffs, Iowa, pending the outcome of a formal hearing on her request for reasonable religious accommodation.

    CAIR is also requesting that both the USOC and USA Weightlifting advocate on her behalf -- and on behalf of women of all faiths who wish to compete while wearing modest attire -- with the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC). (USA Weightlifting is a United States Olympic Committee National Governing Body (NGB).)

    Abdullah, who competes in the 48kg and 53kg weight class in the women's senior division, reported to CAIR that USA Weightlifting prevented her from participating in the American Open in December 2010 due to her desire to wear modest Islamic attire covering her hair and body with the exception of her face, hands and feet.

    The ban on Abdullah’s competition has been maintained despite her requests for accommodation and her willingness to work with USA Weightlifting officials on a solution to the issue of attire that will satisfy the legitimate requirements of all parties.

    In a letter sent today to USOC Chief Executive Officer Scott Blackmun, CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad wrote in part:

    “USA Weightlifting has apparently rejected Ms. Abdullah's repeated requests for accommodation of her sincere religious beliefs and practices. Officials of USA Weightlifting cite International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) rules in rejecting any accommodation and in refusing to discuss a mutually-agreeable solution that would allow Ms. Abdullah to compete while maintaining her religious principles and without giving her an advantage over other competitors.

    “As you know, the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act requires that USA Weightlifting not discriminate based on ‘race, color, religion, sex, age, or national origin’ in order to maintain its status as a national governing body. . .

    “It also states that an athlete must be given ‘fair notice and opportunity for a hearing to any amateur athlete, coach, trainer, manager, administrator, or official before declaring the individual ineligible to participate.’. . .

    “No athlete should be forced to choose between faith and sport. Muslim women seek to participate in all aspects of American society, including sporting activities, and should not face artificial and arbitrary barriers to that participation.”

    Awad added that this case is not occurring in isolation. Earlier this month, an Iranian women’s soccer team was barred from an Olympic qualifying match in Jordan because of the athletes’ modest attire.

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