For much of her life, the 20-year-old Muslim has found a way to balance practicing Islam and playing basketball, including wearing a head scarf and long pants on the hardcourt, even if it’s meant taunts as she blazed trails on her middle school, high school and college teams.
Now a college senior at University of Michigan-Dearborn preparing for law school, she spends free time coaching Muslim girls and sharing what she experienced in Dearborn, home of at least 40 mosques, to help give them the confidence to follow in her footsteps.
As more covered Muslim girls take up competitive sports, Bakri and others say it’s time to get beyond merely allowing the hijab—the traditional Muslim head scarf worn for modesty—and help those wearing them feel welcome.
“It’s not like accommodating for one person anymore, it’s a group,” Bakri says.
Experts and advocates say the number of Muslim girls wearing the hijab on the court, track or field is rising because girls are growing more comfortable pursuing mainstream activities while maintaining religious traditions.
More recently, she said referees wouldn’t let her play in one out-of-state college tournament. The coach told her later that it was because of her uniform modification.
That was reminiscent of a case in February when an 11-year-old Muslim girl was pulled off the field in a soccer tournament in Quebec because she refused to remove her head scarf. The Quebec Soccer Federation backed the decision, saying rules forbid wearing anything that could cause harm during a game.
In the U.S., the National Federation of State High School Associations’ rules say state associations may allow a player to participate while wearing a head covering for religious reasons as long as it isn’t dangerous to another player and unlikely to come off during play. The rule-making federation also allows pants, shorts or skirts.
School districts in Michigan must ask state high school athletic officials for permission to modify uniform requirements.
State athletic association spokesman John Johnson said the system “almost rubber stamps” requests, but requiring the case-by-case letter provides a safeguard against misunderstandings.
At Bakri’s middle school, Lowrey Middle School, she was the first athlete of the year to wear the scarf and earned letters in basketball, volleyball, track and swimming.
Swimming required the most creativity. She couldn’t wear a swimsuit in front of men, so she worked out a deal with her coach and athletic director to practice daily with the team but not compete in meets. The coach timed her during practice and awarded her the letter based on performance.