Hijab clad Muslim teenager set to smash stereotypes in boxing

Barnaby Kellaway
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Hijab clad Muslim teenager set to smash stereotypes in boxing

An 18-year old has said she is ready to smash stereotypes in boxing by becoming the first Muslim woman to fight competitions in a hijab.

Safiyyah Syeed said she plans to enter the ring for her very first amateur fight later this year by sporting a traditional headscarf, a long-sleeved top and leggings.

The International Boxing Association (AIBA) last month lifted a ban on hijabs and other full-body uniforms that fighters wear for religious reasons.

Ms Syeed, from Bradford, West Yorkshire began boxing a year ago after writing a bucket list while suffering from an unidentified illness that stemmed from anorexia and bulimia.

Her illness meant she was often bedridden, particularly between the ages of 16 and 17, leading her weight to plummet to just four stones after eating just one banana a day.

But Ms Syeed’s fighting spirit is what got her through these tough times and she went on to enrol in a leadership program at university and to train twice a day at Bradford’s Lights Out Boxing Academy.

She said: “Boxing keeps me sane and keeps me happy, I absolutely love it.

“I started just for fun but I’ve really fallen in love with the sport.

“I was bit worried at first about being a hijabi girl going into a boxing gym. It’s not what people are used to.

“But everyone has been so nice and supportive. No one minds that I wear a hijab in the ring.

“It doesn’t affect my boxing at all, some people think it might make it hard to move but I forget I’m even wearing it.”

Ms Syeed, who volunteers at a mental health charity, spars with both men and women during training.

“I remember the first guy I sparred with, he wound me up,” she added. “He didn’t realise he had done it because I hid it after advice from my coach who has said ‘don’t show any emotion’.

“They don’t go easy on me but I always say ‘just because I’m a girl, don’t think anything different of me’.”

Looking back on the days when she had to fight for her health, Ms Syeed said ”I missed going out with my friends and my school prom.

“All my friends were getting ready to go to college and move on with their lives and I was in bed. I decided that two years of being ill was enough.

“I wrote a list of things that I wanted to do with my life like start a YouTube channel and go sky diving.

“Boxing was on the list and as soon as I felt strong enough, I started doing it.”

She added: “I want to show people that mental health problems don’t have to hold you back. If you put your mind to it you can do anything.”

The decision to allow female boxers to wear hijabs at international competitions for religious reasons was announced at the AIBA Executive Committee meeting in Istanbul, Turkey in early February.

Restrictions on wearing a hijab while competing in boxing has been an ongoing issue in boxing affecting many female Muslim boxers.

The ban had prevented Amaiya Zafar, an 18-year-old boxer from Oakdale, Minnesota in the United States, from competing at international level.

It also excluded her from qualifying in the 2020 Olympics, but the rule change will now allow her to attempt to become an Olympian in 2024.

Ms Syeed said she too has set her sights on competing at the Olympic Games.

She added: “My ultimate goal is to compete at the Olympics. Obviously that’s the ultimate, but I’m nowhere near that level yet.

“In any case, I do want to set my sights high.”