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Chicago area Muslim women's athletic group is about much more than sports

Dreams become reality for Chicago area Muslim women in athletic group
Dreams become reality for Chicago area Muslim women in athletic group 02:41

WILLOWBROOK, Ill. (CBS) -- Many young Muslim girls did not play sports growing up – as fights to get exceptions for uniform restrictions often requiring a waiver and leading to embarrassment, or even rejection.

Thus, the girls felt forced to choose between sports and faith. 

With ChiTown Muslimah Athletics, some women are now able to choose both faith and sports. This Arab American Heritage Month, CBS 2 met with four members of the group – Ayat Shukairy, Lynn Salahi, Nagla Fetouh, and Rand Diab.

They say their team is about much more than sports.

"This is like a dream come true for me," said Diab.

ChiTown Muslimah Athletics is a women's Muslim athletics group for women 23 and over. There are nearly 300 members – and organized teams that play or participate in pickleball, hockey, volleyball, baseball, tennis, badminton, and the Hot Chocolate 5K run.

But there's something even more special about it.

"It's not just about athletic skill," said Salahi. "It's really about finding a place where you can belong."

The women are able to play sports while wearing the attire of their faith – in a way they often could not growing up.

"We always had to find substitutions to the P.E. uniforms," said Salahi. "It always shorts and short sleeves, and we didn't wear that."

"Many times, we want to play our sports in private areas where it's just for women," said Diab.

The State of Illinois passed the Inclusive Athletic Attire Act passed in 2021 – allowing all student athletes in Illinois to modify their uniforms for modesty, cultural, religious, or comfort reasons. This allows for people to participate in athletics wearing a hijab, a turban, swim attire that is more modest, or pants rather than shorts.

Thus, attire is no longer a barrier to participation in athletics.

ChiTown Muslimah Athletics said the passage of the legislation was critical for Muslim girls who had been subjected to "rigid uniform policies that violated our religious freedoms.," and thus torn between their faith and sports.

"Arab Americans come from all different backgrounds and different religious backgrounds," said Diab. "Specifically, those who are practicing Muslims, who care a lot about their modest attire, can often be restricted from sports."

As to the women's athletic group, it started in 2017.

Its members, Salahi said, are "women from all different parts of Chicago; from all different walks of life."

The mission is to invest in physical, emotional, and spiritual health through sports and sisterhood – regardless of experience.

"As a child, I never played organized sports," said Salahi.

"I actually played a lot of sports growing up – and one of the sports I gave up as an adult, because I could not find the right atmosphere to play in, was softball," said Diab.

Inclusivity is at their core.

"People have built connections with one another, and sisterhood that's been really incredible and enduring," said Diab.

Sports may bring the women together - but they represent so much more.

"I hope that it's setting a precedent for our daughters," said Salahi. "I would really love for them to grow up in a world where they can participate in sports and feel 100% comfortable in doing it on their terms, in their space, and not have to worry about what other people say; What other people think."

The group is active all year round - typically with multiple sports every season.

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