Muslim weightlifter's wish to wear modest clothing triggers rules debate
Kulsoom Abdullah covers her body except for her hands and face.
June 9th, 2011
04:21 PM ET

Muslim weightlifter's wish to wear modest clothing triggers rules debate

By Josh Levs, CNN

Atlanta, Georgia (CNN) - Kulsoom Abdullah is a 35-year-old with a doctorate in electrical and computer engineering. But it's her passion outside of work that has put her at the center of a debate - one that could affect athletic competitions worldwide, even the Olympics.

Later this month, the International Weightlifting Federation will take up the question of whether Abdullah may take part in officially sanctioned tournaments while keeping her entire body covered, aside from her hands and face, in keeping with her Muslim faith.

"It's what I believe in. It's what I've chosen to do," Abdullah tells CNN of her decision to wear modest garb. "I've always dressed this way publicly."

Abdullah is not an Olympic athlete, but enjoys lifting weights. She can deadlift 245 pounds (111 kg) and get up 105 pounds (47.5 kg) in the snatch, in which the competitor lifts the barbell from the floor to over her head in a single motion. She likes to compete with other women in her weight class - she generally weighs in the 106-pound (48 kg) or 117-pound (53 kg) classifications.

"I guess it's empowering," she says. "There's a lot of technique involved, so someone who's this big muscular person - it's possible I could lift more than they do. There's speed and timing to it - you have to be explosive. I think it's great just for confidence building ... I guess I got hooked."

The Atlanta resident wants to take part in tournaments in the United States, including one coming up in July. But USA Weightlifting informed her that those events are governed by IWF rules. And those rules preclude her dressing in keeping with her beliefs.

Abdullah generally wears loose, long pants past the ankles, a long-sleeve, fitted shirt with a loose T-shirt over it, and a hijab, or head scarf, covering her hair.

The outfits - officially called "costumes" - worn at competitions must be collarless and must not cover the elbows or knees, according to the IWF's technical and competition rules.

The IWF constitution also states that no distinction is made among individuals based on religion.

Mark Jones, a spokesman for the U.S. Olympic Committee - which oversees USA Weightlifting and many other sports - explained part of the challenge is that judges need to see that a competitor's elbows and knees are locked during a lift.

But the USOC also understands the dilemma Abdullah faces. After CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations - a Washington-based group that advocates for Muslims and Muslim causes - contacted the USOC on Wednesday, Jones said, his group reached out to the IWF.

"I think their (CAIR's) language is to 'advocate' on the athlete's behalf with the international federation, and we have done that," Jones told CNN. "The Olympic movement is all about the universal values of equality. We value that greatly, but we also respect the rules of sport - especially those set forth for competitive reasons. So we're looking to see if there's some way to accommodate - not just this one particular athlete," he said, adding, "this is an issue that has some wider implications."

The International Weightlifting Federation has agreed to include the issue on the agenda of its next meeting, later this month in Malaysia, Jones said. The group's technical committee will hold a debate, and then present a recommendation to the IWF board, Jones said.

"Awesome!" Abdullah responded, when CNN informed her Thursday of these developments. "That's wonderful."

The news came after months of pushing for change, she said. In April, USA Weightlifting responded to an e-mail from her, explaining that it had to reject her request due to IWF rules. In that e-mail, there was no suggestion that the group or the USOC might take up the issue with the IWF.

John Duff, CEO of USA Weightlifting, issued a statement Thursday reiterating that the organization abides by the IWF rules on uniforms, and that the "issue has been brought to the attention of the IWF and the IWF Technical Committee has agreed to place the matter on the agenda of the next meeting, which will take place on June 26 in Penang, Malaysia, for consideration."

USA Weightlifting and the International Weightlifting Federation did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday.

Abdullah says she understands the need to make sure she isn't wearing anything under her clothes to give her a competitive advantage. She says judges could check to make sure she is not wearing something on her elbows, for example, that might help her.

And she says she's willing to wear a "snug" shirt - though not skin tight - underneath a loose singlet, so judges could "see that there's lockout" in her arms when she does her lifts.

Ibrahim Hooper of CAIR, which sent out a news release about Abdullah on Wednesday, praised the USOC Thursday for taking action.

"It sounds like they've really done exactly what we asked them to do, which is advocate on behalf of this Muslim athlete," Hooper said.

"The ultimate result is a very reasonable compromise that allows the Muslim athlete to follow her religious beliefs and practices and maintain the legitimate rules and policies of Olympics and sports in general."

