Jannatul Ferdous Brishty: Fencer, Hijabi, Inspiration

Previously published by Beaverbeat

Clothed in a light blue hijab complementing her patterned dress and eye-catching brooch, Jannatul Ferdous Brishty recalled the first time she decided to take the religious head covering. “When you first take hijab you do kinda think of things like ‘Will I take hijab? Will it stop me from doing a lot of things?’ I have had those thoughts,” she recounted.

Brishty is one of countless Muslim women illustrating that wearing a hijab, or other religious coverings, is not a hindrance to any goal, but instead a meaningful part of the person reaching their goals. On top of being a Computer Engineering major and practicing Taekwondo, Brishty plays on the fencing team for City College.

She explained, “Since I am in the last semester of my undergrad, it was a fun experience for me to try out. It would allow me to be a team player; it would allow me to be more disciplined; it would allow me to have more time management – and it did actually.” Brishty also felt like fencing would be the most compatible with her religious beliefs. When considering the uniform, she said “I thought fencing would allow me to dress however I dress and it would allow me to play in the sports that I’m interested in and the costume is all covered up.”

Brishty is not alone in her reasoning. In fact, there are millions of people on the same page – some of which are reshaping both sports and consumer culture.

Ibtihaj Muhammad, who, like Brishty, is a Muslim fencer, made history in 2016 as the first woman athlete competing for America to wear hijab during the Rio Olympics. Owning her own modest clothing line “Louella,” Muhammad played a large role in pushing society to reimagine some long held, problematic ideas about Muslim women.

In an inspired action that some analysts attributed to Muhammad, Nike released their “Nike Pro Women’s Hijab,” on December 1, 2017. Their website described, “The final, pull-on design is constructed from durable single-layer Nike Pro power mesh. Nike’s most breathable fabric, the lightweight polyester features tiny, strategically placed holes for optimal breathability but remains completely opaque, with a soft touch. The mesh is also stretchy, so when combined with an elastic binding it allows for a personalized fit that adapts to both the wearer’s head and her sport.”

While Brishty has not purchased the item yet, she plans to attain it at the beginning of the Spring semester. This move, especially by such a world-renowned organization, means a lot to Brishty and women like herself. With a genuine spark of enthusiasm, she gleamed, “To take this minority into consideration and to come up with such a product, it’s a huge decision because a lot of hijabis don’t go out and play because they think ‘Oh, hijab is going to get in my way.’ But Nike actually thought, ‘Hmm, let us help out who actually wants to play.’”

As Muslim women become more represented in politics, media, and sports, young Muslim girls are able to see themselves mirrored in the fields they are working towards. Brishty thinks this move by Nike is already shifting how people view Muslim women in sports. She predicted, “I believe that them considering us as a part of the sports community is also inspiring girls who wear hijabs that [a] company is making stuff for us, it’s making a path for us to be more involved, it’s making our sportswear comfortable.”

Due to Nike’s presence on a global scale, their involvement with an often bypassed group is making ripples transnationally. Whereas they are not the first company to dabble in sport friendly hijabs, their highly-viewed marketing campaigns have fostered an environment of demand for other sporting brands. Going into 2019, there are dozens of sports friendly hijabs in every color imaginable available at the click of a mouse.

Brishty encouraged others to join Nike in making sports more inclusive. “I think other companies should come forward; not to have a competition with Nike, but in order to inspire women that it’s not only Nike.” She continued with a message to any hijabi wanting to join a team; “The majority of companies are willing to accept you as a normal girl who plays sports. You are not something different from other girls just because you’re wearing an extra piece of cloth. That doesn’t make you any different.”

Yet, as is common with most strides of this nature, there was a great deal of pushback towards Nike’s introduction of the new product. Creating the hashtag #boycottNike, people took to the internet to chastise the company, propagating islamophobic rhetoric. Some critics claimed the product promotes women’s oppression, a judgement debunked by several Muslim feminists. Linda Sarsour, Brooklynborn Palestinian-American-Muslim racial justice and civil rights activist, noted in an interview with CNN that “For me my hijab is my choice, it‘s my identity. I don‘t leave my home without it because it makes me feel whole.” Sarsour further shared, “In my family I have four sisters, all four of my sisters do not wear hijab and they are just as Muslim as I am, and I love them no matter what they choose to do.”

No stranger to breaking down stereotypes, Brishty told of a time she surprised others by being a fencer. In preparation for the season, she went to a doctor for a routine physical assessment.

Upon entering their office, she relayed “The first thing she said was ‘you will do fencing?’ I was like ‘yeah’ and she said ‘with the headscarf on? Is that normal?’” Surprised by the doctor’s focus on her headscarf rather than her health, Brishty saw this situation as an opportunity to share about her religion.

After chuckling at the memory of the whole encounter, Brishty resolved, “If she is asking, she’s curious about this, it means I am setting a different mindset in her. Maybe before that day she thought that people who wear hijab are not allowed to go outside or they’re not allowed to play sports, but now she will think that they are allowed.”

Brishty, standing at a strong five foot two, is eager for practices to begin in her final semester at CCNY. Looking forward to rocking her hijab and the competition, she emphasized, “Islam, or a headscarf, is not stopping this girl or these girls from being involved in a normal social and sports life. I believe that kinda changes how people think about us, hijabis, to a broader perspective that we are allowed to do whatever we want to. We can balance.”

Design by Loretta Violante