In August 2012, a group of inspiring sporting women met for the first time at West Ham United Football Club’s aptly named Legends' Bar to discuss, praise and celebrate the presence of Muslim sportswomen at the London 2012 Games. Rimla Akhtar, Chair of the Muslim Women’s Sport Foundation (MWSF), opened the event, highlighting the importance of the contribution of these Olympians. She welcomed the four members of the specially arranged panel for the evening: Faezeh Hashemi, President of the Islamic Federation for Women's Sport, former member of Iranian parliament and daughter of former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani; Sahar El Hawary, a pioneer of women’s football in Egypt, member of the FIFA Women’s Committee and the first female member of the Egyptian Football Federation; Anum Bandey, a fifteen year old swimmer competing for Pakistan at the London 2012 Olympics; and Khadijah Safari, kickboxing instructor and winner of MWSF’s Coach of the Year Award.
At the event, held with the strong support of West Ham United Football Club's Community Trust, the four assorted panel guests answered questions from the panel host, MWSF volunteer Leila Taheri, who expertly guided them through the discussion. Chief Executive of the MWSF, Ayesha Abdeen, stated: 'The reception was a huge success. It was inspiring to have two great pioneers of women's sport in Faezeh Hashemi and Sahar El Hawary side by side with a young aspiring Olympian (Anum Bandey) and role model for UK Muslim women (Khadijah Safari). The aim of the evening was to raise the profile of women in sport and to celebrate female Muslim athletes in the Olympics. Fittingly, and right on queue, two athletes won medals that same evening - Aliya Mustafina of Russia winning Gold in the uneven bars and Habiba Ghribi of Tunisia achieving Silver in the 3,000 metre Steeplechase.'
The panelists reflected how, despite their differing backgrounds, sport has provided a positive environment where they have achieved for themselves, whilst also creating pathways for future women to follow. Their message has been that the focus should not continue to be on the barriers that these women face but how the light should be shone on those Muslim sportswomen who are on the world stage, competing and demonstrating this theory in practice so that future generations can find their way as well.
The Muslim Women’s Sport Foundation are a UK-based charity specialising in increasing participation amongst black and minority ethnic women, particularly Muslims, who can be deterred from mainstream sports activities as they do not meet their varying cultural needs. Chair of the MWSF, Rimla Akhtar, commented: 'The MWSF continues to be a champion and pioneer for ethnic minority women's sport and this was yet another unique event held following our Ambassador Awards at Wembley Stadium in May. Much has been written and said about Muslim women and stories around sport have focused on some of the challenges that these women have faced. Here was an event that turned the focus from bans to brilliance, an event which spoke of the desire and passion that Muslim women have for sport and one which speaks loudly of our continued presence and contribution to the sporting arena.'