While Abdullah was happy to hear the IWF will consider her situation, there is no guarantee the IWF will alter its rules.

Although there were no immediate, organized protests against the USOC's decision to bring Abdullah's case to the IWF, USOC spokesman Jones said his agency has received messages from people opposing any change in the rules. He did not characterize what the messages said or how many there were.

Numerous athletic agencies have faced similar questions in the past and, in some cases, have determined that allowing special clothing violates fairness or equality among all contestants.

FIFA, the international federation governing soccer, recently refused to allow Iran's women's soccer team to wear headscarves while playing in an Olympic qualifying round in Amman, Jordan.

Abdullah told CNN her effort is not just about herself. "I should at least try," she said, "if not for me then maybe for other women who - if they have my faith or another faith - dress a certain way."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Islam • Sports

soundoff (515 Responses)
  1. Frank Jones

    Islam respects the right of women! See for yourself:

    "Men are overseers over women, by reason of that wherewith Allah hath made one of them excel over another, and by reason of that which they expend of their substance. Wherefore righteous women are obedient, and are watchers in husbands absence by the aid and protection of Allah. And those wives whose refractoriness ye fear, exhort them, and avoid them in beds, and beat them; but if they obey you, seek not a way against them; verily Allah is ever Lofty, Grand."
    Qur'an 4:34

    June 10, 2011 at 1:09 am |
  2. Adam


    June 10, 2011 at 1:05 am |
  3. sheisugly

    she is purty, and could probably pulverize me with one punch. doh > . >

    June 10, 2011 at 1:01 am |
  4. Mohammad T

    I love to read the comments on the CNN forums because i can always come to them for a laugh. Its funny how people find them selves civilized into flaming one another to death. What does it matter what she does, I am a Muslim and i find it interesting and unique let her live her life and what she does let her be judged by God alone. Also for the people who bash other Religion grow up and it makes me laugh that you bash a religion i wonder what kind of morals you have but what can i see little kids on the internet. Enough said

    June 10, 2011 at 12:59 am |
    • Ex-muslim

      You wasted all that time writing this? You as a muslim are complaining about others who bash islam while it's mostly muslims all over the world who kill and abuse religious minorities on a daily basis. I prefer people who bash other religions over people who kill people of other religions. And the problem is that this VIOLENCE IS IN ACCORDANCE WITH ISLAM which is why I am now an ex-muslim. How come you don't write about muslim violence against kuffar? Are you a hypocrite? You are a joke. But sadly enough, You're the average muslim.

      June 10, 2011 at 1:07 am |
  5. Maryam

    Did you guys forget about the Muslim woman who WON the olympic sprint? I say let her lift. The knees are covered in the Olympic weightlifting with bandages as is. Im sure something can be worked out for the elbows.


    June 10, 2011 at 12:44 am |
  6. Frank Jones & The Funny Koran

    Allah and ole' mo rule!

    Allah was right with what he said about muslim women:
    "Allah said, 'It is My obligation to make Eve bleed once every month as she made this tree bleed. I must also make Eve stupid, although I created her intelligent.' Because Allah afflicted Eve, all of the women of this world menstruate and are stupid." Tabari I:280

    And Allah obviously also knew how to handle muslim chicks (including female weight lifters, LOL!):
    "Prophet! Tell your wives and daughters and all Muslim women to draw cloaks and veils all over their bodies (screening themselves completely except for one or two eyes to see the way). That will be better." Qur'an 33:59

    And good ole' Mo, Allah's disciple, was right regarding muslim women:
    "The Prophet said, 'Isn't the witness of a woman equal to half of that of a man?' The women said, 'Yes.' He said, 'This is because of the deficiency of a woman's mind.'" Bukhari:V3B48N826

    Mohammed, the role model of ALL muslims, also knew that women can't be trusted:
    "Tell the men with you who have wives: never trust a woman." Ishaq:584

    So Allah told ole' Mo how to beat them disobedient chicks up without leaving any evidence, uhm bruises:
    "Allah permits you to shut them in separate rooms and to beat them, but not severely. If they abstain, they have the right to food and clothing. Treat women well for they are like domestic animals and they possess nothing themselves. Allah has made the enjoyment of their bodies lawful in his Qur'an." Tabari IX:113

    But, hey!! Women will never be good enough for muslim men:
    "Rasulullah Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam said: "The rights of the husband on the wife are so great that if pus flows on the husband's body and the woman licks it clean, then too his rights will not be fully fulfilled.""Hadeeth 26.


