Shireen Ahmed – Sports, Women & ActivismWritten by Muslims Actually
Shireen Ahmed is a writer, public speaker and Sports Activist focusing on Muslim women in Sports. She is an athlete, advocate, community organizer, and works with Youth of Colour on empowerment projects and is an avid sports coach and mentor. She is a regular contributor to Muslimah Media Watch, a Global Sports Correspondent for Safe World For Women and works on the Muslim Women in Sports website.
Her work has been featured and discussed in various media outlets.
Shireen’s blog “Tales from a Hijabi Footballer”, where her passion for sport, politics and women’s issues collide, has been recognized by Sports Media for its candid discussions. She is currently working on her first book and drinks a lot of coffee. Shireen lives in Toronto, Canada with her family.
Where were you born and raised?
I was born and raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I moved to Toronto for University.
What did you study and what do you currently do for a profession?
I studied Political Science with a specialization in Canadian Politics and a minor in Women’s Studies. I am a writer, public speaker, Sports Activist and community advocate.
Tell us about what you love to do!
I feel really fortunate that I get to combine my passions of women’s sports and discussions of Islamophobia, racism, misogyny and homophobia in sports.
What inspired you to do all that you do? (i.e. sports, writing and activism)?
My writing just started from personal experiences and Twitter commentary. There aren’t a lot of people discussing these topics but an absolute need for this perspective and to share academic research on this topic. I connected with an incredible woman, Sertac Sehlikoglu who did her PhD at Cambridge University). She is curator of the Muslim Women in Sports blog. I started writing for them and also started writing for various blog and websites who were interested in the stories of Muslim women and Women of Colour (WoC) athletes. Biggest blessing was being a part of Muslimah Media Watch team. That gave me tremendous confidence. Being a part of such an important collaboration of brilliant women was huge.
Then started to connect with women’s sports groups and agencies working with women all over the world. I get a lot of support from women in Toronto as well. I work with Outburst! and that has been so important in shaping my work.
I started my own website this summer and Alhumdullilah things are starting to move a little more. I am a freelance writer and working on several projects. I also comment on Candian Political issues. I don’t think that will ever stop.
What inspires you to keep going?
The fact that so many people are interested in the work I do. I have been approached by academics, agencies and people who are interested in the voice of a Muslim woman on topics like violent culture in sports and how it affects communities.
I strongly believe that media needs to be accountable for the way they present Muslimah athletes. Sports media is 85% male. Stories often use the typical uncreative tropes about women – particularly on the subject of Middle Eastern, South Asian or Muslim women.
I love what I get to do. I have met and been inspired by so many people, Alhumdullilah. I want my work to matter and have integrity.
As a hijabi have you feel any backlash or islamophobia post 9/11?
To an extent. It was systemic and so widespread in society, but I definitely experienced micro-aggressions (ie name calling and other verbal assaults). Tremendous amount of xenophobia spreading through society more recently. Number of incidents of gendered Islamophobia have risen even in Toronto. Alarming because it is Canada’s most diverse city. I helped co-ordinate and amplify the self-defense classes that were organized as a result of concerns that Muslim women had for their safety.
What role has family played in your success?
My family, my husband in particular, is very supportive of my work. Family is often about logistics and balance. We have a shared family Google calendar because they all have their own commitments and interests.
My eldest son (in grade 10) once Re-Tweeted a piece I wrote and I felt like that was the most amazing validation I could receive Alhumdullilah.
How does it feel being the mother of teenage children?
It comes with different joys and challenges. Lots of opportunities for laughter. I enjoy them tremendously, masha’Allah. We tease each other a lot. They are growing so fast and have opinions of their own. It’s fascinating to see how much that they’ve witnessed as children shapes their characters and personalities.
What values are you trying to instill in them?
To be proud of who they are but also to be someone they should be proud to be. A strong sense of justice, a sense of being unapologetic of their identity and supportive of marginalized people with less privilege. They have a lot of blessings. We constantly remind them of this. How to use their skills and talents to help people who need it.
How do you balance life and community activism?
Community activism is a part of my life. They are inextricably linked. I balance the same way everyone would, taking family commitments and scheduling into account. I don’t attend half the things I would like to support. And I am also very cognizant of my own self-care. I used to have a hard time saying “no” and that was problematic. Now I am able to ask myself, what am I able to handle and how will it affect my life? Most importantly, can I give this the attention and time it deserves?
Sometimes being able to write about it and amplify is an important way to support something and draw attention to it.
Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?
Not totally sure. I have a five year plan but only Allah SWT knows. If you asked me five years ago (I was working frontline in Social Services with Newcomers to Canada) I could have never predicted what I am doing now.
Maybe Law school insha’Allah. Maybe publishing another book (writing one now). Or working in a Think-Tank or with a Sports Organization. I honestly have no idea. One thing I am sure of insha’Allah is that I will still be picking up socks from around my house and yelling at my kids to do their homework.
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