“Along the way, she made history by becoming the first NCAA Division-I athlete to play in a basketball game while wearing hijab — covering her arms and legs with long sleeves, with a headscarf to cover her hair. (In 2004, University of South Florida forward Andrea Armstrong won the right to wear hijab after challenging a team rule prohibiting it, but she left the team before appearing in a game.) For Abdul-Qaadir’s groundbreaking efforts, she was presented with the “Most Courageous” award by the United States Basketball Writers Association at the 2011 Final Four.
But today, the same hijab that once brought Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir national acclaim has created a roadblock to her dream of playing professional basketball.
The sport’s international governing body, FIBA, has a rule prohibiting players from wearing headscarves on the court. As recently as 2009, FIBA defended the rule as one designed to prevent injuries as well as maintain a “religiously neutral” environment, identifying the hijab as a religious symbol. (FIBA has not, however, taken any action against religious tattoos, such as crosses.) More recently, the organization has backed away from the religious aspect and has upheld the rule on the grounds that headscarves are not part of the “official uniform.”
A lot of people would call Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir an overachiever. But then, who are any of us to put a limit on what a 5-foot-4 Muslim girl from Springfield, Mass., is supposed to achieve in this life?
As a high school point guard at New Leadership Charter School, Abdul-Qaadir shattered the state scoring record (for boys and girls) that was previously held by female hoops legend Rebecca Lobo, finishing with 3,070 career points in five varsity seasons. Lobo played six. As a senior, Abdul-Qaadir averaged 42 points per game.
Abdul-Qaadir graduated No. 1 in her class in 2009 and accepted a scholarship to the University of Memphis. That same year, she was invited to the White House for an iftar dinner with President Barack Obama during Ramadan.
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