    (And the best thing is: I can't wait for the hate comments calling me a bigot and worse for posting some of these verses from the Koran and Hadiths. Oh my!!)

    June 10, 2011 at 12:36 am |
    • Maryam

      Everything you posted is not accepted by islam except for the Quran post. So stick to that. Those hadiths are truly hilarious, LOL

      June 10, 2011 at 12:46 am |
    • @Maryam

      There's nothing wrong with the Tabari and Bukari. Influential muslim scholars agree that they are authentic.
      The only thing that's hilarious is how they show the true face of islam. I can understand that it's hard to handle for muslims and their appeasers like you. LOL!

      And if you don't believe me: here's another koran verse about women:

      "Men are overseers over women, by reason of that wherewith Allah hath made one of them excel over another, and by reason of that which they expend of their substance. Wherefore righteous women are obedient, and are watchers in husbands absence by the aid and protection of Allah. And those wives whose refractoriness ye fear, exhort them, and avoid them in beds, and beat them; but if they obey you, seek not a way against them; verily Allah is ever Lofty, Grand."
      Qur'an 4:34

      The koran doesn't advocate beating women? Really? LOL!

      June 10, 2011 at 12:54 am |
    • Meetra

      Your wikipedia skills are astounding. If you truly research this faith, you will know that like the bible, there are many factors that can misconstrue the true nature of the original verse. Additionally, you need to check your hadiths and whether or not they are even valid ones. Your post is full of concepts taken out of context and absolute untruths as well. I would appreciate it if you would shut your face and research this topic before you embarrass yourself any further.

      June 10, 2011 at 1:49 am |
  7. Zainab

    Most of you just keep flinging your own biased ideas and understandings of the religion and culture around. First of all, this is this woman's personal choice. PERSONAL. Since when did the American public/government determine an individual's personal choice. Its her decision to dress this way. I am a muslim women and I do not cover my hair or wear loose clothing. I like comfortable good fitted jeans. When its hot outside I like to put on a t-shirt. But I will never walk around in shorts (above my knees let alone butty shorts) and I will never walk around with my stomach/breasts or other modest body parts showing. And you (who think she cannot wear what she wants to) must respect that as her personal choice. No one goes around complaining about christina/catholic girls who never wear jeans (only skirts) because that is what they believe is the proper way. Why do so with islam. It is not only single minded but a clear obstacle to progressive islam.

    June 10, 2011 at 12:31 am |
    • @Zainab

      Interesting. So what about Christian and Jewish women in the msulim world? Can they also dress as they please, enjoying similar freedoms as the muslim women living in the West? After all it's their own choice. No? Thought so. Hypocrite.

      June 10, 2011 at 12:35 am |
    • Geeman

      Why are you afraid to show your legs? Are they nasty looking?

      June 10, 2011 at 12:38 am |
    • Joe R

      Before talking about how US does its business why don't you look at the Moslim countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia and how they treat women and freedom of choice.

      June 10, 2011 at 12:41 am |
    • Mohammed

      More islamic taqia, i.e. lying (lying to infidels is allowed according to islam):

      "Muslims have every right to lie and to deceive their adversaries, and a promise made to a non-Muslim can be broken whenever necessary." (Amir Taheri)

      June 10, 2011 at 12:47 am |
  8. Richard Pike

    You go, Girl!! Lift them barbells and ignore the dumbbells all around us! Dress the way you want and strut your stuff in the gym - do it for all the women too chicken to participate. Screw the dress code. We need more ladies like you!!

    June 10, 2011 at 12:24 am |
    • @Bencanard

      Yes, we need more women who believe women are worth less than men and can be abused because the Koran says so! More! More!

      June 10, 2011 at 12:27 am |
    • Zainab

      I totally agree. Women need to take more action in such sports/activities that have been gendered.

      ps. The Quran does not. has not and never will condone abuse against women. How people treat women and how they choose to use religion to justify their own...actions is not to be blamed on the Quran. Did anyone blame the bible for Hitler crimes against Jews. Why must ignorant people always find it within their right to blame a teaching they do not understand. Show me a phrase in the Quran that says abuse women. And I say a in the Quran not some bigot muslim man's ideal of women's treatment (because to be fair we all have those types of people in our communities. People who believe they are right and are so hung up on their own ideas and believes that their understanding is clouded by their ignorance. Take a look in the mirror and you'll understand).

