September 11, 2005

Sania Mirza

The Sania Mirza controversy seems a little odd to me. If you haven't heard, Sania Mirza is an Indian Muslim tennis player who started the year ranked #206. However, she was able to reach the fourth round of the U.S. Open, and will possibly be among the top 35 women tennis players in the latest rankings, insha'allah. The controversy is that Ms. Mirza has been the subject of two fatawa recently due to her wearing standard tennis clothing (a shirt and skirt).

"Sania Mirza is a Muslim and she stands half-naked on the tennis court while playing, which is against Islam," said Siddikulla Chowdhury, secretary of the Jamiat-Ulama-Hind Islamic movement in Kolkata. "She is trying to ape some Western tennis players who dress in a similar way."

"The dress she wears on the tennis court not only doesn't cover large parts of her body but leaves nothing to the imagination of voyeurs," said another cleric, Maulana Hasheeb-ul-Hasan Siddiqui of the Sunni Ulema Board. "She will undoubtedly be a corrupting influence on these women."

Ms. Mirza herself has declined comment on the fatawa. "I have nothing to say about that."

My own thoughts:

  • First, I wonder at the credibility and motivation of the people who are issuing these "fatawa." Who are they? The Sunni Ulema Board in particular has been described in some news articles as "little known." Likewise, is this just grandstanding by people who want to take advantage of this young woman's recent success? According to one article, "Zafarul-Islam Khan, editor of The Milli Gazette, a bi-monthly publication with a focus on Islamic issues, told AFP no fatwa had been issued. 'It is just for sensation,' he said. 'There is no fatwa.' According to Khan, a fatwa is a response given in writing to a specific question, and can only be given by a qualified scholar, or 'mufti.' 'But every time a bearded person says something it is called a fatwa,' he said, adding that Mirza's attire was not an issue among most Indian Muslims."

  • On the other hand, what the two groups are asking for is not unreasonable either. I don't think it's necessary that she be covered up completely, but I also don't think her performance on the court would be hurt if she, say, wore sweat pants instead of the skirt.

    The Shia have given an interesting response to the controversy so far: MYOB! The All-India Shia Muslim Personal Law Board on Saturday disapproved the edict issued by some Muslim clerics on dresses worn by Indian teenage tennis sensation Sania Mirza while playing and asked them not to meddle in [the] sports arena. "The fatwa issued against Sania by a section of Muslim clerics is unnecessary and uncalled for. It is not for them to issue guidelines on what players should wear during matches," Board Chairman Mirza Mohammad Athar told reporters in Lucknow. Asserting that Sania had committed no sin by wearing her choice of dresses on [the] field, he asked clerics not to interfere in matters pertaining to sports. Athar said it was regrettable that the clerics issued the fatwa against Sania who did the community and the country proud by becoming the first Indian to reach pre-quarterfinals of the US Open. The Chairman told them to understand that sports had its own dress code, and a player, belonging to any religion, was the best judge to decide what dress suited him or her while playing. Lauding Sania's achievements, he said she had become a role model for her community and the country by her performances. Athar urged clerics and countrymen to encourage her to bring more laurels for herself and the country. "They should not demoralise her by issuing fatwas on her dresses," he said. For the record, my wife (who is Sunni, as am I) is surprised at the Shia response in that she does believe that a woman showing that much skin is committing a sin. She would have expected the Shia to take a more conservative response (i.e., agreeing with the fatawa).


  • Muslim clerics lash out at 'half-naked' Indian tennis star Mirza

  • Fatwa on Sania dress uncalled for: Shia Board

    Update: (1 April 2010) A lot of people are visiting this blog post now that Sania Mirza has announced her engagement to Pakistani cricket player Shoaib Malik. For more information, please visit Sania Mirza Engaged.

    izzymo said...

    Salaam alaikum,

    Well, it's nice to see that people aren't making that big of a deal about it. I mean, her clothes aren't Islamic but Muslims do have bigger problems that her skirt. We do have women (and many men)being denied their God-given Islamic rights so I think that "fatwa" board oughta go after the bigger fish. :-)

    izzymo said...

    Drat, why won't this thing let me edit typos! :-) It's "than."

    JDsg said...

    Wa 'alaikum salaam.

    My wife and I read your comment. Her thought was that, while she agrees that there are bigger fish to fry, the "fatwa board" also needs to go after the little fish as well. We had a similar conversation last night after going to one of our religious education classes. Our ustaz had made a comment about homes for unwed mothers (yes, they have them here in S'pore), and we (my wife and I) came to an agreement that problems like this (e.g., children being born out of wedlock) need to be approached both "upstream" and "downstream." In a case like Sania Mirza, the downstream approach is to try to get her to dress Islamically on the court as well as off; the upstream approach is to try to get the culture as a whole (at least Muslim culture) to dress more modestly (a tall order, I know). In other words, work to cure the current problems (downstream) and prevent future problems (upstream). But, yes, you do raise a valid point.

    BTW, I don't know if you've ever read the comments I wrote earlier regarding your "Society for Caucasian Muslims" post. They're down below.

    Steve said...

    I think a reasonable person can debate what kind of clothing is acceptable under Islam. I know dozens of Muslims who ruitinely wear shorts and skirts, and at the same time affirm most of the basic principles of Islam.

    That being said, whats at issue is whether or not the actions of this tennis player is worthy of a "fatwa." I completely agree that an Islamic council should be more worried about things like Wahhabism or the Mujahadeen than tennis attire.

    However, it is the position of some Islamic scholars that if the purpose of rules and regulations regarding attire is to not attract attention to ones self, then covering up in conditions such as western society and or tennis courts might actually defeat the intended purpose of such modesty...

    Anonymous said...

    Well agreed that she is a Muslim by birth and also maybe by choice..

    But what happens if she gets irritated of all this and publicly announces she is changed over to Christianity or some other religion ?

    Just curious thats all :D

    Anonymous said...

    What if she was a swimmer, not a tennis player?--or an olympic gymnast---or such? While I would prefer men and women dress modestly---it must not cause oppression for that is much worse---and preventing Muslim women athletes from fulfilling their full potential because of dress might be oppression? ---Rather than pressure the individual, it might be better to pressure the sports industry to offer a modest yet efficient range of clothing for both men and women?---one that they could advertise as being more aeorodynamic for sports......?

    JDsg said...

    @ Anonymous: Good comment. The more modest swimsuits for both men and women are already in vogue at the highest levels of swimming competitions. (These suits are certainly much more modest than the suits I wore when I was on my high school swim team!) And, of course, male gymnasts are much more modestly dressed than their female counterparts.

    However, the fact of the matter is that most Muslim parents will steer their daughters toward sports in which they can participate yet remain as modestly dressed as possible. "Oppression" isn't a concern in this context when there is a variety of sports Muslim girls and women can participate in.