Muslim Female Boxer Causing Controversy While Inspiring Other Girls

ambreen-sadiq

This is a story about art imitating life in a truly inspiring way. When you think of boxing you usually think of the greats like Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson and Sugar Ray Leonard. No women’s names immediately come to mind, but trust us when we say there are females out there in the world who are making their mark in quite a unique and inspiring way.

One of those women is British Muslim woman Ambreen Sadiq, who has stared down the face of a different kind of opposition to get where she is today. For 20 year-old Ambreen, her fights don’t end when she leaves the boxing ring. The former national champion and boxing teacher unfortunately has put up with bullying, racism, prejudice and even death threats from her Muslim community, including her own family.

That right there is enough of an excuse to make a normal person give in and move on to something a little more tame, but not Ambreen.

“My dad’s family are Pakistani Muslims and they’re very into their community. It was all ‘you’re bringing shame into the culture’ because I’m an Asian Muslim girl. If I was a boy it wouldn’t matter,” she told Radhika Sanghani at The Telegraph. While her own parents were mostly fine with her boxing (her mom just didn’t want her to get a broken nose), it was her aunts, uncles and extended family who had a problem with her being a girl, a Muslim and a boxer.

She was 15 when she became interested in the sport thanks to a little encouragement from her brother who was also into it. After her very first fight, her uncle came up to her and basically tried to force her to quit.

“You’ve done really good but it’s your first and your last fight. You shouldn’t do anymore because you’re bringing shame to the family,” she recalls him saying. “I was like, ‘I’ve been training for two years and at my party you tell me I can’t fight’. I said: ‘I’m sorry this is what I love’. Obviously, they weren’t happy about it.”

Soon the word started spreading in her community and Ambreen was featured in various newspaper articles and even a documentary on Channel 4.

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Ambreen was bullied in school by people who couldn’t understand why a woman wanted to participate in a male-dominated sport. And while the men in her family frowned upon her actions, specifically because in her culture the women remain quiet, submissive and don’t try to draw attention to themselves, Ambreen says it was mostly the women who gave her the most grief.

“The negative side was more from other women. I had loads of them saying that I was making them look bad. A lot of Muslim people say it’s about religion, but I think it’s more about the culture and how people have been brought up. Men and women are treated equally [in the religion]. In the culture, it’s like the women should be at home cooking tea. The men put the food on the table.”

“It’s like a stereotype: people grow up and see their mum at home and dad going to work. If you don’t do that, it’s different and it’s not allowed. [Boxing]’s stereotyped as a male sport – people are punching each other in the face and trying to knock each other out. They see fighting as a boys’ thing.”

And it’s not just that she is boxing, but also the fact she wears clothing that doesn’t cover her entire body as stipulated by her culture. She has tried to explain that she’s not trying to look “sexy” in her boxing attire, and has even tried to ask permission from the Boxing Association if she can wear more covered clothing.

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Her persistence is slowly paying off. All her siblings attend her matches, and now people in the community are starting to soften toward the idea of a young Muslim girl being a boxer. She also knows that her determination to do what she wants sends a powerful message to other girls in her community.

“The hardest thing is not getting support from the Muslim community and the Asian community. It’s getting [the message] out there that Muslim girls can do something different. They didn’t expect to see a Muslim girl box. It’s like, oh my god, a woman’s doing something. She’s not staying at home and just being a housewife.”

Her story just got another huge dose of publicity, as it was the idea behind one of the performances at the recent Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The play, produced by a company called Common Wealth, is called ‘No Guts, No Heart, No Glory‘, featuring 4 female boxers sharing their stories on stage.

The company interviewed a variety of Muslim girls aged 16-22, including Ambreen, to come up with a script which would accurately represent young Muslim women in Britain today.

no-guts-no-glory-performance

“We want it to speak to young people, to make them feel braver, and to live how they want to live so that they are free and confident to make their own choices tomorrow,” says the description about the short film used to promote the play leading up to the Festival. Ambreen is stoked on her story being used as a way to inspire others.

“It’s great that I can get my story out there. I think girls should be doing anything they want to be doing. Boxing for a female is so different, so the fact I was breaking down barriers pushed me on.” she said. While she doesn’t believe in telling other girls to totally disobey their parents, saying it is “rude”, she is adamant that doing what you love isn’t about pleasing others.

“Anything that you do, there are going to be people that are negative and don’t like it. You have to decide: do you want to do what you love, or do you want to please other people? Don’t let anyone get in the way of your dream no matter who it is. Parents should respect their daughters’ feelings.”

May this story be the extra incentive you need to pursue your dreams today. You might have a tonne of opposition, but not trailblazer throughout history has escaped this. The negativity is what spurs them to greatness, and it can do the same for you too. Ambreen’s story certainly packs a punch (pun completely intended!) and serves to show that barriers only remain if they aren’t challenged and brought into question.

Take a look at the promo film made for ‘No Guts, No Heart, No Glory’ here, and check out an interview with Ambreen with the BBC below.


 

 

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