The role of sports in the lives of Arab women

| September 4, 2015


Arab women are often associated with inactivity in sports. There is a conviction especially in the Western world that women in Arab countries do not involve themselves with competitive sports especially at top levels. One of the factors that strengthen this notion is the failure by Arab women who migrate to countries such as the USA, Germany, France, and Britain to participate in sport. Although this notion is not accurate, it appears that the level of participation in sport by Arab women remains rather low. This situation is greatly contributed to by religious and cultural factors.

This paper hypothesizes that sport is slowly being integrated into the day-to-day lives of Arab Muslim women. Changes are being made to traditional attitudes towards engagement in physical activities among women, making it possible for the integration process to unfold. Today, it is possible for both veiled and unveiled women to take part in competitive sporting activities and at the same time maintain their Arab female identity. These changes constitute a new cosmopolitan attitude that is paving way for the emergence of a complex, multilayered modern identity. Moreover, for women, sport is a means of resistance or negotiation in efforts to reconstruct their roles as modern Muslim women within the public sphere. The aim of this paper is to examine the cultural narratives, context, heritage, and role of religion in constructing and reaffirming the roles of Arab women in the public sphere of sporting activities.

Literature review

In literature, the role of sports in the lives of Arab women is richly entangled with the wider theme of the place of women in the Arab/Islamic world. For instance, it is common for feminists and human rights activists to debate on whether the requirement for women to wear a veil is explicitly stated in the Koran or the Hadith.[1] In this argument, the feminists argue that by being compelled to wear the veil, Arab women end up being discouraged from participating in sporting activities both in competitive and non-competitive levels.

The literature has also generated the finding that the tendency by Arab women to shy away from sports and the subsequent dominance in sporting activities by men arises from a mixture of patriarchal traditions and Islamic teachings. In this patriarchal context, the dominant position is that

[1] Pfister, Gertrud and Ilse Hartmann-Tews. Sport and Women: Sport and Women: Social Issues in International Perspective



Benn, Tansin, Gertrud Pfister and Haifaa Jawad. (Eds.) Muslim Women and Sport. New York: Routledge, 2011.

Henry, Ian, Mahfoud Amara and Mansour Al-Tauqi. “Sport, Arab Nationalism and the Pan-Arab Games.” International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 38, no 3 (2003): 295-310.

Kay, Tess. “Daughters of Islam: Family Influences on Muslim Young Women’s Participation in Sport.” International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 41, no. 3 (2006): 357-373.

Messner, Morgan. Sports and male domination: The female athlete as contested ideological terrain. New York: Blackwell Publishing, 2001.

Pfister, Gertrud and Ilse Hartmann-Tews. Sport and Women: Sport and Women: Social Issues in International Perspective. London: Routledge, 2003.

Scraton, Sheila and Anne Flintoff (Eds.). Gender and Sport: A Reader. New York: Routledge, 2002.

Walseth, Kristin and Kari Fasting. “Islam’s View on Physical Activity and Sport: Egyptian Women Interpreting Islam.” International Review for the Sociology of Sport 38, no 1 (2003): 45-60.

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