Thursday, 2 August 2012

Muslim Olympians Invisible in the Spotlight

No, not the Egyptian silver medalist fencer Alaa AbdelKassem; not the Saudi runner in a headscarf, Sarah Attar. Not the members of the Olympics teams from the Middle Eastern Muslim majority countries, who are the subjects of articles about the conundrum of competing while observing the Ramadan fast. The invisible Muslim Olympians are the ones the media focuses the limelight on every day without once mentioning that they are clearly of Muslim heritage. A case in point is top Russian gymnast Aliya Mustafina, whose father Farhat was also a gymnast. 
Is it ever appropriate for the media to mention the ethnic or religious background of athletes? Perhaps the exception should be for athletes of a minority background who are rare role models, particularly Muslims, given that the media focuses first and foremost on the religious affiliation of a criminal or terrorist disproportionately if he or she happens to be of Muslim background. Is there any doubt that, if James Holmes had been called, say, Hussein Mustafa, that fact would have trumped all else in the coverage of the Colorado massacre?
All the better that Aliya Mustafina, like millions of women of Muslim heritage, wears no headscarf and never mentions her religion. The Olympics are about many things, and one of them is shattering stereotypes as well as records.

 

27 comments:

  1. Love this post, the point is spot on. Aliya Mustafina is an amazing person, an amazing gymnast, and an amazing Muslim.

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  2. The media should never ever mention the religion of any person who is on the spotlight. Faith is personal and it is not media's business. Cultural heritage or ethnic background can be disclosed if it is appropriate and has a positive purpose.
    Aguc

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  3. She competes as a Russian and nothing else. If the viewers are curious about her background then they should Google and find out. In a sporting event, it's what she does that should matter, nothing else.

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    1. This is just a reaction to the hypocritical ways of the Western Media. Whenever a crime is committed by a Muslim, his religion is the first thing mentioned and the label of terrorism slapped onto him/her without even exploring his/her motives first. Religion should not be mentioned in sports, but neither should it be mentioned during coverage of crimes.

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  4. Yasin Stanley Sladek3 August 2012 at 00:22

    I agree. Religion race color should never play a factor in sports. Let the Muslim athletes wear their hijab or whatever they wear religious and let them compete. A USA broadcaster mentioned this as well.
    As a Muslim athlete, I would not like to be in the media attention for my religion, but rather for my sport.
    Go Aliya Mustafina, you rock:)
    Also I agree w the previous comments from others:)

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  5. Exactly. Moreover, her (presumably) coming from a Xish family or having Yish ancestors does not make her an X or a Y.

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  6. Thank you for your input on a topic I am ambivalent about myself.

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  7. Of course Aliya Mustafina competes as a Russian and nothing else. Of course her religion- or lack of it- is her business. But just as Muslim-Arab names, when associated with negative news, reinforce the stereotype, it would provide much-needed counterbalance if positive role models like Mustafina or media star Dr Mehmet Oz were also associated with their ethnic/religious background.

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    1. Excellent post Samia Serageldin. I completely agree with you. Thanks for writing this.

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    2. Sertaç Sehlikoglu writes in her blog devoted to Muslim women in sports that "Mustafina is the most decorated gymnastics medalist, male or female, at the 2012 Summer Olympics, having won four medals including the silver in the team all-around, the bronze in the individual all-around final, the gold in the uneven bars final, and the bronze in the floor final...............Her father, Farhat Mustafin, was a bronze medalist at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Greco-Roman wrestling. Her younger sister, Nailya, is also a gymnast and a member of Russia's junior team. Her family are ethnic Tatars."
      http://muslimwomeninsports.blogspot.ca/

      Tarek Fatah also wrote about Aliya Mustafina as a Muslim athlete on his facebook. I posted about the comments of these three writers -- Samia Serageldin, Tarek Fatah and Sertaç Sehlikoglu -- in the write-up for one the photos belonging this small, incomplete album on Muslims in sport.
      www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152013174965581&set=a.10152013174845581.880139.663440580

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  8. Aliya is one of the best Russian gymnasts ever. She has got this real intensity and seriousness about her that makes her stand out. I noticed that more women this year than you usually see at the Gymnastics Olympics came from a fair range of different religious and ethnic minority backgrounds (USA in particular). This has got to be a good thing for the sport, and especially for girls (and boys) watching all over the world. Aliya's presence in the final is also, as Samia says above, valuable in countering harmful stereotypes. But I'm not sure how helpful it is for commentators and media to go on about Aliya being of Muslim heritage, or Gabby being black, after the fact. It's much more important that emphasis stays on the incredible talents of girls like Gabby and Aliya: religion/ethnicity has nothing to do with that.

