Teenager Enters Boxing Competition Wearing A Hijab
An 18-year-old says she's ready to smash through boxing stereotypes by becoming the first ever Muslim woman to compete wearing a hijab.
Safiyyah Syeed will enter the ring for her first official amateur fight later this year sporting the traditional headscarf as well as long sleeves 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.
Safiyyah, from Bradford, West Yorkshire, took up boxing a year ago after writing a bucket list while suffering from an unidentified illness which came as a result of anorexia and bulimia.
Between the ages of 16 and 17, Safiyyah was often bedridden as a result of a severe illness which saw her weight plummet to four stone after living off a banana a day.
But since then, the university student has started training twice a day at Lights Out Boxing Academy in Bradford.
"Boxing keeps me sane and keeps me happy, I absolutely love it," she explained. "I started just for fun but I've really fallen in love with the sport."
The teenager continued: "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."
Safiyyah, who volunteers at a mental health charity and studies a leadership programme at university, spars with both men and women during her training sessions.
"I remember the first guy I sparred with, he winded me," she recalled.
"He didn't realise he had done it because I hid it because my coach has always 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'."
After missing out on going out with her friends as well as her school prom, Safiyyah was determined not to let the mystery illness hold her back any longer.
She recalled: "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, last month.
Restrictions on wearing a hijab while competing in boxing has been an ongoing issue in the sport.
The ban had prevented Amaiya Zafar, an 18-year-old boxer from Oakdale, Minnesota in the United States, from competing at international level.
It excluded her from qualifiers for the 2020 Olympics, but the rule change will allow her to attempt to become an Olympian in 2024.
Safiyyah has also set her sights on one day competing at the Olympics.
"My ultimate goal is to compete at the Olympics," she said. "Obviously that's the ultimate so I'm nowhere near that level yet.
I want to set my sights high though."
Safiyyah, we salute you.
Featured Image Credit: SWNS