Muslim Athletic Wear Covers Skin Without Cramping Style

Jennifer Cutraro
for National Geographic News
April 27, 2006

The design of most modern sportswear puts many Muslim women athletes in a curious bind: adhere to their faith and have their motions hampered or compromise their beliefs in the name of athletic performance?

The Koran requires women to cover everything except their faces, hands, and feet, says Tayyibah Taylor, editor-in-chief of Azizah Magazine, a publication geared toward Muslim-American women.

"The idea is that your modesty in dress and behavior is a passport to public space," Taylor said. "It makes the statement that a Muslim woman's body is not a part of the public conversation."

Recently Muslim women living in a Somali refugee camp in Kenya (see map) were given unique new volleyball uniforms.

Designed through a partnership between Nike and the United Nations, the uniforms permit the women athletes to dig, spike, and set while covering their bodies and heads in a way that remains true to their faith.

But don't look for such specialized gear at your local mall or sporting-goods store just yet.

Nike spokesperson Alan Marks says the Beaverton, Oregon, company currently has no plans to commercialize the product. And most other major sportswear manufacturers have no lines specifically targeting Muslim women.

Today a scattering of small companies is the only commercial source of sportswear for the modest-minded.

Modest Yet Fashionable

Finding appropriate exercise wear is something that Muslim women have struggled with for years, says Laila Al-Marayati, spokesperson for the Los Angeles, California-based Muslim Women's League.

She says some women and girls choose to work out in long-sleeved shirts and sweatpants, but that is only a partial solution.

"Muslim women sometimes will prefer to go to all-female gyms or work out at home, so they can exercise comfortably and not be overwhelmed with heat exhaustion," Al-Marayati said.

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