Sania Mirza: Indian Hero, or Traitor of her Faith and Country?
Ever since the US Open in August and September of 2005, many in the tennis community, and not, have been keeping close tabs of the doings of an up-and-coming star by the name of Sania Mirza, a young woman from Hyderabad, India, who has been shooting up the rankings over the past few months. Sania, however, is not being recognized for her power shots and excellent on-court play, and sometimes not even for the fact that she was the first Indian woman to crack the top 40 in tennis or win a professional tournament. People from inside the tennis world and out have been criticizing her as traitor of the Muslim faith because of the clothes she wears on court, as they see this attire as being against her, and all Muslims, faith and beliefs.
Mirza, like all other female tennis players, adorns the typical mini-skirts, tank tops, biker shorts, etc., in order to play in the most comfortable, and least hindering, clothes possible. The problem, as seen by many Muslim clerics and adherents to the faith, is that she wears clothing that does not cover her body properly, and is not modest enough. Muslim religious groups have gone so far as to issue a fatwa that denounces Mirza's attire and threatens to forcibly remove her from the tennis world if she did not change what she wore. Sania chose to ignore this demand, while adding much more security to her personal circle to ensure her safety both at home and abroad.
Muslims all around the world are reacting to the fatwa and Mirza's actions, as seen in the article and comments previously quoted, by Shahed Amanullah, et al. One poster by the name of “reformist muslim” brings up the point that Mirza can still be of Muslim faith, practice her religion as she choses, and wear these clothes so detested by others, all without being a walking contradiction or bad role-model for any other Muslim girls or women. Many other commenters seem to vehemently disagree, but the fact still remains that there are people of the Muslim faith who support Mirza and her actions, despite, or sometimes because of, her clothing and image.
The other issue at hand, one that bothers me even moreso than Mirza's clothing, is the fact that some are crying the she is being criticized for her clothes, and even participating at all in a sport, because she is a Muslim woman. The following is a wonderful excerpt from another alt.muslim article:
"The problem with Sania is, she is a young woman rather than a man.
A man is a free agent, free to break rules, religious and social, free to make mistakes, free to act as an individual. Boys will be boys, after all.
Women are symbolically made to bear the burden of protecting the collective honor. Every step she takes, every move she makes, is monitored for its impact on the community. She has just realized that in a patriarchal community and society she is not free.
Sania's clothing is an issue not because Muslims are concerned about modesty. If they were, there are plenty of other cases of public personages—mostly men—dishonoring the community through acts of immodesty and sexual abandon everyday.
Sania's clothing is an issue because women are still seen as property..."
If Sania were a man, she would not currently be in the situation of having to defend her attire, at least according to Shabana Mir and many of the commenters on the article. I tend to agree with this fact, as there are many openly Muslim men who play tennis and other sports all around the world, and they are not criticized at all for their clothing or actions on- and off-court with respect to being in accordance with their faith. Is this merely an oversight on my part, or those of thousands of others looking into this issue, or is Mirza really being accused of not upholding her faith because she is a woman in this position? Or is it because she is a woman playing a sport from a country where women have not traditionally been allowed to do so professionally?
I certainly am not a person of authority when it comes to the Muslim faith or how its adherents should carry themselves on a day-to-day basis, or even on the fact of gender relations in Asia, but I do see this issue as an important one in our world today. Another person with little background in this issue by the name of Jason Cowley has also commented on this situation via an article about Mirza (quoted here almost in its entirety), and seems to stand in a similar position as myself: Mirza is a force to be reckoned with, and is going to change the face of Indian and Muslim women from here on out. The main question now remains: how long will it take for the world to accept her in this role?