A Twin Cities teenager is poised to become the first boxer to wear a hijab in the ring during a match approved by the group that regulates Olympic U.S. boxing.
According to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, USA Boxing is ready to allow a religious exemption to its rule governing what fighters can wear.
CAIR has been urging the group to change its policy since it was used to disqualify 16-year-old Amaiya Zafar of Oakdale moments before her first bout at a national boxing tournament in Florida last fall.
CAIR says USA Boxing plans to adopt the new rule allowing religious exemptions when its board of directors meets in June, but adds that Zafar will be allowed to fight in an April 29 match in Minneapolis.
We’ve seen no statement yet from USA Boxing, which is the governing body for Olympic-style boxing in the country.
‘A Partial Victory’
Zafar explains on her website that her Muslim faith and her boxing aspirations are both important to her. To uphold the modesty her religion emphasizes, she enters the ring in a head scarf, long-sleeved shirt, and leggings as well as the trunks and tank top other female boxers wear.
USA Boxing’s director told MPR News a couple years ago that Zafar’s attire could not be permitted for safety reasons, explaining that referees need to be able to see any injuries to a fighter’s body so they can stop the match if necessary.
According to CAIR, USA Boxing has not fully retreated from that position. They say when it’s approved the new rule will apply only to stand-alone boxing matches, not ones that are part of a tournament that crowns a champion. A boxer will also need to reapply for a religious exemption each time they want one.
In the group’s statement CAIR’s national communications director calls it a partial victory but applauds the change that will allow boxers like Zafar to fight in nationally authorized matches.
An untested boxer
Zafar says she’s stayed faithful to her training as well as her religion, even though she has not yet been allowed to test her boxing skills in a sanctioned match.
As she explains it on her website: “I cover my body to show self respect and my faith in God. So this, and the fact that there are few girls my age and weight for me to fight, are the main reasons I have yet to compete.” Zafar says she’s five-foot-one and is in the Women’s Flyweight class, which is 106 to 112 pounds.
Not knowing if she ever would fight in a genuine competition did not seem to discourage Zafar. In a profile published by Mashable last week she said: “I’m training for someday when I fight, and if I don’t fight, it doesn’t matter because I’m gonna get the next generation ready.”