On a football pitch in a park in central London, the Sisterhood Football Club, a team of Muslim women, make a substitution.
“Your hijab, tuck it in. It can’t get in your way,” shouts a teammate as the substitute continues to run.
Despite the afternoon heat, all of the Sisterhood players are dressed head to toe in the club’s all-black colours. Some wear workout pants, almost all have hijab scarves, and one wears a body-length abaya dress.
On the sidelines, a team member spreads out a mat and kneels in prayer as her teammates play against a team led by Brazilian women in bright pink and blue shirts and shorts.
Founded in 2018, Sisterhood has doubled in size to nearly 100 players, allowing its members to play football without anyone questioning their Muslim dress code or asking why they refrain from socializing in a pub afterwards. their matches.
“It’s a soccer club where Muslim women come to feel free and relaxed and can play in their attire,” said Kamara Davis, 30.
She converted to Islam at 17 and felt she would never play football again as it seemed incompatible with the traditional dress of the religion. But when she heard about Sisterhood, she jumped at the chance to join.
“Honestly, it feels so good, it’s like a release. It’s really nice to be able to shoot the ball with power,” Kamara said.
The club also offers a chance for Muslim women to enjoy a break from the traditional roles that many say are expected of them.
Fatima Ali, 26, said some families initially struggled to understand why their young female members wanted to play sports. “I think a lot of people approved of it,” she said. “But it’s still going to take time, it’s not just a one-step process.”
“Even your brothers might be like what’s the point of you going from west London to the south east, but I’ll be like, ‘I like to play, we’ve got a team, that’s it, we’ve got a game , we have to go there to do that”.
Yasmin Abdullahi, the Somali-British founder of Sisterhood, recalled the surprise of many Muslim students when she told them that she played football for Goldsmiths College, University of London as a student.
“They couldn’t believe they saw a girl wearing a hijab and saying she was playing football,” said Abdullahi, a 30-year-old professional model.
She therefore created the club in order to reconcile the interest in sport among many Muslim women and their adherence to their faith. To underscore this point, the club badge of Sisterhood features the image of a hijab, which was banned by world football governing body Fifa for security reasons in 2007. The ban does not was relaxed only in 2012, with the hijab being fully permitted in 2014.
“If they had equal investment and equal opportunities, where would the women be? she asked.
Like many Sisterhood players, Abdullahi is excited about the upcoming World Cup in Qatar. “What comes with the World Cup is such a great experience, watching games with your family and friends.”
But like others at the club, Abdullahi contrasted funding for the England men’s team with that of the women’s national team which won this year’s European Women’s Championship for the first time.
Sisterhood holds a weekly training session and its first team competes in the Women’s Super Liga for 5-man and 7-man teams.
Sara Taleghani said she struggled to reconcile her faith and her hopes of playing sports when she was at school in Ireland.
“I constantly had coaches trying to compromise my religion,” said Taleghani, who works as a social media manager for a PR agency.
The teachers used to say that her headscarf was a danger and they insisted that she wear shorts. “I think that’s why I stopped playing sports at school,” Taleghani said.
For Faezeh Deriss, 23, a recent graduate in child psychology, being able to wear whatever she wants while playing is vital.
“I’ve been to a few other football venues but there were no girls who looked like me,” she said. “Other teams I’ve played with have tried to make me wear shorts. I’ve tried wearing shorts with leggings underneath but it didn’t feel right.
There was no such conflict in Sisterhood. “I’m confident telling the team that I’m just going to go pray. That’s no problem,” Deriss said.
Taleghani said she was encouraged to see other Muslim women’s football teams, but regretted that some players of her generation never realize their potential, given that they recently had the chance to play.
“If there had been spaces like this when we were growing up, I know a few girls who would have gone pro,” she said.
For Abdullahi, the club’s most important achievement is the sense of unity among its members, many of whom have become friends.
“I think the thing that really brings tears to my eyes is the fact that we’ve actually built our little community,” Abdullahi said. “The name Sisterhood FC, it’s no coincidence that we literally built a sisterhood.”