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Reviewed by:
  • Muslim Women and Sport
  • Christina Kwauk (bio)
Muslim Women and Sport edited by Tansin Benn, Gertrud Pfister, and Haifaa Jawad. London: Routledge, 2010, 296 pp., $168.00 hardcover.

Sport, usually described as a male preserve, has become a yardstick of gender equality and an arena in which women’s rights are championed and challenged. Often though, (Western) advocates, fans, and feminist scholars assume sport to be an endeavor pursued by women with shared gold-medal dreams and common gender-based sociocultural obstacles to overcome; differences in religious identity and cultural values are ignored in favor of the view that sportswomen share a universal sport agenda. The increased visibility of elite Muslim sportswomen wearing the hijab in international sport competitions reminds us, however, of the nonuniversality of women’s experiences and values. The topic of religion, women, and sport, therefore, opens up a unique area for expanding discussions on gender equality, women’s empowerment, and social change by challenging scholars and popular audiences to question deeply held assumptions about women’s identities, bodies, and public roles in society.

Expanding this discussion, Muslim Women and Sport, edited by Tansin Benn, Gertrud Pfister, and Haifaa Jawad, is a timely collection of sixteen essays that highlights the diverse experiences and realities of Muslim women participating in sport. The volume is a product of an international meeting on the sporting opportunities of Muslim women held in Oman in 2008, and it represents the diverse perspectives, experiences, and research of its twenty-three contributing Muslim and non-Muslim authors. Muslim Women and Sport makes three important contributions to scholarship in this area: first, it gives voice to Muslim women athletes, coaches, teachers, and leaders who have been silenced, marginalized, or gone unseen in physical education and sport studies—a field dominated by non-Muslim Western researchers; second, the volume challenges negative stereotypes and assumptions about Islam, Muslim women, and sport by offering alternative, “woman-friendly” (32) interpretations of Islam, and by making a compelling case for the compatibility of Islam and women’s sport; and third, Muslim Women and Sport expands the analytical potential of gender analysis by recognizing the significance of religious identity and embodied faith as factors shaping the choices, values, and experiences of Muslim women participating in sport. Specifically, Pfister’s chapter aptly employs Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of habitus to frame a theoretical discussion on the sociological and political significance of different “body projects” and body practices for women who have been socialized in Muslim cultural practices, and the chapters on the Muslim diaspora make insightful contributions to understanding how central women’s bodies, and the control of these bodies, are in mediating the complex relationship among Islam, women, and sport. [End Page 186]

The book is organized into four parts, with part 1 (chapters 1–3) providing a comprehensive overview of the underlying concepts and debates framing the entire volume. It also introduces the “Accept and Respect Declaration” (the first product of the Oman meeting), which states that “Islam is an enabling religion that endorses women’s participation in physical activity.” The declaration also recommends that “people working in the sport and education systems accept and respect the diverse ways in which Muslim women and girls practise their religion and participate in sport and physical activity,” including their “choices of activity, dress and gender grouping” (5). These points inform the foundational assumptions held by the authors in the remainder of the book—namely, that the religious values of Muslim girls and women must be respected, and that inclusive sporting environments can be created without religious transgression.

The remaining three sections provide an encyclopedic representation of the history and contemporary status of Muslim women in sport in thirteen Muslim and non-Muslim societies. Muslim-majority nations in the Middle East serve as the sociocultural and political context for most of the volume, including Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Oman, Palestine, Syria, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. Branching out to other Muslim-majority countries in southeastern Europe and North Africa, two chapters provide snapshots of Muslim sportswomen in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Morocco, respectively. Finally, three chapters cover the Muslim diaspora in Denmark, Germany, and South Africa. It should be noted that...


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pp. 186-188
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