Born in Sudan and raised in Bradford,Asma El Badawi has established a name for herself as a basketball player, coach and spoken word artist  across the world.

From speaking out about the ban on wearing head coverings imposed by FIBA, the international Basketball federation, to performing poetry and facilitating workshops and basketball sessions with young girls worldwide from her native Sudan to Malaysia, she is a relentless force with a mission.

Intrigued by her ability to successfully establish herself in the two fields, Halimat Shode of TBMT-spoke with Asma to learn more about her work.

HS: Asalamu Alaikum Asma, thanks so much for speaking with The Black Muslim Times UK! Can you introduce yourself to our audience?

AEB: I am a freelance spoken word poet, artist and basketball player and coach working mainly in International Development. I was born in Sudan and moved to England when I was just over one years old.

HS: You have an interesting combination of passions – poetry and basketball! What attracted you to both areas?

AEB: Poetry has been apart of my life since I can remember. It was my way of interpreting and making sense of the world around me. I just love how the different arrangements of words can evoke a wide range of imagery and feelings in others. Basketball came into my life about 7 years ago. I am the youngest to an older brother, so naturally I have always loved sport; I was on the highschool rounders team and netball team captain, and did a lot of track and field. After highschool I went on to do jujitsu during six form. But as soon as went to university I stopped playing sports; I always got this vibe from the Muslim community that women shouldn’t play sport. I assumed it was an Islamic ruling, mainly because female Muslim athletes were not visible in the media. However, after reading about it from an Islamic point of view it turned out that wasn’t the case. So after 2 years of feeling depressed and restless I came to know about a basketball team at my university, I went to try it out, I never looked back again and it became a huge part of me.

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Asma ElBadawi on the basketball court

 

HS: Do you feel like you are able to balance the two fields together?

AEB: It wasn’t so difficult as when I was a student my studies were art related and I made my basketball training in the evening. But now it’s complicated; I run workshops and training sessions as well as perform poetry internationally. So I’m not always in my hometown to train with my team. I had to sacrifice my own game to pursue other dreams and earn a living, but its turning out not to be so bad. I take a ball and my basketball clothes with me everywhere I go and find a team to train with. It means I have made a lot of basketball friends around the world.

HS: What obstacles have you faced in your journey in the arts and basketball?

AEB: I was educated in a faith school. My mother was a teacher there and she thought it would benefit me to study in a Muslim environment. As a African/Arab Muslim in a predominantly Asian school I didn’t fit in. The arts and sport activities I took part in weren’t really valued though they where my strengths. I got in trouble a lot for doing normal teenage things, but the teachers truly believed it was because I thought I could do what I like since my mother was a teacher there. I learned from my mother to be confident so I came into school with that attitude. Instead of leaving school as a strong Muslim citizen, I came out with very low self esteem. I spent a lot of my late teens early 20’s trying to rebuild that and gain the confidence to communicate my needs to others. So when I first started playing basketball I struggled mentally.
I didn’t know how to react to close contact defence. I didn’t know how to speak to my coaches. All I knew is I didn’t want to give up so I kept going until I slowly started to speak to my coaches more. Now I always try new skills and really enjoy the game.

Basketball really shaped me in to the women I am today and I never stop learning from it. So when I found out from a friend that there was a ban on headgear over 5cm width which excludes Muslim women from playing professionally, I joined the #FibaAllowHijab global campain to lift the ban. It was a long year but we recently heard that they have agreed to be flexible with the rules and have asked us to send them a hijab sample that meets the safety regulations. I am hoping this will mean female Muslim Basketballers will be more visible in the media. So long as Muslim women are not visible in all sports, the Muslim community will not value sports as a tool to develop young people and will cause them to miss out on so many life skills.

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Asmarunnning a sports poetry workshop with young girls in Malaysia.

HS: Have you been supported in your journey as an artist and basketball player?

AEB: Thankfully my parents have always supported my career and life choices, I tell them about my next steps and the vision I have for myself. My father is a huge football fan and really values sport. A year into playing basketball I told him how I want to play this game until I can no longer move; he laughed and was genuinely happy to hear it. The same goes for my extended family and friends, they can see that I am trying to  use my educational background in the arts and sports qualifications to teach others how to express themselves and stay healthy.

HS: What obstacles have you faced in your journey in the arts and basketball?

AEB: I haven’t faced any in the arts but as I mentioned earlier, in basketball I am part of a campaign to lift the ban on headgear over 5cm width which exclided Muslim women from playing professional basketball. This is why you never see them on the TV and at the Olympics. It an obstacle for all Muslim women and its great to have been a part of the team working towards lifting the ban.

 HS: Do you have advice for your fellow sisters in the creative arts and sports field?

AEB: Don’t restrict your self. Personally I know I am visibly Muslim because of my hijab. But I don’t let that restrict me and I don’t let it define me either. My art work is about my life outside of my faith my mundane experiences and encounters. When I’m playing basketball I don’t even notice my hijab; I let my skills and hard work speak for me, not my clothes. I hope that indirect approach is good enough to change the perspective people have of Muslims.

I come across too many Muslim women that rely on Muslim organisations to create the spaces for them to play a sport or exhibit art work or perform poetry. When these spaces are not found a lot of women just give up so, we need to stop relying on our communities to provide the spaces because our communities don’t value the sports or arts as tools for development the way that western communities do.

Alternatively, these women can create their own platforms or join non-Muslim organisations in leader positions to introduce some changes that allow Muslim women to participate. For example, socials that don’t involve alcohol.

So my advice to them is if you love something please do it. Unless we change our own narrative. The west will continue to believe the media representations of us.

 

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Asma leading a basketball session with young girls in Tanzania.

 

Many thanks to Asma for speaking with us, we hope readers will feel inspired to reach their highest potential.

Follow Asma on Twitter and IG @asmaelbadawi and her facebook artist page for updates about her events, performances, and more. 

For the latest on the FIBA’s ruling on the headcovering ban, visit the link below.

https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/jan/26/basketball-governing-body-fiba-hijab

Photo credit: Asma El Badawi

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