      June 10, 2011 at 12:36 am |
    • @Zainab

      Either you are ignorant, a liar or have never read the koran. The koran absolutely condones violence against women. Similar stuff can be found in the koran. Your little taqia, i.e. lying as permitted by the koran, doesn't work:

      Qur'an 4:15 "If any of your women are guilty of lewdness, take the evidence of four witnesses from amongst you against them; if they testify, confine them to houses until death [by starvation] claims them."

      Tabari IX:113 "Allah permits you to shut them in separate rooms and to beat them, but not severely. If they abstain, they have the right to food and clothing. Treat women well for they are like domestic animals and they possess nothing themselves. Allah has made the enjoyment of their bodies lawful in his Qur'an."

      June 10, 2011 at 12:42 am |
  9. Samir

    As a muslim myself I can tell you this stuff is ridiculous, where in the quran does it say to dress like a fool and go lift weights, she should be praying to the almighty allah not causing disruption among IWF.

    Come on muslims, speak out against this nonsense, this idiot women are making us look stupid as well as our religion. The IWF should not discriminate based on religion and if they let her lift with her outfit that is EXACTLY what they are doing!

    June 10, 2011 at 12:19 am |
    • @Samir

      You are right! As a good muslim, she should be praying. And for being disobedient, she needs to be beat up and locked up in a room without food until she dies of starvation. It's not me who says that. It's in your holy Koran and the Hadiths:

      "If any of your women are guilty of lewdness, take the evidence of four witnesses from amongst you against them; if they testify, confine them to houses until death [by starvation] claims them." Qur'an 4:15

      "Allah permits you to shut them in separate rooms and to beat them, but not severely. If they abstain, they have the right to food and clothing. Treat women well for they are like domestic animals and they possess nothing themselves. Allah has made the enjoyment of their bodies lawful in his Qur'an." Tabari IX:113

      June 10, 2011 at 12:32 am |
    • Maryam

      Ever muslim is free to do as they wish and to interpret law as they want. Worry about yourself.

      June 10, 2011 at 12:48 am |
    • sheisugly

      Those fake Muslims are popping left and right. slow day for the trolls, eh?

      June 10, 2011 at 1:47 am |
  10. Geeman

    "It guess it's empowering," she says. Get naked and do it if you really want to know what being empowered is like.

    Covering your whole body only symbolizes your slavery to Arab men. You were put on this world by God buck naked. The jealously of Arab men covers you in shame, disgusting...

    June 10, 2011 at 12:19 am |
    • Cassie

      Lol, you're an idiot.

      June 10, 2011 at 12:50 am |
  11. Reality

    Reminds one of the following:

    From Sir Salman Rushdie's book "Satanic Verses", p. 376, paperback issue – for those 1 billion Muslims to read as they are forbidden to purchase or read said book:

    One of the passages that prompted the crazy Ayatollah Khomeini to issue a fatwa against Sir Rushdie:

    Mahound = Mohammed
    Gibreel = Gabriel

    "The faithful lived by lawlessness, but in those years Mahound – or should one say the Archangel Gibreel? – should one say Al-Lah? – became obsessed by law.

    Amid the palm-trees of the oasis Gibreel appeared to the Prophet and found himself spouting rules, rules, rules, until the faithful could scarcely bear the prospect of any more revelation, Salman said, rules about every da-mn thing, if a man farts let him turn his face to the wind, a rule about which hand to use for the purpose of cleaning one's behind.

    It was as if no aspect of human existence was to be left unregulated, free. The revelation – the recitation- told the faithful how much to eat, how deeply they should sleep, and which se-xual positions had received divine sanction, so that they leamed that so-domy and the missionary position were approved of by the archangel, whereas the forbidden postures included all those in which the female was on top.

    Gibreel further listed the permitted and forbidden subjects of conversation, and earmarked the parts of the body which could not be scratched no matter how unbearably they might itch.

    He vetoed the consumption of prawns, those bizarre other-worldly creatures which no member of the faithful had ever seen, and required animals to be killed slowly, by bleeding, so that by experiencing their deaths to the full they might arrive at an understanding of the meaning of their lives, for it is only at the moment of death that living creatures understand that life has been real, and not a sort of dream.

    And Gibreel the archangel specified the manner in which a man should be buried, and how his property should be divided, so that Salman the Persian got to wondering what manner of God this was that sounded so much like a businessman.

