Denmark's Veiled Soccer Star
By Nidal Abu Arif, IOL Correspondent
"It is always wonderful to be able to strike a balance between your religious duties and your hobbies," Khatib said. (IOL photo)
— Zainab al-Khatib commanders the attention of the women national soccer team
fans not just with her unmistaken talents, dribbling skills and spectacular
goals but also her colorful hijab.
"I'm so glad that I
set a precedent in Denmark," 15-year-old Khatib, the star of the national
team for girls under 16, told IslamOnline.net.
She was recently chosen to
join the team after receiving permission from the Danish Football Association
(DBU) to be the first ever hijab-clad girl to play for a national team, not
only in Denmark but across Europe.
Khatib, who only started
her professional football career two years ago, is now the striker for the
She has led her team to an
impressive victory in their latest match against Sweden, scoring a wonderful
"Zainab has a strong
personality and her attitude is always positive and inspirational in and
outside the court," her coach Troels Mansa told IOL.
"She is one of my best
players and I am so glad to be her coach."
Denmark has a Muslim
minority of nearly 200,000 out of its 5.4 million population.
Islam is the country's
second largest religion after the Lutheran Protestant Church.
When the high school
student decided to don hijab nearly a year ago, her mother helped by designing
headscarves that cover the hair properly while not posing any hindrance for her
in the field.
"She has always been an
observant Muslim, and we had to support her fulfilling her sport dream,"
Zainab's father, Ibrahim al-Khatib, told IOL as he happily watches her
"I'm so glad that she
proved that being a hijab-clad Muslim does not mean she has no right to practice
Islam sees hijab as an
obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one’s affiliations.
Coach Manas stressed that
Khatib's hijab has never been an obstacle.
"We are only
interested in her skills and personality," he said.
"I do not remember any
player or coach expressing reservations about her hijab."
The issue of hijab in
sports thrust into the international limelight recently.
In March 2007, the
International Football Association Board (IFAB), the game's ultimate
regulators, said hijab is forbidden in soccer games.
The ruling came after a
Canadian Muslim was expelled from a soccer game for donning a hijab.
Last January, an American
high-school Muslim star runner was pulled out from a local competition for
An 11-year-old Canadian kid
was also thrown out of a national Judo tournament last November for wearing
Khatib believes all the
fuss over hijab is meaningless.
"It is always
wonderful to be able to strike a balance between your religious duties and your
She says her teammates are
"They have welcomed me
into the team and I faced no obstacles.
"During our match with
Sweden, some players were surprised to see my hijab but nobody commented."
Modest and persistent, she
wants her contribution to the team to demonstrate the willingness of Danish
Muslims to integrate into society.
"I see myself as a
Danish Muslim who effectively contributes to her society and will be proud to
represent my country abroad."
Khatib, whose Palestinian
family moved to Denmark in the early 1990s, considers playing for the national
team a major achievement for all Danish Muslim girls.
"I think it will open
the door for other Muslim girls to pursue their dreams of representing their
Besides her sports career,
Khatib contributes to Islamic charity work in her city Odense.
She also participates in
pro-Palestinians events organized in Denmark.
Khatib hopes to be a doctor
in the future.
want to help the needy and offer a better image for Muslim women's effective
contribution to society."
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