By Anthea Islam
Muslim Women Redefining British Sport is a three-part series written by Anthea Islam, an Aziz Foundation alumni who studied for an MA in Applied Anthropology, Community and Youth Work at Goldsmiths, University of London. This article focuses on the wonderful work of Sisterhood F.C. — a Muslim women’s football team in South East London.
A 2017 Sport England study suggests only 18% of Muslim women regularly participated in sport against 30% of women in the UK as a whole. [i] Alongside this, my own research around Muslim women in sport brought up search suggestions like “Can Muslim women exercise?”. Whilst that might sound ludicrous for many of us, a lack of visible representation of Muslim women exercising, competing and creating sports groups often goes unnoticed. However, I was fortunate enough to speak to 4 Muslim women about their experiences of sports. Sisterhood FC is a Muslim women’s football group birthed in South East London by a group of British Somali students at Goldsmiths College. Close to my own heart, I skipped many (all) of the training sessions on the university’s pitches but always seemed to make my way for chats in the prayer room with the girls.
Fathiya, one of the co-founders explained that Sisterhood FC came from a conversation whereby herself and other women realised that they had played football as children but naturally stopped and didn’t feel there were teams who catered to the needs of Muslim women. Yasmin, the president, had been playing for the Goldsmiths Women’s football team at the time but had explained that she was the only Black woman and the only Muslim. What once began as a group of friends having a kick about at university is now an expansion of women across London wanting to be part of the sisterhood. The aim was to provide a safe and nurturing environment where Muslim women could play football freely but in turn, this became a real community of footballers throwing themselves into a sport they had forgotten their passion for.
Despite the difficulties of working lives and university, alongside the cost and availability of getting a pitch in London, the girls use jumpers for goal posts and take cones to the park to ensure they can play. Fathiya explained that the main aims of Sisterhood FC were to be inclusive and allow Muslim women of varying faith levels to be part of something. During the beginning stages of Sisterhood FC, I remember the meeting point being the prayer room at University, weaving their faith into every aspect of their training. Half times are often prayer breaks and some girls may even ask others for advice regarding Islam. Fathiya’s biggest advice for those wanting to involved in sport was to find an organised team with a good level of consistency. She was honest and frank about the reality of running a group which now has 60+ women in the group chat and organising training, with work commitments being a struggle. Nonetheless, whilst there’s not quite a solid team yet, the mixture of races and ages have made Sisterhood FC a melting pot for Muslim women in London.