For almost four years, Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir has been sidelined from doing what she loves most: playing basketball. A 5'5" point guard powerhouse from Springfield, Massachusetts, she holds the scoring record for high school players—male or female—in the state and went on to a successful college career at Indiana State and the University of Memphis. After graduating, she wanted to turn pro and play in Europe, but Abdul-Qaadir was unable to pursue this dream—not because of anything to do with her talent but because of her religious practice. As a Muslim woman in hijab, she would have violated the uniform rule implemented by the International Basketball Federation, or FIBA, which prohibited players from wearing headcoverings on the court.
FIBA's ban extended to professionals leagues all over the world, and left countless players, including Muslim women in hijab like Abdul-Qaadir, Sikh men in turbans, and Jewish men in kippot, without options and without an opportunity to play. On Tuesday, after years of campaigning by athletes like Abdul-Qaadir, FIBA announced that it had ratified changes to the policy that had excluded so many from their sport. As of October 1, 2017, players will finally be allowed to wear headgear.
"I am overwhelmed with emotion," Abdul-Qaadir told me from Memphis, where she is working as the athletic director of a private school. She pauses and I know she is choosing every word very carefully. "I'm happy to be a part of history and positive change."
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