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  9. The beauty of the olympics is that it is solely about athletic achievements. All prejudices and hatreds are left at the door because they play absolutely no role in athletic excellence. The reason why they talk about Gabby Douglas's heritage is because, to be honest, it is obvious. They only mention that Ally Raisman is Jewish because of her music that indicates her heritage. The Olympics are meant to purely showcase talent, and talks of politics or religion are set aside to marvel at personal achievement.

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  10. So if the focus should be on the performance or event only and not the religious or cultural background, then why is the Muslim faith mentioned when something negative, like terrorism, happens? Why in those cases the media mentions the religion?

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  11. Minor fact-check: according to Wikipedia her father, Farhat Mustafin, was a wrestler rather than a gymnast. He won a bronze at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.

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  12. it is not clear that aliya mustafina is a muslim or not. she was born in a tatar environnement but in russia many people belonging to a minority have changed their religions. not all tatars are muslims, not all russians are orthodox, not all buriats are buddhists ...
    the same goes for alina kabaeva the great russian rhytmics gymnast who is definitely a tatar, but i would be surprised to learn that's she's a muslim

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  13. You cannot assume she is muslim. though she may have muslim last name… Religion is choice. There ore her religion is unknown, actually irrelevant.

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  14. The commentators do not say if someone is Buddhist, Jewish, Christian or Spiritualist etc. so why would they comment on someone being Muslim.

    You may not have heard of Alina Kabaeva, russias best rhythmic gymanst in history was also a half Tatar and muslim, converting however to Orthodix Christianity.

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  15. Yep she is Orthodox Christian.

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  16. I think aliya mustafina is a muslim because her father name is farhat and farhat is commenly use in muslim names

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  17. Aliya Mustafina may have a name of a Muslim but she is actually practicing the Russian Orthodox as a religion. However, it infuriates me to see that a lot of people make a big issue about her ethnicity and religion instead of recognizing what an amazing gymnast she is and a true sport.

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    1. Her mother is not Muslim. Her name is of Tartar Decent. If she is a Muslim and wants to share that let her do so. Otherwise, its really nobody's business but her own and does not belong at the games. If like Raisman she wants to make it obvious let her do that.

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  18. ^^ This is a lie. Stop spreading bullshit

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  19. Aliya Mustafina is a Muslim women by birth. No one can ignore her religion. But, It doesn't mean that She is Terrorist. and involve in Terrorism..!
    Kindly, stop this stupid western media's propaganda against Islam.
    Islam is a peaceful religion. 1st try to deeply study about Islam then decide, what is positive and what is negative in Islam.
    Overall, Aliya Mustafina is a Sportsperson. Don't try to put her into fake and negative news.

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  20. Aliya, a Muslim, had no issue hugging Aly Raisman, a Jew, because Aliya is a classy competitor. I'd bet she did the same with Aly at all of the annual international competitions prior to the Olympics. No politics, just mutual respect.

    Contrast this with Egyptian judoka Islam El Shehaby who wouldn't shake the hand of the Israeli judoka whom he lost to. At least the Egyptian Olympic Committee was honorable by condemning his behavior and sending him home. Unfortunately, the media reported that it was the IOC that gave El Shehaby his walking papers and not the EOC. It's too bad for him; the closing ceremony is an epic blowout party. No selfies for him.

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  21. Actually, she is a celebrity now, and everyone wants to know about her.

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  22. Aliya is Russian Orthodox, not Muslim. Her mother is Russian Orthodox, and she often lights candles in the Orthodox Church prior to big competitions.

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  23. Aliya Mustafina is the best gymnast ever no matter what her religion is..

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