Muslim Boxer To Be Allowed To Compete Wearing Hijab
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- What 16-year-old Amaiya Zafar loves to do is throw punches. But when the young boxer steps into the south Minneapolis gym where she trains, she's not only sparring with a partner – the teenager is also out to change the rules of the sport.
"I'm a boxer and you're going to tell me I can't box?" said Amaiya.
Being a devout Muslim, Amaiya wears a traditional hijab, long sleeves and leggings out of respect for her faith.
But the rules of USA Boxing dictate not in the ring during sanctioned competitions. The rule was designed to protect boxers from injuries and to allow referees to see any obvious injuries.
"That did feel like injustice. I was like I paid to be a member of USA Boxing but I don't get to compete -- that didn't feel right," Amaiya said.
So Amaiya decided to spar with the very rules of the sport. She and her family and supporters have spent the past couple of years trying to convince administrators of the long male-dominated sport to change.
"Why should I have to compromise the sport that I love, this is my life, I go to the gym every single day, why should I have to compromise that for my religion," Amaiya asks.
"This doesn't put her at any competitive advantage at all," explained Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
After constant appeals, the rule change was just announced. USA Boxing will allow clothing exemptions based on religious beliefs for local matches.
Hussein says the hijab is worn by Muslim women out of respect for their Islamic faith. He applauds the recently announced decision.
"She's not only boxing for herself but for a lot of young girls who now actually can look at that sport as an option," Hussein said.
Amaiya's fight is changing minds and winning friends. Like the competitor who gave her the title belt at a recent national competition in Florida. Amaiya had been disqualified to fight the girl for refusing to remove her hijab.
"There's something about boxing that, it's like, it makes you a stronger person," Amaiya said.
Strong in so many ways -- at only 16, the young boxer may just have fought and won the biggest bout of her life.
For the time being the waiver only applies to local boxing matches.
It will take further work to change rules for national and international boxing competitions.
Amaiya will have her first chance boxing competitively on Saturday, April 29 at Richard Green Central Park School in Minneapolis. Matches begin at 4 p.m.
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