    This was when he had the idea that destroyed his faith, because he recalled that of course Mahound himself had been a businessman, and a damned successful one at that, a person to whom organization and rules came naturally, so how excessively convenient it was that he should have come up with such a very businesslike archangel, who handed down the management decisions of this highly corporate, if noncorporeal, God."

    June 10, 2011 at 12:19 am |
  12. Imran

    Follow islam rules or USOC rules or give up. She wants publicity.

    June 10, 2011 at 12:17 am |
  13. Eyad

    All of you fugn mofo's are filled with hate and ignorance. leave the chick lift how the fug she wants! she really doesn't give a darn about your opinion nor she is waiting for you're permission. I bet my money none of yall follow Christianity 100%, as a Christian there is no room for hate! God loves everyone! idiots!

    June 10, 2011 at 12:14 am |
    • Samir

      Hey stop defending this idiot woman. I am a muslim and I don't condone this STUPID behavior. If she is so religious why is she lifting weights. The truth is she is a loser and on the day of judgement allah will treat her as such.

      June 10, 2011 at 12:22 am |
  14. Marie Kidman


    June 10, 2011 at 12:12 am |
  15. Jason

    Haha! Don't we all love these backward muslims? She dresses like an Ewok, yet wants us to respect her. This article just made my day. Can't take muzzzlims seriously. They're so medieval.

    June 9, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
    • Aliandosns

      You can't respect yourself, your parents,. your sisters, other women in your community, how you can respect women belong to other community???

      June 10, 2011 at 12:13 am |
    • @Bencanard

      You don't make sense. I respect everyone. Except for backward, intolerant people who follow an ideology that says Jews and other infidels need to be killed, women can be beaten and that is is OK to have slaves.
      Yes, I am talking about MUSLIMS.

      June 10, 2011 at 12:25 am |
  16. Mike

    I want to lift weights in the nude according to my religion !!!!

    June 9, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
    • Mike Hater

      You must be Catholic. You forgot to mention the raping little boys part......:)

      June 10, 2011 at 12:36 am |
  17. Michael Myers

    Islam is backward. I see absolutely no reason to be accepting of a backward, hateful and intolerant ideology. Islam has contributed NOTHING to the modern world except for hate, violence, death, misery and war. Yet there's still all these bigots and hypocrites posting their ridiculous little islam appeasing comments here.
    Backward Islam has nothing to offer and will not survive progress. Some goes for the bootlickers.

    June 9, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
    • Bencanard

      Math (Arabic numeral anyone), Plato (whose works were kept alive in the arab world and then brought back to Europe). Islam has contributed nothing that you know about, but you know very little.

      June 10, 2011 at 12:05 am |
    • @Bencanard

      Plato?? He was from Greece and lived 2000 years before the pedophile from the desert. The fact that you have to come up with lies to show islam accomplished something pretty much tells me everything.

      And regarding math: ocmplex mathematics appeared around 3000 BC, that 3500 years before mohammed was born.


      June 10, 2011 at 12:22 am |
  18. @Ruva

    I am not sure what you mean. Are you like a retard or something.

    June 9, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
  19. mahdi

    @ soundoff
    Hijab never requires covering the face
    and once you start making compromises, who's to say you don't keep uncovering?
    Its face and hands is whats in the Koran

    June 9, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
  20. Lollypop

    I support this woman's efforts. Did they not change the rules for a disabled pro golfer? And that case was one where the disabled golfer had a clear advantage because he was allowed to use a cart and would therefore be less tired. She's not asking anyone to pray with her as many do in many American Sports. So they don't want "religious" symbols. Okay, then will they ask athletes to remove Crosses or Star of David hanging from chains around their necks? And pray tell me, what kind of society have we become when a track athlete is allowed to wear very revealing clothing (like the pictures Weiner sent) and it's okay, but dressing modestly is not. The Muslim woman has got to be the most feared in the world. On one hand, people like the taliban cannot bear to see a Muslim woman not covered from head to toe and on the other hand, when a Muslim woman choose to dress modestly, westerners accuse her of being oppressed. She just can't win.

    June 9, 2011 at 11:42 pm |
    • Chris

      That case went to the courts when the golfing group DIDN"T want to change the rules. It was not a voluntary change.

      June 10, 2011 at 12:15 am |
    • Texan

      Yeah I can sympathize with her, even though i dont agree with islam. I am a pentecostal christian female and I was always treated bad in gym and other physical activities in school because I always wore (and do wear) ankle-length skirts. But you know people should respect other people's convictions about modesty or lifestyle.

      June 10, 2011 at 12:30 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.